Top Criminal Justice Degree Programs

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With many salaries above the national average and positions expanding rapidly, it’s an exciting time to consider a career in criminal justice. Educational programs offer students a broad knowledge base and prepare graduates for roles in the government and private sectors. For students with a passion for justice and hopes of working within a community to enact change, use this guide to explore the criminal justice field. Prospective students can learn about their educational options, browse top schools, and explore career opportunities and funding options.

Best Criminal Justice Degrees

Rank School Location
1 Saint Leo University St. Leo, FL
2 CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice New York City, NY
3 Tiffin University Tiffin, OH
4 University of New Haven West Haven, CT
5 Eastern Kentucky University Richmond, KY
6 Lake Superior State University Sault Ste. Marie, MI
7 Utica College Utica, NY
8 Madonna University Livonia, MI
9 Keiser University Fort Lauderdale, FL
10 Anna Maria College Paxton, MA

Advertisement is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Best Criminal Justice Degrees


    To be considered for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria:

    • Accredited at the institutional level
    • Private nonprofit or public school
    • Minimum of 1 bachelor’s or master’s degree in subject area for 4-year schools
    • Minimum of 1 associate degree or certificate program in subject area for 2-year schools

    Schools were then scored on factors such as:

    • Cost & Financial Aid
    • Number and variety of program offerings
    • Student-teacher ratios
    • Graduation rates (4-year schools only)
    • Placement and support services offered
    • Academic/Career counseling services
    • Employment services
    • Loan default rates

    These factors were assembled for each school and rated using a peer-based-value (PBV) calculation. PBV compares the cost of a program to the cost of other programs with the same (or similar) qualitative score and cost. PBV denotes the overall value or “bang for your buck” of a college or degree program.

For prospective students pursuing a career in criminal justice it can be difficult to decide what schools offer the best degree programs. We’ve compiled the best schools offering criminal justice programs by analyzing a variety of factors such as cost, class size, and financial aid opportunities. Explore the ranking below to find the best criminal justice degrees for 2017.

2-Year Colleges

  1. Saint Leo University

    St. Leo, FL

    Students who study towards a bachelor's degree in criminal justice at Saint Leo University have the option to take their education in whatever direction they'd like. After earning their degree, students will be prepared to enter a professional role. However, they will also gain ample knowledge to continue their studies and pursue a graduate degree in criminal justice. Saint Leo also offers the degree program entirely only, perfect for those with families or careers they are currently focused on. The curriculum teaches both technical and abstract lessons in criminal justice, giving students an all-around education.

  2. CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice

    New York City, NY

    The CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice master's program in criminal justice is meant to allow students to study what they want, when they want. One part of this is that all classes are offered entirely online, allowing students to continue their career while studying to advance it. Also, the program can be completed in a relatively short amount of time. If they want, students can still opt to study on-campus at John Jay College of Criminal Justice as well. This master's program can go on to help students further their career or prepare them to continue their studies.

  3. Tiffin University

    Tiffin, OH

    Some students don't have the time to commute to campuses to complete their master's degree. To help with this, the University of New Haven offers their master's program in criminal justice entirely online. This is ideal for students that want to continue their education while also continuing their career. After earning a master's degree from New Haven, students will have more experience and knowledge that they'll need to continue their career in a criminal justice related field. New Haven also has an extensive alumni network, something that could help students get better connected to the field they're interested in.

  4. University of New Haven

    West Haven, CT

    No matter what stage of your career or education you're currently in, Eastern Kentucky University has a degree program ideal for you. Offering both bachelor's and master's degrees in criminal justice, Eastern Kentucky University allows students to complete their education entirely online. Each degree has a specific focus on the field that the student is most interested in entering or advancing through, making sure that they have the knowledge necessary to further their profession. This makes Eastern Kentucky's program ideal for anyone who is interested in furthering a career in criminal justice.

  5. Eastern Kentucky University

    Richmond, KY

    To best prepare students for a professional career in a criminal justice related field, Lake Superior State University has designed their degree program to give both practical knowledge and real-world experience. Students pursuing a bachelor's degree in criminal justice will learn through lectures while also bolstering their knowledge with hands-on practice. This will help give students an edge when competing to enter their field professionally. There are many different degree focuses in criminal justice offered, so students can take their education in any direction they'd like by studying a specific field.

