Criminal Justice Degree | Salary & Requirements 2023

Written by Thomas Short
Published on June 28, 2022 · Updated on March 23, 2023

Criminal Justice Degree | Salary & Requirements 2023

Written by Thomas Short
Published on June 28, 2022 · Updated on March 23, 2023

Criminal justice degrees give you the chance to study criminal behavior and activity, social policy, crime control, qualitative analytical methods, laws and policing ethics, and beyond. You'll learn how social issues and inequalities, including those related to race, gender, class, age, and sexuality, shape the criminal justice system and public perceptions of justice.

With a criminal justice degree, you can pursue a wide variety of careers depending on your level of training and interests. Many degree-holders move on to careers in law enforcement, corrections, and criminology. Depending on the criminal justice program you choose, you can also become a competitive candidate for careers in social work and criminal or forensic psychology. 

If you're ready to learn more about the best in-person and online criminal justice degree programs and rewarding careers for criminal justice graduates, you've come to the right place.

What Is Criminal Justice?

We commonly use the phrase criminal justice to refer to relevant laws and court-related events that take place when a crime is committed. Criminal justice also includes the operations carried out by police systems, investigators, lawyers, prisons, and state and federal governing bodies.

Criminal justice is a big field with a lot of moving parts. As a student in a criminal justice degree program, you'll find a way to carve out a niche based on your interests and career aspirations. If you're interested in pursuing any of the many professional positions that make the criminal justice system operate, earning a criminal justice degree is a great place to start.

Bear in mind that there are different types of criminal justice degrees that are available at the associate to doctoral levels. Additionally, the criminal justice courses and training will vary with each school's strengths and specialty areas. That said, it's important to first identify what level of criminal justice degree is the best fit for you. 

Secondly, you'll want to find a criminal justice degree program that offers training and support for students with your interests and career aspirations. Let's take a closer look at the various types of criminal justice degrees out there.

Types of Criminal Justice Degrees

Associate Degree

A criminal justice associate degree serves as an excellent introduction to the field. These two-year degrees typically cover the basics of the theory, history, and practice of law. They can be quite helpful experiences for students trying to figure out which area of the criminal justice field they would like to pursue a career.

What you might not know is that you can qualify for positions in criminal justice with only an associate degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this degree can position you for entry-level work as a police officer, detective, correctional officer, bailiff, and more.

Bachelor’s Degree (Criminal Justice major) 

A bachelor's degree in criminal justice includes both general education classes in addition to criminal justice major courses. Coursework includes topics like ethics, criminal law, social behavior, and political science topics more in-depth than in associate programs. These criminal justice programs typically take four years to complete.

A bachelor's degree in criminal justice can lead to exciting careers in the field. You can move on to positions as a security officer, fraud investigator, detective, police officer, and much more. Upon graduation, you'll qualify for similar career options as associate degree-holders but your additional education and training can help you compete for better pay and entry- to mid-level positions in the field. 

Master’s Degree

A master's degree in criminal justice is an advanced degree that offers you a deeper dive into critical thinking and criminal justice topics. Many MA programs prepare you for career opportunities in law enforcement agencies like the FBI, national security, corrections, crime prevention, and victim advocacy. Upon completion of a master's degree, you may also qualify for some research- or teaching-based positions in academic or criminal justice organizations, according to BLS. 

Most full-time students can complete these graduate degrees in two years or less. Compared to associate and bachelor's degrees in criminal justice, master's programs typically require students to complete a traditional thesis or final project in addition to an internship.

Doctoral Degrees 

There are several types of doctoral degrees related to criminal justice, but two stand out as the most common and directly connected to the field: the doctor of criminal justice (DJC) and the doctor of philosophy (PhD) in criminal justice. The degrees may sound alike but they are designed for different types of criminal justice students. 

It's easiest to think of the DCJ as an in-practice, leadership, or criminal justice policy-focused degree. The PhD, on the other hand, is largely for researchers and educators who want to work for universities, research institutions, and public advocacy groups. Other popular doctoral degrees related to criminal justice include the doctor of psychology (PsyD) in criminal justice, Juris Doctor (JD), and doctor of public administration (DPA). Depending on the program, doctoral degrees can take 3-7 years to complete.

What Can I Do With An Online Bachelor Of Criminal Justice Degree?

While there are many different career paths you can take with a criminal justice degree, it's best to pursue an education with some sort of career in mind. This way you'll be able to pick a school and electives that support that effort. Many students study criminal justice to prepare for careers as police officers or detectives. About 77% of police and detectives work at the local government level and earn a median annual salary of $65,850.

Policing and detective positions can lead to higher-level positions at the state and federal levels. With several years of experience, criminal justice professionals can also find work with specialized agencies within the federal government, including the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Only about 8% of criminal justice professionals trained in law enforcement and investigation work for the federal government. These workers make a median annual salary of $92,080.

For criminal justice professionals with a master's or doctorate in criminal justice, becoming a college teacher may be a rewarding option that puts their teaching and research skills to work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), postsecondary teachers in these roles make a median annual salary of $63,560.

Criminal Justice Financial Aid

Criminal justice majors have access to the same type of financial aid as other students, even if they choose to complete their degrees online. Aside from taking out student loans, grants and scholarships continue to serve as an excellent method of financing an education.  

Certification and Licensure

Graduates interested in attaining relevant certificates that can be applied in the workplace can pursue a Certified Criminal Analyst certification or take a class to become a Certified Criminal Justice Professional to name a couple. These certificates allow recent graduates and working professionals to gain tangible skills and relevant knowledge that can be applied directly to their current roles. 

If you plan on becoming a lawyer, then you first need to complete law school. After graduating, you should qualify for your state’s Bar Exam


  • Is a criminal justice degree worth it?
    • Yes. Criminal justice gives you the chance to develop both specialized and highly marketable skills and knowledge. With an education in criminal justice, you'll qualify for many different types of rewarding and good-paying careers.
  • What kind of job can you get with a criminal justice degree?
    • Criminal justice degrees open the doors to a staggering number of career possibilities. From probation officer, paralegal, and police officer to forensic accountant and criminal investigator, there's no shortage of directions you can go.
  • What is the best degree for criminal justice?
    • The best degree for criminal justice is one that meets your educational needs and prepares you for your desired career without breaking the bank. It's important to find an affordable, accredited criminal justice degree program to ensure you obtain valuable credentials that will help you advance your career.
  • Is criminal justice hard?
    • Criminal justice degree programs and careers are not really for the faint of heart. In addition to studying the complex criminal justice system, you'll spend time learning about challenging topics. This includes violent crimes and disturbing offenses that criminal justice professionals encounter on a regular basis. 


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