Overview of a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice & Law
The world needs people who can fight crime and ensure that justice is served. It also needs people who care about others and who are willing to help those people who have made mistakes turn their lives around. There are many professions where one can do one or the other, but after completing a bachelor's in criminal justice degree program, a person is trained to do both.
Criminal justice sounds like “lock up the bad guys”, but there is much more to it than that. Those who work in the criminal justice system also have a sense of duty to help those who have made mistakes rectify the situation and improve their own lives to ensure they don’t end up on the wrong side of the law again. Criminal justice majors work with both the “law” and the “order” side of the justice system in a variety of ways.
A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice prepares students to work in a variety of positions. Criminal justice majors are not pigeonholed into work as law enforcement officials or correction officers, they can work in a variety of fields and in many circumstances. Criminal justice professionals can help prevent crime and illegal activities just as easily as they can investigate after the criminal act has happened or find themselves working as forensic science technicians far from any crime scene. Here are just a few of the role options for criminal justice graduates once they join the criminal justice system and enter a career in law enforcement:
- Probation Officers
- Correctional Officers
- Correctional Treatment Specialists
- Juvenile Justice Probation Officers
- Local, State, and Federal Law Enforcement or criminal justice agencies, such as with the FBI or Department of Homeland Security
- Police Officers
- Private Detective and Investigators
- Private Security
- Forensic Science Technicians
- Crime Scene Investigators or Technicians
- Emergency Management Professionals
- Or criminal justice professionals may opt for further criminal justice education, such as in law school or to gain leadership or policy-creation positions in the criminal justice field at the national level with a master's degree
All degrees have their pros and cons, even bachelor's degrees. Prospective students must take everything into consideration and determine if going back to school and studying criminal justice is the right path for them. Here are some things for you to consider.
- A bachelor’s degree in a criminal justice program will make you more marketable when it’s time to search for jobs. People with degrees are often hired over those without degrees, and those completing bachelor's degree programs (even online programs) will be hired over those with an associate degree. If you can combine a degree with experience, even better.
- Higher salary. Not only are those with degrees often picked over those without a formal education, but they can also command a higher salary.
- These days, a Bachelor of Science or Arts is usually considered an enrry-level degree in most fields.
- More room for advancement and job growth. With a degree, advancement opportunities into management, administrative positions, or higher ranks become available.
- The Expense. College tuition is not cheap. Whether you take out student loans or not, college is a serious financial commitment.
- Time Considerations. Although most programs are designed to last four years, if you are saving up to take classes so you won’t have student loans, this could extend the amount of time you need to complete your degree.
- It’s a balancing act. If you have a job, a family, or other obligations, finding the time to attend classes, do required reading, complete assignments and take exams could be challenging, though some students try to solve this by earning online degrees.
Certificate vs. Bachelor's
What Criminal Justice Bachelor’s Degrees are Available?
There are two types of bachelor degrees a person studying criminal justice and law might attain: A Bachelor of Arts or a Bachelor of Science.
- A Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree is focused on social services and sciences. Students will study criminology, but also social science classes such as psychology, sociology, and communications. Those considering counseling or social work could attain a BA in Criminal Justice.
- A Bachelor of Science (BS) degree is more scientifically based. Students will take forensics and other science classes along with the law enforcement and criminology courses. Investigators and analysts would benefit from a BS in Criminal Justice.
Whether you attain a BA or BS may also be dictated by the type of college you attend. Liberal Arts colleges tend to award more BA degrees, while traditional colleges and universities often focus on BS degrees.
Admission requirements can vary from one school to the next, but most schools will require the following:
- High school diploma or GED completion
- An acceptable score for either the ACT or SAT - The required exam and acceptable score are set by each school. If you have specific schools in mind, go over their admission requirements carefully
- Transcripts from high school/GED or any college courses you’ve taken
How long does it take to earn a Criminal Justice & Law Bachelor's?
A bachelor’s degree is designed to take four years to complete. The first two years are usually general requirement courses that every college student takes, such as freshman English, biology, a foreign language and physical education classes. The last two years are when you take the bulk of your major courses and complete any internships that might be required. Some students can finish in less than four years by either going to summer school and getting credit for work and life experience. On the other hand, some students need more time to finish because of work or family obligations.
Potential Careers in Criminal Justice & Law with a Bachelor’s
There’s a lot you can do with a criminal justice degree. From working in corrections and law enforcement, to investigating abuse or fraud; you can discover many career options that match your education.
- Corrections Officer
Correction officers ensure the safe and efficient management of jail and prison populations. They are often the point of contact between prisoners and the administration They are also responsible for moving and transferring prisoners. Corrections officers can work in prisons of all kinds, from maximum security, down to jails or detention centers.
