Earning a law enforcement degree can prepare students for lucrative careers in criminal justice. Law enforcement schools provide aspiring police officers, detectives, and probation and parole officers with more than just the minimum education required to enter the field. A degree in law enforcement can lead to on-the-job training. Many interdisciplinary careers combining criminal justice, policing, and law start with a bachelor's degree in law enforcement. Other programs offer federal law enforcement as a concentration of the criminal justice degree.
Each of the most common careers in law enforcement require their own training, certification, or licensure in addition to a law enforcement degree. Aspiring law enforcement officers, corrections officers, and security guards must complete a training program to qualify for employment in their field. Probation officers must also complete a training program and may require certification in their state. Some states require private investigators to obtain a license to practice professionally. Police and detectives represent one of the fastest-growing occupations in criminal justice, with a projected job growth rate of 7% between 2016 and 2026. Among this professional groups, detectives working in federal government remain among the top earners, with a median annual salary of more than $84,660.
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Law Enforcement?
Students may complete a law enforcement degree on campus or online. While not all bachelor's in law enforcement programs require an internship, most encourage students to pursue practical experience through an externship or through their capstone project. A law enforcement bachelor's degree suits those planning to complete job training after graduation in fields like policing, corrections, or security. Many law enforcement schools offer this concentration as part of a criminal justice program, encompassing a broad curriculum in Constitutional law, public policy, and the court and corrections systems.
Students meeting the demands of a full-time job and those looking to change careers might prefer an online degree, which offers flexible or accelerated options. Recent high school graduates might prefer a traditional program to maximize face-to-face interaction. The degree can also aid students at all stages of their education. Students in the process of completing a bachelor's degree in law enforcement can benefit from local networking opportunities, while students approaching graduation or recent alums can access job placement assistance and career services through their program.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Law Enforcement?
Graduates of a law enforcement degree may choose from a range of employment options, including becoming a police officer, parole or probation officer, detective, or private investigator. While most positions in law enforcement require a high school diploma as the minimum education requirement, federal-level law enforcement jobs typically require at least a bachelor's degree. Employment in the field's most common jobs, such as policing and corrections, also requires additional training and, in some states, certification or licensure. The following represent just some of the most common occupations in law enforcement:
- Police Officer/Detective
Police officers and police detectives protect people and property by patrolling areas under their jurisdiction, collecting and storing evidence from crime scenes, conducting traffic stops, fulfilling search and arrest warrants, and responding to emergency calls. Federal positions require at least a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, law enforcement, or a related field, as well as the completion of police academy training.
Median Annual Salary: $62,960*
- Probation Officer/Correctional Treatment Specialist
Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists monitor and help manage the rehabilitation of offenders of the law, both those within the corrections system and those on probation and parole. Candidates must hold a bachelor's degree and complete a training program through their state agency or the federal government.
Median Annual Salary: $51,410*
- Private Detective/Investigator
Private detectives and investigators perform interviews and conduct research and surveillance to uncover personal, legal, and financial information. Some employers require only a high school diploma, while others require a bachelor's degree in law enforcement, criminal justice, or a related field. The majority of states require PIs to hold a license, though specific state qualifications frequently change.
Median Annual Salary: $50,700*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Choose a Bachelor's in Law Enforcement Program
Law enforcement degree applicants must consider many criteria when choosing a program. Many students select a bachelor's degree in law enforcement based on program length, cost, and location. A candidate for a degree in law enforcement should also consider whether they plan to complete the program on campus or online, as some law enforcement schools require distance learners to visit campus occasionally.
A student's list should include only accredited law enforcement schools. A school that holds institutional accreditation means it meets standards for excellence in education. In some cases, a degree in law enforcement may also receive programmatic accreditation. Applicants should also make sure that each school they pursue offers the specific law enforcement degree or concentration they need.
Students must choose whether to study full time or part time. While part-time courses can help working professionals maintain their job and minimize tuition fees, full-time students can graduate faster. Some schools cater to online students with accelerated programs or discounted tuition rates.
Location serves as another important factor in choosing a law enforcement degree. Aspiring on-campus students should research the cost of living, the quality of life, and the potential employment opportunities in the area surrounding the school. They should also keep in mind that a program's final project requirements vary from state to state. Online students should also get to know the area, as some distance programs require occasional campus coursework. Applicants may need to gain work experience or complete training locally, whether completing their law enforcement degree on campus or online.
Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor's in Law Enforcement Programs
When vetting law enforcement bachelor's degree programs, students should consider only accredited schools. A school must hold institutional accreditation through a national or regional agency to demonstrate that it meets standards set by the U.S. Department of Education. Some law enforcement degrees receive programmatic accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA) or the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA). Applicants of programs accredited by CALEA or IACLEA can rest assured that their degree in law enforcement meets industry standards and higher education criteria. Prospective students should not trust an unaccredited program to provide a reliable law enforcement degree.
Bachelor's in Law Enforcement Program Admissions
Completing applications for a degree in law enforcement requires endurance, patience, and organization. Many applicants feel overwhelmed at the prospect of applying to law enforcement schools, especially those applying for a nontraditional program. Fortunately, applications tend to require the same information, no matter the school. Sometimes an online program requires students to complete a request form before submitting their application.
