Earning a criminal justice degree can lead to exciting careers in many fields, including law enforcement and the legal system. Studying criminal justice gives you the opportunity to serve, protect, and uphold the law in your community.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are expanding employment opportunities for those with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, including a projected growth rate of 15% for paralegals. Other career paths for criminal justice degree holders include detective, private investigator, border patrol guard, highway patrol, and security guard. In addition to diverse career paths, many criminal justice jobs garner relatively high salaries. The BLS reports that police and detectives make an average of $62,960 per year.

Should I Get a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice?

Earning a criminal justice degree expands career opportunities. Working professionals or those looking to change careers may prefer the convenience and flexibility of an online bachelor's degree. On the other hand, on-campus criminal justice programs usually attract students coming straight from high school.

Students earning a criminal justice degree gain skills in communication, problem-solving, and leadership. They also learn about the criminal justice system and take classes in law enforcement, the American legal system, crime causation, corrections, and criminal law.

Entering a criminal justice bachelor's degree program provides the knowledge and skills necessary to work successfully in the field. It also allows students to network and develop valuable connections with instructors, classmates, and other criminal justice professionals. Frequently, these relationships lead to potential internships and jobs. Another benefit of a criminal justice degree includes job placement assistance and career services offered through the school. Many schools also offer internship and cooperative work programs that help students gain valuable work experience while learning.

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

A defining characteristic of criminal justice careers is upholding the law by defending people and property. Many criminal justice students work in an area of law enforcement. Careers in this field include police officer, private investigator, and security guard. Criminal justice graduates can also enter the legal field, typically as legal assistants or paralegals.

Police and Detectives

Police defend property and people. Detectives collect criminal evidence. Both jobs can prove physically demanding and stressful and include long hours. Many police officers experience injury or job-related illnesses. Requirements for working as a police officer or detective vary, but some employers require a college degree.

Median Annual Salary: $62,960

Projected Growth Rate: 7%

Private Detectives and Investigators

Private detectives and investigators offer many investigative services regarding personal, financial, and legal matters. They verify statements and personal backgrounds, investigate computer crimes, and search for missing people. Most states require a high school diploma to get a private detective or investigator license, but a bachelor's demonstrates a higher level of expertise.

Median Annual Salary: $50,700

Projected Growth Rate: 11%

Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers

Individuals in these positions protect property from theft and vandalism. They work in many environments, including office buildings, retail settings, residential areas, and public places. They often work long hours or overnight. Most of these jobs require a high school diploma, but a bachelor's improves your chances of moving up to management positions.

Median Annual Salary: $26,960

Projected Growth Rate: 6%

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Legal assistants and paralegals help lawyers by performing legal research, organizing files, and creating documents. Most of them work for law firms. Sometimes they work long hours to meet deadlines. Some firms only hire paralegals and legal assistants with at least a bachelor's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $50,410

Projected Growth Rate: 15%

How to Choose a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice Program

Choosing a criminal justice bachelor's program involves many considerations. Students should consider issues like program length, curriculum, cost, location, and available specializations.

Program length varies by program. Students complete most bachelor's in criminal justice programs in about four years. However, several factors can impact how quickly you complete your degree, including whether you want to attend full time or part time, and if you plan to take summers off. Some students, particularly working professionals, need a program that offers part-time classes so that they can fulfill work responsibilities while they study. Some criminal justice programs offer students a fast-track option that allows them to take more classes and complete their degree faster. Online criminal justice programs offer fast-track options more often than on-campus programs.

Research the curriculum and courses at each school, looking for specializations offered, thesis and final project requirements, and practicum or other direct experience opportunities. If you plan to specialize in a particular area, make sure your school offers that specialization or related classes. Some students prefer to avoid programs with final project requirements, while others choose curriculums that include the opportunity to take an internship.

Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor's in Criminal Justice Programs

Every student should ensure they attend a regionally accredited school. Regional accreditation indicates that your school underwent an assessment and evaluation to ensure it meets minimum quality standards. Furthermore, if you attend a school without regional accreditation, it's more difficult to qualify for financial aid and to transfer your academic credit to another school. Some employers also stipulate that your degree must be from a regionally accredited school. Discover your school's regional accreditation status through the U.S. Department of Education's accreditation database.

Bachelor's in Criminal Justice Program Admissions

The college admissions process varies by school and program. Most colleges require students to hold a minimum GPA. Typically, the more competitive the school, the higher the minimum GPA requirement. Some less-competitive schools only require a high school diploma or GED. Other common admissions requirements include school transcripts, letters of recommendation, test scores, and essays. Online programs often offer a more simplified approach to admissions than on-campus programs.


