Guide to getting a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice
Do you want to serve and give back to the community? If so, a career in criminal justice may be for you. Jobs in corrections, law enforcement, or federal government, contribute to the protection of others. Without the honest, well-meaning, and determined people in these roles, we would be living in anarchy. As Francis Bacon once said, “If we do not maintain justice, justice will not maintain us.”
For many positions in police departments and organizations like the FBI, a bachelor’s in criminal justice is the minimum requirement. This degree also opens up dozens of career options in science, law, accounting, psychology, and social work. A bachelor’s in criminal justice can either be used to jumpstart an exciting career in law enforcement, or as foundation for postgraduate studies in other fields.
Broadly speaking, the job outlook for careers in this field is excellent. For example, it is predicted that the overall employment of police and detectives will grow by 7% between 2020 and 2030. So, if you are passionate about safeguarding society, and want to build a well-remunerated career, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice could start you on that path.
Before the 18th century, criminal punishments were brutal. They frequently involved flogging, branding, and even cutting off body parts. Fortunately, the public grew to see this as barbaric, and prison sentences emerged as a less gruesome option.
Bachelor’s in criminal justice program basics
The bachelor’s in criminal justice is designed to provide students with a broad understanding of the criminal field and prepare them for professional careers in criminal justice and related areas. It increases a candidates options in the field and gives them better job prospects, when compared to say an associate’s degree, or high school diploma.
What can you do with a bachelor’s in criminal justice?
Upon graduation, bachelor degree holders can apply for rewarding careers in any of the 3 branches of criminal justice: law enforcement, the court system, and the corrections system. Positions such as probation officer, legal assistant, and customs agent, usually require a degree in criminal justice or related field. Employees can then acquire more training and qualifications on the job, allowing them to climb the ranks.
A bachelor’s in criminal justice covers a broad range of subject areas. Therefore, it can be used as a foundation for further study, whether that be in the criminal justice sector or another field entirely.
Graduates may decide to improve their employment prospects and further specialize by taking a master’s degree in criminal justice. This post graduate qualification can be required for some mid-to-upper management positions in criminal justice.
Should you get a bachelor’s in criminal justice?
A career in criminal justice requires integrity, courage and determination. Communication skills and empathy are also important because you may find yourself working with people from different backgrounds. If you possess these attributes and want to make the world a better place, then this could be the right degree for you.
Is a bachelor’s in criminal justice a good option financially? The table shows a snapshot of earnings 2 years after graduation and compares this to the entire bachelor’s degree market.
Bachelor’s in criminal justice
The above table provides a snapshot of earnings 3 years after graduation. We compare the earnings of all bachelor degree recipients to those who graduated from this specific program.
The table below shows a longer-term estimate of degree performance. It displays typical salary growth for bachelor’s in criminal justice graduates, based on census survey data.
The statistics show that when it comes to short-term earnings, a bachelor’s in criminal justice fares less well than other degree programs. This may be because it takes time for graduates to establish themselves in the field. Most entry-level positions require further education to specialize, which often happens on the job.
The long-term picture is more positive. Salary growth outperforms other degree programs between ages 30-44. This may be because all of the necessary training has been completed and graduates have climbed the ranks.
How to pick a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice
Accreditation is an important factor when deciding which program to choose. Students at accredited institutions can access federal funds, and credits earned can be more easily transferred to other schools. If you decide to continue studying after your bachelor’s degree and earn professional licenses and certificates, an accredited degree can be a prerequisite.
The Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) maintain extensive databases of accredited schools and programs. Criminal justice programs do not generally receive programmatic accreditation, but a body that is considered to be the leading accreditation organization for criminal justice education programs is the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS).
Another factor to consider is the area of criminal justice you want to specialize in. There are numerous concentrations to choose from. The right one for you depends on where your main interest lies and career goals. Below are just some of the possible subjects available:
This looks at the programs and practices currently in place to rehabilitate criminals in correctional institutions and offenders in release programs. Students acquire in-depth knowledge of the policies and laws regulating corrections and the management of offenders. They study the sociological, biological, and psychological factors that can influence criminal behavior.
