Earning your associate degree in criminal justice prepares you for a career that makes a lasting impact in local communities. The knowledge you gain through an associate criminal justice program enables you to pursue your choice of careers, especially those that protect the well-being of others.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that positions for police officers and detectives will increase 7% by 2026. Furthermore, you can expect to earn a competitive salary in criminal justice, as the BLS reports that police officers and detectives earn a median salary of $62,960.

Should I Get an Associate in Criminal Justice?

When deciding if you should earn your associate degree in criminal justice, think carefully about what aligns with your immediate and long-term goals and current lifestyle. Online programs are enticing for many students, as they permit greater flexibility due to asynchronous courses that you can attend at your own convenience.

Criminal justice employees must demonstrate certain attributes for success in this field. For example, your employer may require you to undergo a series of intellectual, physical, and psychological exams to determine your fitness for a criminal justice career. Additionally, success as a criminal justice professional requires careful attention to details, a high standard of ethics, a respect for cultural sensitivity, and courage in the face of danger.

Not only will you experience rigorous academics that prepare you for your future, but also help with finding internships during your studies or after graduation. You can explore your options for connecting with alumni and professionals who can help you learn more about their work and how their careers align with your own interests.

What Can I Do With an Associate in Criminal Justice?

Once you complete the requirements for your associate degree in criminal justice, you can pursue a career that you find both enjoyable and meaningful. For instance, you might decide a career as a police officer, paralegal, or fire inspector matches your goals, or you may prefer working as a crime scene technician or bailiff. Each of these, and related occupations, attract detail-oriented individuals who are committed to justice and willing to work long hours as needed.

Police and Detectives

These professionals protect people and property, gathering and analyzing crime-related evidence. In addition, police officers perform traffic stops, patrol areas, and respond to emergencies. An associate in criminal justice will help you develop strong communication skills and prepare you to draft the reports this position frequently requires.

Median Annual Salary: $62,960
Projected Growth Rate: 7%

Private Detectives and Investigators

Experts in the field examine financial, legal, and personal information, often performing background checks. In addition, they conduct surveillance, collect evidence, and interview people. An associate degree in criminal justice will strengthen your analytical and reasoning skills, both critical in this career.

Median Annual Salary: $50,700
Projected Growth Rate: 11%

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

People in this profession support lawyers by performing legal research, organizing files, and preparing legal documents. They also help by gathering relevant facts, writing reports for lawyers in preparation for trial, contacting clients and witnesses, and filing court documents.

Median Annual Salary: $50,410
Projected Growth Rate: 15%

How to Choose an Associate in Criminal Justice Program

When exploring colleges for an associate degree in criminal justice, you should consider what matters most to you. A top priority may include the amount of time it will take to finish your studies. This can mean choosing a program that offers either an accelerated track or finding a program that allows for transfer credits to shorten the length of your time in school. You should also find the right program delivery format for your needs. Some courses require you to attend online class at any time or only at set times, which may or may not work with your schedule.

Program costs are important for most students. If this causes concern, explore your scholarship and financial aid options. Consider the difference in expense when you attend school online versus on campus. Online courses can help you save on room and board fees and gives you the opportunity to continue working while enrolled. This option also allows you to earn your degree regardless of where you live.

Programmatic Accreditation for Associate in Criminal Justice Programs

Employers know that graduates from an accredited criminal justice associate program have earned a degree from a reputable institution. Accreditation validates both the program and you as a graduate.

The agencies that accredit colleges for an associate degree in criminal justice include the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, North Central Association of Colleges, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Southern Association of College and Schools, Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences also certifies a few programs based on curriculum offerings, faculty, and other criteria.

Associate in Criminal Justice Program Admissions

Admission to an on-campus criminal justice associate program generally requires completing an application, submitting transcripts from all schools you previously attended, and writing an essay about your academic and career aspirations. While admission to an online program often requires these same steps, institutions may also expect applicants to have work experience in their chosen field. Schools may expect online applicants to demonstrate a strong commitment to the program, as online coursework requires considerable focus.

Admission Materials

  • Application: This document captures your background information, including your name, address, schooling, and employment history. Nearly every school requires an application. The Common App, used by over 700 colleges, simplifies the process because it requires you only complete basic information once for every school that accepts it.
  • Transcripts: Most schools require transcripts from all previously attended institutions, including high school and college. Transcripts document your academic performance as indicators of how well you will do in your studies if accepted. Acquiring transcripts may cost you a nominal fee, so check with your schools for specific costs.
  • Application Fee: Schools charge to administer and process your application. The average cost is just under $40, but some schools may charge up to $100.

