Earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice typically involves a larger investment of time compared to a certificate program, but less time than what’s required for a bachelor’s degree. Most associate’s degree programs are designed to be completed in two years or less. There are a number of schools that also offer online criminal justice degrees, which may allow you to work at a slower or faster pace depending on your schedule.
Each degree program varies in terms of coursework but, generally, you can expect to take classes in law enforcement, criminal law, juvenile justice, corrections, court procedure, constitutional law, and victimology. You may also have the option of completing a capstone project or internship as part of your degree requirements.
What Can I Do with an Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice?
For many students, an associate’s degree in criminal justice is a preliminary step toward completing a bachelor’s degree. For others, an associate’s degree can lead to entry-level careers in law enforcement, the court system, or corrections. Some of the potential job opportunities you may pursue with an associate’s degree include working as a probation or parole officer at the state level, serving as a police officer or detective with a local law enforcement agency, working as a victim's advocate, or acting as a clerk of court.
Criminal justice graduates work in a wide variety of settings, including county jails, juvenile detention facilities, women’s shelters, state prisons, sheriff’s offices, police departments, and nonprofit organizations. You may also be able to find employment at the federal level, although agencies such as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives or Customs and Border Patrol may require a bachelor’s or master’s degree for certain types of jobs. Joining professional organizations or associations such as the Fraternal Order of Police or the American Jail Association can be an excellent resource for finding potential employment opportunities and networking with others in the field.
Career Outlook for Criminal Justice Majors
Employment of criminal justice professionals is expected to increase, with the highest growth in the corrections field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of probation officers and correctional officers is expected to increase by 4 percent through 2020.
Projected employment of police officers is slightly higher at 7 percent. In terms of pay, salaries among criminal justice professionals can be higher than the average for all other professions. As of 2016 according to the BLS, the median annual wage for police officers and detectives was $61,600. Probation officers earned a median annual salary of $50,160 while correctional officers earned a bit less. While this is a good starting range, earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice may open the door to higher-paying opportunities.