2020 Best Value Colleges For A Criminal Justice Degree
| Staff Writers
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Criminal Justice Degrees
By Staff WritersPublished on January 29, 2020
What Are the Goals of a Bachelor’s Program in Criminal Justice?
The criminal justice field includes positions in law enforcement, corrections, legal studies, and forensic investigation. A bachelor’s in criminal justice can lead to roles in these areas and in other positions related to the judicial system.
Colleges and universities across the country offer four-year criminal justice programs on campus. Many schools also deliver online degrees in criminal justice, some of which require no campus visits. Associate degree-holders can often earn their bachelor’s in criminal justice in two years.
The first bachelor’s in criminal justice programs were intended to professionalize the police force. Today, the study of criminal justice is an indispensable tool in the fight against crime and injustice in the United States.
The information in this guide can help you decide whether earning a bachelor’s in criminal justice can help you achieve your professional goals. The following sections include a list of high-quality criminal justice programs, information on accrediting agencies, and statistics about career outlook for graduates.
AdvertisementBestValueSchools.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.
Featured Online Programs
Figuring out where to apply? These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online degrees. Consider one of these accredited programs, and discover their value today.
Frequently Asked Questions
WHAT IS CRIMINAL JUSTICE?
Criminal justice students develop the skills and resources necessary to detect and deter crime. The criminal justice field comprises the law enforcement, court, and corrections systems.
WHAT CONCENTRATIONS ARE AVAILABLE IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROGRAMS?
A concentration typically requires 18 upper-division credits. Popular criminal justice concentrations include forensics, cybercrime investigation, criminal psychology, and homeland security.
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO EARN A CRIMINAL JUSTICE DEGREE?
Most students earn their bachelor’s in criminal justice in four years. Some schools offer a criminal justice degree completion program, which transfer students can often complete in two years.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CRIMINAL JUSTICE AND CRIMINOLOGY?
Criminology is the study of crime, including its roots, societal and personal costs, and consequences. Criminal justice refers to the system that detects crime, tries suspects, and punishes criminals.
Top 10 Online Bachelor’s Programs for Criminal Justice for 2020
Students often cite affordability and flexibility as two main reasons for choosing online learning. Distance students often save on housing and transportation costs, and some schools charge all online learners in-state tuition rates. This can result in significant savings for out-of-state students.
Studying online can help busy learners balance academics with professional and personal responsibilities. Online students often work full time while earning their degree, which can help ease the financial burden of pursuing higher education.
Many online bachelor’s in criminal justice programs comprise asynchronous classes, allowing learners to complete course requirements at their convenience. Asynchronous courses typically follow a set schedule, with due dates for assignments, term papers, and exams. Students can also consider self-paced programs, which provide even greater flexibility.
Institutions typically deliver online courses through a learning management system such as Brightspace or Canvas. Online classes often include streamed lectures, recorded sessions, and forum discussions.
Accreditation for Online Criminal Justice Programs
Colleges and universities across the country can obtain voluntary accreditation to illustrate the quality of their academic programs. Accreditation also demonstrates the sustainability of an institution’s fiscal and operational standards. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversee the accreditation process and ensure accrediting agencies adhere to strict standards.
Accreditation assures students they will receive a quality education and that employers will recognize their degree after graduation. Additionally, many types of state and federal financial assistance are only available to learners at accredited schools.
2020 Best Value Colleges for a Criminal Justice Degree
The list below includes institutions offering some of the best criminal justice degrees in the country. Criteria for the rankings include accreditation, graduation rates, and affordability. The following list can help you locate a criminal justice program that fits your educational and career goals.COLLAPSE ALLEXPANDED
Arizona State University's bachelor of science in criminology and criminal justice examines the root causes and social consequences of crime while drawing on concepts from sociology, psychology, and biology. Delivered through the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions, the program offers a variety of hands-on learning opportunities through more than 200 partner agencies.
Students can attend on-campus classes during the day or take advantage of blended formats that include online learning. The 120-credit program lets learners choose between 7.5-week and 15-week term options. Students on the accelerated track can graduate in as little as 30 months.
The University of Michigan-Dearborn offers a bachelor's in criminology and criminal justice studies that draws on the social and behavioral sciences to examine interactions between criminality and law enforcement.
Students explore policy and ethics in relation to the criminal justice system in an open democracy and learn how to apply theory and emerging best practices to make positive community impacts. Students complete foundational, intermediate, and advanced courses. Additionally, learners complete an internship at a criminal justice or social welfare agency and use it as the basis of a comprehensive research paper.
The University of Dearborn-Michigan also offers a 4+1 criminology program, allowing students to earn a master's degree in the field with just one additional year of study.