  6. Lake Superior State University

    Sault Ste. Marie, MI

    Utica College separates itself from other institutions by offering areas of study that might be more specific to student interest. Because criminal justice is a large field, Utica is offering a bachelor's degree in criminal justice that deals with specifics rather than general studies. This gives students a chance to focus on their field and separate themselves from competitors who earned a general degree after graduation. The bachelor's degree program in criminal justice can be completed entirely online, and students will receive the same quality education they would expect from an on-campus degree program.

  7. Utica College

    Utica, NY

    Graduates of Madonna University’s criminal justice program go on to enter any number of criminal justice related fields. While students will enter one of many diverse fields in criminal justice, they are educated to take on leadership roles. This is best for students who want to eventually become leaders in their field and want to further their career. Madonna University also connected students who earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with professional roles, and students have the option to study in internships while pursuing their degree to make themselves stand out even more.

  8. Madonna University

    Livonia, MI

    Offered either on-campus or entirely online, Keiser University – Fort Lauderdale's bachelor's degree program in criminal justice is meant to give students a broad understanding of the field. This is best for students who are not yet sure what direction they want to take their degree professionally or those that will want to further their education with a master's degree. No matter what direction students decide to go, they will have the knowledge and experience needed to succeed in their desired field, and they will be prepared to enter a professional role after earning their degree.

  9. Keiser University

    Fort Lauderdale, FL

    Criminal justice is a rapidly changing field, especially due to the growth of technology and connectivity. Anna Maria College understands this and has constructed their curriculum to ensure that students can thrive in the modern world of criminal justice. To help with this, a master's degree in criminal justice at Anna Maria College can be focused on a specific track, giving students the in-depth knowledge of the subject needed to earn a better career in the field. Students will also receive a fair amount of education on theory, ethics and diversity.

  10. Anna Maria College

    Paxton, MA

4-Year Colleges

  1. Sinclair College

    Dayton, OH

    Offered entirely online, Sinclair College's criminal justice science programs give students the education and experience they need to land a position in their desired field. The two-year criminal justice program has different tracks that students can take. Each track shares some core curriculum to give students an understanding of criminal justice practices, both past and present. After, the tracks give specific instruction to students so they can learn more about their field of choice. The courses are also transferable to universities in case students want to pursue a four-year degree.

  2. Arkansas State University-Beebe

    Beebe, AR

    Multiple fields of law enforcement and criminal justice are offered at Arkansas State University Beebe campus. Each of these programs is designed to help students enter the professional field after earning their two-year degree in criminal justice. Students also have the option to further their education after earning a two-year degree if they want to continue toward a different career path. Courses for criminal justice at Arkansas State University are offered either on their Beebe campus or entirely online, in case students need the flexibility to study when they are free.

  3. Kansas City Kansas Community College

    Kansas City, KS

    Kansas City Kansas Community College offers many different two-year degrees in criminal justice, each of which leads toward a career in a related field. The degrees can be used to transfer to a four-year institution, or they can be applied directly toward a career. The curriculum at Kansas City Kansas Community College combines technical criminal justice courses to give students a fundamental knowledge of criminal justice. After that, students will focus more on their desire field, giving them the chance to focus courses that are more applicable to their career goals.

  4. Hillsborough Community College

    Tampa, FL

    The curriculum for an associate degree in criminal justice at Hillsborough Community College gives students the essentials to succeed in their field. The program begins with a broad teaching of criminal justice, and it eventually develops into more specific courses that students are interested in learning about. An associate in criminal justice at Hillsborough Community College will give students the knowledge and experience to work in a career related to law. Credits can be transferred to a four-year institution if students wish to continue their educations as well, but the degree on its own gives students the knowledge they need.

  5. Pima Community College

    Tucson, AZ

    Pima Community College offers an associate degree in law enforcement that can be used to help students earn an entry-level position in their desired field. Law enforcement is an important part of criminal justice, so Pima Community College makes sure that students earn a thorough understanding of the field. After completing their degree, students will have more than enough knowledge and experience to enter their field of choice. Courses can also be taken online if students have to work around a full-time job or a family, or in person if students want direct instruction.

