Criminal Justice Degree – Why You Should Major in This Area of Study

The criminal justice system is one of the most dynamic and challenging career paths out of almost any industry. While not suitable for everyone, if you’re looking for a way to make a real difference in your community or in the country, then a career within the criminal justice system may be your ideal choice. While there are many different avenues you may take to begin your educational journey into this industry, a criminal justice degree offers the necessary training to gain entrance into a wide scope of careers and job opportunities.

What is a Criminal Justice Degree?

In the most basic of definitions, a criminal justice degree educates students on the many facets of our legal system. When students enter this field, they’re given the necessary tools to compete for a variety of criminal system careers; however, to truly engulf yourself into a specific concentration within this industry, it’s important to specialize in a specific concentrations, such as law enforcement administration, safety studies and corrections.

Due to the wide scope of knowledge these professionals require, it’s not uncommon for a criminal justice degree program to cover the following subject areas:

  • Criminal Investigation
  • Criminal Law and Criminal Policy
  • Criminology
  • Crime Prevention
  • Juvenile Delinquency
  • Deviant Behavior Studies
  • Labor Relations
  • Management Theories
  • Project Management Skills
  • Statistics
  • Sociology
  • Correctional Counseling
  • Forensic Technology
  • Research Methods

Perhaps one of the most substantial benefits of earning a criminal justice degree is its application in almost every industry. The coursework you’ll study is not only applicable to careers within the legal system. In fact, much of the skills you’ll learn are in-demand in a variety of careers and industries. If you’re searching for a career in upper management, the skills gained within a criminal justice degree program will provide you with the necessary talents to manage a department.

Depending on the state you are in, such as Illinois, you may want to look into acquiring your PERC card if you plan to use your criminal justice degree to work in the security services sector. The Illinois perc card application is relatively straightforward process and can hold significant weight in your ability to get hired as a security guard. Other states, such as California, offer the guard card for their security officers.

If you’re looking to enhance your degree, and therefore opening up career opportunities in various industries, consider minoring in one of the following subjects:

  • Human Services
  • Community Services
  • Pre-Law
  • Psychology
  • Social Work
  • Public Policy Studies

Modern criminal justice degrees are far more detailed than in years past. The reason for this is because of the growth found in other industries. As technologies grow, so does the need for persons to adhere to and monitor the legalities within these industries. Many criminal justice majors find themselves in the perfect position to enhance their career by jumping into a master’s degree program within their desired field of work. When combined with an undergraduate degree, it’s relatively common for these graduates to move on to advanced-level positions within corporations or within their community. Learn more about the various types of certifications and license types for security guards at Security Guard Training Central.

Types of Criminal Justice Degree Programs

When you’re interested in expanding your knowledge within the criminal justice industry, then you’ll find that this field features a wide array of degree options. For example, you may receive an education in criminal justice in the form of a certificate all the way to a dynamic and complex PhD. The exact type of program you enroll in depends on the type of career you wish to fall into. If you’re planning on working in a professional-level position you may need to go after an advanced degree; however, there are many well-paying career options for those with a standard certificate or degree.

The most important factor when choosing the best program for you is to have a decent idea of what your immediate career goals may be. It’s only when you identify these goals, you’re able to seek out appropriate schooling levels.

Educational Options

The following is a brief rundown of the various criminal justice degree programs you may choose from. You’ll notice that this list begins with the easiest, least time consuming, options and progresses to the more complex and advanced degree programs. While certifications aren’t technically degrees, a certificate in criminal justice can open up a host of entry level job opportunities that are challenging and decently paid.

  • Criminal Justice Certificate Programs – Generally, a certificate program in criminal justice lasts anywhere from a few weeks up to 12 months. Certificates are an excellent way to “test out” this industry without the financial and time commitment of a degree field. However, if you do decide to get a degree in criminal justice, most credits earned during a certificate program cannot be applied toward a degree. This is definitely a factor worth considering.
  • Associate Degree in Criminal Justice – After you advance from certificate programs, next comes two year associate degree programs. These basic level degree programs typically require 60 credit hours to obtain. If you’re not sure this is the field you wish to enter, but you desire a higher education than certificate programs, then an associate’s degree is your ideal choice. Upon entering the workforce, you may pursue more advanced degrees without having to start from scratch.
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice – Bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice then to require 120 credit hours to obtain, which breaks down to a four-year study program. If you’re interested in pursuing a professional-level career in a criminal justice position, then this is the first stepping stone to achieving this goal. However, if you wish to stop your schooling after obtaining a bachelor’s degree, you’ll still be able to secure a relatively high-ranking career.
  • Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice – A master’s degree in criminal justice further expands the knowledge cultivated during the four-year bachelor’s program. These programs are typically highly concentrated on a specific subject matter. Therefore, upon graduation you’re in a much better place to secure a high-ranking position in this industry.
  • Doctoral Degree in Criminal Justice – Those who wish to delve deep into the world of criminal justice, and work alongside some of the most influential people in this industry, then you’ll want to obtain a doctoral degree in criminal justice. These professionals typically work in the analytical, policy and theoretical portions of criminal justice.