Regionally accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, California State University-Long Beach is located on a 322-acre campus in the beach suburbs of Los Angeles. The school's bachelor of science in criminology and criminal justice program prepares graduates for careers in law enforcement, social services, policy and government, and forensic sciences.
Learners study the criminal justice system, policing, correctional theory, criminology theory, research methods, and academic writing. They also complete immersive field placements and internships, with experiential learning courses covering topics like crime analysis, criminal trials, forensic investigation techniques, and high-tech crime. In lieu of an internship, students can complete a six-credit senior thesis.
Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, Indiana University hosts more than 110,000 students through diverse undergraduate and graduate programs. The school offers a bachelor of arts in criminal justice that prepares students to work as law enforcement and corrections professionals and policymakers.
Students explore leading theories and models of criminal behavior through courses on topics like private security, white-collar crime, and adolescents and the law. Learners can tailor the degree to their interests through electives like criminal justice psychology, crime and gender, and crime and race. This interdisciplinary program prepares students for entry-level jobs and advanced studies in criminology and criminal justice.
The University of Georgia's bachelor of arts in criminal justice combines advanced instruction in criminal justice theory and research methodology with specialized criminology topics. The 120-credit program includes a semester-long internship with a partner criminal justice agency. Students use the internship to inform a self-designed independent research project. Courses cover topics in law and ethics, institutions of social control, and the human behavior-related elements of crime. Academic advisors help students tailor their studies to their goals and interests. The University of Georgia notes that its criminal justice program makes an excellent pre-law degree path for students interested in careers as criminal lawyers.
Heritage University offers a bachelor of arts in criminal justice that prepares students to work as social advocates and public safety professionals. The 120-credit program includes classroom learning in addition to field components, including agency and workplace visits, research conferences and symposiums, crime labs, and internships. Students culminate the degree with a capstone course that integrates theoretical learning, practical experiences, and personal interests in an intensive research project. Based in Toppenish, Washington, Heritage University holds regional accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. Founded in 1907 and formerly known as Holy Names College and Fort Wright College, the private, nonprofit school offers small class sizes with plenty of opportunities to interact with peers and faculty.
Indiana University - Purdue University - Indianapolis
Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis holds accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission and ranks among Indiana's largest higher education networks. IUPUI's bachelor of science in criminal justice examines law enforcement and criminal justice in relation to national security and the justice and correctional systems. The program explores criminal justice theory and practice, the court system, policing techniques, and research methods. Learners can supplement core courses with electives on topics, such as cybercrime, terrorism causes and prevention, homicide, and the juvenile justice system. Students who work as full-time police officers qualify for a 12-credit waiver.
Truman State University offers a 120-credit bachelor of science in justice systems that uses seminar courses to facilitate intimate, intensive learning experiences. The program also includes internship requirements that allow students to gain hands-on experience in settings like investigative units, forensics departments, law enforcement and corrections agencies, and victim advocacy agencies. Based in Kirksville, Missouri, Truman ranks among the leading institutions in the Midwest. About 89% of Truman students find a job or attend graduate school within six months of graduation. The school also boasts a graduation rate of 72%, outpacing the national average of 57.6%. Truman holds regional accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
California State University-Los Angeles offers a bachelor of science in criminal justice that draws on the behavioral and social sciences to examine criminal justice theory and practice, research methods, and data analysis. This 120-credit program splits major requirements and electives equally, giving students the flexibility to customize the degree to their interests. Electives cover topics like hate crimes, gangs, courtroom interpretation of evidence, and the relationship between law enforcement and media. California State University's Los Angeles campus gives students abundant experiential learning opportunities in one of America's most diverse and dynamic cities. Learners can see the issues studied in class played out in professional scenarios, adding considerable value to their internship and field placement requirements.
Based in Philadelphia, Holy Family University is a private, nonprofit Catholic institution with accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. The school offers a bachelor's in criminology program that draws on ideas from sociology, psychology, and criminal justice to explore theoretical and practical models of criminology. Required courses cover topics like structures and functions of law enforcement, criminal court, corrections, and probation systems. In addition to coursework, students complete an internship to gain hands-on experience in the field. Holy Family University maintains dozens of partnerships that offer local internship placements. The school allows graduates to earn its master's in criminology with just one year of additional study.
The University of Illinois at Chicago's bachelor of arts in criminology, law, and justice examines the root causes, extent, and effects of crime in urban and rural settings. Students analyze the formal systems designed to respond to crime and the ways in which citizens react to pervasive patterns of criminal activity. In addition to coursework, students complete 180 internship hours in their third or fourth year of the program, bridging theory and practice to prepare to enter the job market. The comprehensive curriculum prepares students for careers in law, public administration, and social services.
