Top Criminal Justice Degrees

Make a difference in your community by earning a criminal justice degree. Explore our list of the top criminal justice programs.

May 24, 2022 • 6 Min Read

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Learners with a high school or GED diploma can pursue an online criminal justice degree. Applicants may need to submit standardized test scores and recommendation letters. Coursework covers criminology theories, communication skills, and challenges criminal justice professionals face.

Popular criminal justice jobs include police officer, private investigator, and criminal profiler. Some careers require a bachelor's degree and professional experience. The following guide to online criminal justice degrees answers frequently asked questions, highlights typical courses, and explores career paths. Before applying to criminal justice schools, learners should contact an admissions advisor about program requirements and outcomes.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Criminal Justice

Q. What kind of jobs can I get with a criminal justice degree?

Criminal justice careers include counterterrorism investigator, paralegal, and public policy analyst. Bachelor's degree-seekers prepare for careers through specialization or elective courses.

Q. What are the highest-paying criminal justice jobs?

Some of the highest-paying criminal justice jobs include lawyer, forensic analyst, and private investigator. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), lawyers earn a median salary of $126,930 per year.

Q. What skills does criminal justice require?

Criminal justice professionals need transferable skills in written and oral communication, time management, and critical thinking. Students earning an online criminal justice degree develop these skills in major and general election classes.

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Why Get a Degree in Criminal Justice?

According to the BLS, police officers and detectives earn a median annual salary of $67,290, approximately $25,000 more than median salary for all occupations. Other criminal justice professionals, such as emergency management directors, earn higher median salaries. The BLS projects employment for police officers and emergency management directors to increase about as fast as average from 2020-2030.

Online criminal justice degrees offer flexibility and accessibility. Distance learning allows more learners to access criminal justice careers. Asynchronous learning allows degree-seekers to schedule their education around work and family responsibilities. Additionally, online students can enroll in out-of-state programs without relocating.

How Much Does a Criminal Justice Cost?

Although tuition varies by school, many online degrees offer a tuition rate much lower than what on-campus degree-seekers pay. Students find affordable online criminal justice degrees by exploring in-state public schools. Most public schools charge the lowest tuition to residents. Typical full-time students earn a bachelor's degree in four years. Accelerated degree-seekers may need only three years. Part-time learners may need five years.

Online criminal justice degrees may charge fees, such as a technology fee. Other expenses include textbooks and a graduation fee. Learners should also budget for technology, as they must meet their school's technology requirements. Students may need to purchase a new computer or a faster internet connection.

How Much Do Criminal Justice Majors Make?

Salary potential depends on many factors, such as location. Police and patrol officers living in California, New Jersey, and Alaska earn the highest median salaries, according to BLS data. Washington state and Hawaii also offer high salaries. However, these states' costs of living exceed the national average. Students interested in high-paying criminal justice careers can consider fire inspector and forensic science technician.

Graduates of criminal justice schools often qualify for more career opportunities. The FBI requires all special agents to hold a bachelor's degree. Some specialized law enforcement agents need an academic background in criminal justice and another subject.

Courses in Criminal Justice

Online criminal justice degrees require major courses, general education classes, and electives. Major coursework prepares learners to identify why crime happens and determine appropriate consequences. Students learn how various agencies make communities safer. Many programs feature concentrations aligning with certain careers.

The following sample curriculum highlights three courses that many affordable online criminal justice degrees require. Curricula and student experiences vary by school. Program websites typically provide information about academic requirements and graduates' employers. Prospective students can also explore their school's career center website.

  • Essentials of Psychology

    This introductory course covers the relationship between biology and psychology, the human nervous system, and development over the lifespan. Students learn to analyze case studies and draw conclusions about criminals' motivations. The course does not typically require prerequisites.
  • Police Studies

    Regardless of their career goals, students take this class to understand officers' roles in law enforcement. Coursework explores law enforcement theories, procedures, and types of violence. Learners also examine police corruption's impact on public safety. Degree-seekers analyze a community's law enforcement needs and draft a community policing policy.
  • Legal Research and Writing

    Paralegals, lawyers, and judges need advanced research and writing skills. Students in this course improve their information literacy, use research aids, and write memoranda. Learners complete research projects on criminal justice topics such as parental custody. Prerequisites may include a first-year English or writing course.

Career and Salary Outlook for Criminal Justice

The criminal justice field has dozens of career tracks. Many feature high median annual salaries and strong projected growth rates. Graduates of criminal justice schools qualify for a variety of fulfilling job opportunities.

The following descriptions highlight popular career's responsibilities. Job duties vary by state and employer. Some jobs require professional experience in addition to a criminal justice degree. Career advisors can help students understand specific job requirements.

true Police and Detectives $67,290 7%

Police officers and detectives respond to emergencies, make patrols, and arrest suspects. Other typical job duties include maintaining paperwork and testifying in court. Some entry-level positions require only a high school diploma. However, police and detectives must graduate from a police academy. Bachelor's degree-holders may qualify for promotions and additional career opportunities.

true Probational and Correctional Officers $55,690 4%

These professionals work with recently paroled criminals. They help parolees attain work and access social services, such as psychological and drug treatment. These officers also perform drug tests and update files. Most probation and correctional officers hold a criminal justice bachelor's degree.

true Forensic Science Technicians $60,590 16%

Forensic science technicians collect evidence from crime scenes. These professionals may specialize in sketching or photography. They perform laboratory tests and work alongside other scientists. Officers use these technicians' results to arrest and prosecute suspects. Forensic science technicians benefit from an academic background in the natural sciences.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Top Criminal Justice Programs

  1. Saint Leo University
    Location

    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
    Location

    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
    Location

    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
    Location

    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
    Location

    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
    Location

    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
    Location

    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
    Location

    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
    Location

    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
    Location

    Paxton, MA

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