Associates in Criminal Justice Degrees & Programs Guide

Associates Degree in Criminal Justice Career Options & Salary

Overview of an Associates in Criminal Justice & Law

Criminal Justice is a field that has relevance for everybody, every day. Every state, city, town, and even neighborhood relies on police officers to help keep the peace. While we often wish we didn’t need them, police officers are woven into the fabric of our society.

To become a police officer, you can simply go through the police academy and (hopefully) land a job. However, if you first start with an associate degree in criminal justice you might find that your on-the-job experience is heightened by your knowledge and you are able to advance your rank faster.

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Criminal Justice & Law Degrees & Career Paths


    An associate degree in criminal justice is one that will help you launch a career in law enforcement, or help you build on your existing experience. An associate degree has many pros, but chief among them are the cost and the time to completion. Two-year degrees from community colleges typically cost less per-credit hour and they only take two years to complete. Many associate degree programs are also partnered with baccalaureate programs so that you can make an easy transition to a four-year degree program when you are ready.

    In fact, if your true goal is a bachelor’s degree, if you start out at a community college you will save money in the long run. Then, once you have completed your associate degree, you can join the workforce at that level, pay off your loans, and then return to school with more experience.


    Though an associate degree has many things to recommend it, there are downsides to a two-year degree. One of the first is the fact that you will still need to complete a bachelor-level degree if you want to thrive in this career. You might also find that your hard-earned community college credits don't all transfer to a four-year institution.

    Your two-year degree might also not be enough to make you competitive for jobs or promotions. These days a bachelor’s degree is considered to have the same status a high-school diploma did in years past. You might also find that an AS or AA degree isn't enough to qualify you for certain certifications. Further, if you wish to pursue a specialty area, such as cyber security, your two-year degree likely will not suffice.

Certificate vs. Associates

You might find that your school offers a variety of options for your criminal justice education. Many will present you with the option of a certificate or a degree. A certificate is a tempting option, since they typically only take a year to complete compared with two years for an associate degree. However, certificates are rather limited in terms of their effectiveness on the job market. Further, if you later decide that you want a bachelor degree, you will still need to complete your core curriculum. Plus, you might find that certificate credits don't transfer to full academic programs.

What Criminal Justice & Law Associate Degrees are Available?

  • Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice
    An AA in Criminal Justice is a degree that will prepare you for the working world with an education that focuses on non-quantitative analysis. That is, you are more likely to be steeped in knowledge of theories than statistics.
  • Associate of Applied Arts in Criminal Justice
    AAA degrees are typically designed to prepare you for the working world. Rather than focusing on academic research and sources, an applied degree is focused on occupational information. Further, you are less likely to take core liberal arts curriculum that you can use at the baccalaureate level.
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
    An AS degree is often indistinguishable from an AA. However, your coursework is likely to focus more on statistical data than non-quantitative theories. That is, this degree is more reliant on STEM information than its more philosophical cousin.
  • Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
    This applied degree is much like an AAA in that it focuses on occupational information. The coursework is likely to focus more on statistics and hard data rather than philosophical discussions. Further, you might find that many of the courses for an AAS don't transfer to a four-year institution. Discuss this with your academic adviser.

Admission Requirements

To gain admission to an associate in criminal justice program you will need to have a high-school diploma, or the equivalent. Each program you research is bound to have its own admission requirements; most will want to see a minimum GPA of 2.0, but some will also consider applicants who have completed the police academy. In fact, if you have graduated from a police academy, you might be exempted from some courses.

On top of your past academic achievements, your program may require SAT/ACT scores, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay that details your goals for a CJ degree.

How long does it take to earn a Criminal Justice & Law Associates Degree?

An associate degree in criminal justice is typically designed to take two years to complete. However, some programs have fast-track options for those who want to expedite their education. You can even find ways to fast-track yourself if there is no clear program for that.

In fact, it is a good idea to make a plan for a timely graduation before you even start school. Too many student become bogged down with outside concerns and prolong a two-year program for three, four, or more years. When you start out with a plan to make the necessary sacrifices for the sake of your long-term success, you will be happier in the long run.

Potential Careers in Criminal Justice & Law with an Associates

  • Police Officer
    This occupation has high public visibility in that police drive around their districts twenty-four hours a day and are called to investigate or break up all sorts of unruly or unlawful behavior. Police officers also work at desks at their police station.
    The average salary for this job is $50,900.
  • Private Investigator
    In this capacity, you will work with private clients to help them with a wide range of issues. Sometimes PIs specialize in missing persons cases, other times you might help investigate a murder for a grieving family. While private investigators perform many of the same tasks as police detectives, you’ll have the opportunity to specialize, you won't wear a uniform, and you'll have the option of working independently.
    The average salary for this position is $51,900.
  • Correctional Officer
    This job involves working with prisoners or others who are in the legal system to some degree. You could work in a prison as a guard or administrator, or you could be a probation officer.
    The average salary for this job is $37,600.
  • Security Guard
    This job description covers a wide range of actual duties. Some security guards spend hours walking through commercial areas or shopping malls and helping to deter and apprehend shoplifters. Others work in high-tech environments and help guard items of high value, such as artwork or gold bullion.
    The average salary for a security guard is $35,400.
  • Police Sergeant
    After you've been on patrol for a while, and have amassed certain academic achievements, you might attain the rank of Sergeant. Your tasks will be more administrative and supervisory than a patrol officer and
    your salary expectations should include $67,300 as the national average.

