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Criminal Justice Programs Guide

criminal justice programs guide

Are you passionate about justice and helping others? A career in criminal justice may be the right fit for you!

Criminal justice careers are generally split into two branches: legal and law enforcement. The legal side of criminal justice concentrates on careers focused on laws, prosecution, and the court system. Law enforcement careers focus on enforcing laws and punishments for breaking the law.

Getting a criminal justice degree, whether it is a certificate, associate, or bachelor’s degree, will launch a career full of purpose and with room for growth. Find an on-campus or online criminal justice program near you.

Criminal Justice Certificates of Completion

Criminal justice certificates are available at many local schools, and there are accredited online criminal justice programs, too. These programs touch on the basics of the field and are generally used as a steppingstone. They let you start a career, then later you can further your education. On average, 30 credits are needed for a certificate. There are quite a few criminal justice careers that you need just a small amount of education for, and they can turn into fantastic futures.

  • Corrections/Detention Officer: Correctional/Detention Officers work in prisons to keep inmates safe from one another and prevent them from escaping prison. You may be fine getting a job with only your high school diploma or GED. Some districts may require you to have two years of experience and several college courses under your belt. Agencies require you to be between 18-21 with no felony convictions, and you must be a permanent resident of the U.S. You will have to complete training through the academy. If you want to eventually work on the Federal level, then you will need to get a bachelor’s degree combined with 1-3 years of experience.
  • Court Clerk: Court clerks complete administrative duties, such as helping file legal complaints or collecting court fees. Job duties will depend on the court you work and your prior experience. For an entry level court clerk position, you typically need a high school diploma or GED. Some court systems do require a two-year degree, however. The more experience you have, the more potential for advancement you will find. Pay will depend on factors such as jurisdiction, court, and your position.
  • Police Dispatcher: Police dispatchers take emergency calls, help the callers deal with emergencies, and send out emergency vehicles. Like most other positions in criminal justice, you’ll first need a high school diploma or GED. You need to be at least 18 years old to work as a police dispatcher. You also cannot have any felonies on your record. You’ll receive on-the-job training. Most states will require you to become Emergency Medical Dispatcher certified, along with some continuing education every couple of years.
  • Police Officer: Police officers are at the front lines every day. They address emergencies, monitor traffic, enforce laws, and detain criminals. Education requirements vary by police department. You can enter police academy with a high school diploma or GED, but many choose to pursue an associates or bachelor’s degree before entering the fore. You will have to pass certain physical and emotional standards, have no felonies, and be able to pass a drug test.
  • Transportation Security Officer: TSA agents work in airports, keeping the airport, airplanes, and passengers safe. They intercept dangerous materials and weapons from entering secured areas in airports, following the Department of Homeland Security policies and procedures. With just a high school diploma or GED and a clear background check, you can start an entry level position as a TSA agent. You need to pass the training program and become certified, which is renewed annually through continuing education and training. There is upward mobility within the TSA once you start gaining experience.

Get some of your criminal justice career questions answered.

Criminal Justice Associate Degrees

An associate degree can be attained in as few as two years in the classroom or online. You’ll take introductory criminal law classes, along with general electives. Criminal justice classes you may take include forensic sciences, terrorism and intelligence, behavioral sciences, management, and more depending on your school and its program. To complete your associate degree, you will need between 60-65 completed credits, which translates to 15 credits per semester. (Don’t worry; it’s not that overwhelming!) Once you get that degree, you will be able to find an entry level job—or maybe even a bit higher. With an associate degree, your credits will transfer if you decide to continue and get your bachelor’s.

