Explore Criminal Justice Degrees and Careers

Learn about careers in criminal justice that you can pursue with a degree or certificate program.

Top Careers in the Field

woman aiming gun symbolizing criminal justice careers and degrees

The events of September 11, 2001 changed America's outlook on law enforcement, and as a result have provided more opportunities for people seeking criminal justice careers. Police officer, private investigator, Homeland Security, DEA agent—these are just a few of the employment opportunities for those with a criminal justice degree. But there are many criminal justice careers that don't immediately come to mind when you think of law enforcement.

Required Degrees for a Career in Criminal Justice

The amount of education you need depends on your criminal justice career goals.  To prepare for criminal justice jobs, you can pursue a certificate, an associate's degree, or a bachelor's degree. There are also advanced degree options for jobs such as forensic scientist, or for those wishing to teach in criminal justice degree programs.

The most common types of criminal justice programs are:

  • A certificate provides training in specific jobs in the criminal justice field by educating students to be crime scene technicians or other specialized jobs. Students who obtain certificates usually use them as the building blocks for a future criminal justice degree.
  • An associate's degree takes two years to complete and teaches fundamental criminal justice skills while grounding students in the liberal arts and sciences. Associates degrees might emphasize technical skills that will help graduates embark on successful careers in local or state law enforcement. Most police departments require new recruits to have completed some college training, so an associate's degree is a good place.
  • A bachelor's degree provides in-depth training for students who want to find entry-level positions in federal agencies, or who would like to increase their likelihood of being promoted in a police department or private company.  

Find a Specialty and Program

Depending upon your specific interests, you can choose from a range of criminal justice degrees in several specialties, including:

  • Criminal Justice (certificate, associate's, bachelor's): A certificate or degree in criminal justice will provide you with the technical and analytical skills that employers look for. These programs focus on topics such as crime, justice and the legal system.
  • Crime Scene Technicians (certificate, associate's): Crime scene technicians work at all levels of law enforcement and in legal or medical examiner's offices. They learn to analyze and preserve crime scenes, and become experts in proper evidence collection and storage. In addition, programs teach crime scene technicians to become effective communicators, since many need to present their findings in court.
  • Terrorism/Security Management (certificate): This certificate will be useful to individuals currently working in criminal justice careers and those who would like to find criminal justice jobs. Employees with training in counterterrorism will find a range of new career opportunities as this field continues to grow.