Criminal Studies Degrees: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Class Info

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Bachelor's and associate degrees in criminal studies can lead to careers in law enforcement. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and online options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Studying Criminal Studies: Degrees at a Glance

A degree in criminal studies, commonly offered as a criminal justice major, can prepare you for several careers in the social and protective services. Government agencies offer many of these careers. For example, you may pursue a career as a probation officer. These individuals monitor former offenders to ensure they meet the terms of their probation and do not commit additional crimes. You may also consider becoming a police officer to enforce laws and make arrests.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), national employment opportunities for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists were expected to increase 18% from 2010-2020. This anticipated growth is due to prison overcrowding and the trend toward probation for non-violent crimes. By comparison, the BLS projected police and detectives would see just seven percent growth over that same time period, caused by these professions' reliance on government spending. Both careers typically have additional requirements, such as passing written or physical exams, completing academy training or on-the-job training.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this Degree for? Individuals interested in front-line work in law enforcement, such as apprehending suspects and maintaining laws Experienced individuals interested in leadership positions in law enforcement
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Police and sheriff's patrol officers ($54,000)*
- Correctional officers and jailers ($39,000)*
- Substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselors ($39,000)*
- Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists ($48,000)*
- Detectives and criminal investigators ($72,000 - often requires work experience and a degree)*
- First line supervisors of police and detectives ($78,000 - may require work experience plus a degree)*
Time to Completion 2 years (full time) 4 years (full time)
Common Graduation Requirements Practicum Practicum
Prerequisites - High school diploma
- SAT/ACT or other placement test scores
- High school diploma
- SAT/ACT scores
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011).

Associate Degree in Criminal Justice

During the first year of an associate degree program, students typically complete general education requirements and introductory coursework in criminal justice and related topics, such as psychology and sociology. As students advance in a program, they take core coursework in the criminal justice system, criminal procedures and police systems.

Pros and Cons


  • Practicum that provides hands-on experience is typically included in program curriculum
  • Specific courses in local laws and policies maybe offered
  • More convenient for some due to the shorter length of programs than 4-year degree


  • May have to undergo criminal background check or drug screening prior to practicum
  • Often still have to pass exams or attend training academy
  • May not offer concentrations that would allow you to specialize in a particular area of interest

Courses and Requirements

Associate degree programs include basic math and science coursework, as well as an introductory computer course. A practicum or internship is typically required for graduation. Common course topics include the following:

  • Criminal investigation
  • Police systems
  • Criminal procedure
  • Law enforcement principles

Online Info

Associate programs are available online. These programs are typically offered by community colleges or trade schools. Similar to traditional programs, these degree programs include coursework in sociology, psychology and criminal justice topics. They may also be transferable to a bachelor's program.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

In addition to the practicum, students in these programs may want to look for internship opportunities to gain additional experience. This experience may allow an individual to become familiar with the technical aspects of a career, such as computer programs and technology like two-way radios.

Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice

Bachelor's degree programs in criminal justice are typically completed over four years of full-time study. These programs typically offer more variety in their coursework, and students may have the option of tailoring their electives toward a professional interest. Concentrations may also be available.

Pros and Cons


  • Joint bachelor's/master's programs are available
  • May offer coursework on specific topics
  • May open up opportunities for administrative positions


  • May not be sufficient for advancement in some positions
  • May not replace the necessary on-the-job or academy training
  • Must complete significant general education requirements that aren't required in an associate program

Courses and Requirements

Bachelor's degree programs may include concentrations in areas like law enforcement and corrections. In addition to the core requirements, coursework in specific topics, such as behavior and legal issues, may be available. Some of the core courses may include:

  • Criminology
  • Police and society
  • Criminal procedure
  • Criminal justice ethics

Online Info

Online bachelor's programs are available. These programs may be better for working professionals who are unable to meet the classroom requirements of traditional programs. Students may want to check a prospective school to ensure that it is properly accredited.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

In addition to pursuing an internship, bachelor's degree students might want to look for coursework specific to computing methods in criminal justice. These courses can introduce students to the principles of police computing systems. They cover items like the National Law Enforcement Telecommunications Systems and National Crime Information Center.

Popular Schools

Featured Schools

Keiser University

  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security

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American InterContinental University

  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

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Excelsior College

  • AS in Science in Criminal Justice

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Youngstown State University

York Technical College