How Do I Get a Criminal Justice Degree?

Whether you’re looking for the best online criminal justice degree or a top criminal justice degree from a traditional onsite program, College Choice’s easy-to-navigate rankings and information pages will help you choose the degree or certification program that’s right for you to get started in one of the many diverse and challenging fields of criminal justice. If you don’t know where to begin your search for the right Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice degree or Master of Arts in Criminal Justice degree, then College Choice will help you get going!

With several pages related to criminal justice, College Choice is your stop for understanding the basics of the discipline and the profession. In this area of our site, we’ll outline the ins-and-outs of getting a Bachelor of Master of Arts in Criminal Justice, what a career in the field of criminal justice could look like, and the main avenues to creating a thriving career in the field.

If you already have an idea of your next steps for college, perhaps you might want to take a look at our Best Online Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice rankings or our Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice rankings, which will give you a rundown of different programs that will meet your needs.

Or maybe you’ve already decided where you’d like to go with your criminal justice career, and all you need to do is find the right school. If so, give our popular criminal justice rankings pages a look. Our Cheapest Online Masters in Criminal Justice-Corrections, Cheapest Online Master’s in Emergency Management, Cheapest Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology, and our Cheapest Online Master’s in Public Safety Management and Leadership should give you some fantastic leads.

But if you’re needing a bit of schooling concerning all things criminal justice, check out the information below.

Should I Get a Criminal Justice Degree?

The study of criminal justice is the study of systems—most specifically, the dedicated practices and institutions that create systems committed to public safety through deterring and mitigating crime, managing rehabilitation for people who have violated laws, and upholding the protections and freedoms given to people by the law, whether those people are average citizens or people accused of violating the law. To almost any field within the criminal justice profession, a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in criminal justice is vital to landing a job.

It’s quite possible that you’ve discovered your interest in criminal justice by watching a television show where crime scene investigators catch serial killers or where an adept public defender protects an innocent person from a prison sentence. While these things do happen on the job, it should be noted that Hollywood portrayals of these occupations aren’t quite accurate, though they are entertaining enough to pique interest in ubiquitous professions about which people rarely think otherwise.

People working in the criminal justice field are often engaged with working in one of a few different areas. However, rarely is a person working in a criminal justice field in a vacuum—the fields have serious overlap and employees in each often collaborate with workers in another. No matter the field, people in criminal justice careers need patience, fortitude, and a desire to make a difference by protecting individuals and the public.

What Are the Best Criminal Justice Degrees?

It isn’t always necessary to get an undergraduate degree in criminal justice to work in this diverse field. Many jobs within criminal justice simply require a high school diploma, a certification, or an Associate’s degree to start a career. Working as a police officer or sheriff, a paralegal, correctional officer, private investigator, fish and game warden, fire inspector, crime scene tech, bailiff, police dispatcher, and security officer are all examples of criminal justice professionals who don’t typically have advanced degrees.

That said, there are several positions which require advanced degrees—either a bachelor’s, a master’s, or doctoral degree in criminal justice—to gain access to the profession or advance in a career. At the advanced degree level, the field of criminal justice breaks down into a few distinct areas of study:

Forensics

As part of an effort to provide answers concerning the scientific nature of crimes committed, people in the forensics branch of criminal justice studies crime and criminology to address investigative and legal questions.

Law Enforcement

As part of an effort to maintain order within society, people in the law enforcement branch of criminal justice labor to discover, deter, rehabilitate, or punish people who violate rules and norms of societal law.

Security

As part of an effort to ensure the national safety of citizens and safeguard the country from crime, terrorism, and other hazards, people in the security branch of criminal justice labor to prevent lawbreakers from inflicting damage on individuals, institutions, and communities.

Corrections

As part an effort to manage offenders who are in the penal structure, people in the corrections branch of the criminal justice system work to administer prisons and community-based programs like parole and probation boards.

Law

As part of an effort to protect the rights of both the accusers and the accused in situations where the law has been violated, people in the law branch of criminal justice work to help individuals interact with the complexities of the legal system.

Perhaps one of these five areas holds some interest for you. If so, you’ll need to get into college to study criminal justice (or a related field) and obtain an advanced degree, such as a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, or a Master of Arts in Criminology. Below we’ve selected the most popular advanced degree professions in the field of criminal justice, complete with the area of interest, basic salary information, and a brief description. Take a look!