This is the study of the criminal mind and what makes someone commit a crime. Criminal psychologists can be used in investigative work and as profilers to look for behavioral patterns to help identify offenders and to assess what they are going to do next. Criminal psychologists are often asked to evaluate the mental health of criminals at the time of the offense and whether they are competent to stand trial.
A concentration in homeland security focuses on all types of threats, natural and man-made. The curriculum looks at law enforcement, crisis response, public safety, infrastructure protection, and the development of effective response plans to public safety threats at the local to the federal level. Additionally, students explore domestic and international terrorism, civil liberties, and the collection and analysis of intelligence.
This concentration provides an understanding of how to work with victims of crime, their families, and the community at large. By gaining an in-depth knowledge of the types, causes, dynamics, and effects of victimization, graduates gain an awareness of the legal rights of crime victims and the role of restorative justice in healing victims of crime, and the provision of services to victims and survivors.
In 1857 the NYPD compiled a book of photos of the worst criminals in the area. This became a potential suspect list, shown to victims and witnesses of crimes. The NYPD called this book ‘the rogues gallery’, and it has been a staple of law enforcement ever since.
Can I study a bachelor’s in criminal justice online?
A bachelor’s in criminal justice can be studied online. As the table below indicates, the online offering is similar to the market-wide average.
Bachelor’s in criminal justice
The above table shows the percentage of programs available either completely in person or fully online. Figures that do not add up to 100% indicate the existence of hybrid programs.
A large portion of the criminal justice curriculum is theoretical, lending itself well to the online format. Many students cite an internship as one of the most beneficial parts of the program, so if you plan to take the online route, check you can still participate in a practicum. On average, the difference in costs between online and on-campus degrees is negligible, with online programs coming in at $16,126, and on-campus programs costing $15,619.
Top bachelor’s in criminal justice programs
Below you can find details about the comparative earnings, costs, and payback rates of different bachelor’s in criminal justice programs. Please review our methodology for more information on what metrics we use, and how we determine comparative value between institutions.
The economic valuation model looks first at the number of years it takes students to ” payback” educational cost with new earnings. Then we divide this by how much more or less students earn than the average student in the same field of study and degree level – the ” degree premium”. The better a school’s degree premium and payback, the higher the school ranks on our list.
Graduation rates: Graduation rates that under-perform the average in the state are shown in red. Schools in the bottom 25% of graduation rate nationally are pushed to the bottom of our ranking engine.
Union Institute & University
Admission rate: N/A
Grad rate: 72%
Net cost: $16,585
Vs. state average: $71,502
Economic score: 0.35
CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice
New York, New York
Admission rate: 38%
Grad rate: 54%
Net cost: $2,532
Vs. state average: $3,490
Economic score: 0.45
California State University-Los Angeles
Los Angeles, California
Admission rate: 77%
Grad rate: 65%
Net cost: $2,768
Vs. state average: $3,059
Economic score: 0.74
Elizabeth City State University
Elizabeth City, North Carolina
Admission rate: 75%
Grad rate: 46%
Net cost: $2,350
Vs. state average: $-2,301
Economic score: 0.98
California State University-Dominguez Hills
Admission rate: 82%
Grad rate: 64%
Net cost: $4,215
Vs. state average: $1,861
Economic score: 1.24
Columbia Southern University
Orange Beach, Alabama
Admission rate: N/A
Grad rate: 47%
Net cost: $10,368
Vs. state average: $14,297
Economic score: 1.29
California State University-Bakersfield
Admission rate: 79%
Grad rate: 57%
Net cost: $5,318
Vs. state average: $2,785
Economic score: 1.40
Oakland City University
Oakland City, Indiana
Admission rate: 64%
Grad rate: 71%
Net cost: $11,894
Vs. state average: $15,161
Economic score: 1.42
Robert Morris University
Moon Township, Pennsylvania
Admission rate: 86%
Grad rate: 59%
Net cost: $26,839
Vs. state average: $29,488
Economic score: 1.44
Farmingdale State College
Farmingdale, New York
Admission rate: 61%
Grad rate: 57%
Net cost: $8,638
Vs. state average: $4,481
Economic score: 1.48
How much does a bachelor’s in criminal justice cost?
