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2024 Best College for Criminal Justice

Criminal justice majors study how and why crimes get committed and what society can do about it. The subject is a fascinating one. 

Unfortunately, however, many people with a bachelor’s in criminal justice fail to find a well-paying job in their field. That makes it all the more important to find an affordable criminal justice program that will pay off after graduation. 

We unveil the best colleges for criminal justice in 2024 – by value for money. These programs offer the best possible combination of affordability and earnings potential after you leave college. 

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Is criminal justice a good major?

Criminal justice is certainly an interesting major, but economically speaking, it’s not so hot. In fact, criminal justice is in the bottom 40% of all majors by value for money, according to our economic score metric. 

Despite being one of the most popular undergraduate degrees, 4 years after graduating, criminal justice majors earn $10,823 less than the average bachelor’s holder. 

Use our major comparison tool below to compare criminal justice to other degrees. 

    Click on a degree card to reveal more information.
    Poor Value
    Criminal Justice
    AVERAGE SALARY $46,608
    COST $15,949

    Bottom 40% of all degrees by ROI

    EARNINGS PLUS

    EarningsPlus compares student earnings after college against a benchmark that Degreechoices adjusts based on each school’s unique mix of academic programs and the in-state/out-of-state composition of the student body.

    -$10,704
    PAYBACK

    Payback measures how long it takes the average student to pay back the total cost of attending college with marginal earnings. Marginal earnings are the difference between what the average student would have earned before attending college and what they earn afterwards.

    7.3
    ECONOMIC SCORE

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    9.03
    add-plus
    add-plus

    How we rank criminal justice programs

    We ranked all accredited criminal justice bachelor’s programs in the U.S. that are registered with the National Center for Education Statistics’ IPEDS tool (CIP code 43.01).  

    We evaluated 456 bachelor’s programs and ranked them by value for money, as reflected in our economic score metric. The lower the economic score, the better. 

    Criminal justice programs with a low economic score provide the optimal combination of affordability and high earnings after graduation

    All data on net cost and post-graduation economic outcomes is sourced from IPEDS and College Scorecard.  

    Read more about our methodology here

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    20 best colleges for criminal justice

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    20 of 455

    #1 in Criminal Justice
    Economic score 0.56

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $28,463

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $118,578

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 83%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    A private college in Cincinnati Ohio, UI&U is an online institution. It has an exceptional criminal justice program that leads to post-college earnings that are far above average for the field, making it the best-value criminal justice program on the market. Its flexible online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Management is designed for working criminal justice professionals who want to climb the career ladder and assume management and executive positions. Students can choose between concentrations in homeland security and organizational leadership. Note that according to its Wikipedia page, this university is currently experiencing financial hardship that may affect financial aid. 

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    #2 in Criminal Justice
    Economic score 0.89

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $3,780

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $55,358

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 62%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    The second-best college in the U.S. for criminal justice has the field in its name: CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice is a public university that provides many high-value criminal justice degrees leading to jobs in the field. Thanks to its affordable tuition, students graduate without excessive debt. It is one of the first universities in the United States devoted to police science. 

    CUNY John Jay provides many types of criminal justice degrees at the bachelor’s level; students can choose to focus on institutional theory & practice, criminal justice management, crime control & prevention, criminology, deviance, crime & culture, forensic science, fraud examination, and more. 

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    #3 in Criminal Justice

    Florida State University

    Tallahassee, Florida

    Economic score 1.86

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $6,450

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $49,000

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 84%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    Florida State, or FSU, is a public research university in Tallahassee, Florida. Through its renowned College of Criminology & Criminal Justice, it offers a high-value Criminology and Criminal Justice major for undergraduate students. The program is very broad, meaning students get acquainted with all facets of the criminal justice system in the United States. It also offers a Cyber Criminology major for students who prefer to specialize. The major prepares students to fight cybercrime, making them highly employable in the growing cybersecurity sector. 

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    #4 in Criminal Justice
    Economic score 1.92

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $5,752

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $51,658

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 72%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    Stanislaus State, or Stan Sate, is a public university in California’s Central Valley. It is an officially designated Hispanic-serving institution. Its Criminal Justice program is perfect for people interested in law enforcement, the legal system, forensics, working with at-risk youth, correctional counseling, and private security. Graduates go on to work as law enforcement officers, social workers, probation and parole officers, crime scene investigators, crime analysts, and more. 

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    #5 in Criminal Justice
    Economic score 1.99

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $5,385

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $50,806

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 71%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    The third-best college in America for criminal justice is California State University, Los Angeles, often referred to as Cal State LA. This affordable, diverse public university is an officially designated Hispanic-serving institution. 

    Its School of Criminal Justice and Criminalistics offers a popular B.S. in Criminal Justice that gives students a thorough grounding in theory, research methodology, data analysis, criminal law, and more, empowering them to propose innovative responses to contemporary justice problems at multiple levels. 

