Is a Criminal Justice Degree Right for You?

An online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is a good fit for students who are passionate about the law, court systems, and the many social issues that contribute to criminal behavior. While the major itself is broad enough to allow for a broad range of careers, specializations in areas like law enforcement, human services, juvenile justice, or public administration can help you focus your studies where your career interests are strongest.

A criminal justice degree is ideal for law enforcement officers and support staff who would like to position themselves for advancement and is also a good undergraduate choice for those who later wish to pursue law school.

Advice for Earning Your Criminal Justice Degree Online

When evaluating online criminal justice degree programs, look into the credentials and career history of the faculty in the school’s criminal justice department. Search for programs with faculty whose research interests fascinate you or who have work experience in the field of criminal justice you are most interested in.

If you already hold an associate degree, you may want to look into bachelor’s degree completion programs in criminal justice. These programs may accept a larger number of transfer credits so that you can finish out a four-year degree more quickly. We also recommend choosing programs that require a criminal justice internship so that you have practical experience to add to your resume upon graduation.

Required Courses

A bachelor’s in criminal justice provides a thorough overview of all major elements of the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, the courts, corrections, probation/parole, and more. Students will explore the various agencies and institutions that play vital roles in this system. While specific courses will vary by school and specialization, some courses you will likely take include:

  • Criminology
  • Criminal Procedure
  • Criminal Law
  • Statistics in Criminal Justice
  • Domestic Violence

Common Career Paths

Graduates of criminal justice degree programs will be ready to enter the workforce in a number of fields, including law enforcement, immigration, homeland security, probation, security services, and forensics. Jobs can be found at the local, state, or federal levels and in the private sector. Salaries will vary greatly based on your level of experience, the region of the country you live in, and the size of the organization you work for. Common careers include (but are not limited to):

Police or Detective

  • Expected Growth: 7%
  • Average Annual Salary: $56,260

Police officers enforce the laws of the jurisdiction in which they work and protect life and personal property. They investigate criminal activity, make arrests, issue citations, and testify in court as to what they observed and actions they took while on duty, if necessary. They may work in a specific unit, such as traffic enforcement, narcotics, crimes against persons, K-9 unit, or hostage negotiation/SWAT team.

While a degree is not required to work as a police officer or detective, it may make someone a stronger contender for top-ranking positions that many officers are vying for. Entry-level positions typically require only a high school diploma or GED, along with completing the agency’s training academy. The above job outlook and average salary statistics were provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Private Detective or Investigator

  • Expected Growth: 21%
  • Average Annual Salary: $48,610

Private detectives are hired by individuals, businesses, or attorneys to find out information on a particular person. They might conduct thorough background investigations on someone, perform surveillance, search for a missing person, or may even provide evidence of marital infidelity in a divorce case.

While many private detectives learn their skills on the job, certain jobs in corporate investigation and computer forensics will require a bachelor’s degree, the BLS explained. The job growth projection and salary average provided above were drawn from the BLS.

Probation Officer

  • Expected Growth: 18%
  • Average Annual Salary: $52,110

Probation officers work with individuals who have been convicted of crimes but were placed on probation instead of being sent to prison. During this period, the offenders are expected to keep out of trouble and meet various requirements. Probation officers are the specialists trained to supervise them and monitor their activities to help keep them from committing more crimes.

A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or another relevant area is typically required for such positions, and job candidates must also pass a criminal background checks, drug tests, and a psychological evaluation, the BLS explained. The above job growth and salary statistics are provided by the BLS.

Correctional Officer or Jailor

  • Expected Growth: 5%
  • Average Annual Salary: $43,300

Correctional officers guard people who are confined in jails and prisons. They enforce the rules of jails and prisons, perform contraband searches, report on the activities and conduct of inmates, and inspect holding cells or other facilities to make sure they are sanitary and free from any suspicious or prohibited items.

While a high school diploma and completion of a training academy may be all that is required for some positions, a bachelor’s degree may provide greater potential for advancement. The above job outlook and salary average were provided by the BLS.

Social Worker

  • Expected Growth: 25%
  • Average Annual Salary: $54,220

Some social workers may have roles in connecting those who are coming out of the criminal justice system with social or community services that can help them get jobs and transition back into society. They may also provide advocacy for their clients and address any challenges their clients face.

While a bachelor’s degree in social work is the most common degree for entry-level social work positions, degrees in other areas may be applicable depending on the type of position, the BLS indicates. The employment growth projection and salary average provided above are available through the BLS.


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