BS in Criminal Justice: The Definitive Guide & Top Schools

The study of criminal justice has been around since 1916 when a police officer in Berkeley CA started an academic program with The University of California to systematically train officers for criminal justice careers.

There was a great need for an educational system that would properly prepare students for this workforce.

The simple training program that started in CA has grown into a nationally recognized educational major that is respected around the country.

If you are considering a career in criminal justice, pursuing a degree is a great first step.

This quick guide will provide the information you need in order to find the program that is right for you.

Should I Get A Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

A degree in criminal justice will prepare you for employment in a wide array of law enforcement and investigative fields.

This degree will provide you with a foundation that is often sought after by employers.

This type of program will give you the sociology and psychology skills you need to become an effective officer or investigator.

Criminal justice degrees can also be used for professions outside of law enforcement as well, such as the justice system or private industries.

Many people find this to be an attractive degree option for several reasons.

This degree opens up doors to several different career possibilities.

There is a good salary earning potential as well as job security.

All communities are in need of people with skills in the criminal justice field such as police, detectives, private investigators, and probation officers.

How Long Does It Take To Earn A Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

If you are enrolled as a full-time student, you should be able to complete this type of program in about four years.

This is an estimate, however.

Some people can complete their degree in a shorter amount of time, while others may take longer.

It is really up to you how quickly you work, and it is also dependent on the type of program you are enrolled in and whether or not it allows for flexibility in pacing.

If you are in need of the greatest amount of flexibility, you might want to consider an online degree option.

Online programs often offer very flexible deadlines and schedules.

This is good for those who are working or for those who have other obligations.

What Will I Learn During a Degree Program?

A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can be obtained as either a BA or a BS.

There are differences between these two-degree options.

A Bachelor of Arts Degree in Criminal Justice will emphasize a liberal arts approach.

This means that the overall degree will require more courses in subjects such as science and psychology.

There is also usually a requirement for a foreign language as well.

A Bachelor of Science Degree in Criminal Justice, however, will explore more science-based courses.

This is often the best option for those who will be pursuing a career in forensic science.

You will also be able to explore concentrations in different areas.

These concentrations can help to specialize your training.

Concentrations can include:

  • Homeland security
  • Juvenile justice
  • Forensic investigation

If you pursue a concentration in a specialized area you will need to take on more credit hours.

This can lengthen your program.

These concentrations, though, also help to better prepare you for specific jobs in specialized fields.

This can increase your earning potential.

While in the Bachelor’s program, you might take some of the following courses:

  • The American Criminal Justice System
  • Criminology
  • Service learning in Criminal Justice
  • Ethical dilemmas in Criminal Justice
  • Forensic science
  • And more

How Much Does a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice Cost?

The cost of any bachelor’s degree program will vary from school to school.

However, criminal justice degree programs are among some of the more affordable programs in the US.

If you opt to complete your program at an in-state school you will save a substantial amount of money while out-of-state options will cost more.

If finding the most affordable options are important to you and your future, you might want to consider online options.

Online degree programs will always cost less since you are not physically on campus or living on campus.

You should also consider that private schools often cost more than public institutions as well.

Criminal justice is a program that often qualifies for financial aid.

You will need to research the types of financial aid that you might qualify for in order to help you decide which program is best if budgeting is a concern.

What Can I Do With My Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

If you are specifically planning a career in the criminal justice field, you should obtain a criminal justice degree with a specialization in the concentration of your choice.

Graduates from this type of program often enjoy the special comradery of other officers and investigators.

This is often an appealing aspect of this program.

Let’s look at some of the ways you can use your degree.

Forensic science is a great option for those who like to work behind the scenes.

These professionals work to process the physical evidence that is collected at a crime scene so that it can be properly analyzed to help solve crimes.

Emergency management directors can use a criminal justice degree to help coordinate emergency services in communities.

Those who are passionate about being on the front line of the action can use a criminal justice degree to reach high-ranking positions in law enforcement.

Other jobs include:

  • Clinical Lab Technician
  • Probation Officer
  • Police officer
  • Detective

Keep in mind that not every job position in the criminal justice field is a front-line position.

There are plenty of positions available for those who are interested in administrative work or support services.

It is best to talk with an advisement counselor to fully understand all of the different types of employment opportunities there may be in the criminal justice field.

How To Choose a Good Program

When it is time to choose your program, there are a few things you should consider.

Remember, not all criminal justice programs are created equal.

Some are definitely more effective at preparing individuals for work in this field than others.

Here are a few things you should look for in a good quality criminal justice degree program:


A quality program will be properly accredited.

This means that the program is nationally recognized as providing the proper courses and training to adequately prepare students for success in the criminal justice workforce.

This also means that the school has academic standards that are equal to or exceed those of other institutions in the country.


You should consider the location of your school as it will greatly affect the cost of the program.

Remember, that schools located in your home state will be far more affordable than those in another state.

Length of Program

Different programs will have different lengths of time for completion.

If you are anxious to complete your program in a specific amount of time, you will want to find a school that offers the appropriate program.

For instance, if you are looking to finish very quickly, you will need to attend a school that has an accelerated program available.

Specialization Options

If you have very specific career goals in mind that you intend to use your degree for, you will want to find programs that have the types of specializations you are interested in.

Career Services

You also want to choose a school or program that has solid career services to back you in your job search upon graduation.

Although a school cannot guarantee employment, career services can often help you get started in the right direction so that you can land the job you want in the criminal justice field.

Advisement departments or career services are there to help you navigate the transition from student to employee in the chosen workforce.

Other Factors To Consider

Many consider criminal justice careers to be high-stress and even high-trauma careers.

Those who are thinking of pursuing such a career, need to have stable mental health especially if they will be working in front-line positions.

You may be exposed to disturbing or traumatizing events or images during your career, and maybe even during your degree program and training.