Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Program Guide

portrait of Stefanie Grodman
by Stefanie Grodman
Published on October 6, 2021 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.

Ready to start your journey?

Criminal justice is the study of crime prevention, investigation, and correctional procedure. Earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice can equip students with an understanding of legal systems and the various infrastructures dedicated to criminal reform.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 3.4 million Americans worked in protective service or criminal justice fields in May 2020. Criminal justice graduates often work in forensic science, law enforcement, criminal reform, law, or national security. Many criminal justice professionals, like paralegals, forensic technicians, and customs officers, must hold a bachelor's degree. A criminal justice degree program can adequately prepare students for many of these careers.

Careers in this field can also be lucrative, as many criminal justice professionals earn above-average salaries. For example, the BLS reports that private detectives and investigators earned a median annual salary of $53,320 in May 2020. Forensic science technicians earned a median yearly wage of $60,590, while detectives and criminal investigators earned $86,940.

Should I Get a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice?

Earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice can prepare graduates for a number of rewarding and in-demand careers. The BLS projects that between 2020 and 2030, the number of jobs for private detectives and investigators will grow by 13%, while jobs for paralegals and legal assistants are projected to increase by 12% — these rates are faster than the average projected growth rate in the United States (8%).

Criminal justice programs require students to earn about 120 course credits, which typically takes full-time learners four years. However, the exact program length depends on factors like whether students enter the program with transferable credits or take summer courses.

Working students may prefer a part-time schedule, and some may pursue their degrees through online or hybrid courses. Earning an online bachelor's degree in criminal justice may allow learners to take asynchronous or self-paced courses and complete classwork largely at their convenience.

Some graduates may pursue careers that require additional qualifications. Private detectives and investigators, for example, must earn state-issued licenses. Most employers also require paralegals to hold state-issued certifications. Probation officers, corrections officers, and police and detectives must be able to pass competency exams, background checks, and drug tests.

Find the best online bachelor's in criminal justice programs

Related Programs That Might Interest You

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Will I Learn in a Criminal Justice Bachelor's Program?

Criminal justice students learn how various systems and organizations monitor and prevent crime. Although this discipline encompasses numerous specializations, most learners take foundational courses like criminology and research methods.

More specialized courses, like American government or homeland security and terrorism, cover the inner workings of legal systems and national security in the United States. Some courses, like criminal investigations, cover investigative procedures that may be relevant to students' future careers. Classes like the sociology of deviance or law enforcement and society are more theory-based, exploring the relationships between legal systems, social infrastructures, and individuals.

Learners develop their critical thinking, moral reasoning, and written communication skills. Those pursuing more specialized concentrations may also build skills in highly specialized related disciplines like forensic science and information technology.


Forensic Science

Students learn how forensic science professionals aid legal investigations by using highly specialized techniques and technologies. Courses may instruct learners on how to identify and examine residual evidence from crime scenes, such as fingerprints or tire tracks. Students interested in pursuing a career in forensic science may pair their studies with a relevant internship.

National Security

Students pursuing this concentration learn how government agencies monitor potential threats to national security. They learn how agencies like the Department of Homeland Security prevent and investigate large-scale crimes, including international and domestic terrorism.

Juvenile and Family Justice

This concentration focuses on youth reform and the involvement of minors in the criminal justice system, emphasizing prevention and intervention. Courses explore risk factors for children and adolescents, infrastructural reform efforts for vulnerable youths, and correctional programs for juvenile offenders.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Degree Programs

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

Individuals with an academic background in criminal justice can seek out an array of careers and specializations. Some graduates work in public sector roles as law enforcement professionals, probation officers, or corrections officers. Other graduates may work in national security as customs inspectors or cybersecurity specialists.

Some graduates prefer to apply their knowledge of legal systems and criminal reform in legal settings. They may pursue careers as paralegals or continue their education to become lawyers, potentially specializing in criminal prosecution or defense. Other professionals may aid criminal investigation through forensics, working as fingerprint analysts or evidence technicians.

Popular Career Paths

Popular Continuing Education Paths

How Much Money Can I Make With a Bachelor's in Criminal Justice?

There are many opportunities for professionals with criminal justice degrees. Graduates can enter rewarding and well-paying careers. For example, BLS data indicates that paralegals and legal assistants earned a median annual salary of $52,920 in 2020.

In the same year, private detectives and investigators earned a median yearly wage of $53,320, with those employed by finance and insurance entities earning a median salary of $63,190. Forensic science technicians earned a median annual salary of $60,590, though forensic technicians employed by state governments earned $62,570.

Frequently Asked Questions About Bachelor's in Criminal Justice Programs

What is criminal justice? true

Criminal justice is an umbrella term that encompasses the study of criminal activity, legal systems, criminal investigations, and correctional procedures. Professionals with criminal justice degrees might use their background to work in law enforcement, criminal reform, national security, law, forensic science, or social services. Because of the broad nature of this discipline, students may refine their academic focus to match their intended career path.

How much does it cost to get a bachelor's in criminal justice? true

Like most postsecondary degrees, a bachelor's degree in criminal justice can be a costly investment. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average total yearly cost at a public four-year college or university was $20,598 during the 2018-2019 academic year, while the average cost at a private four-year institution was $44,662. However, many students qualify for need-based aid or scholarships for criminal justice majors that can help reduce costs. Other students may prefer to earn an online bachelor's degree in criminal justice. This option can be more affordable and allow students to balance courses and work obligations.

Is a BA or BS better for criminal justice? true

The curriculum of a program that offers a bachelor of science (BS) degree in criminal justice is more likely to emphasize technical, hard skills and specific procedures of law enforcement and correctional systems. Bachelor of arts (BA) programs tend to emphasize more theory-based learning, detailing how various concepts in criminology and sociology relate to the criminal justice system. However, the overall curriculum of these programs is likely to be pretty similar. When choosing between BA and BS programs, students can consider both personal preferences and career goals. For example, BS degrees may be more suitable for aspiring law enforcement and forensic science personnel, while BA degrees might be more suitable for those who plan on pursuing graduate degrees in legal and social service fields.

Can you go to law school with a criminal justice degree?

Most law schools admit students with diverse undergraduate backgrounds. There is no ideal major for aspiring law students. However, studying criminal justice can be an asset for those hoping to attend law school. Criminal justice graduates have likely completed courses that explore different elements of the U.S. judicial system, criminal investigation procedures, and criminal reform. As a result, these individuals may enter their next academic chapter with training that closely aligns with law school curricula.

What's the highest-paying job in criminal justice?

Some criminal justice professionals can find especially well-paying careers. However, more lucrative roles often require substantial work experience or a graduate degree. According to the BLS, detectives and criminal investigators earned a median annual salary of $86,940 in May 2020, while police and detectives employed by the federal government earned a median yearly wage of $92,080. Emergency management directors earned a median salary of $76,250 per year, and those working in professional, scientific, and technical services earned a median of $106,570.

Feature Image: Catherine McQueen / Moment / Getty Images

The 1994 congressional ban on awarding federal student financial aid to prisoners lifts in two years. For now, a 2015 pilot program extends to 200 schools. Learn about the important laws and policies that shaped the history and progress of diversity in higher education. Some states make registering to vote very tricky for college students away from home. Experts say blocking student votes can greatly impact election results. 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.

Compare your school options.

View the most relevant school for your interests and compare them by tuition, programs, acceptance rate, and other factors important to find your college home.