By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski  |  02/05/2024

bachelor's degree in criminal justice


Earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice has become increasingly more convenient. Now, students have many more options available to pursue their degree than in the past.

Technology and online criminal justice programs have made it possible to earn this type of degree in a non-traditional setting. This convenience has provided busy working adults with the opportunity to pursue a degree in criminal justice.

Earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice online requires effective time management and organizational skills. Students in a criminal justice program with the goal of earning a bachelor’s degree can attend classes from anywhere in the world that has internet connectivity.


The Varied Career Paths of the Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice field is vast and focuses on crime control. A student pursuing a bachelor's in criminal justice may be interested in a wide range of criminal justice careers, including working as a police officer, either in local or federal law enforcement.

Other potential career opportunities for someone studying criminal justice include:

  • Serving in criminal justice administration
  • Working in child welfare as a juvenile probation officer
  • Serving as a parole officer
  • Learning to be a private investigator or private detective
  • Working in restorative justice

Criminal justice administration may be a good focus for someone who wishes to pursue a leadership role in a law enforcement, public safety, or criminal justice agency.

Criminal justice graduates also may wish to pursue career opportunities within the court system, private investigations, forensic science, corporate security, or private security.

As a part of their studies, future criminal justice professionals should review labor statistics to determine which criminal justice system jobs are projected to grow the most.

For law enforcement, police officers may not always need a degree in criminal justice to get hired. However, the knowledge gained from attaining a bachelor's in criminal justice degree may be useful when a student wants to pursue more advanced leadership opportunities in the criminal justice field.


How Do I Start to Pursue a Criminal Justice Degree Program?

To seek a bachelor’s degree, prospective students must have earned a high school diploma or GED. Beginning an online degree or a degree at a brick-and-mortar institution commonly starts with prospective students sending in their official high school transcripts. Applicants who have college or work experience should also provide documentation for any transfer credits that could be applied to their degree program. 

By sending official college transcripts from previous coursework and validating work experience, applicants interested in studying criminal justice can learn if they are eligible to earn transfer credit and save time completing their degree in criminal justice.


The Importance of Accreditation

When selecting a bachelor's in criminal justice or any criminal justice degree, it is important to identify a school that is properly accredited. Accreditations of higher education institutions vary.

If a student wishes to pursue a master’s degree following completion of a bachelor's in criminal justice, the graduate school will expect the student to have earned their undergraduate degree from an accredited institution.

Some employers also take note of the accreditation of a university or its criminal justice degree programs. Accreditation indicates a formal recognition from an accrediting body that a university maintains standards of education and rigor for its programs.


Types of Accreditation

Generally, there are two basic types of educational accreditations: institutional accreditation and specialized or programmatic accreditation. These accreditations are awarded by reputable accreditation agencies recognized by the Council on Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education.

Institutional accreditation applies to the entire institution. By contrast, specialized or programmatic accreditation typically applies to specific programs, departments, or smaller schools within an educational institution.

Ideally, students pursuing a criminal justice degree should carefully evaluate the accreditation of the institution that they want to attend.


Online Criminal Justice Programs

An effective criminal justice program offers instructor-facilitated courses that typically have weekly assignments, readings, and weekly online class discussions guided by the course content. They are often available in an asynchronous environment, which means there are no designated log-in times. This flexibility can be an advantage for students managing both professional and family responsibilities.

Faculty members in strong criminal justice programs will immerse students in a collaborative learning environment about the criminal justice system. Students should gain a thorough understanding of the criminal justice field through in-depth criminal justice research.

Students build valuable critical thinking skills and explore various research methods. These research methods include quantitative and qualitative data analysis, along with an examination of popular criminal justice theories that attempt to explain criminal behavior and why crime occurs.

Students also learn about criminal law, criminal procedure, court administration, criminal investigation, the juvenile justice system, human services, the corrections system, criminal justice policy, criminal behavior, crime prevention and many other important aspects of criminal justice. For instance, learning about the juvenile system is useful because law enforcement has an important role in child welfare.

Criminal justice bachelor's degree graduates should gain a solid understanding of how public safety, courts, and corrections work together. For criminal justice majors, criminal justice courses provide valuable insight into how our government and criminal justice system function.

In addition, earning a bachelor degree through a criminal justice program can prepare students to pursue a master’s degree in criminal justice.


Aligning Professional Goals with a Criminal Justice Degree

When evaluating different criminal justice programs, it’s useful to ensure that coursework will help students to ensure their professional goals can be met as they seek criminal justice jobs in public or private sectors. For example, a student interested in homeland security may wish to select a degree program that offers a focus on homeland security courses.

While no degree guarantees employment, a criminal justice degree can provide a solid knowledgebase in preparation for seeking employment in the field of law enforcement. For example, a bachelor's in criminal justice offers criminal justice classes that can help police officers manage law enforcement stress, understand criminal behavior, conduct crime scene investigations, and gain a deeper understanding of the legal system.