The University of Michigan-Ann Arbor hosts more than 30,000 students on its scenic 3,207-acre campus. The school offers a bachelor of arts in criminology and criminal justice that examines how changes in social and cultural values predict and influence criminal behavior. This unique perspective gives students the knowledge and skills they need to respond to societal changes that affect crime. The program includes general education, major, elective, and internship requirements. Learners take courses on topics like political analysis, theory of the law, forensic anthropology, and moral and political dilemmas. Students benefit from the school's close proximity to Detroit, which allows them to pursue internship opportunities in diverse settings.
Rhode Island College offers a bachelor of arts in justice studies that examines the relationship between crime, criminality, and social and cultural conditions. Learners explore the impacts of crime, its historical causes, and the ways in which crime affects policy. The program also emphasizes research literacy, equipping students with the tools they need to become effective lifelong learners. A private, nonprofit institution founded in 1854, Rhode Island College is the Ocean State's second-oldest university. Situated on an idyllic 180-acre campus in Providence, Rhode Island College holds regional accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education.
The bachelor of science in criminal justice at Peirce College emphasizes critical thinking skills and draws on a pedagogical viewpoint that considers criminal justice, law enforcement, and corrections as dynamic, constantly evolving social controls. The 121-credit program includes courses like ethics in criminal justice, juvenile justice, criminal court system, and the correctional system. Students can transfer up to 90 credits toward the degree. Students can earn 57 transfer credits for training from the Philadelphia Police Academy and 27 credits for training from the Philadelphia Division of Prisons. Participants with comparable training from other cities may also qualify for transfer credits.
California State University-Fullerton offers a bachelor of arts in criminal justice that includes 21 core credits, 15 elective credits, and a one-course writing requirement. Learners study topics like criminal justice theory, law enforcement and correctional systems, and research methodology. Elective classes include crime reduction, public policy, constitutional law, white-collar crime, and organized crime. Located in Orange County, California, Cal State Fullerton holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission. The campus is among the nation's most ethnically diverse and hosts around 39,000 students each year.
California State University-Northridge offers a 120-credit bachelor of arts in criminology and justice studies that engages students with key questions about the sources and impacts of crime and victimization. Coursework covers topics like criminological theory, ethics in criminal justice, juvenile justice, and social science research methods. Students culminate the degree with an internship, research project, or mentorship opportunity. Located in the northern suburbs of Los Angeles, CSU-Northridge boasts excellent continuation rates and holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission. As of the fall 2019 semester, the school had more undergraduate students than any other school in the CSU system.
Appalachian State University offers a bachelor of science in criminal justice that features accomplished faculty from the pre-law and public administration divisions of the school's Department of Government and Justice Studies. Students explore the causes and contributing factors of criminal behavior alongside the individual, social, and systemic impacts of crime. During their final two years of the program, students complete internships with criminal justice agencies to gain hands-on experience in the field. Learners who graduate with a minimum 3.4 GPA can earn the school's master of public administration degree in just one additional year of study. Situated in Boone, North Carolina, Appalachian State University ranks among the state's leading public universities and holds regional accreditation from the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
The University of North Florida's bachelor's in criminology and criminal justice explores criminology and criminal justice from unique perspectives that draw from mathematics, computing, and data science. Degree-seekers with a minimum 3.67 GPA can apply to the criminal justice honors program to engage with advanced coursework, which includes an honors research project completed under the supervision of a senior criminal justice faculty member. Regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, the University of North Florida dates back to 1969. The school hosts more than 17,000 students through diverse undergraduate and graduate programs.
Rutgers University offers a bachelor of arts in criminal justice that examines criminal behavior and the justice systems at the national and international levels. The program's global view gives learners an advanced understanding of how crime arises in specific social and cultural circumstances. The program also encourages critical engagement with policy-making practices, preparing students for work with government agencies and victim advocacy groups. Founded in 1766, Rutgers University hosts more than 50,000 students each year. The school holds regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and membership to the Association of American Universities.
Michigan State University offers a bachelor of arts in criminal justice that emphasizes the patterns and causes of crime, the challenges facing criminal justice agencies, and the importance of security management. Students take classes on topics like juvenile justice, criminology and public policy, homeland security, and law of corrections. Graduates can pursue careers in public safety and security management. Situated in East Lansing, Michigan State University dates back to 1855 and ranks among the largest research universities in the world. The 5,300-acre campus serves as a base for the institution's sprawling international footprint, which includes partnerships with 340 universities in 80 countries.
The bachelor's in criminal justice program at Elizabeth City State University focuses on the institutional aspects of criminality. Students learn about police operations, the criminal court and corrections systems, research methods, and criminology theory. The school maintains partnerships with dozens of corrections, law enforcement, victim services, and youth services agencies and organizations, which provide diverse internship opportunities for students. Founded in 1891, Elizabeth City State University is part of the University of North Carolina system. The historically black college offers affordable tuition and military-friendly policies and holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The bachelor of science in criminal justice at Ferris State University prepares students for careers and further study in law, public policy, criminology, and criminal justice. Students can pursue a generalist track or a corrections track. The corrections option focuses on criminal justice institutions, covering topics like court systems, community-based corrections, crime prevention, and the treatment of offenders and victims. Established in 1884, Ferris State University joined Michigan's public university system in 1950 and became a fully credentialed, four-year university in 1987. Ferris State holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission and offers a student-to-instructor ratio of 16-to-1.
