Criminal Justice and Law Degree Programs

Updated February 4, 2022 | Staff Writers

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Criminal Justice and Law Degrees: Outlook

The outlook for jobs in criminal justice and law is promising in that most jobs are growing at a steady rate, and some are even growing faster than average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that employment in the legal field is expected to increase by 9% in the decade between 2016 and 2026, adding approximately 116,200 new jobs. This is slightly better than the average growth rate for all occupations. The strongest growth will be for paralegals and legal assistants. These entry-level positions in the legal field will grow by 15% between 2016 and 2026, opening up over 40,000 new employment opportunities. Growth will also be stronger than average for arbitrators, mediators, conciliators and postsecondary law teachers, growing by 10% and 12% respectively.

The BLS also predicts strong growth in the field of criminal justice and law enforcement. The biggest increase in terms of percent growth will be in the field of forensic science. Jobs for forensic science technicians are expected to grow by 17% by the year 2026. In terms of the number of new jobs, the occupation of police officer/detective comes out on top. The BLS projects over 53,000 new jobs by 2026.

The outlook for other criminal justice and legal occupations for 2016-2026 according to the BLS are as follows:

  • Court Reporters: 3% (700 new jobs)
  • Judges and Hearing Officers: 5% (2,200 new jobs)
  • Lawyers: 8% (65,000 new jobs)
  • Private Detectives and Investigators: 11% (4,400 new jobs)
  • Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists: 6% (5,200 new jobs)
  • Postsecondary Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers: 12% (2,200 new jobs)

Featured Online Criminal Justice Programs

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Criminal Justice and Law Degrees: Salary Information

Salaries for jobs in the criminal justice and legal fields vary widely. In most cases, the more education you have, the more you can expect to make (although there are exceptions). Even so, there are some positions in the field that require little or no formal education and still allow you to bring in a steady income. Court reporters, for instance, make over $50,000 a year and need only a postsecondary certificate from a community college to be eligible for employment.

There are a few jobs in the criminal justice and legal field that will do more than just allow you to get by financially. Of course, these high-paying positions also require that you invest a good deal of time and effort into your education in order to earn your wage. Consider the following criminal justice and legal positions, their respective mean annual salaries, and the required degree:

  • Lawyers: $118,160 (Doctoral or Professional Degree)
  • Judges and Hearing Officers: $109,940 (Doctoral or Professional Degree)
  • Postsecondary Law Teachers: $104,910 (Doctoral or Professional Degree)

Are Criminal justice and Law Degrees Necessary?

If you’re interested in a criminal justice and/or legal career, you may be wondering if a degree program is really worth your time (not to mention the monetary investment!). After all, are there not careers in this field that don’t require a formal education? While the short answer is “yes,” there are still many reasons to consider an undergraduate degree in criminal justice or a related field, or even a graduate program.

Having said that, several of the careers in law and criminal justice as well as their respective mean annual wages (according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics) that do not require formal postsecondary education for entry are listed below:

  • Police and Detectives: $61,600
  • Private Detectives and Investigators: $50,700
  • Court Reporters: $51,320
  • Correctional Officers and Bailiffs: $42,820

Even though it’s possible to gain entry into a limited number of criminal justice and legal careers without a degree, that doesn’t mean it’s advisable. In many of these fields, employers prefer a minimum of associates or even bachelor’s degree prior to employment. Moreover, these credentials will give you a leg up on any advancement opportunities that may become available once you are hired.

Types of Criminal Justice and Law Degrees

In this section, we'll examine the types of criminal justice and law degrees available and explore examples of each.

Criminal Justice and Legal Degrees: Associate’s Level

Associates degrees in the criminal justice and legal fields are two-year postsecondary programs that prepare students for entry-level work in a limited number of positions. Paralegals and legal assistants, for example, need only an associates degree to begin work in the field. These jobs are ones to consider if you have limited time and/or financial resources to invest in academics as they are associated with a fairly high salary considering the amount of education you’ll need to become employed:

Paralegals and Legal Assistants: $49,500

Types of Associates in Criminal Justice and Law Degrees

By far the most common type of associates degree in the area of criminal justice and law is the associates degree in paralegal studies. These programs are often offered by community colleges and can be completed on campus, online, or via hybrid formats, depending on the school. Although it typically takes two years to complete an associates in paralegal studies, there are accelerated options that can enable students to finish their degree in 18 months or even less.

Topics Covered in Associates Degree Paralegal Studies Programs

The curricula for associates degrees in paralegal studies programs may vary slightly from school to school, but most programs cover the same essential topics in an effort to prepare graduates for work in the legal field. Coursework is typically vocational in nature with a focus on helping students apply their newfound skills to the workplace. Topics covered include criminal law, business law, family law, real estate law, law office management, and more.

Sample Course Titles for Associates in Paralegal Studies Programs

Courses comprising curricula for associates in paralegal studies programs may include titles such as the ones listed below:

  • Fundamentals of Law
  • Introduction to Legal Terminology
  • Legal Research and Writing
  • Litigation and Trial Practice
  • Law Office Technology
  • Principles of Business Law
  • Criminal Law Procedures

Bachelor’s Degrees in Criminal Justice and Law

Bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and law provide a more in-depth exploration of specific topics in the field and typically take four years of full-time study to complete. In recent years, some colleges and universities have adapted their bachelor’s degree programs to better fit the needs of students who have full-time work or family responsibilities. These adaptations include accelerated options, hybrid formats, and completely online programs. It’s also possible to find some schools that offer 4+1 programs, which allow students to work on their bachelors and masters degree programs in criminal justice and law simultaneously, finishing both within five years.

