The reason I like the criminal justice system is there aren’t Republic of Democrat victims or police officers or prosecutors. It’s about respect for the rule of law! – Trey Gowdy
Criminal Justice is a sprawling field that offers stable roles for those looking to protect, punish and help other people in their communities, at the federal level, or even internationally. As you can see from those quotes, it’s also one of the most contentious fields in our society. It taps into our best intentions and most frightening instincts, and in many ways defines our character, expectations, and abilities to work cooperatively as communities.
What is Criminal Justice?
Criminal justice is how we deal with crime in the United States (and most other places). It’s designed and executed through the criminal justice system, which is made up of prosecutors, police, defense lawyers, judges and their courts, and the prison system. In theory, its goal is to identify and capture those who have committed crimes, try them, decide a punishment for them, rehabilitate them, prevent crimes from occurring and support victims of crimes, among other goals. All of the actions in the criminal justice system are supposed to take place within the framework of the codified law, although that often isn’t the case.
Considerations When Looking for a Criminal Justice Degree
In this resource, we’ll look at the different higher education options in criminal justice. You’ll learn about different degree types, degree levels, what you’ll study and what skills you’ll build, as well as the outcomes of graduating from a criminal justice degree program, including annual salary, job positions, and more. When you’re reading it, you can begin to shape what you’re looking for in a criminal justice degree and career. To that end, ask yourself and mull over the following as you read this guide:
- What is your educational and career experience? Building off of your accomplishments and natural strengths is a great way to ensure longevity and success in a criminal justice career. However, if you’re looking to pivot away from what you’ve previously done, think about choosing a criminal justice educational and career path that won’t lead to the same pitfalls you’ve encountered in your previous educational and career experiences.
- How can a specific criminal justice degree enhance your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses?
- What are your goals, and how can an online criminal justice degree help you achieve them? Goals can be daunting but think about foundational aspects of your personality. Do you long to help people directly? Do you want to capture and punish the guilty? Can you deal with the responsibility that criminal justice careers demand?
- Would you like to work in law enforcement, defending the accused, working in a court, with prisoners, or as a prosecutor? You don’t have to completely decide this before entering a criminal justice program, especially if you’re considering an undergraduate option, but it’s helpful.
- How much could you pay in tuition for an online criminal justice degree, and how much would you be willing to borrow to pay for one? Fortunately, an online criminal justice program will likely save you time and money compared to traditional ones.
- There is a wide range of costs that come with entering any higher education program, ways to borrow money, and varying schedules to pay back what you’ve borrowed. You should always strive to pay for tuition rather than take out loans, but for many people, that’s not a viable option.
- When looking at the programs you discover through this list, always take into account how much they cost. If you have to borrow money for tuition, try to take public loans over private ones. Wherever you can, choose lower cost, not-for-profit programs over expensive, for-profit online criminal justice programs.
- How much time do you have to devote to an online criminal justice degree on a daily, weekly, and total timetable before graduating? You’ll find multiple delivery options for criminal justice programs, so ask yourself:
- What’s the best delivery format for your online criminal justice degree? Would you like to take your criminal justice degree full-time, part-time, online, on-campus, or in a hybrid of online and traditional on-campus learning?
- Where would you like to live and work after earning a criminal justice degree? These degrees can qualify you to work in many different positions, settings and physical locations across the country and world. Some areas have a far greater demand for criminal justice professionals than others as well.
Let’s take a look at what you’ll get out of a criminal justice degree:
What Skills Will You Build in a Criminal Justice Degree?
Criminal justice degrees and careers are wildly different, but there are some core skills you can expect to build in any of these programs, and that employers will always prize in their hiring. They include:
Communication and Comprehension Skills
If you thought you were going to get out of writing as a criminal justice professional, think again. While verbal communication is crucial, the success of criminal justice professionals is often a product of paperwork. As a police officer, you’ll have to write reports to get warrants, or even document the time you spent working. Prosecutors and defense lawyers live and die (professionally) by the writing they’ve prepared, and their ability to synthesize and digest documentation. No matter where you work, you’ll need excellent reading comprehension and oral/written communication skills to excel in criminal justice, so it’s no wonder criminal justice degrees will focus on building up your abilities in these areas.
Ethical Conduct Skills
As a criminal justice professional you’ll have significant power over people’s lives, even potentially deciding when to mete out lethal force or long-term incarceration. Too often we’ve seen this power improperly used and abused. By embodying ethical standards alongside legal ones, you can separate yourself from other candidates in the field, and gain a reputation with the public and your peers that will bring success and harmony to your career and the community where you work. In criminal justice degrees, you’ll learn how to behave ethically, even in difficult situations, and have an opportunity to further commit to these principles internally.