California State University-San Bernardino offers a bachelor of arts in criminal justice that introduces students to criminal law and the U.S. criminal justice system. Learners study research methods; statistical analysis; police systems; and the theoretical aspects of crime, delinquency, and corrections. Students can tailor the degree to their interests through electives on topics like forensics, homeland security, gangs and organized crime, and white-collar crime. Established in 1965, California State University-San Bernardino boasts a beautiful campus in the foothills of the San Bernardino Mountains. The school maintains some of the highest retention rates in the CSU system. As of the 2019-20 school year, the institution serves a student body of more than 20,000.
Minot State University's bachelor of science in criminal justice focuses on the sociological and psychological aspects of crime and criminal justice. Learners study the criminal justice system, crime causes and dynamics, and evidence-based solutions to criminal justice problems. Courses include the causes and effects of mass shootings, domestic and international terrorism, police use of force, and the psychological makeup of violent criminals. Based in Minot, North Dakota, Minot State University holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. Learners benefit from small class sizes and a supportive environment that encourages regular interactions between faculty and students.
The University of Illinois at Springfield offers a bachelor's in criminology and criminal justice that integrates aspects of psychology, sociology, philosophy, law, and political science. The multidisciplinary program's core curriculum includes courses like criminological theory, statistics for criminal justice, and critical thinking in criminal justice. Criminal justice students benefit from close proximity to major cities, including Chicago and St. Louis, which host diverse internship opportunities. Regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, the University of Illinois at Springfield ranks among the top public universities in the Midwest.
Humphreys University - Stockton and Modesto Campuses
The bachelor of science in criminal justice at Humphreys University boasts small class sizes that offer personalized attention from faculty. The program offers concentrations in law enforcement and corrections, probation, and parole; human resources, leadership, and management; and law enforcement. Regardless of their concentration, all students take core courses on topics like report preparation, criminal analysis, and multicultural issues within criminal justice. Learners gain critical thinking, research, and communication skills. The program offers four start dates per year. Humphreys University is a nonprofit institution that holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission.
California State University-Dominguez Hills offers a bachelor of science in criminal justice administration that focuses on the theory, structure, and function of national and local law enforcement agencies and the corrections and juvenile justice systems. Students take general education, major, and elective courses. Students can use electives to design a degree plan around their interests and goals. Graduates can pursue careers in areas like intelligence analysis and homeland security. They can also pursue graduate study. Established in 1960, California State University-Dominguez Hills features recently renovated classrooms with state-of-the-art smart technology. The institution holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and earns high rankings for affordability, diversity, and program quality.
San Jose State University offers one of the oldest criminal justice programs in the United States. The Department of Justice Studies opened in 1930 and offers a generalist bachelor of science in justice studies and a bachelor's in criminal justice with a criminology concentration. Both programs examine criminal justice issues, including theoretical models of crime, policing, law enforcement, and corrections. The programs also explore the relationship between society and the criminal justice system. Degree-seekers participate in a mandatory international experience that encourages global perspectives. Students can optionally participate in a popular CSI Summer Camp. San Jose State University also hosts many criminal justice-themed conferences, forums, and lectures, providing students with unique opportunities to explore their personal interests.
The bachelor of arts in criminal justice program at Saint Peter's University offers six concentrations: computer science, corrections, crime forensics, criminal research and intelligence analysis, investigative services, and police administration. Regardless of their concentration, all students take core classes on topics like police culture, family law, and multiculturalism in justice. They also complete a six-credit internship and a senior seminar in criminal justice. Regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education Accreditation, Saint Peter's University is located near New York City, giving students abundant internship, practical training, and networking opportunities.
North Dakota State University offers a \bachelor's in criminal justice that provides a strong foundation in criminal justice theory, drawing on ideas from the social sciences, humanities, and law to build a top-down understanding of the criminal justice system. Students can pursue an optional internship to gain hands-on experience in the field. The school offers placement opportunities in North Dakota and Minnesota. Learners also enjoy the option to earn peace officer licensure during the program. Students gain access to peer networking opportunities through the school's Criminal Justice Club, an optional membership organization that arranges field excursions and lecture seminars with established criminal justice professionals. Graduates qualify for accelerated standing in the school's criminal justice master's program.
