Criminal Justice Degree

Criminal Justice Degree

Public service keeps society moving forward. With an online degree in criminal justice, you may have the opportunity to learn how the professionals keep the peace, from the dangerous and exciting lifestyle on the front lines to the behind-the-scenes role that individuals play in forensic science.

It isn't all chasing criminals and unlocking the secrets to crimes, however. If you're more interested in pursuing a career path that examines the justice system from the perspective of a theoretical or research-based position, you can explore roles that fit this capacity.


What Is Criminal Justice?

In the United States, criminal justice is the collective goal contributed to by a group of government agencies to ensure that criminal activity is prevented, and when committed, justly punished. Many agencies at the state and federal level comprise the collective force of criminal justice, and most fall within one of the major five components: law enforcement, courts/judiciary, corrections, security, and forensic science.

Law Enforcement: Local, county, and state police officers who prevent crimes and make arrests and detectives who investigate unnamed criminal acts.

Courts/Judiciary: Lawyers in the court system arguing cases against those accused of criminal acts, judges determining sentencing if found guilty.

Corrections: Corrections officers in charge of monitoring criminals once they’ve been convicted. Includes parole and probations officers, and counselors.

Security: Trained to use gathered knowledge—or ‘intelligence’—to prevent and evaluate threats on a local, national, and international level. The Department of Homeland Security manages and prevents outside threats to the nation and its people.

Forensic Science: Examine and analyze evidence associated with a crime to determine key scientific deductions that may assist in both finding and convicting the person(s) who committed the crime. Professions in this field usually have strong biology and chemistry backgrounds

What types of criminal justice degrees can I pursue?

Because there is need for people in the criminal justice field with backgrounds at every education level, criminal justice degrees are available at the associates, bachelors, masters, and doctorate levels. Criminal justice degree programs will most likely incorporate ancillary courses, but you can expect that some courses will focus on understanding criminology and criminal justice.

Course examples in an online bachelors degree program in a criminal justice:

  • Criminology
  • Criminal Investigation
  • Criminal Procedure
  • Applied Criminal Justice Ethics
  • Computers, Technology, and Criminal Justice Information Systems

Course examples in an online masters degree program in criminal justice:

  • Criminological Theory
  • Research Methodology
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Critical Issues in Criminal Justice
  • Academic and Professional Communications in Public Safety

Course examples in an online doctorate degree program in criminal justice:

  • Contemporary Public Safety Leadership
  • Interagency Collaboration on Significant Events
  • Management and Leadership Theory
  • Diversity Issues in Public Safety
  • Advanced Qualitative Research Methods in Public Service

Criminal Justice Careers and Salary Potential

Maintaining security, upholding the law, and investigating criminal acts may require specialized expertise. Earning an online criminal justice degree may help you pursue a career in one of these areas of the criminal justice field. Because there are many branches of the justice and law enforcement sectors, the salary and growth projection in this list of criminal justice jobs broadly range from a prisoner-guarding corrections officer to a bar-passing lawyer.

Police Officers and Detectives[i]

Detectives investigate crimes with the help of others in the criminal justice field. While some police departments may require recruits to have an associate’s degree as a minimum educational requirement, the ability to pursue a career as a police officer or detective is contingent on many regulations that are best researched at your local and state level.

  • Median annual salary: $56,980
  • Job projection: 5% through 2022

Private Detectives and Investigators[ii]

Working outside of government and state agencies, detectives and investigators make inquiries into legal, financial, and personal matters and often have a high school diploma equivalent and several years of experience working in law enforcement. These positions sometimes require additional licensure.

  •  Median annual salary: $45,740
  • Job projection: 11% through 2022

Paralegals and Legal Assistants[iii]

Paralegals and legal assistants provide administrative support to lawyers and judges, including researching laws, drafting documents, and organizing files. In some organizations or law firms, a certification in legal studies is needed in addition to an earned associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

  • Median annual salary: $46,990
  • Job projection: 17% through 2022


Lawyers, sometimes referred to as attorneys, have completed their doctoral or professional degree in law school and often take state written bar exams in order to be able to practice law as a profession. Lawyers are employed at both private corporations and at government and state agencies and deal with the legal/court aspect of criminal justice.

  • Median annual salary: $113,530
  • Job projection: 10% through 2022

Correctional Officer[v]

These officers supervise individuals who are awaiting trial or are serving jail time and often work odd hours to accommodate 24 hour-per-day supervision. At a minimum, correctional officers are required to have a high school diploma or GED. Many states require them to have an associate’s degree, and a federal mandate requires them to hold a bachelor’s degree to work in a federal correctional facility.

  • Median annual salary: $38,970
  • Job projection: 5% through 2022

Forensic Science Technician[vi]

Forensic science technicians collect and analyze physical evidence from a crime in the hopes of making a scientific conclusion that law enforcement can use to make a conviction. Criminal justice degree students who are interested in a pursuing career a forensic science technician should have a strong background in biology or chemistry.

  • Median annual salary: $52,840
  • Job projection: 6% through 2022