A Bachelors Degree in Criminal Justice generally offers a more comprehensive education than a certificate or associate’s degree and takes longer to complete. While most associate’s degree programs are designed to last two years or less, it typically takes four years to earn your bachelor’s degree.
There are also some programs - specifically online criminal justice programs - that allow you to earn your bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in criminal justice simultaneously over a period of five years.
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Why a Bachelors in Criminal Justice?
In a four-year program, the first two years are spent completing basic education requirements and the last two are focused on coursework specific to the degree program. The curriculum varies from one program to another but criminal justice majors can expect to take classes in criminal law and criminal procedure, juvenile justice, criminology, research methods, corrections, police procedure, and constitutional law. Completion of a five-year program combining the bachelor’s and master’s degree typically requires additional coursework as well as the completion of a thesis.
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Career Opportunities in Criminal Justice
Criminal justice agencies are always looking for qualified candidates, and a bachelor’s degree may give you an advantage over applicants who only have an associate’s degree or certificate. Getting your bachelor’s degree can also be beneficial if you’re interested in a specialized career, such as crime scene investigation. At the local level, a bachelor’s degree can be helpful if you’re interested in becoming a police officer, public safety officer, jailer, or sheriff’s deputy. You may also be able to find employment as a security officer for a private company.
At the state level, a bachelor’s degree can also give you an edge if you’re interested in working as a state trooper, correctional officer, probation and parole officer, or counselor within the corrections system. If you’re interested in working for a federal criminal justice agency, such as the Department of Homeland Security of the Bureau of Prisons, a bachelor’s degree is considered the minimum in terms of education requirements.
Criminal Justice Courses You Can Expect
While many of us know what common core Bachelor’s courses to expect (Composition, etc.), it’s also important to know what kind of criminal justice specific classes you might see.
- Intro to Criminal Justice: Often a common 101 type of course that goes through a general overview of what parts make up the criminal justice system and how they interact with one another. You will also likely dive into the current state of the major criminal justice agencies and current challenges they face.
- Criminal Procedure: The rights and due process that everyone is given in the US is analyzed during this course. Understanding each step that is taken during an arrest to the rights that individual has to their sentencing is an important part of the criminal justice system.
- Applying Criminal Justice Ethics: Those in the criminal justice field can expect to exercise moral ethics on a regular (if not daily) basis. You will likely look at individual cases where both good and bad ethical decisions were made to help you better understand how dynamic criminal justice ethics can be.
- American Corrections: A large part of the criminal justice system is made up by the correctional facility system. You can expect to learn about how a facility is organized and the different roles each part of the staff serves. You will likely learn about the different inmate cultures and how they make a correctional facility environment dynamic.
While it isn’t a guarantee you’ll see courses with these specific titles, you’ll likely learn about the above subject matter throughout the course of your criminal justice bachelor’s degree.
Available Criminal Justice Bachelor’s Degree Concentrations
You often see master’s and graduate level degrees dive further into a specialized area but many schools are offering concentrations at the bachelor’s level too. It should be noted that the availability of these concentrations won’t be offered by all schools.
- Child and Family Science: This concentration can be good for those looking at a job in the child protective services or for those working with at-risk juveniles. You’ll see courses that concentrate on family relationships, dynamics, and how to properly intercede when family issues come up.
- Computer Science: A bigger and bigger need within criminal justice focuses around network security and online criminal activity. Having a concentration in computer science can help you investigate computer crimes and has become a popular concentration over the past two decades.
- Homeland Security: Since the creation of Homeland Security in 2002, we’ve seen the amount of those employed by this agency rise to over 200,000 people. This concentration will shed light on the role Homeland Security plays in monitoring borders, ports, and other critical US infrastructure.
- Public Policy: Policy changes happen regularly and many of those changes affect the criminal justice system. Whether the policy makes changes to budgets or arresting procedure, understand public policy can be useful for those in criminal justice.
If it’s available and you are confident in the direction you would like to go within criminal justice, adding a relevant concentration can help put you a step ahead.
Are Criminal Justice Internships Required for a Bachelor’s Degree?
While not a requirement, an internship at a criminal justice related agency or company can carry benefits outside of degree requirements. If you’re able to make a good impression during your internship, you might see that agency inquire about employing you after graduation. As you’ll likely be competing with other criminal justice bachelor degree graduates in the workforce, being able to stand out with a relevant internship can make a difference.
You should also see if the school programs you’re interested in have any connections to local, state, or federal agencies. Often, a school can have a relationship with agencies that look to hire graduates from their program.
Beyond the Bachelor’s Degree
For many students, a criminal justice degree is just the starting point for further study. If you’re interested in conducting research in the criminal justice field, a bachelor’s degree can prepare you for programs at the master’s or doctorate level. An undergraduate degree in criminal justice can also be a good choice if you’re planning on pursuing a law degree or a paralegal certificate.
Some that graduate with a Bachelors of Criminal Justice choose to enter the workforce. Others continue on to earn their Masters in Criminal Justice Degree.
Highly specialized fields such as forensic psychology, forensic pathology, and forensic accounting generally require additional education at the graduate level. Certain positions may also require you to be certified or undergo additional training as a condition of employment. For example, the American Probation and Parole Association and the American Correctional Association provide professional certification and training for probation officers and correctional officers.