Individuals can get a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in four to five years, and this field offers programs at several degree levels. Entry-level careers in the criminal justice field only require a high school diploma and job training. But, jobs with more responsibility and a higher salary require more education. There are many programs for students interested in the criminal justice system. They start with certificates and progress to associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees.
Candidates interested in working in law enforcement or similar legal fields often wonder how long it takes to earn a criminal justice degree. Surprisingly, criminal justice is a field with degrees at many levels. Depending on the career the individual chooses, the degree may take anywhere from two to six years to complete. Because criminal justice careers may be either law enforcement or legal studies. A criminal justice education prepares graduates for many job opportunities and careers.
Various Degree Options in Criminal Justice
Candidates who have decided to pursue careers in this field can choose from several different degree levels. Because there are so many different degree levels available for aspiring criminal justice professionals, candidates can choose from almost any career possible and just select the appropriate degree program. Sometimes, an individual may earn an associate degree and find a job with those particular educational requirements.
Once the individual has some work experience, he or she may pursue a higher-level position without earning a higher degree. Experience plays an essential part in many jobs. They can often complete a certificate program if they need additional education for a specific position.
- Associate Degree – These two-year degree programs are from technical schools, vocational schools, and community colleges. Students who want to begin working sooner rather than later often choose them.
- Bachelor’s Degree – Typically, four-year bachelor’s degree programs are at many colleges and universities. Standard undergraduate programs are a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice and a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice.
- Graduate Certificates – Often, these certificates are a portion of a master’s degree, and students can apply the credit toward the degree.
- Master’s Degree – This graduate program generally takes two years to complete, provided the individual already has a bachelor’s degree. They’re at many colleges and universities.
- Doctoral Degree – A doctoral degree from a university takes one to two years to complete. Students typically complete a thesis or a dissertation.
It’s also possible for criminal justice majors to earn a degree in this field through distance learning. Many courses are online, and the student completes a supervised internship in the area.
Associate Degrees in Criminal Justice
Individuals who wish to join the field quickly without attending college for years are generally happy to discover several 2 year degrees in criminal justice programs are available. In the program’s first half, students in criminal justice associate degree programs will complete general education courses like communication, speech, psychology, math, and English. Then, they complete criminal justice courses in the second half.
At the end of the program, the student must obtain some hands-on training through field experience or an internship in a criminal justice atmosphere. Here are a few possible jobs a graduate with an associate’s criminal justice degree may obtain after only two years of college.
- Police Officer / Police Officers
- Legal Assistants
- Corrections Officer / Corrections Officers
- Private Investigators
- Fish and Game Warden / Fish and Game Wardens
- Fire Inspector and Investigators
- Crime Scene Technicians
- Gaming Surveillance Officers
- Police Dispatch
- Security Officers / Security Guards
Bachelor’s Degrees in Criminal Justice
Candidates who complete a bachelor’s online criminal justice program can choose from jobs requiring baccalaureate degrees and careers offered at the associate’s degree level.
Additionally, completing a bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice typically takes four years. Programs may also require the student to complete general education courses. But, some classes may be part of their associate degree curriculum.
Students who complete a certificate program may not need four years to earn the degree if they already have credits from a certificate. While they may be in school longer than if they’d pursued an associate degree, they are also putting themselves in positions to earn higher wages and find a wider variety of career options.
The majority of professionals pursue a criminal justice bachelor’s degree. Additionally, some criminal justice graduates go on to attend law school.
- Probation Officer
- Police Officer
- Correction Officer / Correctional Officers
- Teacher or Trainer
- Correctional Treatment Specialists
- State and federal courts
- Forensics / Forensic Science Technicians
- Private Security
- Emergency Management
- Homeland Security
- Federal Law Enforcement
- Social Services
- Paralegal / Legal Assistant
- Compliance Manager
Graduate Degrees in Criminal Justice
Both master’s and doctoral degree programs are graduate degrees in criminal justice. Candidates can expect to be in college for an additional one to three years or six to eight years. The bright side is that graduates can choose from just about any criminal justice career imaginable once they complete the program.
Many candidates who pursue a doctoral criminal justice degree follow a career path in research or academia. Graduates of criminal justice graduate-level programs qualify for most criminal justice administration positions and leadership positions.
- Correctional Officer Supervisor
- Police and Detective Supervisor
- Forensic Psychologist
- Criminal Profiler
- Attorney General Investigator
- District Attorney
- Forensic Examiner
- Supervisory Criminal Investigator
Students choosing master’s degree programs are often students who have already earned a criminal justice bachelor’s degree but are interested in specializing in a specific area of criminal justice.
Online Criminal Justice Degrees
Furthermore, master’s degree programs are very popular as online programs. Most of the main courses required have been completed at the baccalaureate level allowing the student to focus on their area of interest. For instance, an individual may earn a master’s degree in criminal justice specializing in law enforcement, corrections, or also law enforcement.
An investigator with a criminal justice bachelor’s degree may apply for a supervisor position when they earn a master’s degree. Additionally, graduates with criminal justice master’s or doctoral degrees qualify for leadership or managerial positions. So, many careers are possible for someone with a graduate degree in criminal justice.
Criminal Justice Distance Learning Opportunities
The large number of colleges offering online criminal justice programs is a bonus. The abundance of programs offers individuals a chance to earn a degree without giving up their current job. And it saves them years of attending classes daily at a brick-and-mortar college. Online degrees in criminal justice are at almost every degree level. But, students may be able to complete these bachelor’s and master’s degree programs through distance learning.