  6. Hill College

    Hillsboro, TX

    The degree structure for an associate degree at Hill College is incredibly flexible, designed to meet the needs of the student. Because criminal justice is such a diverse field, an associate degree in criminal justice at Hill College can come in different forms. There are multiple specializations students can choose from, each of which is designed either to help students earn an entry-level position or continue their education at a four-year institution. Regardless of where students go with their degree, they will have both the theoretical and practical knowledge to make an impact in their field.

  7. Howard College

    Big Spring, TX

    The two-year program for a degree in criminal justice at Howard College offers students the flexibility to study the courses they are interested in. While there is a core curriculum that needs to be studied, students are also able to pick and choose the courses they want to give themselves more experience in their desired field. This is ideal for students that may want to continue their education by transferring to a four-year institution, or those that have a very specific career in mind that they want to work toward. Courses are offered online or in person on Howard College's campus.

  8. NorthWest Arkansas Community College

    Bentonville, AR

    Criminal justice is a growing field, and NorthWest Arkansas Community College has structured their curriculum to give students a broad understanding of criminal justice. This way, students can use their associate degree in criminal justice to enter almost any field that is related to the program. To make sure that students are learning what they are interested in, there are multiple tracks offered at NorthWest Arkansas Community College, each of which leads toward a specific career. Students should be prepared for an entry-level job by the time they complete their degree.

  9. Chemeketa Community College

    Salem, OR

    The associate degree in criminal justice offered by Chemeketa Community College is meant to steer students toward a field in juvenile corrections. While completing their degree, students will also earn a certificate in juvenile corrections which may be needed for them to gain employment in their desired field. Courses at Chemeketa Community College are offered entirely online, so students don't need to commute to campus at specific times each week. While the program is ideal for juvenile corrections, the material can be applied to any number of fields related to criminal justice.

  10. Oakland Community College

    Bloomfield Hills, MI

Criminal Justice Learning Center

Criminal justice programs vary as much as the individuals who choose them. Use our school search tool below to help narrow down your options. Whether seeking an online or on-campus program, a specific school size, or a certain price bracket, this tool provides students with a list of programs tailored to individual needs and preferences.

Browse Criminal Justice Programs by State

Like many other professions, criminal justice careers may have varying salaries, licensing requirements or job functions depending on the state. In addition, it can be helpful to explore educational options in your state to find the right school and program for your needs.


What a Criminal Justice Degree Can Do for You

With educational and career opportunities ranging across specialties like law enforcement, forensics, homeland security and corrections, criminal justice students have flexibility when selecting their path. Students can earn a general criminal justice degree and then hone in their concentration once they enter the job market, or pursue a specialized degree in an area of concentration such as forensic psychology, counterterrorism or cybercrime.

Increasingly, criminal justice employers are seeking candidates with some form of post-secondary education. This can include everything from police academy training to a doctorate in criminology. Regardless of the discipline or specific career path, it’s important for prospective criminal justice professionals to get the right education to learn the necessary skills and stay relevant in a competitive job market. Definition 

Criminal justice is the system in place for dealing with criminal behaviors. Made up of a series of practices and laws, the system exists to monitor criminal behavior, catch individuals engaging in unlawful activities, provide a legal framework for establishing guilt or innocence, and offer a series of precedents on how to punish someone based on their actions. Within this framework, three primary institutions oversee the proceedings: law enforcement, courts, and correctional facilities.

Top Skills & Learning Outcomes

Although most frequently associated with careers in policing, criminal justice degrees prepare students for a wide breadth of professional options thanks to the integration of numerous academic disciplines. Gradates of criminal justice programs will gain and apply skills in diverse and highly valued areas such as:

  • LAW

Graduates with degrees in criminal justice have many doors open to them – ranging from post-graduate study in public administration, emergency management, or law to careers in criminal justice research, security management, forensics, social work, and intelligence gathering.

Paul Grattan, Jr.

  • In 2015, the FBI’s Computer Analysis Response Team examined 9,770 terabytes of data during the course of 7,338 investigations.
  • The annual cost of corrections in the United States is about $70 billion.
  • The highest concentration of criminal investigators resides in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas.
  • As of 2014, there were 806,400 police and detectives working in the United States, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • There are 94 federal judicial districts spread throughout the country, and probation officers work in all of them.