What Are the Best Paying Jobs for Criminal Justice Degree Graduates


If you’re considering a career within the criminal justice career – or are currently enrolled in a criminal justice degree program – then you’re probably curious about the best paying jobs within this industry. While there are many career options for those wishing to work in the criminal justice field, some of the highest paying careers aren’t necessarily the fastest-growing.

Perhaps one of the biggest problems when it comes to determining the best paying job within the criminal justice field is determining your required level of education. For some, obtaining a two-year associate’s degree in criminal justice is adequate to go for their desired position, while others must complete more advanced-level schooling to qualify for an entry-level position within their career of choice.

Another important consideration you must make when determining which career is best for you is based upon where you live. Your geographical location plays a vital role in determining the average salary for a specific position. This being noted, there are several career options those with a criminal justice degree that have a universally higher-than-average starting salary.

Highest Average Salary for Criminal Justice Graduates

The following jobs don’t require applicants to hold an advanced-level degree. These positions are obtainable by completing either a two or four year degree in criminal justice:

  • Police (Law Enforcement Officers) – $55,000 per year
  • Criminal Investigators (Detectives) – $75,000 per year
  • Railroad Law Enforcement Officers – $58,000 per year
  • Probation Officers – $50,000 per year
  • Private Investigators – $48,000 per year
  • Fish and Game Officers – $55,000 per year

It’s important to note the aforementioned careers typically require additional specialty training. For example, to work as a law enforcement officer, you’ll be required to undergo police academy training, as outlined by Your Police Career.

Highest Paying Advanced-Level Criminal Justice Careers

The following careers are the best paying advanced-level careers. That is to say, these careers are applicable for those who obtain a standard criminal justice degree, but continue their education. Typically, these careers are within the legal branch of the criminal justice system. If you’re interested in any of these careers, then you should be prepared to undergo additional training and years of entry-level work.

  • Legal Support/Admin – $60,000 per year
  • Mediators and Arbitrators – $75,000 per year
  • Legal Judge – $110,000 per year
  • Administrative Law Judge – $88,000 per year
  • Attorney’s – $130,000 per year

An Exploration Into Criminal Justice Core Curriculum


The criminal justice industry is one of the fastest growing in the nation. In fact, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that over the next decade this industry will grow by 22 percent each year. Because of the rise in the general population, there is a greater need for criminal justice professionals on all levels. While not every career within this industry requires a degree, if you wish to gain swift entry into the workforce with a higher-than average salary then you’ll want to obtain either an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Although the exact coursework you’ll be expected to complete will vary based upon the level of your degree as well as your concentration. This being noted, there are several universal courses all students within this degree program will be expected to complete.

#1 – Intro to the Legal System and Law

This is an introductory course discusses the various structures, processes and history of the United States legal system. It’s designed to be understood by entry-level students and is generally the prerequisite to more specialized coursework, such as constitutional, business or criminal law.

#2 – Criminal Procedure Law

Generally speaking, this coursework cover the various laws that govern the criminal/conviction process. Throughout the course, students will learn the various tasks associated with analyzing cases and interpreting various court opinions. Common topics within this coursework include property and person searches/seizures, the processes involved with interrogations as well as post-sentencing considerations.

#3 – Ethics in Criminal Justice

All criminal justice students – regardless of their degree level – will be required to undergo this course. Ethics plays a vital role throughout the criminal justice system. This course addresses the various ethical issues that will typically arise while working within the legal system. Students will learn a solid understanding of the various ethical and moral dilemmas and how these issues can be resolved without sacrificing ethical decisions while satisfying the various judicial requirements in sentencing.

#4 – Criminal Behavior Theories

This interdisciplinary examination delves into the various elements associated with criminal behavior. Although this is an entry-level coursework, students will explore various case studies to identify and illustrate the social, economic, psychological and biological corrections within criminal activity. The primary focus is to identify the primary theories of criminal behavior and applying these various theoretical notions in such a way so students can improve their fundamental understanding of criminal behavior/motivations.