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Education and Career Overview for Criminal Justice

Are you interested in pursuing a career in criminal justice? Professionals in the field of criminal justice are usually responsible for protecting the lives and property of others, as well as investigating and preventing crime. The work can also be very physically demanding and, at times, both stressful and dangerous. Some of the most common professions in the criminal justice field include:

  • FBI Agent
  • Corrections Manager
  • Forensic Psychologist
  • Police Officer
  • Private Investigator
  • Emergency Management Coordinator
  • Forensic Accountant
  • Crime Scene Investigator
  • Social Worker
  • Paralegal
  • Probation Officer
  • Security Guard
  • Fish and Game Warden
  • State Trooper

Degree Options

There is a plethora of criminal justice degree programs offered at the associate, undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels, as well as certificate programs. In order to determine which degree and degree level you need, it’s important to first identify your preferred occupation.


Those interested in very basic, entry-level positions or who want to prepare for more advanced education, can sign up for specialized training programs. A certificate of completion for certain trainings will prepare students for police patrol officer, corrections officer, and bailiff jobs. Educational advancement programs generally focus on a single element of criminal justice, such as crime scene photography.

Associate Degree

Law enforcement employers often require candidates have a high school diploma, but give preference to applicants with higher education. An associate degree in criminal justice typically qualifies professionals for more positions. These programs often focus on law enforcement, court systems, and corrections. They generally consist of 60 credit hours of coursework and can be completed within a two year period for full-time students.

Undergraduate Degree

A lot of upper-level criminal justice professions require candidates to have an undergraduate degree. These degrees often focus on more complicated topics, such as fraud investigation and criminology. While degree specifics will vary, most programs consist of 120 credit hours of coursework that full-time students usually finish within four years.

Graduate Degree

Individuals who want to specialize in a particular aspect of criminal justice often pursue a graduate degree.Those with master’s degrees are more likely to be considered for administrator and instructor positions. Full-time students can usually expect to graduate within two years, depending on the concentration selected. Most programs consist of30 to 60 credit hours of coursework.

Doctoral Degree

A doctoral degree opens even more doors in the criminal justice world. Those with a doctorate often become law enforcement teachers, criminology researchers, forensic psychologists, or lawyers. There are a number of different kinds of programs available, ranging from60 to 120 credit hours of coursework. It usually takes three or four years to complete these programs.

Fields of Study

The criminal justice field offers several promising career options. While all connected, each requires the development of certain skills. As a result, there are a number of potential fields of study to choose from, including:

  • Law Enforcement
  • Rehabilitation
  • Criminology
  • Corrections
  • Social Work
  • Paralegal
  • Research Methods
  • Law
  • Psychology
  • Information Technology

Career and Salary Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the availability of legal occupations is expected to grow by nine percent between 2016 and 2026. Job prospects are particularly promising for paralegals and legal assistants. Salary trends are also good, with legal professionals making a median annual wage of $80,080 in 2017. This far exceeds the median annual wage for other occupations. (Based on national data, not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary)


Health Occupations. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved on August 9, 2018 from:

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