Average Salary: $38,500
- Fraud Investigator
Fraud investigators determine whether deception has taken place in a given situation. They investigate embezzlement cases, insurance fraud, and identity theft to determine if there is a problem, and if so who is responsible. Investigators often travel, and sometimes their work takes them out of the country.
Average Salary: $59,600
- Social Worker
Social workers are trained to investigate human interactions and determine if they’re normal or if there’s an issue that needs addressed. Social workers help people in sometimes bad situations improve their lives by offering guidance and programs. Social workers work for social service organizations, schools, and law enforcement agencies.
Average Salary: $45,300
- Intelligence Analyst
Analysts work for government agencies and for companies with contracts looking for data breaches and investigating security threats. Most of the time, an analyst works from their own office, but there are times when going to a site for investigative purposes is required.
Average Salary: $67,200
Options to Advance
Once you’ve attained a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, advancing in your career depends on your career. For law enforcement officials, certifications to move up in rank are common. Getting a master’s in criminal justice is also an option for those who want to move into the administrative ranks. For those in the social service fields, getting a social worker’s license or a teaching certification is an option, and for those who want to either prosecute or defend, going to law school and becoming a lawyer is a goal to consider.
Best Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice & Law Programs
Once you’ve determined that a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is for you, there are many programs around the country that offer criminal justice and law degrees.
University of Massachusetts
Students who attend the University of Massachusetts and pursue a criminal justice degree can choose from four concentrations: Police, Corrections, Violence, Crime and Mental Health, and Homeland Security. Students will study courses which include criminology, law adjudication, corrections, crime prevention, and technology and crime analysis. The school is accredited through the New England Commission of Higher Education.
- BS in Criminal Justice (with specialization)
Arizona State University
A criminal justice student will get an overview of how the criminal justice system works, as well as an education in laws and how law enforcement can better serve the public. Courses in the program include Criminology and Criminal Justice, Introduction to Criminal Justice, Criminal Justice Crime Control Policies and Practices, Intro to Corrections and Criminology. Arizona State is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
- BS in Criminal Justice
Ferris State University
Big Rapids, MI
The criminal justice program at Ferris State includes courses in criminal justice, law, and how law enforcement interacts with the public and other parts of the legal system. There are three specialization for criminal justice majors: Corrections, Generalists, and Law Enforcement Specialist. Classes include Ethical Issues in Criminal Justice, Police and Society, Race and Ethnicity in the U.S., and Criminology. The Higher Learning Commission accredits the school.
- BS in Criminal Justice (with specialization)
St. Johns University
Studying criminal justice at St. Johns opens doors for students. You’ll cover the areas of criminology, corrections, and law enforcement practices and policies. The school is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Courses include Intro into Criminal Justice, The Police and The Community, The American Correctional System, and The American Judicial System. Students are required to complete an internship.
- BS in Criminal Justice
University of Georgia
For students wishing to study criminal justice, the University of Georgia offers that degree. Students will take courses such as Criminal Justice Administration, Research Methods in Criminal Justice, or Criminology and Criminal Justice Practices. The school is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges.
- BA in Criminal Justice
Traditional Schools Offering a BS in Criminal Justice & Law
Students who want or need more flexibility with their college schedule have the option of completing their degree online. We’ve outlined several options below.
Colorado State University
Global Campus - Greenwood Village, CO
Students can study criminal justice through distance learning. Classes include Intro to Criminal Justice, Criminology, Laws of Evidence, and Criminal Law and Ethics for the Criminal Justice Professional. The program is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
- BS in Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration
Penn State World Campus
University Park, PA
The Penn state program presents students with a well-rounded degree in criminal justice. Students study courses which include Criminology, Security and Police Administration, Alternatives to Incarceration, Sociology, and Psychology.
- BS in Criminal Justice
The online program is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and covers a broad spectrum of courses in criminal justice and law. Classes include Intro to Criminal Justice, Criminology, and Sociology. Students can also benefit from personal and professional experience being converted into credit hours.
- BS in Criminal Justice
Choosing your path when it comes to a criminal justice major depends on a couple of factors. Do you want to help catch the bad guys, piece together the evidence used to find out the person who committed the illegal act, or do you want to work behind the scenes and make sure those who are fighting crime are doing so fairly and safely? These are things you need to consider, and all of them are viable options when it comes to a career in criminal justice.
Or maybe you want to go the social services route and help those who have found themselves on the wrong side of the law correct their actions and get back on track. People are needed in both camps. Your assistance will be appreciated, however you choose to use your bachelors in criminal justice.
Criminal Justice & Law Degrees & Career Paths