  • Minimum GPA: Many schools require applicants to hold a minimum 3.0 GPA. In some cases, you can offset this requirement by demonstrating excellence in another area.

Admission Materials

  • Application: The amount of time it takes to complete an application varies. One way to save time includes using The Common Application, which allows you to apply to multiple schools at once.
  • Transcripts: Every college application asks prospective students to submit school transcripts. You must request transcripts from all former schools by contacting the records office. You can often accomplish this online for a nominal fee.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Ask for letters of recommendation from people who know you well and can speak to your strengths, such as teachers, coaches, and managers. Most applications ask for three letters. Give your letter writers at least two months to write the letters.
  • Test Scores: Most colleges ask applicants to submit ACT or SAT test scores, although many schools now waive this request. An admissible score varies. In many cases, you do not need a specific score; instead, the admissions office looks at your score in relation to the rest of your application for consideration.
  • Application Fee: College application fees vary but usually fall around $40. Some colleges waive application fees for students with demonstrable financial need.

What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice Program?

Programmatic details vary depending on the school and program. Most programs include introductory courses that explore the criminal justice system, the legal system, and criminology. Many criminal justice programs also allow students to select a concentration to delve deeper into an area of interest.

Concentrations Offered for a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice
Concentration Description Careers
Crime Scene Investigation The crime scene investigation concentration focuses on the principles of analyzing and collecting crime scene evidence. Students learn appropriate techniques for establishing the boundaries of a crime scene, searching for different types of evidence, and identifying forensic materials. Detective, crime scene investigator
Homeland Security Specializing in homeland security prepares students for career opportunities related to preventing terrorism and securing the country's borders. Topics include the history and origin of terrorism, conflict resolution, crisis negotiation, and disaster preparedness and management. Police officer, detective, border patrol agent
Forensic Psychology A concentration in forensic psychology allows students to explore psychology in the context of the criminal justice system. Students learn how to work with people exhibiting signs of mental illness and the psychology of crime. This concentration also helps students understand how to interact with the community more effectively. Police officer, detective
Law Enforcement The law enforcement concentration focuses on criminal law and introduces students to important Supreme Court cases and the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Classes explore issues like community policing, public expectations, and civil liability. Students also learn how law enforcement organizations operate. Police officer, detective, paralegal
Juvenile Justice Students with a juvenile justice concentration spend time looking at youth in the criminal justice system. They explore topics like case management for juvenile offenders, crime prevention programs, sentencing, and relationship building with juveniles and their families. Police officer, corrections officer, parole officer

Courses in a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice Program

The type and quantity of criminal justice classes differ by school and program. However, most criminal justice programs offer similar core classes, including criminal investigation, crime prevention, forensic psychology, and ethics in criminal justice. The courses below represent a sample curriculum.

Criminal Investigation

This class provides an introduction to the theory and practice of criminal investigations. Issues explored include crime scene preservation, the legal importance of evidence, preparing for criminal cases, and courtroom presentations. Students also learn how to apply techniques like photography, crime scene reconstruction, and interviewing.

Criminal Law for Criminal Justice

Students learn about different crimes and how to categorize them. Types of crime studied include crimes against property, homicide, and crimes against the person. Learners also explore criminal defenses and criminal capacity.

Crime Prevention

In this course, students get an overview of the crime prevention field. Most of the course focuses on primary prevention. Students explore many factors associated with preventing crime, including community policing, deterrence, the role of the community, environmental design, and rehabilitation.

Research Methods in Criminal Justice

Students in this class explore the fundamentals of conducting research in the criminal justice field. Topics covered include research design, qualitative and quantitative methodologies, data collection techniques, and research ethics. At the end of the course, students submit a criminal justice research project.

Applied Criminal Justice Ethics

This class teaches learners how to approach ethics and morality in the context of the criminal justice system. Drawing on historical and contemporary perspectives, students explore issues like the law enforcement code of ethics, evaluating noble cause corruption, and other ethical issues that criminal justice practitioners face.

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

Many factors affect the length of a criminal justice bachelor's program, but most students finish the degree after four years of full-time study, which translates to about 120 to 180 credits, depending on the school. If you enter a program with fast-track options or take classes during the summer, you can complete a bachelor's faster. Most programs also allow students to take fewer credits to accommodate a busy schedule. Keep in mind that the longer it takes you to complete your degree, the more your degree typically costs. Doubling up on credits and finishing courses as quickly as possible tends to be the most cost-effective way to earn your criminal justice degree. Full-time students typically pay less per credit than part-time students.

