How to Decide on a Criminal Justice Degree

This article describes how to make a good decision about a criminal justice degree, how to earn it, what kinds there are, and criteria to consider. We also will recommend a bachelor’s and master’s degree in criminal justice.

What Is A Criminal Justice Degree?

A criminal justice degree is a bachelor’s or master’s degree that can help you to enjoy a long career in law enforcement and related fields. Many professionals who are employed in law enforcement are police officers, but there is a multitude of other law enforcement-related career options available to those with a criminal justice degree. All of them offer at least steady job demand and strong job stability.


A bachelor’s of arts in criminal justice is a four year degree that introduces the student to the many complicated aspects of the national criminal justice system. Coursework in a bachelor’s program will typically center on causes and prevention of criminal behavior; meaning and application of the state and federal legal process; cost management and correctional treatment.

Most bachelor’s programs will provide you with the theoretical and practical knowledge of the criminal justice system. This will serve as an excellent foundation for working in any traditional law enforcement field in an entry level capacity, such as:

  • Corrections: Work as a corrections officer in state and federal prisons, or possibly as a superintendent or warden of a corrections facility eventually.
  • Courts: Work as a court officer or bailiff in local or state courts.
  • Police, detective and probation: Find employment as a police officer, investigator or detective, or as a probation officer working with people recently released from prison.
  • Law enforcement administration: Oversee a law enforcement department or legal body.
  • Security: Find work as a security officer or provide security for a private or public facility.

A bachelor’s in criminal justice can also serve as a good entry program into a graduate degree education in criminal justice or legal-related fields.


A master’s degree in criminal justice will expand upon the skills learned in your bachelor’s program so that you can work more effectively in corrections, courts and in policing. Some of the material that you will learn in a criminal justice master’s program includes:

  • Social change and public policy
  • Corrections and judicial systems
  • Human behavior
  • Ethnic and cultural awareness
  • Intelligence led policing
  • Criminal profiling
  • Psychopathy

Some master’s programs in criminal justice may provide concentrations, such as criminology and corrections. With a master’s degree, you can move into upper level administrative and supervisory positions in law enforcement, including police commissioner, parole supervisor and prison warden.

Why Earn a Criminal Justice Degree?

Criminal justice is an exciting and rewarding field with many intriguing career options that afford you a career unlike most others. The specific job duties that you will have will depend upon which areas of law enforcement you choose.

However, most law enforcement and criminal justice positions involve working in the public sector, which is advantageous in some ways.

Many law enforcement professionals with a bachelor’s or master’s in criminal justice work in jobs such as police officer, police detective, correctional officer or probation officer. All of these jobs are usually working for the local or state government and involve a relative degree of job stability and good benefits. Many public sector workers enjoy better health insurance and retirement benefits than most people in the private sector.

Many of the jobs available with a criminal justice degree have relatively strong job demand and respectable median salaries. For example:

  • Police officer and detective. The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates that job demand will grow at 4% per year, which is about average. Some areas of the country will see higher demand; people who have military experience or an advanced degree will have better prospects. Median salary is $60,200.
  • Correctional officer: Job demand also will grow at a rate of 4%. Some cities and states will experience higher than average turnover, so it is anticipated that these positions will be in greater demand there. The median salary is $42,000 per year with the top 10% with master’s degrees earning $72,300 per year.
  • Probation officer: Job demand also will rise by 4% as the number of jobs in an area will depend upon the degree of funding that is provided for that city, state or county. The median pay is $49,300.

As you are considering a criminal justice career, it is worth remember that many people enter this field both to serve the public, and for the job stability these career paths typically offer.

Bachelor Level Degree Options

One of the best online, bachelor of science degrees in criminal justice is at Arizona State University. In this four year, online program, you will learn about the practices and policies of criminal justice systems across the country. Some of the major topic areas will be corrections, the courts and law enforcement.

This program will help you to hone your skills in research, analysis and communications that are necessary to work in difficult criminal justice occupations.

You will be able to learn from highly experienced professors who are well known in their fields. Some of your professors will have experience with policing, gangs, fraud, courts and  corrections.

This degree has prepared past graduates for an entry or mid level position in the criminal justice system or corporate security. Many graduates of this program eventually earn their law degree or master’s degree in criminal justice or criminology.

Required courses include:

  • White Collar Crime
  • Introduction to Criminal Justice
  • Introduction to Corrections
  • Domestic Violence
  • Gangs

Master Level Degree Options

For a master’s level program, we recommend the Master of Science in Criminal Justice from the University of Cincinnati. This online degree enjoys a sterling reputation across the country, being ranked as the top online criminal justice school by US News and World Report. This program can be completed full time in just one year.

This is an 11 course curriculum that is taught over six, 15 week semesters. You will be exposed to all parts of the criminal justice field, including social control, corrections, law enforcement, juvenile justice and criminology. You also will gain skills in law policies, professional writing, advanced research, understanding criminal behavior and apply ethical principles.

Your core courses will include:

  • Criminal Justice
  • Criminology
  • Applied Statistics
  • Basic Research Methods in Criminal Justice
  • Demonstration Research Project

You can choose from these concentrations:

  • Analysis of Criminal Behavior
  • Law Enforcement and Crime Prevention
  • Corrections and Offender Rehabilitation


It is important to consider the matter of school and program accreditation. You know if the school is accredited that you are learning skills and knowledge that will be valuable in your career. For criminal justice programs, we recommend that you verify that the university has been accredited by one of the six regional accreditation bodies recognized by the US Department of Education.


Earning a bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice can lead to a rewarding and long career in many exciting law enforcement positions. These jobs often offer solid pay and excellent job stability, as well as good benefits. So if these features appeal to you, it is a good idea to consider a degree in this field.