Some criminal justice careers that only require an associate degree are:

  • Accident Investigator: Accident Investigators recreate accidents to determine who or what caused it. Taking pictures, examining evidence, and talking with witnesses and survivors will help you put together a more vivid picture of what transpired. Degrees are not a necessity; however, to gain a competitive edge, it’s a good idea to get an associate degree. You can specialize in aviation, automobile, and marine investigations.
  • Animal Control Officer: Animal control officers are at the front line of animal safety. Animal control officers are hired by either a city or county and act to protect communities for both animals and humans. To become an animal control officer, you must be a minimum of 18 years old and a high school graduate or GED holder. Many employers will give potential hires a drug screening and a background check. It is also recommended that you have some experience in working with animals. Many states, as well as employers, will require their new hires to have a certification.
  • Bailiffs: Bailiffs ensure courtroom security for everyone inside it, announce the coming and going of the judge, and may also be the one who takes the witness and presents the oath. Bailiffs are sometimes called upon for administrative duties, such as stocking supplies, delivering documents, and taking offenders into custody. Bailiffs must be at least 21 years old and have a high school diploma or GED, and be in excellent physical condition. Education requirements vary based on location and jurisdiction. Criminal justice degrees or diplomas from accredited schools are preferred by employers.
  • Court Reporter: Court reporters use a stenograph machine to take court notes, testimonies, depositions, meetings, and other types of live proceedings. To work as a court reporter, you need a certificate or an associate degree. Once you graduate high school or receive your GED, you can get your associate degree, which can take around 33 months. You will be trained to type the necessary 225 words per minute; for this reason, this program lasts close to three years instead of the typical two for an associate degree. Some states will have you become a notary, while others have licensing requirements.
  • Detective and Criminal Investigator: Detectives interview witnesses and suspects, examine the records associated with the case, conduct suspect surveillance, and help with the arrests. You can choose to specialize in areas such as crime or homicide. To be considered as a candidate for a detective position, there are a few prerequisites. You need a high school diploma or GED, and must be at least 21 years old to even be considered for the role of detective. There are two different degree paths for law enforcement: an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree. Most detectives begin their careers as police officers, so you’ll go through the police academy once your college education is complete
  • Fish and Game Warden: Fish and Game Wardens enforce hunting, fishing, boating, and trapping laws. They are the protectors of all wildlife, including the humans, in their jurisdiction. Fish and Game Wardens spend most of their time outdoors, so there are fitness requirements you must meet. You will need an associate degree in biology, ecology, wildlife management, and other such fields. Some jurisdictions may require you to complete two years as a police officer before being eligible to be a fish and game warden. Once hired, you will be required to take a training program lasting 3-12 months.
  • K9 Officer: Canine officers share many of the same duties and responsibilities as a normal police officer does. The canine partner of the K9 officer has been highly trained in multiple skills, such as sniffing out contraband, search and rescue, or finding bombs. K9 Officers form tight bonds with their furry companions by training and living with them. Most potential employers expect K9 officers to have an associate or bachelor's degree. Additionally, to be eligible, you must work 2-4 years on the police force before you’re eligible to transfer to the K9 unit. Once you have been chosen, there is a specialized training program for canine officers.
  • Paralegal: Paralegals can perform many of the same tasks as lawyers. They organize and draft documents, assemble cases, and even interview witnesses. Paralegals are also in charge of submitting court documents and maintaining strict deadlines. Because they are not licensed, paralegals cannot act independently as lawyers and cannot give legal advice. You’ll need an associate degree in paralegal studies or a bachelor’s degree with a certificate in paralegal studies. Find a paralegal program now.
  • Private Investigator: Private Investigators collect evidence on people for various institutions. They conduct background checks, find missing persons, and perform covert surveillance. Many private investigators earn an associate degree in criminal justice; however, there are no exact education requirements for this position. Most states do require private investigators to have a license to practice, as well as a license for concealed weapons. Much of the training is through on-the-job experience.

Criminal Justice Bachelor's Degrees

In bachelor’s degree programs, you will dive deeper into the criminal justice topics. You’ll spend a minimum of four years in school completing an average of 125 credit hours, but you will be qualified for a greater amount of jobs in the industry. Additionally, with a bachelor’s degree, you may earn approximately 30 percent more per week than those with less education.