How Much Is a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice?

The cost of a bachelor's in criminal justice varies substantially depending on the school and program you choose. Besides tuition, you should also consider additional educational expenses, such as housing and technology costs.

CollegeBoard, the organization that administers the SAT, recently reported that the average cost of in-state tuition and fees at a four-year public college is $9,970 per year. Out-of-state students may pay twice as much. Four-year private schools cost an average of nearly $35,000 per year. Students can save money by attending a public community college for an associate degree before transferring to a four-year program to complete their bachelor's. The average annual cost of tuition at public two-year schools was $3,570 during the 2017-2018 school year.

Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice Prepares For

Certified Criminal Justice Addiction Professional

Earning a CCJP from the California Consortium of Addiction Programs and Professionals demonstrates knowledge of addictions counseling within the criminal justice system. To obtain the credential, you must hold 270 hours of addiction education with 45 hours in criminal justice systems and 45 hours in criminal behavior. You must also complete a 300-hour practicum and pass the International Consortium & Reciprocity Consortium CCJP exam. With the CCJP you can work as an addictions counselor in the criminal justice system.

Certified Paralegal

Paralegals can get their CP certification to demonstrate necessary industry skills to potential employers. The American Bar Association and 47 other legal assistant organizations recognize the CP credential. You must hold a bachelor's degree in any field plus one year of paralegal experience to qualify for the credential. You also must pass the CP exam.

Advanced Certified Paralegal

The ACP certification from the National Association of Legal Assistants recognizes paralegals with a demonstrated commitment to lifelong learning. You must earn your CP before enrolling in the ACP program. Paralegals must complete ACP courses like eDiscovery, criminal litigation, trial practice, and land use.

Professional Peace Officer Certification

Individuals seeking to work in local or state law enforcement can pursue this certification. The requirements for certification or licensure for peace officers vary by state. Most states require peace officers to hold at least a high school diploma, pass written and physical exams, and complete police academy training or criminal justice courses.

Criminal Justice Awareness and Terminology Certification

To earn the Criminal Justice Awareness and Terminology credential you must pass an exam demonstrating your awareness of terminology and concepts related to criminal justice. Anyone pursuing entry-level criminal justice jobs can benefit from this certification.

Resources for Criminal Justice Students

Bureau of Justice Statistics

The BJS website contains abundant criminal justice statistics from the U.S. government, including collections, reports, data analysis tools, funding opportunities, and job openings.

National Institute of Justice

An agency of the U.S. Department of Justice, NIJ conducts research, development, and evaluation projects related to crime and justice issues. Students can find publications, training courses, event listings, and funding opportunities through NIJ.

FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting

The FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting program provides information on crime in the U.S. The program publishes four major publications annually: Crime in the United States, Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, National Incident-Based Reporting System, and Hate Crime Statistics.

National Archive of Criminal Justice Data

Located at the University of Michigan, NACJD archives crime and justice data for researchers. Some well-known datasets live here, including the National Crime Victimization Survey and the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods. NACJD also offers learning guides, data workshops, and user support.


NIJ runs CrimeSolutions.gov, a website that catalogs and rates criminal justice programs and practices. Criminal justice professionals can find, replicate, and adapt top-rated programs and practices in their field.

Professional Organizations in Criminal Justice

Joining a professional organization in the criminal justice field offers many benefits to students and graduates. Professional organizations provide opportunities to network with other criminal justice professionals, attend annual conferences, get discounted access to continuing education programs, and take advantage of many career services. Organizations usually offer students and recent graduates discounted memberships.

National Criminal Justice Association

NCJA represents local, state, and tribal governments; academic researchers; law enforcement; courts; and others on issues of crime control and prevention. The nonprofit supports criminal justice policy and funding efforts.

American Society of Criminology

An international member organization, ASC represents professionals studying crime and delinquency issues. ASC's goal is to foster criminological scholarship and encourage dissemination of that research.

National Association of Blacks in Criminal Justice

NABCJ works to achieve equal justice for African Americans and other minorities in the criminal justice system. Members include professionals in law enforcement, social services, courts, and corrections, as well as criminal justice students and community leaders.

Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences

An international group founded in 1963, ACJS encourages scholarly and professional work in criminal justice. Members include criminal justice scholars, professionals, and students. Resources offered include publications, information about ACJS-certified programs, and an employment bulletin.

American Correctional Association

Founded in 1870, ACA advocates for corrections and correctional effectiveness. ACA offers professional development opportunities, conferences, publications, and other resources for members.