Forensics

Computer Forensic Investigator

Average Salary: $68,358

With diverse professional associations, this field is a branch of digital forensic science. Individuals working in this field of criminal justice search for evidence found in computers and digital storage media. With the goal of identifying, preserving, recovering, analyzing, and presenting facts and opinions about digital information, CFIs investigate computer crime and often take part in civil proceedings in courts of law. As well, investigators work to recover lost digital data that may be essential to a legal case. If this field sounds right for you, check out our Best Bachelor’s in Computer Science and Best Master’s in Computer Science rankings list right now, which will help you understand the degree path for this exciting field.

Forensic Accounting

Average Salary: $103,000

Forensic accountants work from actual or anticipated disputes in litigation to examine records pertaining to finances. Often working to assist professional negligence claims, these specialized accountants also get to the bottom of insurance claims, personal injury claims, anti-money-laundering cases, audits, and fraud cases. If this seems like the field for you, check out our Complete Guide to Accounting Degrees, which will help you understand the career path and certifications necessary for starting a career in this field. To gain access to this field, a Bachelor of Accounting, along with passing the CFF exam, would be the best route.

Forensic Anthropology

Average Salary: $56,320

Experts in the fields a Bachelor or Master of Criminology, Biology, Physical Science, and/or Anthropology are the primary degree choices for workers in this field who focus their study on the human body and skeleton to help examine and analyze human remains in order to solve criminal cases.

Forensic Psychology

Average Salary: $72,580

A focused interaction of psychology and law, these criminal justice workers apply their expertise of the mind and systems to jails, rehabilitation centers, police departments, law firms, government agencies and schools to help assess and determine the mental health and competency of individuals. If you’re ready to get started looking for a school in this discipline, check out our Cheapest Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology rankings and the rankings in a related field on our Best Master’s in Counseling Psychology list right now.

Law Enforcement

CIA Agent

Average Salary: $74,872-$136,771

Depending on what career you’d like with the CIA, a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, a Master of Arts in Criminology, a Master of Science in Computer Science, or a master’s degree related to the speaking or translation of another language are invaluable. Working inside the Department of Intelligence or the National Clandestine Service, CIA agents provide a variety of services for national security through advanced tactical and strategic law enforcement practices, ranging from national security to foreign policy issues. Agents working for the Central Intelligence Agency produce reports, briefs, and papers regarding a variety of intelligence-related issues, including terrorism, domestic security, translation, SET (science, engineering, and technology), and data analysis.

DEA Agent

Average Salary: Base pay begins at $21,000, but is region and rank specific

To begin working for the Drug Enforcement Administration, one should consider completing a Master of Arts in Criminology, which will provide an edge in the process of rising through the ranks. This federal law enforcement officer coordinates with the United States Department of Justice to stop drug use, smuggling, and production. Considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the field of criminal justice, DEA Agents often infiltrate criminal organizations as undercover financiers, middlemen, or drug buyers with the intention of gathering enough evidence to prosecute offenders of drug laws.

FBI Agent

Average Salary: $53,743

Depending on what career you’d like in the FBI, a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, a Master of Arts in Criminology, a Master of Arts Computer Science, or a master’s degree related to the speaking or translation of another language would be helpful. Working for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, these agents gather facts and evidence to solve and prevent crimes sensitive to national security that pertain to over 300 federal laws and statutes. There is a wide variety of tasks, specializations, and jobs associated with this profession, so you’re certain to find something interesting.

US Marshal

Average Salary: $45,371

Completing a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice is a good way to begin a career as a marshal. As federal law enforcers, US Marshals are in charge of transporting prisoners, serving federal arrest warrants, capturing federal fugitives, and managing the witness protection program. Vital to state and federal law enforcement activity, these agents also manage assets seized from criminal enterprises.

Victim Advocate

Average Salary: $33,634

These professionals are trained specifically to support victims of crimes by providing information, emotional/psychological support, as well as filling out and filing paperwork concerning issues the victim is facing. These criminal justice workers sometimes go to court to support their clients and liaise with family members and organizations. Related to this field is the field of Social Work. If you’re interested in this field, check out our rankings for the Best Online Bachelor’s in Social Work, the Best Bachelor’s in Social Work, the Best Online MSW Programs, the Best Masters in Social Work, the Cheapest Online Bachelor’s in Social Work, and the Cheapest Online MSW.

