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Types Of Criminal Justice Degrees

The many roles the criminal justice system needs for society to function have often been viewed in awe. Television has idealized the roles of lawyers and law enforcement agents, and each role is looked at with great fascination. Many people dream of sharing the news that they have successfully become a lawyer, an attorney, or an investigator.

With the glamor and status accompanying these roles, the hard work that goes into the success of these roles often goes unnoticed.

From associate and bachelor's degrees to higher qualifications such as master's and doctoral degrees, the field of criminal justice holds an entire suite of potential degrees comprising various courses, all of which can be pursued towards a different end goal.

Read along to explore the different types of criminal justice degrees, the career opportunities they unlock, and the courses each degree can comprise.

What Can You Do With A Criminal Justice Degree?

There is a saying that nothing worthwhile comes easy, and if it does come easy, it probably isn't worthwhile. While this saying is often associated with money, the same can be said about one's career.

If you are looking to pursue a career in criminal justice, you may be hoping to pursue a job that is easier than others, but let it be known that no job is easy.

Within the field of criminal justice, you can start at entry-level jobs that do not necessarily require higher-level education and no prior experience. These jobs would require you to meet a set of minimal requirements such as having a high school diploma or a GED, having no criminal record, and being at least 18 or 21 years old, depending on the state in which you are applying.

But if you are pursuing a long-term or lifelong criminal justice career, it may be worth investing in yourself and your career growth.

Having any form of qualification relating to criminal justice can be beneficial in terms of the ranking role you will play, as well as the salary you will ultimately earn. It also opens up a wide array of career options that you may have never thought possible.

Just as you can't practice medicine without a medical degree and license, there are some roles within the criminal justice field that you can't pursue without having the correct qualifications.

A qualification in the field of criminal justice can qualify you for roles such as a correctional officer, a lawyer, various law enforcement roles, a forensic scientist, a probation officer, a narcotics specialist, and so much more.

These careers, while otherwise unattainable, are only made possible by obtaining the knowledge that comes with the unique and powerful blend of education and experience.

Obtaining a degree in criminal justice can also be strategically directed toward your career pursuits. If you are hoping to start in a position and work your way up, you can even further pursue your education as you grow in a role.

This will help you decide what coursework to pursue in your qualification while also taking the pressure off making long-term decisions about where you hope to end up in your career.

Types Of Criminal Justice Qualifications

Different things may influence the type of qualification you are hoping to pursue. Whether it is time or financial constraints, you may be unable to dive straight into a three-year or four-year degree. But there are other options. Let us look at the qualifications you can pursue within the criminal justice system.

Certificate In Criminal Justice

Whatever the reason you would quickly need to get your foot in the door, obtaining a certificate in criminal justice offers a variety of focal streams and can often take less than a year to complete.

It can open up mostly entry-level opportunities such as correctional officers or bailiff positions. If you hope to grow in this career, getting a certificate in criminal justice is an excellent way of garnering experience for future roles you wish to qualify for.

Associate Degree In Criminal Justice

The next natural step in your academic journey would be to pursue an associate degree. Whether you seek this after obtaining a certificate or whether this is your starting point, this qualification generally takes two years of full-time study to complete.

Every career path holds two components: learning about the subject as an academic component and learning about the subject in real-life application. While some programs only train students for the educational component, an associate degree provides insight into the real-life aspect of the criminal justice system.

Having an associate degree can open career paths from a role as a paralegal to a role as a police officer.

Bachelor's Degree In Criminal Justice

While an associate degree may cover more varied coursework such as criminal law and the U.S. justice system, pursuing a bachelor's degree allows you greater specialization.

If you are hoping to focus on law enforcement or corrections, you can pursue specific courses in your degree that are catered to such career paths.

Whether you are hoping to pursue forensics, investigations, or even law, a bachelor's degree is the tool you would need in hand. This degree can also take up to four years to complete.

Different schools or universities may offer a B.A. or a B.S. in criminal justice, which focuses on different aspects of the course. While a B.S. may have a greater focus on the technical aspects of the criminal justice system, a B.A. may focus on the human and area-specific elements of the criminal justice system.

Master's Degree In Criminal Justice

From practicing law to conducting clinical psychological assessments on deranged criminals, it takes extensive qualifications to have the expertise to carry out such duties. One such qualification is a master's degree.

A master's degree makes it possible to pursue roles in homeland security and is often held by those in positions of power within the criminal justice system.

A master's degree in criminal justice can take up to two years to complete and is made up of a combination of course work and a dissertation or detailed research study that is required for the successful completion of the degree.

Additionally, as you would be learning from those qualified in criminal justice, there is an academic field of criminal justice whereby people pursue a career in imparting their knowledge to others. Obtaining a master's degree can assist you on the path to becoming an academic expert in the field.

Doctoral Degree In Criminal Justice

At the top of the academic food chain comes the doctoral degree. Holding such a degree will need the investment of time and energy. Many people wonder why something good takes so long to perfect, but they don't see the hard work that goes into it.