See above how cost and earnings vary depending on the type of institution. Payback refers to how many years it takes students to cover the median costs while earning the median salary. Payback is calculated by subtracting the median earnings of a high school graduate from the median earnings related to this degree.
Unsurprisingly, the cost of a degree from a private institution is significantly higher. It takes longer for this degree to pay for itself when compared to public or for-profit institutions. When it comes to earnings (2 years after graduation), the figures are similar across all institutions.
Financial aid and scholarships for bachelor’s in criminal justice programs
Many students choose to take a federal loan, typically these have a lower interest rate than private or bank loans. Scholarships and grants are often more plentiful at the higher degree level, with student teaching or research assistantships a common option. The U.S. government also has a student loan forgiveness program, and those with applicable military experience can likely use their GI Bill benefits.
What to expect from a bachelor’s in criminal justice program
Most programs offer a broad overview of the criminal justice field, whilst also drawing upon other subjects such as sociology, psychology, and law.
What are the admission requirements for a bachelor’s in criminal justice?
Candidates must have a high school or GED diploma to enroll in a bachelor’s in criminal justice program. Applicants are typically required to have a minimum 2.0 GPA and to submit their official transcripts. Many colleges also require applicants to submit ACT or SAT or any other program-specific exam scores.
How long does it take to get a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice?
It takes full-time students an average of 4 years to complete a criminal justice bachelor’s degree. Most programs require students to complete around 120 credit hours. The time needed may vary depending on additional requirements, such as internships and capstones.
Credits from a 2-year associate’s in criminal justice can usually be transferred to a bachelor’s program.
Some schools require an internship, which can be completed only after core course requirements have been met. The time period of internships differs between schools. Students can intern at places such as police departments, postal inspection service, legal offices, correctional facilities, and the FBI.
Even if you program doesn’t offer internships, it may be beneficial to participate in one in the summer anyway. It can provide a much better sense of the career you are considering, as well as valuable contacts in the field.
What type of courses are there in a bachelor’s in criminal justice?
Most programs cover the causes and types of criminal behavior, and the functions of the basic parts of the criminal justice system, such as law enforcement and corrections. Some examples of the types of courses a student can expect to take in most criminal justice bachelor’s programs are
Introduction to the American criminal justice system
Provides an overview of the American criminal justice system. Topics include the criminal justice process and how the various criminal justice institutions interact. Students examine issues that arise in the criminal justice system, such as class and ethnicity. Citizens’ rights and responsibilities and how communities and professionals play a role in preventing crime are also explored.
Examines the types of crime and patterns of criminal activity and deviant behavior. Students look at the social, economic, and psychological reasons for aberrant behavior. Theories and policies used to reduce crime are evaluated by students applying various criteria.
Students examine the principal skills and tasks involved in police investigations. Topics include proper collection, tagging, and processing of evidence. Students also learn how to assess a crime scene, interview and interrogate witnesses and suspects, and write reports. They also explore the impact of emerging technological advances on the future of criminal investigations.
This foundational course looks at the issues and challenges involved in enforcing laws and protecting the public. Students examine the duties and responsibilities of law enforcement professionals and explore the history and development of US law enforcement. They also study how officers monitor criminal activity, investigate a crime scene, and apply legal standards for evidence and trial testimonials.
Ethics and diversity in criminal justice
Examines the implications of ethics and diversity in the criminal justice system. Students learn about the importance of ethical behavior and dilemmas facing law enforcement officers, correctional practitioners, and the court system. They also explore the importance of diversity among employees in criminal justice in creating an unbiased justice system.
