How do I get a Criminal Justice Degree?

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  • Written By: Ken Black
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 18 December 2018
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Earning a criminal justice degree is one of the best ways to get started in law enforcement. There are a number of degree paths one can pursue, including getting a certificate, an Associate's degree or a Bachelor's degree. Advanced degrees in criminal justice may also be available from some schools. The initial steps toward getting a criminal justice degree begin in college, or perhaps even before college.

Though criminal justice colleges often do not have specific prerequisites from high school, taking some courses in high school related to criminal justice will certainly help. Often, a criminal justice class will be offered as an elective in high school. In some cases, it may even be required before graduation. This will serve as a basic introduction, and even cover many of the same topics as the initial criminal justice degree courses in college. Social Studies and U.S. Government classes will also cover relevant information. Taking courses in communications and writing will also help.

For those who are not wanting to go to college, getting certified as a law enforcement officer can often be done without a college degree. These certifications often take just weeks to complete, providing the student with quick courses in law, investigative techniques, weapons training and other basic skills. The main focus of the program is simply to get the student the basic skills needed to begin working in law enforcement. It is not considered a true criminal justice degree program.


Choosing between the different criminal justice schools may be the hardest part. Some of it will be determined by what type of degree the student is interested in. Getting a two-year criminal justice degree, also called an Associate's degree, will be done at a community college. A Bachelor's degree in criminal justice will require going to a four-year university, though it is still possible to start out at the community college level for those who need to get their grades up, or who are worried about the costs of attending a four-year institution the entire time.

Once in college, the first two years will be spent getting many of the general education requirements out of the way. Even in the first two years there are basic courses relating to criminal justice and criminology that can be taken before starting the core program. These courses will likely be required before getting into the more advanced courses needed before earning a criminal justice degree. Due to this fact, it is best to declare a major as soon as possible after enrolling. Talking to an academic advisory is the best way to determine the specific courses one needs, and in what order they should be taken.



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