Criminal Justice Degrees by Level

Associate Degrees

Type of Schools Community colleges, vocational/trade schools, online schools

Time to Complete Two years

Students are eligible to apply for entrance to an associate-level criminal justice program with a high school diploma or a GED. Students learn a variety of foundational topics, ranging from law enforcement and corrections to the courts systems and probationary policies.


Bachelor’s Degrees

Type of Schools Four-year colleges and universities, online schools

Time to Complete Four years

Students complete general education requirements and major-specific courses covering the same topics of an associate degree but in more depth. Students selecting a concentration must complete nine to 12 hours in that area. While internships may not be required, they can be valuable in securing a job after graduation.


Master’s Degrees

Type of Schools Four-year colleges and universities, online schools

Time to Complete Two to three years

Covering topics ranging from victimology and terrorism to policing and cross-cultural issues, graduates are prepared for management and leadership roles. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field and have a certain GPA. Completion of a master’s program requires students to complete a thesis or pass a comprehensive exam.


Doctorate Degrees (PhD)

Type of Schools Four-year colleges and universities, select online schools

Time to Complete Five to six years

Focused on theory, policy, and research, individuals seeking a PhD in criminal justice often aspire to high-level government positions or university-level professorships. Applicants must hold at least a bachelor’s degree and submit a recent GRE score. Many programs require a residency and a dissertation for completion.


Online Learning for Criminal Justice

Criminal justice programs are available online at every degree level from associate to doctorate. Although program structure varies by degree level and concentration, the majority are offered asynchronously with requirements for online discussions, projects and tests. Students pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree will be required to complete some type of field placement, residency, or internship.


Paying for Your Criminal Justice Degree

Students pursuing a degree in criminal justice have many funding opportunities available to them. The table below provides a look at the range of options, including four types that don’t have to be paid back.

  • Scholarships Whether a general award or specific to the study of criminal justice, scholarships are most frequently awarded based on merit or financial need. Amounts vary greatly, but students can be awarded multiple scholarships to cover tuition.
  • Grants Most similar to scholarships, grants do not have to be repaid. They are most often awarded based on financial need through government bodies or private foundations. The amounts vary, and can be combined with other sources of funding to pay for school.
  • Loans Available through federal financial aid and private lenders, loans allow students to borrow money for school and repay it with interest. Federal student loans do not have to be repaid until after school, come with fixed interest rates, and offer numerous repayment plans.
  • Fellowships Typically available at the graduate level, fellowships often cover tuition costs and allow students to engage in advanced study or initiative development. Fellowships can range from a few months to the entire program length.
  • Work-Study Available through federal financial aid, work-study allows students to work at their academic institution or a local organization, and funds can either be used toward tuition or for everyday living expenses. Work-study is based on financial need.


Advice from the Field: Expert Interview

  • What should students look for in a truly exceptional criminal justice education program?

    The best criminal justice programs provide quality job placement resources and opportunities for internships, externships, and research work. Institutions with programs in forensic psychology, criminology, security management, social work, or communications in addition to their criminal justice programs tend to offer students a wider variety of elective courses to choose from, and these will help round out degree programs. It’s also critical to look at the backgrounds of instructors in the programs. Top schools have professors with experience in the military, local or federal law enforcement, and private security firms.

  • What do you see as the future for the field of criminal justice?

    The criminal justice field looks excellent for the foreseeable future. Entry-level government careers in policing increasingly require degrees, and those with criminal justice degrees will naturally be favored. As public safety and security continue to be paramount, government investment in policing and counterterrorism will continue to be a priority. Likewise, the private security sector continues to grow, as companies and their clients see the need to invest heavily in systems security, access control, forensic investigations, and employee background screening. Schools are also beginning to demonstrate that they see the field advancing – by putting resources into more specialized courses that examine areas like cyber-crime, counterterrorism, and advanced legal studies.

  • What is your favorite part of your job?

    My education provided an outstanding base for a career in policing. Law enforcement offers much opportunity for advancement into a supervisory or investigative track. I now enjoy my work as a front-line supervisor and can assure students there is no shortage of quality options available to them. Policing is a great choice, and helping others is incredibly rewarding. Police work varies from day to day, and those in the field can move from patrol work, investigations, administration, training, and many other parts of the police organization. I enjoy this aspect of policing the most, and would encourage others to consider work in the criminal justice field for the very same reason.

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