Delivered through San Diego State University's School of Public Affairs, the bachelor of science in criminal justice examines criminology from a social justice perspective. The program explores how criminal justice policies contribute to issues like racial inequality, environmental degradation, organized crime, and genocide. Graduates can pursue careers in law enforcement, criminal corrections, and social service. The program also prepares learners for law school and advanced criminology studies at the postgraduate level. San Diego State University holds regional accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission. A major regional research university, SDSU hosts more than 36,000 learners each year and ranks among the national leaders in graduation rate performance.
The University of Michigan-Flint's bachelor's in criminal justice takes a practical, evidence-based approach to criminology. Learners study the underlying systemic and social problems that fuel crime, including substance abuse, homelessness, poverty, and inadequate access to social services. Coursework teaches students to operate within the confines of the criminal justice system to generate favorable outcomes for disenfranchised members of society and victims of crime. In addition to coursework, UM-Flint offers criminal justice internships in various settings, including the courts, prosecutor's offices, police departments, and civilian justice agencies. Degree-seekers can take classes online or during the evening, allowing them to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations.
United Tribes Technical College offers a bachelor of science in criminal justice that comprises 121 credits and examines topics like constitutional law, institutional structure, ethics, crime and criminality, and offender rehabilitation. Learners take specialized courses, such as criminal typology, investigative techniques, and justice administration. Learners can also prepare for law enforcement and corrections careers through an optional summer seminar in physical fitness and weapons training. Based in Bismarck, North Dakota, United Tribes Technical College is uniquely designed to meet the needs of Native Americans. Representatives of five regional tribal groups operate the college as a private, nonprofit trust with regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
Oakland University offers a bachelor's in criminal justice that includes concentrations in homeland security and information security and assurance. Students can also pursue a generalist track. Regardless of their concentration, all students take core courses on topics like criminological theory, police and society, and criminal law and the courts. Learners can tailor the degree to their interests through electives on topics like white-collar crime, cybercrime, and geography of crime. In addition to coursework, students complete an internship at an approved criminal justice organization, gaining hands-on experience in the field. The program culminates in an intensive capstone project that synthesizes degree knowledge and skills. Oakland University holds regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
The University of West Florida offers a bachelor of arts in criminal that features multiple configurations, including a standard campus-based degree, an accelerated program for students with a minimum 3.5 GPA, and a double major in criminal justice and social work. Students can also pursue minors in forensic studies and juvenile justice. All learners take classes on topics like criminology, research design in criminal justice, and police in a free society. Graduates can pursue further study through law school or a criminal justice graduate program. They can also pursue careers in areas like corrections, law enforcement, juvenile justice, and the courts. The University of West Florida holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
A private Catholic institution in Chicago, Illinois, Saint Xavier University dates back to 1846. Today, SXU enrolls over 3,600 students and offers an undergraduate criminal justice degree. Offered through the sociology and anthropology department, the SXU criminal justice major blends a liberal arts education with a focus on criminal justice topics. The curriculum covers policing, corrections, and probation. Students also take courses in law enforcement, research design, criminology, and victimology and customize their program by selecting three criminal justice electives. Seniors complete a seminar course as a capstone experience. SXU offers an internship program to build experience, which helps majors compare career paths and gain hands-on training. SXU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
The flagship campus of the Old Line State's public university system, UMD acts as a leader in research and innovation. Serving over 41,000 students, UMD offers undergraduate degrees in multiple fields, including a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. The 36-credit curriculum introduces students to criminal justice and provides opportunities for hands-on learning. At UMD, criminal justice majors take courses in criminology, criminal law, juvenile delinquency, and policing. Students can also pursue a criminal justice internship to gain work experience in the field. As interns, students participate in training and development. The program helps students find the right internship for them. UMD's criminal justice department hosts clubs and associations, connects students with study abroad opportunities, and enriches students through alumni networks. UMD is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
A public institution that enrolls over 5,000 students, Indiana University South Bend offers over 100 degrees, including a criminal justice degree. At IU South Bend, criminal justice majors study domestic and international systems that administer justice. During the program, learners study law and order, criminal justice practitioners, and the legal system. Graduates pursue careers in criminal justice, law, and business. IU South Bend's criminal justice curriculum includes courses in theories of crime and deviance, the nature of inquiry, and police in contemporary society. Learners also study the role of the courts in criminal justice, the corrections system, and criminal justice ethics. Upper-division classes like crime analysis and public policy build on lower-division concepts. Academic advisors at IU South Bend work with students to encourage practical experience in criminal justice. These opportunities include internships, work experience, and other activities. IU South Bend is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Founded in 1889, Weber State University now offers over 225 certificates and degrees. A public institution located in Ogden, Utah, WSU offers a criminal justice degree with two specialized concentrations: forensic science and crime scene investigation. WSU's criminal justice program trains students in law enforcement, corrections, the court system, and victim and offender social issues. Majors take 31 credits of required criminal justice courses and 15 credits of electives to tailor the degree around their interests or career goals. The curriculum includes courses in criminal law, policing, victimology, criminal justice statistics, and constitutional rights. All learners also complete a criminal justice capstone. Program graduates pursue opportunities in law enforcement, the courts, victim's advocacy offices, and rehabilitation facilities. WSU is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University