Educational Paths for Online Criminal Justice Associate Programs

Graduates from an associate degree in criminal justice program can transfer many of their credits into a bachelor's degree in the field. Many schools accept associate degree credit, which means you can enter with advanced standing. These credits will help you in several fields, three of which we've highlighted in more detail below.

Criminal Justice

You can leverage your associate degree in criminal justice to pursue a bachelor's degree and specialize in areas like criminology, which explores the psychology of criminal behavior and corrections. You might also choose to learn more about counterterrorism and homeland security.


This degree enables you to understand the human mind, behavior, and emotions. Psychology coursework develops your critical thinking, reasoning abilities, and problem-solving skills. In addition, classwork requires you to communicate clearly and learn to perform in-depth research.

Social Work

Social work courses prepare you to work closely with individuals, families, and communities to assess their needs and connect them to useful resources. Social workers serve less advantages populations. These courses can sharpen your communication abilities and cultural sensitivity.

What Else Can I Expect From an Associate in Criminal Justice Program?

Your experience depends on your program, as every school maintains its own requirements. These include the number of credits required to graduate and mandated classes you must complete. That said, most offer similar class topics that students should complete as they prepare to enter the workforce.

Courses in an Associate in Criminal Justice Program

While the structure and specifics of courses may vary, you can rest assured that accredited schools deliver a high standard of instruction. Your classes depend on the program you select, but the following offers a general curriculum for your review.

Ethics and Criminal Justice

This course explores ethics in the context of criminal justice careers. Ethics and criminal justice help learners deepen their understanding of what constitutes ethical decision making and how to practically apply these standards to criminal justice organizations. The class also helps students develop strong leadership abilities.

Juvenile Justice System

Learners examine how the juvenile justice system differs from the adult justice system. Topics include due process standards, hearings, and constitutional mandates. In addition, students review trends in the transfer of juveniles to adult jurisdiction, the types of punishment enforced, and the suitability of the death penalty.

Criminal Law

Students review the philosophical, social, and legal bases of criminal codification. They also examine the history of criminal law in the U.S. to understand how it developed over time. In addition, topics include criminal capacity, principals and accessories to crime, and types of crimes against people, property, and public order.

International Criminal Justice

This class offers a comparative perspective on criminal justice systems throughout the world. The curriculum also includes topics on legal enforcement and policing.

Research Methods for Criminal Justice

This course helps students make ethical, evidence-based decisions in regard to the current attention both the media and public pay to criminal justice proceedings. Here, learners develop fundamental social science research skills that they can apply to practical issues.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate in Criminal Justice?

The time it takes to complete your associate degree in criminal justice depends on several factors. For example, whether you enroll full- or part-time determines how many classes you complete each term and how quickly you earn the credits necessary to graduate. In addition, your program may require an internship or practicum to gain practical experience in addition to textbook studies.

On average, earning a criminal justice associate degree requires you to complete 60 credits, both in degree-specific topics and subjects like English composition and math. Some degrees allow you to complete your program quickly -- perhaps in as few as four months -- by enrolling in multiple classes at the same time. In general, however, your graduation time depends on your schedule and the number of credits you can afford to take at any given time. Most online programs permit flexibility as necessary.

How Much Is an Associate in Criminal Justice?

Carefully consider the cost of earning your criminal justice associate degree to ensure you budget accordingly. Also, examine your eligibility for financial aid and scholarships to help supplement degree costs.

Most colleges charge by the credit rather than a flat fee. Prices can range greatly, with some at $60 per credit and others over $300 per credit. Pricing depends on the type of school you attend, too, as state universities sometimes offer lower tuition to residents while private universities charge more. In some instances, you may also incur a distance learning fee, which helps ensure the school's ability to deliver online courses by maintaining up-to-date technology.

Professional Organizations in Criminal Justice

Joining a professional organization can boost your criminal justice studies through networking opportunities. In addition, these groups can expose you to continuing education classes, conferences led by experts, and job openings. Consider joining before you graduate to establish relationships that may help in your job search and as you think about your immediate and long-term career goals.