What type of bachelor’s degrees are there in criminal justice?
The 2 main options are:
- Bachelor of Art in Criminal Justice (B.A.)
- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice (B.S.)
Which of the above options you choose is unlikely to affect your career as the 2 programs are somewhat interchangeable. In general, a B.A. is more theory-based, with a focus on the reasons behind crime, and students can choose electives from other fields such as the liberal arts. Typically, a B.S. is a more technical program, geared towards career-orientated positions rather than academia.
“You have the right to remain silent!” We’ve all heard the police read the ‘Miranda rights’ on TV shows, but do you know where the term comes from? It stems from a 1966 Supreme Court Case, where the case of Ernesto Miranda was thrown out because police officers failed to inform him of his rights on arrest.
What careers can I do with a bachelor’s in criminal justice?
There are many options available to holders of a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. The jobs listed below are a selected few.
The role of an FBI agent is to protect U.S. citizens by investigating federal crimes. They work mostly on domestic incidents, investigating crimes such as terrorism, drugs, corruption, human trafficking, and illegal gaming. Some FBI agents may be field agents gathering evidence, questioning witnesses, and performing surveillance operations. Others work in the office performing technical tasks and maintaining FBI security systems.
Probation officers work with law offenders in custody or on parole to help them successfully reintegrate back into the community. They help create rehabilitation treatment courses and offer tests and counseling for drugs and substance abuse. Probation officers write reports, maintain case files, and connect probationers with social resources to help clients re-integrate into society.
Paralegals perform a variety of tasks to help lawyers prepare for hearings, trials, and meetings. Duties may include: collecting case facts and gathering evidence, carrying out legal research, maintaining and organizing case documents, and drafting correspondence and legal documents such as affidavits.
A bachelor’s in criminal justice provides an excellent foundation for further study. Graduates of these programs usually have a good chance of securing entry-levels position in the field. As well as an increased understanding of how the U.S. justice system works, students can also get a close-up view of this exciting sector by participating in an internship during their degree program.
Frequently asked questions
Is a bachelor’s in criminal justice worth it?
A bachelor’s in criminal justice is a stepping stone to many different careers in the criminal justice and legal sectors. It can either be used to secure entry-level positions, or as a foundation for further study. 96% of criminal justice graduates are employed 2 years after graduation.
What kind of bachelor’s in criminal justice are there?
The 2 main types of program are: Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice (B.A), and Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice (B.S). These programs are somewhat interchangeable, therefore your choice may rest on the school and program that most appeal.
What are the best paying jobs in criminal justice?
Some of the best paying jobs in this sector include: lawyer, judge, private investigator, detective, and forensic analyst.
How much does a bachelor’s in criminal justice cost?
The median cost of a bachelor’s in criminal justice is $16,015. There is not a significant different between the cost of on-campus and online programs.
Can I do a bachelor’s in criminal justice online?
Yes, 27.1% of bachelor’s in criminal justice are available online. However, students often report their internship to be a useful part of the degree, so check whether the program includes a practicum.
Is it better to get an associate’s or bachelor’s in criminal justice?
This depends on your career goals. Some entry-level positions only require a high school diploma or 2-year associate’s degree. Applicants with a bachelor’s may increase their chances of securing these positions though. A bachelor’s can also be used as a launchpad for further study. Many students complete an associate’s and then transfer the credits earned to a bachelor’s.
The NAPO is a coalition of U.S. police unions and associations. It was formed to advance the interests of law enforcement officers through education and advocacy. Members receive invitations to 3 annual conferences and continuing education opportunities.
The NCJA provides assistance to federal, state, local, and tribal justice agencies to increase the effectiveness of criminal justice agencies and programs. The organization provides members with updates to legislation, an online member community, access to free webinars, and training discounts.
The ASC serves an international membership, its objective is to encourage criminological research, scholarship, and teaching in criminology. Members gain access to an annual conference, 3 unique publications in criminology, specialized divisions within the organization, and an online jobs board.