Options to Advance

If you want to advance in law enforcement, you need a few things. Chief among these is a stellar record as a police officer. You will also need to show significant tenure and perhaps awards for outstanding service. One key element that will help you advance faster than experience alone is a degree. Even a two-year associate degree will help you when it comes time for raises and promotions. As you add more academic and professional credentials, you should find that your career is rewarding all of your efforts with status and financial gains.

Best Associate of Science in Criminal Justice & Law Programs

  • LaGuardia Community College
    Long Island City, NY

    If you dream of one day joining the storied NYPD, you couldn’t pick a better place to get started than LaGuardia Community College. In fact, LaGuardia’s program is linked to six other associate degree programs in the City University of New York system. Further, an associate degree from this coalition will prepare you for baccalaureate studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. In fact, you can complete the John Jay degree without ever leaving Long Island City.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
    • Associate of Science in Community and Public Health
  • City College of Chicago – Richard J. Daley
    Chicago, IL

    The City Colleges of Chicago offer a fantastic resource to the city’s citizens. When you study criminal justice through the Richard J Daley campus, you can choose one of two tracks: private police services or public police services. The private track only allows either a basic or advanced certificate while the public policing track offers those two certificate options plus an AAS degree.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Applied Science Degree in Criminal Justice
    • Basic and Advanced Criminal Justice Certificate Options
  • Orange County Community College
    Middletown | Newburgh, NY

    SUNY Orange has much to offer criminal justice students. In the course of your two years, you can study in-depth topics such as Constitutional Law, Criminology, and the Corrections system. Your studies will also delve into topics that include patrol operations, juvenile criminal psychology, and how the police interact with the greater community.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
    • Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
  • Tidewater Community College
    Norfolk, VA

    TCC is conveniently located near some of the largest military bases in the nation. Thus, if you are ending your military service, especially MP officers, you might consider an associate degree in criminal justice from TCC. During your studies you will choose one of three concentrations: Forensic Science, Homeland Security, or Public Law. Since the degree is also available online, you can even start studying before your tour of duty expires.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
    • Associate of Science – Social Science
  • Dallas County Community College District
    Dallas, TX

    DCCCD’s criminal justice program is ready to prepare you to become the professional you want to be. Whether you desire to work in local policing, homeland security, for the FBI, or even as a CIA agent, they will help you set the foundation for that success. Your coursework will include topics such as the court systems, investigative work, juvenile justice, and the fundamentals of criminal law, among other vital areas. Students may also study digital or standard forensic science.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice
    • Associate of Applied Arts in Criminal Justice

Traditional Schools Offering an AS in Criminal Justice & Law

  • Purdue Global

    Through Purdue Global’s online portal you can achieve almost anything. Their criminal justice degree was developed by members of Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) who seek to establish best practices for professionals in the field.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Applied Arts in Criminal Justice
    • Associate of Applied Arts in Public Safety and Security
  • Southern New Hampshire University

    Southern New Hampshire University is a great choice if you’ve already been through the police academy in your area. They offer up to 12 credits for those who are already working in the field. Thus, you can likely finish sooner than your peers. Their broad-based curriculum is sure to offer insights to even the most seasoned law enforcement official.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
    • Associate of Science in Justice Studies
  • University of Phoenix

    University of Phoenix is one of the pioneers in online degree programs. Their Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice is not only accredited but also widely respected. Their core courses will instill a foundation for critical thought about the criminal justice system and policing in general. When you are able to effectively question and evaluate your actions as a professional, your career reflects true excellence.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice
    • Associate of Arts with a Professional Focus
  • Tidewater Community College
    Norfolk, VA – Online

    TCC’s online options are a great choice for active-duty or soldiers stationed in Norfolk. This could be the degree for you if you are Military Police or if you simply wish to help protect the public safety once you end your commission. They offer the program on campus as well, so you could take a blend of traditional and online courses to suit your schedule if you want.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
    • Associate of Science – Social Science
  • Excelsior College

    Excelsior College is a wholly online institution that will prepare you for life as a police officer, investigator, corrections officer, or a variety of other law enforcement or even legal careers. Once you complete your capstone course you will be prepared for either more studies leading toward a baccalaureate degree or the top ranks of your local police department.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
    • Associate of Science in Health Sciences