Earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can create a path toward many different occupations within the protective service. Correctional officers and bailiffs, detectives, and private investigators often begin their career with this degree. Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a modest 5% growth for this job sector overall, communities continue to need protective service professionals.
Several colleges and universities across the country now offer online criminal justice degrees. Coursework for online programs boast the same quality and requirements as on-campus classes, opening similar professional opportunities for on-campus and online students after graduation.
Use this guide to learn more about the various aspects of criminal justice programs — coursework, job outlook, and scholarships — that can help you decide which program to pursue.
The list below ranks several colleges and universities that offer criminal justice programs across the United States. In creating the list, we examined various factors that affect the quality of a program, including coursework variety, tuition, school or program accreditation, and the resources available to both on-campus and online students. You can find specific program information, such as graduation requirements and specialization areas, on the school’s website.
While a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can open the door to several possible careers within the field, it cannot guarantee professional advancement nor a specific salary level. However, many criminal justice positions require applicants to earn at least a bachelor’s degree.
The table below presents the job growth and salary projections for some of the common occupations open to criminal justice degree holders. It also describes the typical responsibilities that come with each position.
This type of criminal justice professional works with individuals in custody, on probation, or on parole. Their responsibilities often include determining effective rehabilitation and/or treatment programs for wards, attending prehearing investigations and testifying in court, counseling, and writing up and maintaining case reports. They also evaluate programs and community resources that can benefit their wards.
Police and detectives perform a variety of duties, depending on their work environment. They investigate crimes, issue citations for violations, patrol designated areas and monitor suspicious behavior, and testify in court. Fish and game wardens also perform policing functions by enforcing hunting, boating, and fishing laws and investigating complaints and accidents.
Attorneys, businesses, and other individuals hire private detectives and investigators for many different reasons. These professionals conduct surveillance, verify a person’s background, and help find missing persons. Detectives and investigators carry out their activities as private citizens, requiring an in-depth understanding of local, state, and federal laws to ensure the gathered evidence is admissible in a court of law.
Security guards monitor alarms and security cameras, control building or property access, respond to emergencies, and detain violators or trespassers. Gaming surveillance officers survey casino gaming areas for suspicious activities, such as cheating, theft, or drunkenness. They make sure both the establishment and patrons comply with state rules and regulations, maintaining and organizing security and surveillance camera recordings.
Several factors influence demand, salary, and job growth potential for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists, including population density and the number of prisons and correctional facilities in a state. The state government (excluding public schools and hospitals) employs the highest number of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists. California boasts the highest employment rate in this profession, followed by Texas, New York, Pennsylvania, and Florida. California is also the top-paying state for this profession, followed by New Jersey, Iowa, New York, and Alaska.
Each school crafts a curriculum that embodies its educational goals for students. As a result, criminal justice coursework can vary greatly between colleges and universities across the country. However, criminal justice programs generally offer similar core coursework to give students the foundational knowledge and skills needed for this field.
In this course, students examine the ethical, legal, and social issues that led to the corrections methods used today. Studies focus on the effectiveness of probation, parole, diversionary programs, and incarceration alternatives.
Students perform an in-depth philosophical analysis of the concepts and principles comprising criminal law foundations, including courtroom application. Learners study topics like criminal court decisions, criminal elements, and procedural aspects.
Course participants study current and emerging theoretical perspectives in criminal justice, the different explanations behind criminal behavior, and how society influences criminal justice practice.
This course examines the functions and organizational structure of the different agencies making up the criminal justice system, such as corrections, juvenile justice, and law enforcement.
Students explore the effects of mass incarceration on prisoners, their families, and the community at large. They also study the impact of incarceration on democratic principles and justice as a whole.
There are several factors to consider when choosing an online bachelor’s degree in criminal justice program. Prospective students should not only consider cost, but also graduation rates, student retention, and accreditation. The last factor plays an important role if you plan to apply for federal financial assistance, as the U.S. Department of Education only offers financial aid for students attending accredited schools.
In the following section, you can read the answers to five commonly asked questions about online bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice.
Some schools do offer criminal justice programs entirely online. Coursework for these programs often consist of both asynchronous and synchronous classes. This setup gives online students the flexibility to schedule classes at times most convenient for them without foregoing the opportunity to interact with other students and professors in real time.
Most criminal justice programs require both on-campus and online students to complete an internship or practicum prior to graduation. An internship gives students the chance to explore a particular criminal justice arena and experience how their preferred career operates on a daily basis.
As a rule, schools that offer both on-campus and online bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice use the same curriculum for both programs. However, class schedules and course availability may differ, especially for online programs.
If you pursue your bachelor’s degree in criminal justice online, you can take advantage of the flexibility that comes with most online programs, especially if you enroll in asynchronous courses.You can also earn your degree faster if your program offers more than two enrollment or intake periods during the academic year.
Check that the school offering the online criminal justice degree is accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and/or by one of the regional accrediting organizations widely accepted in the United States. At the current time, no organization grants specific programmatic accreditation for criminal justice degrees, so the accreditation of your prospective school is crucial.
Some students take out private or federal student loans to help finance their college education. These types of funding options require repayment once a student graduates from or leaves a program. Scholarships and grants do not have to be repaid. Students must meet strict requirements to qualify for many of these scholarship programs, including submitting an essay that lists an applicant’s achievements and the reasons why they should be awarded the scholarship. Below, we have listed five criminal justice scholarships you can explore.
This scholarship opportunity is open to minority students who have been accepted to, or are currently enrolled in, an undergraduate criminal justice program. Scholarship hopefuls must be nominated by a member of the American Correctional Association. Nominees should submit a 250-word essay on the philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and how they have attempted to emulate these ideals. The scholarship amount is $1,000.
Crimcheck administers this annual scholarship program worth $500. The scholarship benefits freshmen who plan to major in a criminal justice field or students currently enrolled in a criminal justice program. Applicants must submit an essay describing their reasons for choosing a career in criminal justice, their professional objectives after graduation, and how the scholarship award can help them meet their goals.
NOBLE administers three scholarship programs: Irlet Anderson Scholarship (worth $2,500), Charles Fonseca Scholarship (worth $2,000), and Bernard and Sylvia Davis Thompson Scholarship (worth $1,500). Each scholarship is a one-time award reserved for graduating high school seniors with at least a 3.8 GPA and proof of financial need. Applicants must plan to pursue a career in law enforcement or criminal justice after graduation. Applicants should submit a one-page essay stating their criminal justice career goals and the reasons why they want the scholarship.
This scholarship has $1,000; $2,500; $5,000; and $10,000 award amounts. Applicants must be enrolled in an accounting, business administration, criminal justice, or finance program in an accredited U.S. college or university. Students must plan to pursue a career in anti-fraud after graduation and demonstrate their current interest in this arena. Applicants must submit two letters of recommendation, academic transcripts, and a completed application form.
Applicants must have completed at least one year of study in a criminal justice program at an accredited two- or four-year institution. They should submit at least one letter of recommendation from a police official or community leader. Applicants must also write a 500-word essay that describes the role they played in a community project and the impact the project had on the city. The scholarship amount is $1,500.