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    #6 in Criminal Justice
    Economic score 2.15

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $11,159

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $57,898

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 70%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    California State University, East Bay (Cal State East Bay or CSU East Bay) is a public university in Hayward, California, in the Bay Area. The university also has centers in Oakland and Concord. Its B.S. in Criminal Justice program delves into practice, criminological theory, crime prevention, forensic science and investigation, corrections, equity and diversity, and the impact of victimization. Seniors can take advantage of internship opportunities throughout the Bay Area. 

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    #7 in Criminal Justice

    Robert Morris University

    Moon Township, Pennsylvania

    Economic score 2.15

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $24,724

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $72,032

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 70%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    RMU is a private university in Moon Township, Pennsylvania, located just outside Pittsburgh.

    It offers a B.S. in Criminal Justice that advertises real-world experience (an internship or practicum in the final year is required), practitioner faculty, and a comprehensive curriculum. All students must choose a minor as well.

    RMU’s criminal justice students gain “practical and broad knowledge drawn from sociology, psychology, forensics, and political science.”

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    #8 in Criminal Justice
    Economic score 2.43

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $4,058

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $46,484

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 70%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    A public university in the California State system, which is well known throughout the country for its affordability, Cal State Dominguez Hills is home to the 4th best criminal justice program in the country. Its unique Criminal Justice Administration program provides professional preparation in national and local law enforcement, corrections, juvenile justice, homeland security, and intelligence analysis.  

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    #9 in Criminal Justice

    San Jose State University

    San Jose, California

    Economic score 2.49

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $14,370

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $60,503

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 76%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    #10 in Criminal Justice

    Elmhurst University

    Elmhurst, Illinois

    Economic score 2.53

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $22,415

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $66,495

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 70%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    Elmhurst University is a private university in Elmhurst, Illinois. It is affiliated with the United Church of Christ. Elmhurst's Major in Criminal Justice is perfect for those who wish to pursue a career in advocacy, teaching, law enforcement, academics, or the law.  

    Students complete core courses such as theories of criminology, introduction to the criminal justice system, and methods of social research. They also choose courses from electives like juvenile delinquency, gender and crime, social and criminal justice policy, corrections, law and politics, and criminal investigations. 

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    #11 in Criminal Justice
    Economic score 2.53

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $17,925

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $64,015

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 63%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    Concordia is a private university in Saint Paul, Minnesota. It is affiliated with the Lutheran church. Its Criminal Justice BA program is perfect both for fresh undergraduate students and people with working experience in criminal justice. The program emphasizes current research trends, ethics, professionalism, creative decision-making, and leadership development.    

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    #12 in Criminal Justice
    Economic score 2.61

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $11,990

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $57,113

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 57%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    #13 in Criminal Justice
    Economic score 2.65

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $10,911

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $56,016

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 70%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    California State University, Sacramento (which also goes by CSUS, Sacramento State, or Sac State) is a public university in California’s capital city. Its BS in Criminal Justice gives students a sweeping overview of crime, crime control, the justice process, and criminal justice institutions. It is one of the most popular programs in Northern California; as a result, this major is “impacted,” meaning students need to apply to it separately after securing a place at Sacramento State. 

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    #14 in Criminal Justice
    Economic score 2.65

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $7,191

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $50,722

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 62%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    Cal State Bakersfield is a public university in the southern part of California’s Central Valley. Its Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice explores the nature and causes of crime, research and statistical methods to better understand criminal behavior, the role of criminal law, the U.S. criminal justice system, and the philosophy behind criminal punishment. The program has a reputation for academic excellence. 

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    #15 in Criminal Justice

    George Mason University

    Fairfax, Virginia

    Economic score 2.74

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $17,385

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $61,608

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 77%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    #16 in Criminal Justice

    Saint Xavier University

    Chicago, Illinois

    Economic score 2.76

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $12,688

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $56,487

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 62%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    Saint Xavier University, or SXU, is a private Roman Catholic-affiliated university in Chicago, Illinois. It was founded by the Sisters of Mercy in 1846.  Students who pursue a B.A. in Criminal Justice at Saint Xavier explore the main branches of the criminal justice system and develop insight into the moral, philosophical, historical, and scientific underpinnings of criminal justice topics. 

    Students gain hands-on experience through local internships and take a trip to Washington D.C. Graduates typically go on to work in corrections, probation, law enforcement, law, and victims' services. 

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    #17 in Criminal Justice

    Oakland City University

    Oakland City, Indiana

    Economic score 2.77

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $16,193

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $59,489

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 61%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    Oakland City University, or OCU, is a private university affiliated with the General Baptist Church. Located in Oakland City, Indiana, this program is perfect for people who want to study criminal justice in a Christian setting. Its BS in Criminal Justice offers a strong foundation in studies of law enforcement and criminal justice systems and practice. Students choose between 2 concentrations: general criminal justice or investigative forensics.  