Many students choose online bachelor’s or master’s degree programs because they can continue working while earning the degree. One of the most significant advantages of the online program is flexibility. Students can complete a couple of credits per semester and continue to work or meet other obligations.
A student may earn an associate degree in criminal justice, which is enough education for entry-level positions. These 2-year degrees also have many of the general education classes needed for a baccalaureate degree. So, transfer students can gain additional work experience while earning a higher degree.
Choosing an Online Criminal Justice Degree
Every year, more and more students choose to earn their degrees through distance learning. Another benefit of completing an online criminal justice degree program is that students control how long they’re in college.
While most colleges set a time limit for students to complete a degree, it’s generally several years. Students can complete criminal justice master’s degrees in as little as two or four years, depending on their commitment.
Online learning is very flexible and ideal for individuals with family obligations or working students. However, prospective students should consider the degree program’s delivery location, mode, and possible enrollment status before choosing a school or program.
- On-Campus – a traditional type of program
- Online / Fully Online – all classes are online completed online
- Hybrid or Blended – hybrid programs are a combination of online and in-person
- Asynchronous – classes are not in real-time, independent study
- Synchronous – class meetings are scheduled
- Hybrid or combination – both asynchronous and synchronous classes
- Part time student – usually less than 6 credits a term
- Full time student – usually 6 to 15 credits a term, takes up to four years
- Accelerated program – usually faster because semesters/terms are condensed into fewer weeks. Most discourage work while in the program.
What Do You Learn in a Criminal Justice Degree Online Program?
Most programs have general education requirements, major requirements that focus on criminal justice topics, and a knowledge or skill demonstration component. The remainder of the credits required are often taken up with elective courses.
The basic skills are often part of a class that has a culminating project. This may be an internship or a critical thinking project. At the graduate level, this may be a paper using research methods to explain the criminological theory.
How Much Does a Criminal Justice Degree Cost?
The cost of any degree can vary depending on the degree level, program, and school. Most schools charge a per-credit tuition rate for classes. The price per credit is less for associate degrees and increases for bachelor’s and graduate degrees. So to save some money, you may want to begin your education at a community college. Then, after two years, you can transfer to a university.
Generally, a state university is less expensive than a private school. And in-state tuition is lower than out-of-state tuition. However, there are exceptions. For example, some states have reciprocity agreements and offer lower rates to neighboring states. Additionally, more private schools now offer competitive financial assistance packages. So, it is worth applying for aid before you make a final decision.
The College Board reports the 2021 average tuition and fees for full-time students are:
- Public 2 year in-district: $3,800
- Public 4 year in-state: $10,740
- Public 4 year out-of-state: $27,560
- Private nonprofit 4 year: $38,070
Finally, many online degree programs now offer tuition at a set rate regardless of residency. As a result, many of these programs have less expensive rates than their traditional on-campus counterparts.
Criminal Justice Financial Aid Opportunities
Earning a college degree is a financial challenge for most people. There are many local, state, and federal financial aid opportunities. Additionally, many colleges and universities offer scholarship opportunities.
Benefits of Criminal Justice Degrees
A criminal justice degree is a source of pride for a lot of graduates. In many criminal justice jobs, professionals help others and make a real difference. Having a degree in criminal justice offers many benefits.
- Wages – jobs for criminal justice majors have the potential to bring in very good salaries.
- Job Outlook – Graduates of criminal justice degree programs typically see very good job growth and are almost always in demand.
- More competitive – these careers seem to be very popular today. An individual with a degree in criminal justice will have a competitive edge over someone with just a high school diploma or certificate of higher education.
- Variety of career opportunities – Graduates of criminal justice degree programs can choose from numerous career opportunities.
- Benefits – Insurance and benefits packages have become very important today to individuals starting new jobs. Criminal justice majors typically land jobs with very good benefits packages.
- Flexible learning – Unlike many degree programs students complete on campus, criminal justice degree programs are also online or hybrid, so they are very flexible.
- Ability to help others – Criminal justice professionals are almost always in a position to help others or help their communities, whether working as police officers, forensic scientists, or jailers. paralegals or probation officers.
Salary and Job Outlook for Criminal Justice
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted a 10 percent job growth for legal occupations and a 3 percent growth for protective service occupations between 2021 and 2031. Few things are as rewarding as knowing you’re helping others while keeping your community as free from crime as possible.
In addition to offering good job growth, those working in protective service jobs also earned a median annual wage of $82,430 as of May 2021.
Resources for Criminal Justice Students and Professionals
Graduates with a criminal justice degree can find networking opportunities and career development resources from professional organizations. Additionally, criminal justice students may find scholarships and career guidance from these organizations. Below are some of the professional organizations in the field.
- National Criminal Justice Association (website)
- American Criminal Justice Association (website)
- Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (website)
- International Police Association (website)
- American Society of Criminology (website)
- The American Correctional Association (website)
- American Probation and Parole Association (website)
- The American Academy of Forensic Science (website)
Your Criminal Justice Career
With such a positive job outlook, more and more individuals are choosing to earn degrees in this field. There are many excellent opportunities for individuals to give back to their communities and help keep law and order. Earning a criminal justice degree is an accomplishment that can benefit an individual throughout his or her life.
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