  • U.S. Border Patrol Agent: Border Patrol Agents control movement between countries connected by land and sea. They interview incoming travelers, monitoring for contraband. They also prevent unauthorized travelers from crossing borders illegally. You must be a U.S. citizen with a valid driver’s license, have no felonies on your record, be able to pass a drug test, meet certain medical requirements, and pass a Border Patrol Entrance exam with a score of at least 70 percent. You must have one of the following: valid work experience, a bachelor’s degree plus one year of experience, or completed one year in graduate school. There is also an extensive training program. You may also need a Spanish immersion program depending on which port you’ll be based.
  • Crime Scene Investigator: Crime Scene Investigators identify and organize crime scenes, document the physical evidence, and then collect it to be analyzed and preserved. You will need to get a bachelor’s degree, but if you want more career advancement opportunities, you will need a master’s degree as well. Completing police academy is not a must, but it is easier to start your career with that experience under your belt. There will be a period of on-the-job training where you’ll gain experience under a mentor. Each state has its own certification requirements. Some continuing education is also part of the job.
  • Deputy Sheriff: Like a police officer, the deputy sheriff patrols assigned areas, investigates complaints and potential crimes, makes arrests, conducts interviews, and testifies in court. The main difference between a sheriff and a deputy sheriff is that a sheriff is an elected position. Though a high school diploma or GED is required, candidates who have an associate or bachelor’s in criminal justice fields are preferred. There will be a civil service exam necessary to pass before gaining admittance to the deputy sheriff training program. To become a deputy sheriff, once all the training and education has been completed, there will be a background check, drug screening, and a physical test.
  • Parole Officer: A parole officer’s job is to keep those who have served time from serving time again. They help former inmates reintegrate into society and assist in finding them rehab, jobs services, and education. To start your parole officer career, you need a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field. You must be at 21 years old with a valid driver’s license to apply for a position. There are training sessions and certification programs you will need as well. Expect a background check, a psych evaluation, and a drug test before being hired.
  • Probation Officer: Instead of being sent to jail, some offenders are given probation. Probation officers monitor and probationers and make sure they adhere to laws and regulations. During your frequent appointments together, you judge whether the person is a risk to the community. You also help determine the best course of action for the offender’s rehab. To enter this career, you must have a bachelor’s degree in social work, criminal justice, or a related field. You’ll have to pass competency exams, a background and drug test, and be at least 21 years old.
  • Sheriff: As a sheriff, you are responsible for your county’s law enforcement. As the sheriff, you will work alongside other law enforcement officials to uphold the laws of the land. Sheriffs may catch and arrest suspects, give citations, deliver warrants, patrol areas, and appear in court. Other job duties of a sheriff include, managing emergency situations, and questioning witnesses, and supervising the county jails and prisons. The job of sheriff is like that of a police chief; however, Sheriffs are elected officials. To become a sheriff, you must start out as a police officer. You will also need a bachelor’s degree from a criminal justice or law enforcement program. Depending on the jurisdiction, you’ll have to work 1-5 years as a police officer. Once you have filled the requirements, you can file the necessary paperwork and run for your county sheriff. If you are lucky enough to be elected, you’ll have to swear in an oath, and agree to a contractual bond.

criminal justice

Online Criminal Justice Degrees

Taking classes online is a great way to get your degree, especially if you are working or have other obligations. Like physical schools, you will be able to get an associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree, depending on the school and what options it has to offer.

Obtaining a degree from a properly accredited school is vital, as degrees from unaccredited institutions may not allow you to sit for necessary certification exams.

The average rate for online school ranges between $100-$500 per credit hour. One four-hour class will cost you anywhere between $400-$2,000. Financial aid may be available, even for online college. Contact your preferred college’s admissions counselor or the school’s financial aid advisor to learn more about financial aid options.

Find an accredited online criminal justice program now.