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    #18 in Criminal Justice

    Sonoma State University

    Rohnert Park, California

    Economic score 2.82

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $14,528

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $58,007

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 68%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    #19 in Criminal Justice

    Caldwell University

    Caldwell, New Jersey

    Economic score 2.90

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $19,811

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $62,974

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 63%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

    Caldwell University is a private university in New Jersey located just 20 miles from Manhattan. Founded by the Sisters of St. Dominic, it is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church. It offers a B.A. in Criminal Justice that features internships and opportunities for independent study. Examples of course offerings include cybercrime, domestic and international terrorism, victimology, and juvenile justice. 

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    #20 in Criminal Justice

    Norwich University

    Northfield, Vermont

    Economic score 2.93

    Our economic score ranks programs based on a combination of payback and EarningsPlus. Lower scores are better. Check our methodology page for details and data sources.

    Cost $23,087

    The median net cost of students who receive federal financial aid. This is lower than the price advertised by the school.

    Earnings $64,050

    Median earnings of all students 4 years after graduating.

    Graduation rate 60%

    Graduation rates below the school’s state average are shown in red. Schools with graduation rates in the bottom 25% nationally (49%) are not  displayed.

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    Criminal justice programs in your state

    Highest earning states for criminal justice grads

    State Average salary
    Vermont $58,581
    New Hampshire $57,465
    Massachusetts $54,236
    Wyoming $52,587
    Maryland $52,440

    Jobs with a criminal justice degree

    Many people with a bachelor’s in criminal justice struggle to find a well-paying job after graduation. In fact, according to research by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, criminal justice degree holders have the highest rate of underemployment among all college majors

    Underemployment is when you have a job, but not one you need your college degree for – think baristas with a bachelor's in fine arts. 

    This is because many jobs in corrections and law enforcement do not require a bachelor’s degree. Other, more lucrative jobs in criminal justice (like forensic technician or financial examiner) are often very technical and require something other than a generic “criminal justice” degree.  

    Some jobs in criminal justice lie at the intersection of several disciplines, like IT (cybersecurity specialists), social work (probation officers), or finance (white-collar crime investigators). Therefore, depending on what kind of job you want, it could be a smart move to pursue a double major.  

    The criminal justice bachelor’s degree is a popular option for students who plan to go to law school. That said, you don’t need to major in criminal justice to get into law school; in fact, you can major in just about anything. 

    You are likely to need a bachelor’s in criminal justice for 3 reasons:  

    1. You want to work for a federal law enforcement agency like the FBI;
    2. You’re interested in the more technical side of law and justice, like forensics or financial crime;
    3. You want to eventually become a researcher or academic after getting a PhD.

    Before committing to a bachelor’s in criminal justice, ensure you have a specific job in mind for after you graduate. Try networking or reaching out to people in your community who have that career to find out what kind of education and experience you need. 

    $101,750
    First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives
    $91,100
    Detectives and Criminal Investigators
    $53,040
    Bailiffs
    $84,300
    Financial Examiners
    $72,280
    Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers
    $53,300
    Correctional Officers and Jailers
    $64,940
    Forensic Science Technicians
    $49,540
    Private Detectives and Investigators
    $83,960
    Emergency Management Directors
    $53,940
    Child, Family, and School Social Workers

    Online criminal justice programs

    Perhaps surprisingly, online criminal justice programs perform just as well (or just as “meh”) as traditional colleges.  

    On average, graduates of online criminal justice programs earn 5% more than graduates of on-campus programs (online programs are also about 1% cheaper). 

    Criminal justice certification

    Professional certifications in criminal justice can give you a career boost, but not all jobs require them.  

    For example, you do not technically need a special license to become a paralegal or a forensic technician, although such certification is fairly common, and some employers may prefer licensed candidates.  

    Investigate job openings in your area before paying to take a licensing course. Certifications can open doors to better-paying jobs by helping you improve your skills, but be sure you have a clear goal in mind when considering licensure or certification. 

    Notably, if you want to become a private detective, most jurisdictions will require you to obtain a Private Investigator License. Practicing as a detective without the proper license could have legal consequences, so be sure to read up on local laws. 

    How much can you make with a criminal justice degree?

    On average, someone with a bachelor’s in criminal justice earns $45,092 per year just 4 years after graduating (including criminal justice grads who don’t work in their field). Getting a master’s degree will only provide an average salary increase of 19%.  

    Below, we indicate the average salary for people with a criminal justice degree 4 years after leaving college at different levels of education. 

    Data is sourced from IPEDS.  

    Associate Bachelor Master
    $37,198 $46,717 $54,397

    Propel your career from anywhere.

    Take our quiz to find the online degree that’s best for you. Compare hundreds of schools and apply to your dream college today.