Candidates who are interested in working in law enforcement or similar legal fields often wonder, “how long does it take to get a criminal justice degree?” Surprisingly enough, criminal justice is a field that’s offered at various degree 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, candidates can choose from a multitude of job opportunities and careers.
Various Degree Options in Criminal Justice
Candidates who have decided to pursue careers in criminal justice 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 choose the appropriate degree program. In some cases, an individual may earn an associate degree and find a job with those particular educational requirements.
Once the individual has obtained some work experience, he or she may pursue a higher-level position without having to earn a higher degree. Experience plays an important part in many criminal justice jobs. If additional education is required for a certain position, it may just require completing a certificate program.
- Associate Degree – These two-year degree programs are generally found at 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 programs, bachelor’s degree programs are found at many colleges and universities.
- Master’s Degree – This graduate program generally takes two years to complete provided the individual already has a bachelor’s degree. They’re found at many colleges and universities.
- Doctoral Degree – Doctoral degrees are found at many colleges and universities and take from one to two years to complete. Students typically complete a thesis and/or a dissertation.
It’s also possible for students to earn a degree in criminal justice through distance learning. Many of the courses can be completed online, and the student completes a supervised internship in the field.
Associate Degrees in Criminal Justice
Individuals who wish to join the field quickly without having to attend college for several years are generally happy to discover several associate degrees in criminal justice programs are available. Students in criminal justice associate degree programs will complete general education courses like communication, speech, psychology, math and English the first half of the program and criminal justice courses the second half.
At the end of the program, the student is required to obtain some hands-on training through field experience or an internship in a criminal justice atmosphere. Here are a few of the many possible jobs a graduate of an associate’s degree in criminal justice may obtain after only two years of college.
- Police officer
- Corrections officer
- Private investigator
- Fish and game warden
- Fire inspector and investigator
- Crime scene technician
- Police dispatch
- Security officer
Bachelor’s Degrees in Criminal Justice
Candidates who decide to complete a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can choose from not just jobs requiring baccalaureate degrees but also careers offered at the associate’s degree level. It typically takes four years to complete a bachelor’s degree program in criminal justice. Programs may also require the student to complete general education courses, but many of the courses may have been completed at the associate degree level.
Students who complete a certificate program may not be required to complete all four years to earn the degree because the certificate is often equivalent to one year of college. 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 criminal justice professionals pursue a bachelor’s degree.
- Probation officer
- Police officer
- Correction officer
- Teacher or trainer
- State and federal courts
- Private security
- Social services
- Paralegal/legal assistant
- Compliance manager
Graduate Degrees in Criminal Justice
Both master’s and doctoral degree programs are considered graduate degrees in criminal justice. Candidates who choose one of these criminal justice degree options can expect to be in college for an additional one to three years or a total of six to eight years of college. The bright side of this is that once they complete the program, graduates can choose from just about any criminal justice career imaginable. Candidates who pursue a doctoral degree in criminal justice are typically interested in research or careers in academia. Graduates of criminal justice graduate-level programs are qualified to apply for almost any criminal justice position they could possibly want. criminal justice.
- 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 the criminal justice bachelor’s degree but are interested in specializing in a specific area of criminal justice. Master’s degree programs are very popular as online programs because 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 with a specialization in law enforcement, corrections or law enforcement to name just a few.
A criminal investigator with a bachelor’s degree may apply for a position as a supervisory criminal investigator upon earning a master’s degree. Graduates of criminal justice master’s or doctoral degrees are eligible for leadership or managerial positions in the field. There are so many careers that are possible to 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 real bonus because it allows individuals who might not have the opportunity to earn a degree the chance to earn the degree without giving up their current job or spend several years attending classes daily at a brick-and-mortar college. Online criminal justice programs are offered at almost every degree level, but bachelor’s and master’s degree programs are the levels most often completed through distance learning.
U.S. News & World Report states many criminal justice students choose online bachelor’s or master’s degree programs because it allows them to continue working while earning the degree. One of the biggest advantages of the online program is that students can choose to only complete a couple of credits per semester and still continue to work or meet other obligations. A student may earn an associate’s degree in criminal justice, which is enough education for criminal justice jobs. The individual can gain additional work experience while earning a higher degree.
Every year, more and more students are choosing to earn their degrees through distance learning. Another benefit of completing an online criminal justice degree program is that the student is in control of how long they’re in college. While most colleges will set a time limit in which the student must have the degree completed, it’s generally several years into the future. Depending on the student’s commitment and time, a master’s degree may be completed in as little as two years or may take four or five years to complete.
Benefits of a Degree in Criminal Justice
Having a degree in criminal justice can be a real source of pride because the individual is qualified to work in capacities where he or she can help others and make a real difference in the world. Having a degree in criminal justice offers may benefits.
- Wages – Criminal justice jobs have the potential to bring in very good wages.
- Job Outlook – Graduates of criminal justice programs typically see very good job growth and are almost always in demand.
- More competitive – Criminal justice careers seem to be very popular today, and 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 programs can choose from numerous career opportunities.
- Benefits – Insurance and benefits packages have become very important today to individuals starting new jobs. Criminal justice jobs typically come with very good benefits packages.
- Flexible learning – Unlike many degree programs that can only be completed on campus, criminal justice programs can be completed on campus, online or as hybrid programs, which makes them very flexible programs.
- Ability to help others – Criminal justice professionals are almost always in a position to help others or help their communities, whether they’re working as police officers, forensic scientists, jailers. paralegals or probation officers.
Career Outlook for Criminal Justice Graduates
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted a 7 percent job growth for legal occupations and a 3 percent growth for protective service occupations between 2018 and 2028. 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 $80,810 as of May 2018.
With criminal justice careers having such a positive career outlook, more and more individuals are choosing to earn degrees in criminal justice. Criminal justice careers are 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. Knowing the answer to “how long does it take to get a criminal justice degree?” is helpful when deciding which degree path to choose.