For students interested in a versatile degree with an array of rewarding career possibilities, majoring in criminal justice may prove a wise decision. Criminal justice (CJ) graduates go on to occupy a variety of exciting, impactful positions, becoming private detectives; probation officers; fraud investigators; forensic science technicians; DEA agents; law enforcement officers; secret service agents; state troopers; fish and game wardens; and criminologists, to name a few of the possibilities.
There exists a range of professional organizations to assist these workers in their invaluable contributions to society. For example, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) is an international organization, which serves to promote CJ education, policy research, and the promotion of best practices within the multivariate and rich fields of this discipline. Established in 1963, the group comprises approximately 2,800 scholars, professionals, and students from around the world. The ACJS offers an abundance of resources, including two newsletters; ongoing evidence-based research in corrections facilities and demographics; curriculum development for academic programs; and policy advocacy pertinent to criminal justice reform in the US and beyond. Embracing the crosscutting concerns of law enforcement professionals, community justice advocates, and minorities, the ACJS seeks to build a multifaceted coalition in service to justice for all. The group also boasts several regional affiliates such as the Southern Criminal Justice Association and the Midwestern Criminal Justice Association.
In addition to the thriving network of professional associations, there’s also a wealth of criminal justice programs nationwide, both on-campus and online. This piece discusses the admissions procedures, degree levels, and common coursework among the accredited criminal justice schools around the country.
Here’s an overview of some exemplary campus-based criminal justice programs around the country:
North Essex Community College of Massachusetts boasts three campuses, including a location in Haverhill and two in Lawrence. This school offers a two-year associate of science (AS) degree in criminal justice with coursework in modern policing; incarceration & alternatives; criminal law; civil rights & liberties; American government & politics; and other relevant topics. Similar to other community colleges around the country, it has relatively affordable tuition at $25 per credit for MA residents and $38 for those in the New England Area. (Please note, however, that college fees bring the cost-per-credit up substantially.)
At the bachelor’s level and above, the aforementioned Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) certifies criminal justice programs which are in compliance with its rigorous standards of training.
Seattle University provides several ACJS-certified programs, including a bachelor of arts (BA) and a bachelor of science (BS) degree in criminal justice, as well as a master of science (MS). In its BA program, students complete courses such as CJ research methods; statistics; juvenile justice; punishment & social theory; police & society; forensic psychology; the polygraph; working with offender populations; and several hands-on practicums with the US Marshals, FBI, DEA, and ATF, among others.
In its MA in criminal justice program, SU students take courses in law & social control; organizational theory & analysis in social justice; investigative criminology & offender profiling; administrative law; crime analysis; and criminal justice ethics & decision making, among others. Notably, the school also has an honors CJ program and a vibrant campus club to support these students in their extracurricular endeavors. Since tuition varies by many factors, check out the SU price calculator for a customized assessment.
The University of Baltimore also offers an ACJS-certified BS in criminal justice and a master of science (MS) as well. The BS program features coursework in criminal justice research methods; criminological perspectives; and other subjects. Additionally, students have the chance to participate in an international trip. In 2017, for example, students traveled to Spain where they studies the incidence of gender-based violence. Full-time in-state tuition is $4,545 and for out-of-state students, it’s $10,604.
UB’s MS in criminal justice program comprises 39 credits of instruction across one of several specializations: law enforcement, courts and law, corrections, juvenile justice, or victim studies. Classes include ethical issues in criminal justice; crime & policy development; research techniques in criminal justice; contemporary criminal court issues; policing special populations; and other subjects. Graduate programs are taken on a part-time basis and cost $750 per credit (in-state) or $1,100 (out-of-state).
In addition to the wealth of online programs in forensic science, crime scene investigation (CSI), and other subfields, here are several schools which offer excellent distance-based degrees and certificates in criminal justice.