Schools typically honor several different methods of application and admissions, including early decision -- which requires the student to apply to one school only and attend, if accepted -- and early action and regular decision, which allow a student to apply to multiple schools with no obligations. College experts recommend that students begin applying in the summer between their junior and senior year of high school to between four and eight colleges of their choice.
- Minimum GPA: While some law enforcement schools specify a minimum GPA requirement for admission, which is typically at least a 2.0, most schools take into account an applicant's entire academic performance, using their average letter grade or percentile rank for admissions consideration. Schools also weigh additional attributes such as advanced placement coursework.
- Application: Online remains the most popular method of applying for college, though most schools also accept hard-copy applications. The Common Application has students complete one application that allows them to apply to multiple schools. Experts recommend that students devote the time saved on completing multiple separate applications to writing entrance essays.
- Transcripts: Most applications require high school or previous college transcripts. The process typically involves a simple transcript request from the student to their former school, notifying the school of where to deliver the transcripts. The transcript request is usually free, though students must cover the shipping costs.
- Letters of Recommendation: Generally, students should pursue between two and three letters of recommendation, from mentors, teachers, or counselors, as long as the author can provide a favorable academic and personal assessment of the individual. Applicants can avoid rushing the author by requesting the recommendation at least two months in advance.
- Test Scores: Some law enforcement degrees require SAT or ACT scores with the application for admission. Others may not require standardized test scores at all, or prefer one test over the other, according to a school's policies and procedures.
- Application Fee: Fees to apply to a bachelor's degree in law enforcement can range from $25-$80, with schools that charge high tuition prices also charging a higher fee to apply. Applicants that meet common low-income requirements, such as those eligible to waive the SAT and SAT subject test fees, can sometimes get the application fee waived.
What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's in Law Enforcement Program?
Law enforcement degrees provide students with the skills they need to enter their choice of criminal justice careers. Many law enforcement degrees enable further specialization in areas like police administration, corrections, or emergency management. Schools also commonly offer law enforcement as a concentration of a criminal justice degree.
|Law Enforcement||The law enforcement concentration builds a foundation in criminal law and procedure, ethics, and investigation techniques. Graduates qualify for local, state, federal, and international positions through a comprehensive understanding of public policy and the criminal justice system.||Police officer, detective, probation officer|
|Police Administration||As a specialization often combined with law enforcement, police administration teaches students to supervise a police force, probation officer department, or security team. In addition to mastering law enforcement skills, police administrators must develop community relations, budgeting, and operations management abilities.||Police captain, chief of police, police lieutenant|
|Corrections||The corrections concentration provides students with expert knowledge of the U.S. prison and offender treatment systems. Graduates qualify for positions in which they implement the laws, regulations, and policies that govern the housing of prisoners and those recently released and in rehabilitation.||Correctional officer, probation officer, parole officer|
|Emergency Management||Sometimes offered as part of a business or business administration program, students in the emergency management concentration learn to develop and apply critical disaster management skills in a crisis situation. Learners prepare to assess and manage risk, threats to security, and terrorism in the context of public emergencies.||Emergency management specialist, homeland security officer, emergency medical technician|
|Public Safety||Often combined with emergency management, students specializing in public safety explore the policies, rules, and regulations in place to maintain the safety of the public. Graduates qualify for positions helping to maintain order by enforcing the law at public events, within communities, or in a crisis.||Law enforcement officer, public safety officer, public safety administrator|
Courses in a Bachelor's in Law Enforcement Program
Earning a degree in law enforcement provides students with the unique combination of skills in policing, judicial and court systems, psychology, and sociology needed to begin their career. While a law enforcement degree encompasses broad concepts, the following represent some of the courses most commonly found in a bachelor's degree in law enforcement.
- Introduction to Criminal Justice
Students in this course explore the three primary components of criminal justice: the courts system, corrections, and law enforcement. The course also explores what defines crime, theories of the causation of crime, and what kinds of punishments exist in the current criminal justice system in the U.S. for criminal offenders.
- Community Policing and Diversity/Abuse and Victimization
This course covers best practices for law enforcement techniques used to address specific types of crime: hate crimes, domestic abuse, bias-motivated victimization, crimes against individuals with disabilities, and crimes related to race or ethnicity. Students learn both contemporary methods of practicing law enforcement effectively in a variety of diverse communities and how to practice sensitivity while on the job.
- Constitutional Law and Civil Process of Criminal Procedures
Students in this course explore the procedures and limitations of Constitutional law in regards to public policing and federal law enforcement. Topics cover both the role of the law enforcement officer and the rights of the individual in the context of a democratic society.
- First Responder
Students in this introductory course learn the basics of first responder training, including acting as an officer of the peace, procedural intervention techniques in a medical emergency, and preservation of a potential crime scene. Completion of this course sometimes satisfies the prerequisite for related emergency medical records training.
- Police Report Writing
This course focuses on the proper terminology and shorthand used by law enforcement officers when preparing reports during the course of their job. Aspiring police officers also learn to develop general writing skills.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's in Law Enforcement?