Types of Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice and Law Programs

Two of the most popular bachelor's degree programs in criminal justice and law are bachelors degrees in legal studies and bachelors degrees in criminal justice. We’ll discuss these two types of bachelors degrees in detail.

Bachelor’s Degree in Legal Studies

Bachelor's degrees in legal studies typically prepare students for careers as paralegals or legal assistants, but they may also qualify graduates for other entry-level positions in the legal field, or for further law study in a graduate degree program. These 120-credit hour programs include general education requirements as well as major-specific courses. Below are some sample course titles for a bachelor’s degree in legal studies.

Sample Courses for Bachelors Degree Legal Studies Programs

  • Advanced Legal Practices
  • American Politics
  • Forensic Psychology
  • International Criminal Justice
  • Law and Human Rights
  • Introduction to Juvenile Justice
  • Techniques of Legal Research
  • Advanced Legal Writing

Bachelor's degrees in legal studies often require a culminating element as well. This could be an internship, senior seminar, or comprehensive examination, for example.

Featured Online Criminal Justice Programs

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Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice

Bachelor's degree in criminal justice programs provide students with a broad understanding of foundational and contemporary topics in criminal justice and law enforcement. These degrees are ideal for those individuals who wish to enter the field with the intent to advance quickly. Bachelor's degrees in criminal justice can be obtained from various four-year colleges and universities, and increasingly, they are also available online.

Sample Course Titles for Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice Programs

Bachelor's in criminal justice degree programs are wide-ranging, covering numerous issues in the field of criminal justice. Topics addressed through these programs include law enforcement, juvenile justice, probation, crime scene investigation, corrections, and much more. Sample course titles are listed below.

  • Policing in America
  • Research Methods in Criminal Justice
  • Courts and the Prosecution Process
  • Forensic Science and Criminal Justice
  • Police Organization and Administration
  • Criminal Procedure

Bachelor's in criminal justice students are often invited to join Alpha Phi Sigma, the national criminal justice honor society.

Masters Degrees in Criminal Justice and Law

One of the most popular criminal justice and legal degrees at the masters level is the Master of Criminal Justice. This degree prepares students to work in management and administrative positions in criminal justice and law enforcement.

Concentrations for Master's in Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Many master's of criminal justice degree programs are customizable, allowing students to adapt the curriculum to their specific career goals. Below are some of the concentrations you may find in a criminal justice masters program.

  • Strategic Management
  • Homeland Security
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Corrections
  • Criminal Investigation

Sample Courses for Masters in Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Specific course titles for a master of criminal justice degree program will vary from school to school and will also depend upon a student’s chosen concentration, when applicable. Even so, you will invariably find some overlap from program to program. To give you a general idea of what to expect in your masters criminal justice classes, we’ve listed some sample course titles below.

  • Applied Data Analysis in Criminal Justice
  • Criminal Justice Administration
  • Criminology and Victimology
  • Criminal Justice Policy and Planning
  • Applied Digital Forensic Investigation
  • Diversity in the Criminal Justice System

Graduates of masters in criminal justice degree programs will find advanced positions as jail administrators, wardens, police officers, investigators, probation officers, parole officers, correctional treatment specialists, and more.

Featured Online Masters Criminal Justice Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

Doctorate Degrees in Criminal Justice and Law

One of the more common doctoral degrees in criminal justice and law is the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Criminal Justice. This terminal degree is designed primarily for professionals who wish to work in academic or research capacities in criminal justice. For example, graduates may teach criminal justice at colleges and universities or conduct research studies in criminology.

Specialization Options for Criminal Justice Ph.D. Programs

Like masters degree in criminal justice programs, Ph.D. programs in criminal justice also allow students to customize their degree plan in order to fit their academic interests and career goals. Some of the criminal justice Ph.D. specialization options you can expect to find are listed below.

  • Corrections
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Behavioral Sciences
  • Organizational Leadership
  • Criminology

Sample Course Titles for Ph.D.- in Criminal Justice Programs

Each school offering a Ph.D. in criminal justice will have their own unique curriculum, and courses will also vary based on the chosen specialization. Even so, it’s a good idea to have a general idea of the types of courses you can expect to take. Some of these are listed below.

  • Advanced Criminal Law
  • Leading Criminal Justice Organizations
  • Contemporary Forensic Science and Technology for Criminal Justice Leaders
  • Computer Applications in Criminal Justice
  • History of Police in the United States

Featured Online Doctorate Criminal Justice Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

Frequently-Asked Questions About Criminal Justice and Law Degrees

Q: Can I complete my criminal justice/ law degree online?

A: It depends. Many degrees offered in the criminal justice and legal field are offered completely online. Others are only available on campus, and some are offered in a hybrid format, blending online and on-campus components.

Q: Will I be required to obtain licensure in addition to a degree in criminal justice and law?

A: This also depends on the type of degree you pursue in criminal justice/law. Some positions will require you to become certified by a professional organization, while others will not. In cases where you do need a license or certificate, your criminal justice/law degree program will adequately prepare you for this process.

Q: Can I pursue a degree in criminal justice and law while working in the field?

A: Yes. It is possible to pursue a criminal justice or legal degree while also working in the field (or any other, for that matter!). Increasingly, colleges and universities are offering flexible options for working professionals, including weekend and evening classes as well as hybrid and completely online programs.

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