When you’re working in criminal justice you’ll encounter wildly different situations, many of which you won’t necessarily have experienced previously. Being able to research quickly, accurately and present the findings of your research to others is critically important. You’ll not only need to research but also deliver the outcomes through reports, visual data, model usage and much more. Many criminal justice positions involve analysis of policy and its consequences to allocate resources and prevent crime adequately, so it’s no wonder criminal justice programs prize these skills.
Criminal justice is changing rapidly. By earning a criminal justice degree today, you’ll graduate with skills your predecessors are learning on the job or never built. Cybersecurity is one large, under-supplied area of criminal justice that has vastly growing needs, but regardless of where you end up working, being familiar with modern software and cutting-edge illegal strategies that involve technology will significantly help you.
Being Detail Driven and Building Organizational Skills
Criminal justice careers demand professionals that can pay close attention to small details, document them, and make decisions based on analyzing them. Being detail oriented isn’t something that comes naturally to everyone, but it’s a large area of criminal justice education. You’ll also learn how to organize your time to maximize productivity and make sure you’re not overwhelmed by the significant, far-reaching responsibilities that a career in criminal justice demands.
Why Should You Opt for an Online Criminal Justice Degree Instead of an On-Campus Program?
An online criminal justice degree comes with several advantages in comparison to its traditional, on-campus counterparts. Chief among them:
- In online criminal justice degrees you’ll often pay less in tuition and boarding, while also saving travel time to and from courses. You’ll be able to complete classwork and attend your classes from home, or anywhere you have Internet access.
- You can access elite, nationally recognized programs regardless of where they and you are located.
- Online criminal justice degrees are often more customizable than their traditional counterparts. You’ll likely be able to schedule around your ongoing responsibilities and create a graduation timetable that either accelerate graduation or gives you extra time to finish your degree depending on your needs.
- By taking a criminal justice degree online, you can find programs that focus on specific aspects of the field that align with your career goals.
How Can We Help You Select a Criminal Justice Degree Program, and Improve Your Online College Experience?
At Online College Plan we’ve worked diligently to give you resources to help you find the criminal justice degree that’s best for you. The main ways we deliver our findings are through answering frequently asked questions, and by ranking programs in different disciplines. We’ve prized online degrees for the reasons mentioned above. Much of what we’ve written about applies to criminal justice, other disciplines, and the search for a degree generally. To see all of the questions we’ve answered, check out our FAQ Section.
We’ve also ranked schools and criminal justice programs by criteria that include affordability, national rankings, reviews from real students, special features, graduation and retention rates, among other considerations. Here is some of what we’ve written about criminal justice and online degrees:
- Top 20 Online Masters in Legal Studies Programs
- Top 19 Bachelors for Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs
- Top 10 Criminal Justice Degree Online Programs
- Top Online PhD Programs in Criminal Justice
- Top Online PhDs in Homeland Security
- How Can I Find the Right Masters Degree Program on a Budget?
- How long does it take to get a bachelor’s degree?
- How Can You Find The Best Online Colleges?
- What Schools Offer 100% Online Degrees?
- What Are The Best Programs When You Are Going Back To School At 30 For A Degree?
- A College Student’s Guide to Online Cybersecurity
We’ve also written articles to help you save money and manage loans:
- 50 Best Scholarships for Online College Students
- 12 Secrets Colleges Don’t Want You to Know
- 15 Free & Most Affordable Colleges In America
- 40 Free Tools for Managing Student Loans
To check out our entire archive, including our career profiles, infographics, and other guides, where you can keyword search by any degree level or discipline area:
What are the Different Types of Criminal Justice Degrees?
Criminal Justice is a broad field, and there are many degrees available within it. Degrees classified as criminal justice tend to focus on theories about crime, the law, and the criminal justice system. You’ll take a macro and micro approach to how law enforcement agencies and the judicial system work. Mainly, these are broader degree programs that can lead in many different directions. For those who want a more specific career path, consider a degree in one of the following specializations within criminal justice:
If you want to become a police officer, and separate yourself from the average candidate for these jobs, a major in police science will give you significant utility. In these programs, you’ll learn how to investigate crimes, write reports and provide indispensable documentation, police ethically and build relationships within the communities you police.
In these majors you’ll focus on the prison system, precisely what prison is like for those living and working within them. You’ll study how to improve prisons, how prisons get their funds, and what can be done to increase funding, and the logistics of running prisons. You’ll study prisons, among other correctional facilities and programs. If you want to work as a corrections officer, warden, in prison administrative staff or running programs for prisoners, this is the major for you.
For some a criminal justice major leads into law school. However, you can get a legal job in just two years of study with a paralegal program. For many, this is a great way to explore working as part of a legal team without the commitment of time and money that comes with going to law school. You’ll gain significant research and writing skills, get a far better understanding of our legal system and be qualified to work for legal teams in public, private, and non-profit organizations.