A public, historically black institution in Greensboro, North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University dates back to 1891. N.C. A&T now offers one of the best criminal justice degrees in the country. The program provides foundational knowledge in the nature of crimes, the causes of criminal behavior, and criminal justice processes. Students build research methods and theoretical knowledge while gaining hands-on skills. Within the criminal justice major, N.C. A&T students can pursue a certificate in forensic science with a focus on crime scene investigation. The program trains students for field operations, including evidence collection. Coursework emphasizes professional ethics, safety protocols, and the legal process. The curriculum includes courses in critical criminology, courtroom testimony, and interviews and interrogations. Students also complete unique classes like investigative photography which train students to gather and prepare photographic evidence. N.C. A&T is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Founded in 1901, Texas Woman's University enrolls 15,000 students and still primarily serves women. TWU now offers one of the best criminal justice degree options for undergraduates. At TWU, students apply sociology to the criminal justice field, examining the procedures and operations of the criminal justice system. TWU's criminal justice students learn about patterns of crime, theories of law and crime, and criminal punishment. Majors also build career-ready tools, including problem-solving, research, and communication skills. The curriculum includes courses in theories of crime and deviance, social inequality, criminal law, and correctional systems. The criminal justice program at TWU blends sociology, history, and political science to create an interdisciplinary approach. TWU is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
A public institution with over 19,000 students, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette dates back to 1898. At UL Lafayette, undergraduates can earn a criminal justice degree that offers an interdisciplinary perspective on crime and justice. Through liberal arts requirements and specialized courses, majors build the knowledge and skills for careers in criminal justice. UL Lafayette's criminal justice curriculum includes pre-professional criminal justice courses and electives which let students tailor the degree around their needs and interests. Majors complete coursework while also performing research and observations at criminal justice agencies. Seniors gain hands-on experience through a semester-long internship at a local criminal justice agency. In addition to the criminal justice major, students pursue a minor in a complementary field. UL Lafayette lets students complete course credits through volunteer or professional positions. UL Lafayette is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Founded in 1828, Augusta University operates as a public research institution. In addition to its main campus in Augusta, Georgia, the university operates locations across the Peach State. At Augusta University, students can earn a criminal justice degree that emphasizes core criminal justice concepts and theories. Criminal justice majors build analytical skills while studying structures within the criminal justice system. Students can customize the major by choosing coursework in broad areas, including law enforcement, the administration of justice, corrections, and diversity and justice. Faculty members encourage student involvement in research, and the university houses criminal justice-specific student organizations that engage undergraduates. Program graduates pursue careers in law enforcement, the courts, and homeland security. Augusta University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
A branch campus of the state's public university system, Penn State Shenango grants degrees from its campus in Sharon. At Penn State Shenango, students can earn a bachelor's degree in administration of justice. The program builds interdisciplinary knowledge and skills through a curriculum focused on the interrelated nature of the criminal justice system. Majors strengthen the critical thinking and communication skills necessary for criminal justice careers. The program's curriculum blends classroom instruction, research, and experiential learning. Learners study topics like public and private sector law enforcement, investigation, the legal system, and community services. Majors take courses in criminology, ethics in criminal justice, and issues in the American criminal justice system. The curriculum emphasizes ethical leadership, global citizenship, and engaged service, preparing graduates for leadership roles in criminal justice. Penn State Shenango is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
A public institution located in Detroit, Michigan, Wayne State University dates back to 1868. Today, WSU enrolls nearly 27,000 students and offers a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Students receive a comprehensive education at WSU while building their understanding of crime causation and the criminal justice system. Criminal justice majors gain a multidisciplinary perspective on crime and justice at WSU. Course topics include criminological theories, the judicial process, juvenile delinquency, and Constitutional criminal procedure. The program's internship coordinator connects interested students with opportunities to gain practical field experience. Criminal justice internships help majors apply their classroom learning while gaining professional skills. WSU emphasizes core skills like analytical thinking and writing through its criminal justice curriculum. Wayne State University is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Founded in 1889 as a public institution, SUNY Plattsburgh operates from its upstate New York campus near the shores of Lake Champlain. SUNY Plattsburgh ranks as one of the best criminal justice colleges thanks to its bachelor's in criminal justice program. The major takes a social science approach to crime and justice, offering an interdisciplinary view on social problems like crime, violence, and delinquency. The curriculum covers topics like the nature of criminal justice, the role of criminal justice in a democratic society, and the legal foundations of criminal justice practices. After completing core courses in criminology, criminal law, and ethics, students customize the degree by choosing courses in areas like social justice; law, politics, and justice; and crime and deviance. Criminal justice majors at SUNY Plattsburgh build analytical skills through research courses and internships. SUNY Plattsburgh is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
