Degree Levels for Studying Criminal Justice

Obtaining a criminal justice degree affords one the opportunity to pursue a variety of jobs, but this is contingent on how much schooling you’re willing to go through. Starting with an associate degree, each subsequent increase in education opens up jobs that are not only more lucrative, but also increase engagement and responsibility. For someone passionate about criminal justice, furthering your education is the perfect way to get more involved in this engaging field. The field is consistently growing by leaps and bounds, so it’s definitely a worthwhile endeavor to pursue. If you’re not sure what degree is right for you, we’ve outlined your options below:

Associate Degree

An associate degree in criminal justice typically takes two years and often only opens the door for positions at entry level or slightly above, but the degree can be the deciding factor that often substantiates one slightly more than those with no experience, thus beneficially differentiating them from other job applicants. Many people with associate degrees are in pursuit of a job in a police department, be it in a position as a police officer, probation or corrections officer, an investigator, or many other positions. An associate degree is a great stepping stone on the way to obtaining a bachelor’s degree because it enables you to find a job in your desired field while still in school. Many students with this degree will continue their academic career while working simultaneously in order to make more money while getting a bachelor’s. Additionally, many jobs offer really valuable tuition reimbursement programs that can make a huge difference for those looking to advance their career. If you’re considering an entry-level degree program, you might want to research job opportunities that an associate degree will qualify you for. This way you’ll know if you have what it takes to get the job you seek.

Bachelor’s Degree

A bachelor’s degree is the first degree to significantly establish an individual in any field and criminal justice is no different. Classes at this level are much more comprehensive and delve into much more complex subject matter to ensure one is capable of delivering the highest quality work upon graduating. With a bachelor’s degree, graduates will be able to work as forensic science technicians, mental health counselors, intelligence analysts, but most commonly business intelligence analysts. There are many different jobs one can pursue with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and more can be found here.

Master’s Degree

The most engaging jobs in the criminal justice field require a master’s degree. From becoming a criminologist to a criminal profiler, a master’s degree will open the door to incredibly lucrative, meaningful, and rewarding jobs. When working towards a master’s degree in criminal justice, you’ll typically take advanced classes on that will refine your knowledge of criminology theories and leave you well-equipped for their application. These classes touch on some of the most important issues, while ensuring that students remain well-rounded enough to be successful. This is very useful for obtaining a job centered in the legislative and public policy aspects of criminal justice. These positions are often government-related and very demanding, but engaging. To see available positions, be sure to check out the Department of Justice’s website.

When deciding what degree level is right for you, it’s important to consider your career goals and go from there. If you know you want to work in the court systems, you might need a bachelor’s degree to do so. It all depends on the type of work, the type of employer, and the job duties of the position. Research positions might require a master’s degree or even a PhD.


If you’re interested in working in research, teaching at the college level, or leading a department, you might want to consider earning a PhD in criminal justice. These programs can take anywhere from four to seven years to complete, depending on the program and the amount of time spent writing a dissertation. Some schools now offer PhDs online, which allows you to continue working while taking classes. Many PhD programs require students to conduct an enormous about of research. Therefore, it’s imperative to make sure you have the time available to commit to a PhD program.

Useful Links

The allure of getting a degree in criminal justice has never been higher and there are more opportunities than ever to carve your own way in the diverse career field. Since it’s possible to get a job in varying government sectors, as well as work in the private sector, it’s imperative to understand the options available to finding a job once you have a degree. Here’s a list of useful organizations to reference and put your criminal justice degree to use:

Organizations & Associations:

  • U.S. Department of Justice
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation
  • National Federation of Paralegal Associations
  • Central Intelligence Agency
  • The Other Side of the Wall: Prisons and Prison Law
  • American Bar Association
  • National Security Agency
  • Once you’ve worked in the field for a few years, you might decide it’s time to earn a more advanced degree. This is a great way to discover what area of the field really interests you and to pursue a degree in that specific area. Additionally, some schools require applicants to have a few years of professional experience in order to apply for a master’s degree program and most definitely for a PhD program.

    Below you’ll find a variety of different accredited degree programs in criminal justice. These programs offer the education you need to qualify for employment in a variety of different areas. If you’re just starting out and not sure what degree you wish to pursue, you might want to consider talking to an admissions representative at your desired school to learn more about their degree options and what works best for you and your schedule.

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