Forensic scientists collect crime scene evidence and analyze it, aiding investigations. The technical and scientific skills you’ll build in these programs are incredibly diverse and apply to many jobs and industries. It’s likely that you would need a graduate degree in forensic science to work in the field.
There are many dual criminal justice and cyber security or information assurance programs. Even if you study just cybersecurity, you’ll likely be qualified to work in a number of government agencies, and for a litany of private companies that desperately need trained professionals in this field. You’ll learn how to detect cyber-criminals, prevent cyber-crime, build systems that protect digital information, and much more in these programs.
Criminology majors delve into the criminal mind. What causes crime? What can be done to prevent it? You’ll study the law, statistics, psychology, microeconomics and much more in these degree programs.
These are just some of the types of degrees related to or falling under the umbrella of criminal justice. Now let’s get into the different levels of degrees you can take depending on your educational background and career intentions.
What are the Different Levels of Criminal Justice Degrees?
Depending on what you want to do in criminal justice, you’ll need to reach different levels of degrees. If you haven’t attended any college programs, you might consider starting with an:
Associate in Criminal Justice
These programs can be completed in 18 months to two years of study depending on the degree schedule. Credits earned will likely apply to a Bachelor’s in criminal justice. Many two-year schools have transfer agreements to make matriculation to these programs easier on students. These degrees will prepare you for entry-level positions in criminal justice, and many graduates either continue their education or work as police officers.
Bachelor in Criminal Justice
Here you’ll have a chance to specialize in areas like forensic science, or paralegal studies. You can graduate and become a police officer, corrections officer, forensic accountant, mental health counselor, forensic science technician, and more. You’ll likely need four years of full-time study, depending on the program schedule you choose and how many applicable credits you have. Topics covered include new technologies in forensic science, studying the courts and corrections systems, criminal justice theory and much more.
Master’s in Criminal Justice
A MCJ is the terminal degree in the field or a step on the way towards a doctorate. They require between 18 and 24 months to complete. Students can focus on one of the many areas in the field, like forensic psychology, correctional counseling, analysis, human services, justice administration, security management, corrections and correctional counseling, homeland security, crime and delinquency, crime prevention, crime control, among many others. Depending on your career and educational experience, these degrees are a great way to work in supervisory positions in social work, prosecution, forensic psychology, police departments, and more.
Doctorates in Criminal Justice
In these degrees are typically for people who want to teach criminal justice courses at universities. Graduates receive a DCJ or Ph.D. in Criminal Justice degree. They take three to six years to complete, and can also be used to work at the highest level in police departments, justice departments, and in agencies like the FBI and CIA, among other supervisory positions. Students will have to write, defend, and in some cases publish a thesis, and experience working in criminal justice for years is common among applicants. Some programs require a Bachelor’s and Master’s in criminal justice.
What Can You Do and How Much Can You Earn With a Criminal Justice Degree?
Working in criminal justice means many different things to different people, but here are some of the most common roles graduates of criminal justice degree programs fill:
- Probation Officer: The Bureau of Labor Statistics found their median wage in 2017 was $51,410, and predicted 6% growth by 2026. In this role, you’ll have a caseload of parolees and work to ensure they abide by the terms of their parole.
- Police Officers and Detectives: Here you’ll work to protect the public, enforce the law and investigate crime. Their median salary in 2017 was $62,960, and they were predicted to see 7% growth by 2026 according to BLS.
- Forensic Science Technician: In these roles you’ll work in many agencies to analyze crime scene evidence and reconstruct events, among other responsibilities. BLS found their median salary in 2017 to be $61,220, with higher demand and pay in Illinois, Nevada, and California.
- Fraud Investigator: Fraud investigators investigate claims of property damage, injury, financial documents and more to prevent crime. They earned a median 2017 salary of $64,690 according to BLS, who predicts a growing need for health insurance fraud investigators in the coming years.
- CIA Agent: In the CIA you’ll help the federal government deal with crime across the world, including terrorism. You’ll also be part of enacting its agenda and get paid a between a cool $74,872 and $136,771 while you do so. CIA agents generally take a Bachelor’s in law, forensics, language or criminal justice, and need at least five years of investigation experience.
- Information Security Analysts: In these roles you’ll protect a private organization, non-profit or government agencies’ networks, systems and information. The 2017 median pay for these roles was $95,510 according to BLS, which predicted a 28% growth by 2026. Combining a computer science education with criminal justice, and especially cybersecurity or information assurance degrees would give you a comparative advantage for the many new roles that will be created in this field.
Online Criminal Justice Degrees in Conclusion
To conclude, the criminal justice world is very diverse, and your ability to join it and effect real change on yourself and others is entirely in your hands. Check out what we’ve made to help you find the best criminal justice degree online, and make sure to visit our Online College Plan Archive and FAQ Section, as well as the rankings linked to previously. Whenever you find a school or program you’re interested in you can easily email them to request more information and get help in the application process. Good luck!