From its Gary campus, Indiana University Northwest operates as a public institution offering more than 70 academic programs. IU Northwest ranks as one of the best criminal justice colleges for students interested in a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. The program educates students in four areas: general education, public affairs and policy, criminal justice, and electives. IU Northwest's criminal justice curriculum includes courses on the American criminal justice system, the theoretical foundations of criminal justice policies, American policing, and crime and public policy. The program also includes coursework on the criminal courts, corrections, and criminal law. Students customize the degree by selecting three criminal justice electives based on their interests or professional goals. The School of Public and Environmental Affairs oversees the criminal justice program at IU Northwest. IU Northwest is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
A public institution founded in 1858, Iowa State University enrolls over 33,000 students on its campus in Ames. Iowa State offers arguably the best criminal justice degree in the state. The criminal justice studies program at Iowa State introduces majors to the juvenile and criminal justice system, including issues affecting these systems. Criminal justice majors study theoretical concepts and learn how to apply them. The curriculum includes courses in youth and crime, criminology, white-collar crime, criminal offenders, and gender and crime. Students also complete a criminal and juvenile justice practicum to gain hands-on experience. In addition to classroom learning, Iowa State hosts a criminal justice club where majors learn about career options in the field and department events that encourage networking with criminal justice professionals. The department also offers scholarships to support criminal justice majors. Iowa State is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
A regional campus of the state's public university system, Indiana University Southeast grants degrees from its New Albany campus. IU Southeast offers a bachelor's degree in criminal justice that emphasizes the nature of crime and the role of the criminal justice system in society. Majors build the problem-solving abilities and organizational skills required for criminal justice careers. During IU Southeast's criminal justice degree, learners study crime's origins, causes, and nature. They also learn about the relationship between the criminal justice system and other social institutions. Research courses build analytical skills, while legal courses provide foundational knowledge of criminal justice laws. The multidisciplinary curriculum prepares majors for the workforce or graduate school. IU Southeast prioritizes small class sizes, hands-on projects, and internship opportunities. IU Southeast is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
From its 115-acre campus in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, Lake Superior State University provides a small-town university education. At LSSU, students can earn a bachelor's degree in criminal justice that emphasizes critical thinking, writing, and research. Majors also study different criminal justice approaches while analyzing the subject from the macro and micro levels. LSSU blends academic and hands-on training in its criminal justice program. Students take classes in criminal investigation, firearms training, and corrections. Within the program, students can choose from focus areas like criminalistics, law enforcement, homeland security, and public safety. Criminal justice majors complete a senior seminar capstone to synthesize the knowledge and skills they gain during the program. The capstone emphasizes research and writing skills, preparing seniors for criminal justice careers or graduate work. LSSU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Career and Salary Outlook for Criminal Justice Graduates
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects varying job growth rates for criminal justice professionals, depending on position. The BLS projects police and detective positions to increase 5% from 2018 to 2028, which is on par with the average for all occupations. However, the BLS projects employment for forensic science technicians to increase 14% during the same time frame.
Most positions for graduates of bachelor’s in criminal justice programs feature above-average earning potential. However several factors influence salary potential, including job location, experience, and academic achievement.
Police officers protect life and property, serving as the first line of defense against crime. Some police officers work in a specific industry, such as transit and railroad. Others specialize in a certain type of crime, such as drug trafficking or arson. Police officers arrest criminals, patrol assigned areas, and respond to emergency calls. Detectives may perform work similar to that of police officers, depending on their rank. However, the responsibilities of detectives often include investigating crimes, collecting evidence, and interviewing witnesses and suspects.
Although private detectives and investigators do not have police authority, they perform an essential role in crime detection and prevention. Private detectives conduct background checks for employers, carry out surveillance missions to uncover possible unlawful activities, and collect evidence for law firms and private citizens. Private investigators must be familiar with federal and state laws to ensure that any evidence they collect will be admissible in court.
Emergency management directors prepare appropriate responses to natural disasters and coordinate with concerned stakeholders before, during, and after emergencies. They also assess conditions for potential hazards and apply for federal funding to mitigate the impact of disasters. Additionally, these directors regularly review and update emergency procedures to ensure their continued effectiveness and relevance.
These professionals supervise parolees and individuals who are on probation. The responsibilities of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists often include conducting drug tests, identifying appropriate rehabilitation programs, making recommendations to probationary courts, and testifying during parole hearings.