Southern New Hampshire University based in Manchester provides an online associate of science (AS) in criminal justice degree with 60 credits of coursework in areas such as ethics & the criminal justice leader; judicial administration; research methods for criminal justice; correctional systems; introduction to security; and the juvenile justice system. The program costs $320 per credit-hour
Sam Houston State University of Huntsville, TX placed second among US News & World Report’s (2020) “best online graduate criminal justice programs.” It offers several online programs, including a BA in criminal justice & victim studies; a BS in criminal justice; an MS in criminal justice; and an MS in criminal justice leadership & management.
In its BA program, SHSU students learn about cybercrime; global terrorism; violent offenders; child abuse & neglect; forensic science; white-collar crime; and criminal investigation. Also, they enjoy internship opportunities at facilities such as the FBI, INTERPOL, and local police departments. The school’s distance-based MS in criminal justice leadership & management provides classes in research methods & quantitative analyses; emergent issues in criminal justice; resource development in the organizational context; communications theory & the administration of justice; and police in society. To learn about tuition, please visit the SHSU’s Bursar’s Office.
The University of Nebraska, Omaha also provides online BS and MS programs in criminology and criminal justice. In its distance-based BS program, students learn about the nature of crime; criminal justice research, theory & methodology; and the statistical applications in criminal justice. The online MS program provides additional instruction in terrorism; violence; theoretical criminology; special problems in criminal justice; comparative criminology & criminal justice; police effectiveness; violence crime & criminal behavior; and other topics.
Arizona State University has several distance-based programs, including an online BS in criminology and criminal justice with instruction in criminal justice crime control policies & practices; courts & sentencing; introduction to corrections; community relations in the justice systems; substantive criminal law; imperatives of proof; community corrections; gangs; and procedural criminal law, among other foundational coursework. This program costs $617 per credit-hour.
ASU also offers a 33-credit online MA in criminal justice (MACJ) with classes in policy analysis, program evaluation, and a capstone course. The MACJ program typically takes 18 months and costs $686 per credit. Please note that ASU also provides other online programs, including a graduate certificate in criminal sentencing and advocacy; homeland security; law enforcement administration; and corrections management.
Finally, the University of Cincinnati boasts the #1 most published faculty in the Journal of Criminal Justice and is among the top 15 online master’s degree programs in CJ (US News & World Report 2020). Notably, UC’s distance-based master’s program in CJ provides three tracks: analysis of criminal behavior, law enforcement & crime prevention, and corrections & offender rehabilitation. All three tracks offer courses such as basic research methods in criminal justice; biosocial factors in serial offending; juvenile justice; computer criminology; and white-collar crime.
To learn more about distance-based graduate programs, please visit the online master’s degrees in criminal justice page.
While credentialing varies by state of residence and role, there are some common credentialing entities among criminal justice professionals. In addition to state police academies and other local bodies, the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) has recognized 10 certifying entities related to forensics work, many of which are relevant to the criminal justice field. For example, the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) has various five-year professional certifications in six subfields: comprehensive criminalistics, molecular biology, drug analysis, fire debris, hair & fiber, and paint & polymer. Candidates for these credentials must have at least a bachelor’s degree, two years of experience in criminalistics, and a passing score on a comprehensive examination.
Other FSAB-recognized certifying authorities include:
Prior to enrolling in any criminal justice program, students are encouraged to verify the school or program’s accreditation status. When conducted by recognized authorities, the process of accreditation implies that a given educational program has met baseline standards of quality in terms of program facilities; comprehensiveness of curricula; administrative effectiveness; student outcomes, and other measures. There are two main types of accreditation: programmatic and institutional.
For programmatic approval, the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) certifies criminal justice programs around the country. As of May 2020, there were 15 on-campus bachelor’s and master’s programs around the country which were ACJS-certified, many of which were discussed above.
Perhaps more importantly is institutional accreditation, which is offered by one of six regional authorities recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA):
Finally, aspiring online students in criminal justice are also advised to verify their school’s “state authorization” status, which governs whether or not an institution in one state can provide distance-based education to students residing in another state. This information is typically readily available on program websites or can be ascertained from program coordinators.
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).