Also, communication skills learned while earning a degree can assist law enforcement officers in managing domestic violence calls for service.

Law enforcement is always changing based on many different factors. These changes include crime trends, societal shifts, and policy modifications. Students can learn about these changes by examining a world report such as the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime's Global Organized Crime Index.

The World Drug Report is another resource. These world crime reports provide insight from a global context and may reflect how crime problems are solved in different parts of the world.


Applying Real-World Experience to Gain Academic Credit

When a student is taking courses for a bachelor of arts in criminal justice or a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice, leveraging previous knowledge for college credit is useful. For example, military servicemembers receive a significant amount of training, and some of that training and knowledge may be applied toward a criminal justice degree in the form of academic credit. The American Council on Education provides recommendations for college credit for military training, and some universities will accept those recommendations for elective credit.

To determine if military experience qualifies a prospective student for transfer credit based on the Council’s recommendations, that student should request a military transcript so their military training can be evaluated. Then, identify a school that accepts this form of training and credit.

Another option for military servicemembers to earn college credit for knowledge they have learned outside of the traditional classroom setting is to complete the Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support's DSST exams. This type of exam is a significant benefit because it enables servicemembers to earn college credit quickly without using tuition assistance. I took several DSST exams while completing my bachelor of science degree.

Students who have a significant amount of work experience and training may want to consider the University's Prior Learning Assessment an option to apply college credit toward their degree program. These assessments provide students with the opportunity to earn college credit for learning gained outside of the classroom.

This prior learning may be a result of a student’s: 

  • Work experience
  • Formal corporate or military training
  • Business ownership
  • Volunteer work
  • Civic leadership
  • Hobbies
  • Independent study

Prior learning assessments are a tremendous opportunity to earn college credit for students who can demonstrate that their knowledge and experience relate to the learning objectives of a specific course.


Strategies for Academic Success While Pursuing a Criminal Justice Degree Program

Students who complete criminal justice programs online benefit from the discipline they develop throughout their degree. Success in online criminal justice programs typically requires setting aside approximately 15 to 20 hours a week for coursework.

Also, criminal justice students should speak with family members and friends about their goals so they get support in limiting distractions. Since many online students are working adults, it’s useful to create a schedule where family, employment, and school responsibilities can be equally balanced.

A plan may be needed for family members to assist with childcare to provide time for a student to study without interruption. Successful criminal justice graduates often have to make temporary sacrifices – such as giving up attendance at certain social events – to succeed academically.

Effective time management is often an important matter for successful criminal justice learners. From my experience, I initially struggled with time management while completing my bachelor of science degree.

To address this challenge, I created a time log that listed hour by hour how I was spending my day. I discovered my day included many activities that were not contributing toward my academic and professional goals. I adjusted my schedule to provide a more effective and balanced distribution of my time to ensure I could meet my family, work, and education responsibilities.


My Personal Experience in Criminal Justice Programs

Before my career as a police officer and as an active-duty servicemember in the military, I completed a criminal justice degree in administration of justice through Thomas Edison State College. Then, earning an online bachelor degree in criminal justice was more challenging, compared to today’s technology. For my master's degree, I completed my online criminal justice degree through the University.

I enjoyed a great experience in terms of the quality of my education, the professional backgrounds of my professors, and the ability to attend classes around my busy schedule. My experience inspired me to become an online professor in criminal justice.

During my time in law enforcement, I also benefited from what I learned through my criminal justice degree courses and applied my knowledge directly to the field. The criminal justice program at the University enabled me to choose elective classes in criminal justice that were related to my interests and long-term career goals. I took some general education courses as well.

My criminal justice classes assisted me during my law enforcement career when responding to domestic violence calls and when dealing with complex criminal investigations. Following the completion of my bachelor of science in a criminal justice discipline, I found that continuing my education to the master's degree and doctoral level was also helpful.

Recently, I had the opportunity to testify to Congress on current issues in human trafficking along the Southwest border. My education in criminal justice helped to prepare me for this testimony.

Earning a bachelor's in criminal justice is a major accomplishment. Pursuing college education demonstrates that someone has set aside the time to learn valuable course content, mastered course learning objectives, developed strong organization skills, and has taken the steps necessary to prepare for the workplace.

Given the many career paths available in public and private sectors, it may be helpful to conduct informational interviews at agencies and organizations in different sectors of criminal justice. For example, a student with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice who is interested in law enforcement may wish to conduct an informational interview with a police officer. Similarly, a student interested in the court system may wish to conduct an interview with court personnel to gain a deeper understanding of the career field and day-to-day activities.


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About the Author
Dr. Jarrod Sadulski

Dr. Sadulski is an Associate Professor within our School of Security and Global Studies. He has over two decades in the field of criminal justice. His expertise includes training on countering human trafficking, maritime security, effective stress management in policing and narcotics trafficking trends in Latin America. Jarrod frequently conducts in-country research and consultant work in Central and South America on human trafficking and current trends in narcotics trafficking. He also has a background in business development. Jarrod can be reached through his website at for more information.

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