America’s criminal justice systems requires a wide range of trained specialists to enforce our laws, prosecute offenders, assist victims, and implement security measures to prevent crime.
As a broad field, criminal justice careers typically fall into three main categories: law enforcement, legal, and corrections. While the job outlook for some criminal justice careers is rather stagnant thanks to budget cuts, several career paths are experiencing above-average job growth. If your criminal justice degree takes you to law school, you can also expect a significant pay-off earning around $1 million more over a lifetime than college grads.
Read on to learn how you can earn a criminal justice degree at a great value and begin contributing to efforts protecting our nation’s citizens.
Types of Justice Degrees
You can easily find justice-related programs across all academic levels to choose the accredited degree that fits your career interests and learning needs. Associate-level degrees offered by community colleges and vocational schools can lay the groundwork for advanced study or open certain law enforcement careers in just two years. Associate of Science (A.S.) and Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.) programs typically are in criminal justice, homeland security, emergency management, fire science, and legal assisting. At the baccalaureate level, students can choose four-year programs leading to Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) or Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degrees in law enforcement, criminal justice, social work, paralegal, pre-law, psychology, corrections, and forensic science.
Students interested in furthering their learning with an additional two-year commitment can choose accredited master’s programs that delve into complex criminal justice topics. Master of Arts (M.A.) or Master of Science (M.S.) programs can be concentrated in various areas like homeland security, forensic psychology, criminology, social work, justice administration, criminal justice, public policy, victimology, crime analysis, and paralegal studies. Those aiming for careers in the courtroom can pursue Master of Law (LL.M.), Juris Doctor (J.D.), or Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) programs with various joint degree options at accredited law schools.
Criminal Justice degrees are popular with our veterans and quite often veterans can even get college credit for military experience. We at Best Value Schools want our men and women of the armed forces to have every economic advantage possible when pursuing higher education; to aid in that quest we have developed a list of the Best Colleges for Veterans, Ranked by Return on Investment (ROI).
Online vs. On-Campus Learning
While it’s impossible to find an ABA-approved law degree offered fully online, there are a growing number of options for students pursuing other criminal justice-related degrees to forgo traditional brick-and-mortar institutions for convenient online learning. The main advantage to attending an online school is the flexibility for making your courses fit around your busy schedule without commuting to campus. Since online colleges have no building maintenance costs and don’t require housing fees or transportation expenses, earning a criminal justice degree online is typically considerably less expensive.
Online programs reduce face-to-face social interaction with peers, so it may be best to choose a hybrid format to ensure you’re building the essential interpersonal skills needed in all criminal justice careers. If you’re planning to specialize in forensic science or cyber security, these hybrid formats are even more important to blend convenience with hands-on interaction in your university’s laboratories. Whether you choose online or traditional classroom learning, make certain your program is regionally accredited to receive the highest value in education.
Online criminal justice and legal degrees are available at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Take a look at some top online programs available in the U.S.A.:
Criminal Justice and Corrections Degrees
Law Enforcement Degrees
Homeland Security Degrees
Public Safety Degrees
Emergency Management Degrees
Options for Financial Aid
Don’t let rising tuition costs scare you away from following your dreams of pursuing a criminal justice or legal career; financial aid opportunities are abundant. Federal Student Aid provides more than $150 billion in assistance each year, and filling out the FAFSA form on-time will help you determine how much of this money could be yours. Most criminal justice students choose to fund their education through Stafford Loans, Direct Loans, PLUS Loans, FFEL Loans, and private loans from other lending institutions. Remember that these must be repaid with interest starting six months from graduation, so borrow wisely.
It’s advised that you also research other sources of financial aid that won’t need to be repaid so that you won’t be met with large sums of debt. If you have significant financial need, you could qualify for receiving free money from the Pell Grant or FSEOG Grant. There’s over 1,000 other federal grant programs that you’ll automatically be considered for with the FAFSA form. Another smart option is to participate in a federal work-study (FWS) program to build your resume with career-related jobs on campus in exchange for tuition funding. Some states even offer tuition reimbursement programs for students pursuing degrees for law enforcement too.
We offer additional financial aid advice elsewhere on our website, including information about sibling discounts for tuition; tips about getting tuition assistance for enlisted military; information about the best ways for minorities to find financial aid for college or what types of tuition assistance are available for single parents.
Saving Money with Scholarships
Thousands of dollars that could potentially reduce the financial burden of your education are just a few clicks away. Online resources make it simple to track down and investigate criminal justice scholarships for your unique educational situation. Like grants, scholarships generally offer between $100 and full tuition coverage as free money to students based on academic merit, financial need, community service, or other personal attributes. It’s recommended that you make an appointment with your school’s financial aid counselors to determine which sources of scholarship funding are available to you. Some great national scholarships include:
• Out to Protect Scholarship – Each year, this scholarship is offered for $1,000 to students enrolled in law enforcement training who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender and seek to be positive, visible role models in the LGBT community.
• Army Staff Sgt. Richard S. Eaton Jr. Scholarship – In honor of a U.S. Bronze Star recipient who died in Iraq in 2003, the Lint Center awards this scholarship for $1,000 annually to criminal justice students pursuing degrees in national security, cultural understanding, counterintelligence, homeland security, or alliance building.
• Legal Opportunity Scholarship Fund – Through the American Bar Association (ABA), this program distributes $15,000 in scholarship funding to 20 incoming racially and ethnically diverse law students who have overcome adversity to attend an approved law school.
For additional scholarships by focus area, don’t miss the following resources:
- Corrections Management Scholarships
- Criminal Justice Scholarships
- Emergency Management Scholarships
- Forensic Psychology Scholarships
- Forensic Science Scholarships
- Homeland Security Scholarships
- Law Enforcement Scholarships
- Legal Studies Scholarships
- Paralegal Studies Scholarships
- Public Safety Administration Scholarships
Popular Careers in Criminal Justice and Law
Career opportunities are wide-ranging for students who graduate with a degree in criminal justice or law. If you’re interested in law enforcement, you could become a border patrol agent, crime scene investigator, FBI agent, federal air marshal, forensic engineer, fraud investigator, police officer, private detective, or surveillance officer. To blend sociology with criminal justice, you could choose to be a criminologist, criminalist, psychological profiler, penologist, or forensic psychologist.
Law degree holders will find opportunities to work as bailiffs, court reporters, judges, magistrates, lawyers, district attorneys, medical examiners, legal assistants, and paralegals. If enforcing punishments against offenders is your niche, there’s a big need for corrections officers, correctional treatment specialists, probation officers, prison wardens, and substance abuse counselors in prisons, too.