A criminal justice doctorate can take four to seven years to complete. A master's degree can include some coursework requirements, but the larger part of this degree is dedicated to research and writing. For that reason, the duration will usually depend on the candidate completing the research.

For example, suppose a candidate focuses solely on the research and academic aspect of criminal justice. In that case, they may be able to pursue their doctorate with an acute focus and complete their research within four years, provided the topic allows for this.

Additionally, if the candidate is actively working in a role within the criminal justice system, it may take them longer to complete their doctorate. This would be because they are pursuing their doctorate on a part-time basis rather than a full-time basis.

Obtaining a doctorate in criminal justice can allow the candidate, in some cases, to influence the discussion of policies that may need to be implemented or scrapped. But holding such a high role with such great authority comes with extensive knowledge in aspects that will not only influence a single state but even the entire country.

Holding a doctorate in criminal justice can equip you with the knowledge you need to pursue a career in law and succeed in that law career.

Additionally, candidates with a doctoral degree pursue careers in academia where they conduct specialized research that benefits the system.

While it may seem as though these candidates aren't playing an active on-the-scene role, these individuals set processes in place for how on-the-scene duties need to be conducted.

Career Prospects

While it has been mentioned that entry-level roles in the criminal justice system require minimal qualifications, various roles are unlocked to different degrees.

An associate degree can see you thrive in the roles of a police officer, corrections officer, youth detention counselor, insurance investigator, and evidence tech.

A bachelor's degree can see you in the role of a park ranger, a detective, an investigator, a probation officer, a paralegal, or a forensic science technician. The role you assume would be the one you are qualified for, and it will be based on the course work you undertook during your degree.

A master's degree can see you placed in roles such as a blood splatter analyst, forensic psychologist, or FBI agent.

Lastly, obtaining a doctoral degree can see you fulfill the roles of a forensic anthropologist, a forensic psychologist, a lawyer, or a criminal justice academic professional.

The Three Branches Of Criminal Justice

While you may feel spoiled for choice and not know which career path to pursue, you can look at the different branches of the criminal justice system to pursue courses that will benefit the role you hope to assume in each field.

The three branches of the criminal justice system are law enforcement, the courts, and corrections, each forming a subsequent stage in criminal rehabilitation.

Coursework For Each Branch

The coursework for each degree is varied and holds different weights in the careers you choose. Several courses have been found to carry a great weight across all facets of the criminal justice system. Let us look at examples of different yet highly valued courses.

With the world becoming increasingly digital and many business and personal processes becoming more digital, criminals have quickly learned to adapt to conduct crime in the digital sphere. This has led to a need for information security. This facet of criminal justice is growing as the threat to cyber security grows too.

Criminology is a course that tends to be a common thread throughout all degrees within criminal justice. It allows you to place yourself into the criminal's mindset and metaphorical shoes, allowing you to pursue investigations with real intent.

Psychology is used in the branch of corrections and uses tools to understand why criminals may carry out criminal acts. By pinpointing their motivation, criminal psychologists can help the criminal overcome the motivation behind committing crimes.

Paralegal courses form part of the court's branch within the criminal justice system. Paralegals play an integral role in the development of cases and aid lawyers and law firms in achieving the best possible outcomes within the court.

Rehabilitation courses are also extensively pursued by probation officers and those that seek roles within the correction branch of the criminal justice system. This course equips the professional with tools to effectively help the criminal become a well-integrated member of society after serving time in a correctional facility.


What Is The Best Degree For Criminal Justice?

All degrees hold different weights and benefits depending on what you as a candidate are hoping to pursue. And while a 'best' degree may not be chosen, there are best-suited courses that you could pursue a specific career outcome.

Is A BA Or BS Better For Criminal Justice?

Both add value to the criminal justice system, but a Bachelor of Science (BS) is often more specialized than a Bachelor of Arts (BA).

What Is A Degree In Criminal Justice Called?

Depending on the degree major you plan to pursue, you may say that you have a degree in criminology, a degree in psychology, or a degree as a paralegal. All of these are courses within criminal justice degrees, but as majors, they allow you to change the title of your degree in casual conversation.

Is Criminology The Same As Criminal Justice?

Criminal justice is an all-encompassing term, whereas criminology is just one facet of the criminal justice system. Criminology is usually closely related to the human element of criminal justice with a specialized focus on a criminal's psychological and sociological motives and behaviors.


Many people find themselves not knowing what they want to be when they are grown up, even when they are, in fact, already grown up. With a qualification in criminal justice, you can unlock many career prospects that can play into your strengths.

Do you find yourself curious, taking a scientific approach to different aspects of life? Do you find yourself enjoying sitting in the comfort of an office? Or do you like being in the thick of the action, on the scene, and actively involved in different processes?

The great thing about criminal justice is that almost anyone has a role. And you also get to make the world a slightly better just by doing your job.

Aside from the career and financial prospects that a criminal justice degree may provide, it is a great feeling to know that you have an educational background that can never be taken away from you. After all, knowledge is power.

find criminal justice degrees near you

find criminal justice degrees near you