Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Program Guide

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By Chinh Ngo

Published on July 27, 2021

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Criminal justice professionals investigate, prevent, and study crime. They can protect individual communities as part of the local police force or defend national security as FBI special agents and air marshals. Careers in criminal justice also include forensic psychologist, cybersecurity specialist, victims advocate, and public defender.

This guide can help you choose the online bachelor's degree in criminal justice that will best support your academic interests and career goals. You can gain insight into the program structure, admissions process, overall cost, and options for courses and concentrations. The guide also covers available careers, detailing general responsibilities and any distinct requirements.


What Is Criminal Justice?

Criminal justice refers to the rules and systems that attempt to hold criminals accountable for their actions and restore physical and emotional losses to victims.

Professionals in this field analyze law and public policy; apprehend, punish, and rehabilitate offenders; protect witnesses; and develop programs that aim to prevent crime. Workers may also specialize in criminology — the social and psychological study of deviancy.

Should I Get a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice?

The criminal justice field continues to expand due to the complex nature of crime, particularly on the digital and international fronts.

This evolution spurs job growth, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that law enforcement and other protective services occupations will grow by 3% between 2019 and 2029, which would add more than 95,000 new positions. During the same period, the BLS also projects that the number of legal careers will grow by 5%.

Individual jobs within the field may see even greater expansion. For example, information security analyst positions are projected to grow by 31% from 2019-2029. This is one of the fastest-growing occupations in the U.S.

To succeed as a criminal justice professional, you must develop strong written and oral communication skills, as well as the ability to apply critical thinking strategies to your work. Depending on your actual role, you may also need to cultivate specialized knowledge and skills in psychology, information technology, and/or forensic science.

What Will I Learn in a Criminal Justice Program?

Undergraduates pursuing online degrees in criminal justice learn the causes and manifestations of deviant behavior, as well as how law enforcement and other government agencies manage criminal activity. However, exact academic outcomes differ by school and program. For example, depending on your chosen program, you may also learn to investigate a crime scene or administer a community social justice initiative.

The following section covers five common courses that you may encounter while pursuing an online bachelor's degree in criminal justice. It also contains a list of popular concentrations that can prepare you for specialized careers in areas like digital forensics or emergency management.

Courses

Law Enforcement

This foundational course covers the history and development of American law enforcement, including local police forces and federal agencies. Students also learn how officers monitor criminal activity, investigate a crime scene, and apply legal standards for evidence and trial testimonials.

The U.S. Legal System

In this introductory course, students receive an overview of statutory, constitutional, and common laws in the United States. Participants examine the checks and balances structure between the federal legislative, executive, and judicial powers and the litigation processes for national and state courts.

Criminological Theory

Along with explaining the types of crime and criminals, this course delves into the sociological, biological, economic, and psychological roots of delinquency.

Criminal Investigations

During this class, students examine the main skills and processes at work during police investigations. Covered topics include collection and preservation methods, as well as how to process physical evidence and write police statements and reports. Learners also explore standard and emerging investigation technologies.

Terrorism and National Security

Students who take this course receive an overview of domestic and international terrorist groups. They also delve into how these organizations recruit members, fund their activities, and select targets. Additionally, the class covers the federal agencies tasked with tracking and eliminating threats to American security.

Concentrations

Forensic Science

With an emphasis on analytical chemistry, this concentration teaches students to analyze latent evidence and process crime scenes. Covered topics include the analysis of tire tracks and the identification and classification of fingerprints. Students also learn to use forensic technology, such as computer-assisted design programs.

Cybersecurity

This concentration covers the functions and analyses of computer networks, particularly their vulnerabilities to cyberattacks. Students learn how to conduct penetration testing and oversee risk management in a business setting. Coursework may cover security operations, TCP/IP networks, and cyberlaw and individual rights.

Homeland Security

During this concentration, students examine the creation and development of the Department of Homeland Security following 9/11. They learn about the strategies and programs, such as tactical response operations, that the U.S. government uses to prevent and combat terrorism. Additional topics include weapons of mass destruction and the sociology of disasters.

Juvenile and Family Justice

Juvenile and family justice covers the intervention strategies and correctional treatment programs geared toward at-risk children and adolescents. This concentration may be a good choice for learners who want to counsel victims of domestic violence. Courses may include delinquency and crime prevention, community-based corrections, and youth mentoring.

Legal Studies

A popular choice for future attorneys, victim advocates, and court administrators, legal studies is an interdisciplinary concentration that focuses on the laws and constitutional frameworks that govern the U.S. judicial system. Covered topics include jury selection, capital crimes and the death penalty, and principles of evidence.

What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice?

By earning an online bachelor's degree in criminal justice, professionals can pursue law enforcement careers as police investigators and border patrol agents or work in corrections as correctional and probation officers. There are also criminal justice careers in the judicial system, with options like lawyer, court administrator, and judge.

Depending on your career choice, you may need to complete additional academic and/or professional training to qualify.