Most bachelor's in law enforcement programs take four years to complete and require around 120 credits; however, many factors can affect the length of a law enforcement degree. Most programs allow students the option to attend part time or full time. Some of the most flexible online law enforcement degrees allow students to choose how many credits to take.
How Much Is a Bachelor's in Law Enforcement?
The cost of earning bachelor's in law enforcement degrees fluctuates depending on factors such as the type of school offering the program, online or on-campus delivery, state of residence, and financial aid eligibility. At many schools, in-state students can pay discounted tuition, whether completing courses on campus or online. Some schools also offer perks to online learners in the form of discounted tuition, laptop discounts or certificates, or special scholarships.
Though prices vary for schools classified as for-profit or nonprofit, and public or private, attending an average four-year, degree-granting institution costs $26,120 per year, as of 2016. Generally, online students can enjoy additional savings on more than just the cost of tuition. Distance students can also eliminate the need to pay for campus housing and facilities and save on commuting costs.
Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor's in Law Enforcement Prepares For
- Police Officer
Aspiring police officers typically need only a high school diploma to enter the field, though advanced positions, such as FBI agent or fish and game warden, require a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, law enforcement, or a related field. States typically require police officers to be at least 18-21 years of age. Candidates must pass an entrance exam to qualify for employment; they must also complete a training program at an approved police academy, which can last for up to six months.
- Corrections Officer
While local and state corrections officers require only a high school diploma, corrections officers in federal prisons must be between 21 and 37 years old, hold a bachelor's degree, and boast three years of experience supervising inmates. Aspiring officers must complete a training program at a state or regional facility before qualifying for employment in the field, followed by on-the-job firearms and self-defense training.
- Licensed Private Investigator
A student aspiring to a private investigator career in a state that requires licensure should hold a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or law; they must also complete an approved training program and pass a test to obtain a PI license. Though not all states require PIs to hold licensure, those with licensure can qualify for higher paying jobs.
- Certified Probation Officer
The majority of states require aspiring probation officers between 21 and 37 years of age to hold a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, social work, or a related field, such as corrections or law enforcement. Students must also complete a training program in laws and regulations, psychology, and behavior modification to obtain certification. Some states require separate training for adult and juvenile probation officers.
Resources for Law Enforcement Students
An entity governed by the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the NCIRC provides law enforcement officials and other members of the criminal justice community with professional resources such as training opportunities, continuing education, and best practices for all sectors of the field.
PoliceOne.com remains among the internet's largest job-search sites for police officers and law enforcement professionals. The site offers career opportunities for aspiring criminal justice workers, resources for off-duty service people, training opportunities, and grant assistance and financial aid.
The U.S. Department of Justice not only caters to citizens looking to request records, submit a complaint, or report a crime, but it also serves aspiring criminal justice professionals through resources like a careers section, disability employment, and veteran recruitment options.
The prominent organization representing federal marshals and court officers in the U.S., the USmarshals.gov site offers career opportunities for aspiring deputy U.S. marshals, law enforcement administrators, and detention and aviation enforcement agents. The site also offers business opportunities for potential corporate partners and fact sheets outlining the organization's various policy reform initiatives.
The Office of Justice Programs oversees various criminal justice divisions, including the National Institute of Justice, the Office for Victims of Crime, and the office in charge of the sex offender registry. OJP.gov offers training opportunities and technical assistance, as well as major grants and funding opportunities for federal programs.
Professional Organizations in Law Enforcement
Students recently graduated from a law enforcement bachelor's degree often join professional organizations to help jumpstart their career. Professional organizations tailored to criminal justice occupations can offer aspiring law enforcement officers resources like networking opportunities, access to conferences and gatherings, and continuing education. Most law enforcement organizations support students in training with discounted memberships and special activities for young members in their early career.
Members of NAPO receive exclusive advocacy and education opportunities and stay abreast of the latest news in the law enforcement community, including current legislation pending in Congress. The organization names annual recipients of its TOP COPS award and offers members perks such as vacation discounts and Ford rebates.
A charter member of the DHS Federal Law Enforcement Working Group, FLEOA hosts the largest membership of federal law enforcement officers. The organization offers legal services to current and retired law enforcement members, as well as insurance, advocacy, and financial planning assistance. Members may also attend FLEOA's annual conference.
The career center of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Discover Policing caters to employers, educators, and job seekers in the law enforcement community. The site also features resources dedicated to aspiring police officers seeking licensure or certification, community police officers and patrol officers, and civilians exploring law enforcement opportunities.
The IPA governs various regional chapters of police officers across the U.S., as well as special interest groups serving the law enforcement community. While membership in the IPA provides perks including travel discounts, scholarships for family members, and subscriptions to exclusive newsletters, it prioritizes networking opportunities by introducing members to over 400,000 international contacts in the field.
With more than 3,000 members and roughly 60 chapters worldwide, NOBLE represents black CEOs, command-level and municipal officers, and criminal justice professionals serving in law enforcement. The organization offers its members mentoring and education services, career opportunities, continuing education, and participation in an annual conference.