Many bachelor’s in criminal justice degrees offer concentration options, which allow students to gain in-depth knowledge in a specific area of the field. Earning a bachelor’s in criminal justice degree with a concentration can help graduates secure positions in the concentration area.
CORRECTIONS A bachelor’s in criminal justice with a concentration in corrections qualifies graduates to work in correctional facilities as prison guards, case managers, juvenile probation officers, and corrections officers. This concentration typically requires coursework in the criminal justice system, juvenile justice and delinquency theories, and constitutional issues in criminal procedures.
CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATION Students pursuing this concentration learn how to identify, collect, and organize evidence found at crime scenes. Learners study topics including fingerprint analysis, crime scene photography, toxicology, and forensic pathology. Students also learn how to preserve the chain of evidence to ensure their findings and conclusions are admissible in court.
CYBERSECURITY This concentration trains students to protect sensitive and vital digital information. Learners prepare to keep computer networks safe from unlawful and malicious intrusion. Students explore topics such as network security, computer troubleshooting, and Linux system administration. Graduates with a cybersecurity concentration often work as security architects, ethical hackers, and cryptologists.
LAW ENFORCEMENT This common criminal justice concentration prepares students to become police officers, detectives, and corrections specialists. Coursework typically covers the American court system, foundations in criminal law and procedure, constitutional issues in criminal proceedings, and investigation techniques. Graduates often pursue local, state, and federal law enforcement positions.
SECURITY MANAGEMENT A specialization in security management prepares criminal justice students to safeguard the assets and employees of a business. Concentration coursework typically explores risk analysis, infrastructure security, and effective emergency planning. Security management specialists often manage a team of security guards and other security personnel.
Courses in Criminal Justice Programs
The curricula of criminal justice programs vary by institution. Some schools offer broad undergraduate criminal justice programs that allow students to explore a variety of prospective career paths. Learners in these programs typically choose a concentration area to study during their junior and senior years.
Students should examine each prospective program’s curriculum to ensure the available courses align with their career aspirations. The foundational courses below are common to many programs from the best criminal justice colleges.
CRIME PREVENTION The course introduces students to various theories of crime prevention, detection, and reduction. Learners study traditional techniques currently used in the field, as well as emerging technologies and practices. Students also examine innovative community-based solutions and their applications to crime prevention.
CRIMINOLOGY Students in this class examine criminality using the precepts of behavioral and social sciences. Learners explore the psychological and biological roots of criminal behavior and the impact of crime on individuals, communities, and society. The course presents a historical review of various crime-reduction practices, along with each method’s effectiveness and modern applicability.
POLICING Students in this class explore the historical evolution of law enforcement to gain an understanding of its current function within the criminal justice system. Students also examine challenges related to modern policing. Learners discuss how cultivating positive community relationships can lead to fewer crimes and better detection.
U.S. CORRECTIONAL SYSTEM Coursework focuses on key issues that impact the country’s correctional system, including socioeconomic factors, judicial policies, and racism. Students examine issues such as prison overcrowding, drug use among inmates, and prison-staff retention. Learners explore the role of criminal justice practitioners in seeking and implementing viable solutions to these ongoing challenges.
U.S. JUDICIAL SYSTEM This course covers topics including the function and structure of the U.S. court system, the responsibilities of criminal justice practitioners, and the procedures and processes at various levels of the federal court. Students also learn about significant events in the history of the nation’s judicial system.
Scholarships for Criminal Justice Students
Many colleges and universities offer scholarships for criminal justice students. Some institutions administer state and federal grants, and learners can apply for financial assistance from private and special-interest organizations. Learners pursuing a criminal justice degree can explore the scholarship opportunities below.
Brian Terry Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Applicants must submit an essay and proof of enrollment in an accredited undergraduate criminal justice program. The foundation begins accepting applications in January of each year, until receiving 100 applications.
Who Can Apply: This scholarship supports high school seniors who plan to pursue a criminal justice major at a historically black college or university. Recipients must maintain at least a 2.5 college GPA to remain eligible for funding.
Who Can Apply: Applicants must demonstrate financial need and must have a minimum 3.8 GPA. The organization administers three scholarships, and applicants who are committed to pursuing a career in law enforcement receive preference.
Women in Federal Law Enforcement Annual Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Applicants must be criminal justice majors who have completed at least one full year of college-level coursework. Applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and must submit a 500-word essay demonstrating their commitment to pursuing a career in law.
Students can begin their search for financial assistance by completing the FAFSA. The information learners provide on the FAFSA form establishes their eligibility for federal and institutional financial aid. Additionally, some private organizations determine eligibility for funding using each applicant’s FAFSA form.
After applying for scholarships and grants, some students take out loans to cover remaining costs. Federal student loans typically offer lower tuition rates than private loans. Students with financial need may qualify for a subsidized federal loan, which does not begin accruing interest until after graduation.
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