A Criminal Justice Degree is a social science degree that prepares a student to work in the criminal justice system, law enforcement, or ancillary careers. The degree combines studies in psychology, sociology, and forensics, and some consider it a more demanding program of study. In the past, criminal justice was sometimes referred to as criminology; however, this is a largely outdated term.
Here are some considerations for students who are deciding whether or not to pursue this degree.
Cost of a Criminal Justice Degree
The cost of a degree in criminal justice varies, largely depending on the college or university where the degree is earned and whether a student is pursuing a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree.
For lower cost degrees, the range is between $21,500 and $38,000 for a bachelor’s degree. The average cost is about $45,000 for this degree. For top-rated programs, the cost varies widely – from $35,000 to more than $80,000. These costs tend to change from year to year with tuition costs for most programs increasing over time.
Master’s degree programs, which are shorter in duration, but more intensive and focused, start between $11,000 and $22,500. The top-rated programs in the US range from $23,000 to $32,000.
Online options can provide considerable savings, especially for non-traditional students who are not looking for an on-campus academic experience.
Timeline for Getting a Criminal Justice Degree
For an undergraduate degree, most students take four years from start to finish. Students who take summer courses may be able to finish in three years; however, this can be very stressful and lead to burnout. For nontraditional students, it may take longer.
Most students spend the first two years completing core curriculum requirements. The last two years focus on their program of study and may include the opportunity for internships or other opportunities. Programs generally require 120 hours of classes.
For a graduate degree, the student must have already completed their undergraduate degree. Earning a master’s degree in criminal justice generally takes two years to complete. Programs generally require 33 to 36 credit hours of classes.
Many students at this level do not go to school full-time due to work schedules or family and may take longer to complete their degree. Most programs require that degrees be completed within a certain time period, often within seven years.
Can a Criminal Justice Degree be Completed Online?
A degree in criminal justice can be earned online at either the undergraduate or graduate level. Online degrees are offered by numerous school, many of which are high quality and challenging programs. As with all online education programs, these require strict self-discipline and self-motivation from the student.
Online programs tend to be less expensive, especially at the undergraduate level, and involve fewer fees than traditional classroom programs. Bachelor’s level programs start at $16,000. Master’s level programs start at $14,000.
Online programs sometimes do not have the same access to internships and getting hands-on experience, so students should be sure to inquire about this aspect when choosing a degree program.
Career Tracks and Earning Potential
Students who earn a Criminal Justice Degree often become police officers, forensic technicians, or obtain other positions within the criminal justice system.
For those going into law enforcement, having a degree offers the opportunity to perform more advanced police work and to earn a higher salary. Instead of working as a patrol officer, for example, someone with a degree may take on leadership roles within the organization or possibly teach at a police academy. Having a degree, along with experience, often leads to promotions and increased responsibility.
The average annual salary for police officers is $55,000. This varies considerably by department/jurisdiction with officers in big cities often being better paid, regardless of their qualifications.
For those more interested in forensics, having a degree is a highly preferred for many positions related to crime scene investigation, including computer forensic investigation, blood spatter analysis, and fraud investigation, just to name a few.
The salary of forensic technicians ranges from $50,000 to $58,000 on average; however, there is considerable variability within these fields with fraud investigators generally making somewhat more.
Criminal justice degrees are often preferred for working for the FBI, CIA, DEA, Secret Service, and US Marshals; however, many of these are highly coveted positions for which considerable competition exists.
Each of these agencies have different pay ranges with CIA agents generally making much more on average. The ranges among all agencies combined are from $49,000 to $155,000. Many people who work in these agencies have additional skills on top of the degrees they have earned, which can include military experience or foreign language/culture expertise.
Criminal Justice Degrees require considerable commitment, time, and money; however, for those who intend to enter law enforcement or have criminal justice careers, they can offer an invaluable boost up the career ladder.