Careers

Paralegal

Paralegals and legal assistants help lawyers with case preparation by finding information about relevant regulations and writing official documents like affidavits. They also facilitate communication between clients, attorneys, and government officials and maintain their office's electronic filing system.

Probation Officer

Also referred to as community supervision officers, these professionals oversee probationers, ensuring they receive the rehabilitation treatment needed to successfully rejoin their communities. Some probation officers work exclusively with juveniles or adults, making frequent visits to assess their clients' progress.

FBI Agent

These federal law enforcement specialists work primarily on domestic incidents that violate criminal law, including the drug trade, human trafficking, illegal gaming, and political corruption. Occasionally, FBI agents may travel abroad if an international case involves U.S. citizens.

Information Security Analyst

These professionals create, implement, and maintain multi-tiered cybersecurity strategies that protect computer networks and systems. They use ethical hacking techniques to evaluate the strength of a company's IT defenses before suggesting improvements. Information security analysts can work for government agencies, financial institutions, and software developers.

Emergency Management Director

Emergency management directors develop plans and coordinate procedures that help communities respond to natural and human-made disasters. They also oversee the recovery process, collaborating with first responders to assess damage, allocate resources, and mobilize volunteers. Instead of a government or public role, these professionals can also work for private enterprises and business continuity managers.

How to Choose a Criminal Justice Bachelor's Program

Your choice of school can significantly impact your future employment opportunities and earning potential. Pick a college or university that fits your budget and offers ample financial aid opportunities, including grants and scholarships. Additionally, make sure to attend a college or university that is accredited by a recognized accreditation agency. Depending on your schedule, you may prefer synchronous classes to asynchronous classes or a part-time degree plan to an accelerated curriculum.

The top online bachelor's in criminal justice programs provide a diverse array of concentrations and electives, as well as internship and research opportunities. They also facilitate networking and mentorship opportunities through campus groups and national criminal justice organizations.

How to Get Into a Criminal Justice Bachelor's Program

You must hold a high school or GED diploma to enroll in a bachelor's in criminal justice program. Many colleges also require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores and meet a minimum 2.0 GPA requirement. In addition to academic transcripts, you should prepare to submit a statement of purpose and 1-3 recommendation letters.

Because many online bachelor's programs in criminal justice cater to adult learners, applicants may also be asked to submit a resume. Some schools grant transfer credit for previous experiences in law enforcement, court administration, and other relevant positions.


How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice?

To earn an online bachelor's degree in criminal justice, students must complete at least 120 credits of coursework and practical training. This process typically takes four years, but some colleges and universities offer accelerated tracks. In these programs, students may take shorter terms throughout the year and graduate in less time.

Upon graduation, degree-holders can apply for entry-level criminal justice positions. Depending on their target job, they may also need to complete police academy training or attend law school. Professionals can also expand their opportunities by earning industry certifications or taking free online courses.

How Much Does It Cost to Get a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice?

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average tuition at four-year postsecondary institutions during the 2018-19 academic year was about $16,320. This cost was about $9,210 at public schools and almost $32,000 at private schools.

You may be able to save money by pursuing an online bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Some remote programs award distinct scholarships to distance learners, while others offer the same tuition rate to all online students, regardless of residency status.

Interview With a Professional in Criminal Justice

Larissa Nonni graduated with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice in 2009 from Monroe College in New Rochelle, New York. She is currently in her third year of law school and works at an immigration law firm.

How did your criminal justice bachelor's degree help prepare you for your career and for law school?

Well, I wanted to be an attorney since high school, but I didn't want to do criminal law because I just felt like it was too cliché. I pursued criminal justice because I wanted to understand the law enforcement side before I looked into the law side.

In that regard, it helped me be more aware of the law enforcement side of things, and now in law school, I realize how they both intertwine and how they need one another and play off of each other.

This includes how, in a criminal case, a problematic arrest can destroy a case. And how someone's environment plays a real role in their upbringing, especially when looking at criminal cases. As prosecutors, understanding that can give you a greater power in knowing how to help defendants and what plea deals would be more beneficial to society.

What types of skills did you develop in your criminal justice bachelor's program?

I would say psychological skills. I took criminology and victimology. Those two classes were really helpful in understanding people in general, which goes back to the effects of environment in upbringing and how that affects people's choices later on in life when it relates to crime.

Also, my criminal justice program helped me develop my critical thinking skills. When you study these subjects, your way of thinking changes because you see people differently, which really helps me in my job now. I am able to look at different components and see how they played a bigger role in what we are dealing with today.

What advice would you give to bachelor's graduates seeking a career in the field of criminal justice?

I would say that nowadays, a bachelor's is not enough if you want higher-up jobs. Make sure you research what you are really interested in in the field so that you know whether you will need to get a master's after and if it's really worth it to you.

The job market is available for those who do research and go after it.

Read More About Criminal Justice on BestColleges

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BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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