Security

Air Marshal

Average Salary: $60,270

Many marshals begin their careers with a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, which allows them to protect the skies. If you’ve ever been on a plane, then chances are you’ve interacted with this homeland security professional and had no idea. Sometimes call flight marshals, sky marshals, or FAMs (Federal Air Marshals), air marshals are covert law enforcement agents or counter terrorist officers who ride on commercial aircraft to counter aircraft hijackings. Agents in this field, which was started by the Federal Aviation Administration the early 1960s after a series of flight hijackings between the US and Cuba, are armed and trained to handle a variety of in-flight situations on both international and domestic flights.

Emergency Management Director

Average Salary: $67,330

When disaster hits, these workers in the criminal justice field are onsite to help. Working to coordinate crisis management activities, provide disaster preparedness training, and prepare emergency plans and procedures for natural disasters (floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc.), wartime scenarios, or other disaster scenarios. If this field seems interesting to you, then you will need an advanced degree. Go ahead and peruse our Cheapest Online Master’s in Emergency Management or our  Cheapest Online Master’s in Public Safety Management and Leadership lists today!

ICE Agent

Average Salary: Approximately $80,000

After earning a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology, employees in this criminal justice field are in charge of recognizing, inspecting, and disassembling weaknesses related to the country’s border, economic, transportation, and infrastructure security. These agents work in a variety of fields such as cyber-crime, arms trafficking, child exploitation and human trafficking, national security, transnational gang resistance, and drug trafficking.

Information Security Analyst

Average Salary: $88,890

Often employed in the private sector after earning a Bachelor in Criminal Justice, these criminal justice workers plan and facilitate the administration of digital security measures on computer networks and other tech-based systems. Protecting companies and individuals from cyber-attacks is paramount to their purview. If this seems of interest to you, then it is best to get a computer-related degree, so check out our Best Bachelor’s in Computer Science and Best Master’s in Computer Science rankings list right now.

Secret Service Agent

Average Salary: $43,964-$74,819

Depending on what career you’d like in the Secret Service, a Bachelor of Arts Criminal Justice or a Master of Arts in Criminology would give you an edge. Working to protect presidents and vice-presidents, as well as former presidents and vice-presidents, Secret Service Agents secure the safety of our country’s highest leaders. Additionally, these agents protect the families of presidential candidates during general elections, visiting foreign heads of state, former first families, and other individuals designated by presidential executive order.

Corrections

Correctional Treatment Specialist

Average Salary: $49,360

Often referred to as case managers, professionals in this field counsel inmates as they seek probation, parole, or release from prison. Playing an essential role in preventing recidivism (the tendency to relapse into a previous condition or mode of behavior), these individuals help people within the penal system recover their lives inside and outside of prison walls. If this seems like the career for you, hop over to our Cheapest Online Master’s in Criminal Justice-Corrections rankings, which would give you an edge in the job market.

Juvenile Probation Officer

Average Salary: $37,042

A Bachelor of Criminal Justice is helpful for procuring a job in this field. Known in the industry as JPOs, these workers manage youth who have been accused or sentenced for crimes and have been put under protective supervision or probation. JPOs coordinate with social service workers, law enforcement, schools, and other institutions to help young people cultivate success and positive habits. Alongside parents, JPOs work with troubled youth to help them recover from trauma and navigate the legal system.

Probation Officer

Average Salary: $49,360

A Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice is a good way to being a career in this field where workers supervise and direct offenders recently released from prison or help supervise individuals’ sentenced to non-custodial punishments like community service. Also known as parole officers, these workers report on and make recommendations concerning offenders before juries and judges in court.

Law

Lawyer

Average Salary: $115,802

Quite possibly the most visible and often the most highly paid workers in the criminal justice field, attorneys advocate, advise, and counsel the clients they represent, whether defendant or plaintiff. Beginning with the completion of a Bachelor of Arts in English, Political Science, Economics, Business, or Mathematics, a person hoping to practice law will then pass the American Bar Association exam to earn a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree. Some individuals go on to get a Master of Laws (LL.M.) as they begin their career.

No matter your interests, College Choice is here to help you find a degree that will give you a professional edge. Our mission is simple: we’re here to help you find, get into, pay for, and thrive in college. Take some time to look over our helpful tools and share some information with anyone you know who might be looking to go to college for a degree related to criminal justice!

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