Criminal justice goes way beyond loving crime dramas and investigative thrillers. It is about having a true passion for keeping the law and maintaining order in society. This is not just a career but an opportunity to be a force for positive change and to make a meaningful impact on society through your career.  

This blog will take you through all aspects of criminal justice, including education, careers, and a lot more.

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An associate degree in criminal justice is a two-year-long degree program. The curriculum will take you through the foundations of the American justice system. You will learn different aspects of criminal justice, including criminal law, investigation, and corrections, among other aspects.  Along with a thorough understanding of criminal justice, you will also pick up in-demand skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, technical knowledge, ethical decision-making, and other valuable skills that can land you several entry-level jobs across the criminal justice field.

Related: Criminology vs. Criminal Justice vs. Criminalistics: How Are They Different?

There are different types of associate degrees in criminal justice, namely, Associate of Science (AS), Associate of Applied Science (AAS), and Associate of Arts (AA). These degrees essentially cover the same curriculum with minor differences. At the career level, it won’t really matter which one you go for so you need not worry about it. 

Depending on the specific program and university, the curriculum may differ so be sure to check the specific curriculum and courses to see if you find them interesting.

Here is a brief description of each degree type:

1. Associate of Science in Criminal Justice (AS) 

The AS program offers a solid understanding of constitutional and criminal law while focusing on theoretical foundations and practical skills. Graduates are well-prepared for entry-level positions in local, state, and federal criminal justice programs, and the credits earned are often transferable for further education.

2. Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice (AAS)

The AAS program curriculum focuses on practical application. It focuses on preparing students for careers in law enforcement, corrections, probation, parole, and private security. This degree equips students with hands-on training and is well-suited for immediate workforce entry.

3. Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice (AA) 

The AA in criminal justice program provides a balanced understanding of both theoretical and practical aspects of the American Criminal Justice System. This degree would be ideal for those seeking a solid foundational understanding and it’s even better if you build on it with a bachelor’s.

Consider reaching out to people who are already in the profession that you are interested in and ask them questions. You could also ask other students at your college to understand the curriculum and the types of opportunities they offer. 

The main differences between an associate degree in criminal justice and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice lie in the degree completion time, the depth of the study, and the career opportunities after.

 Here are key distinctions:

Aspect Associate degree in Criminal JusticeBachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice
DurationShorter duration, with a typical length of two years.Longer duration, spanning four years.
Course ContentFoundational level of learning, including concepts in criminal justice and general education courses.In-depth exploration of criminal justice topics, advanced courses, and the option to specialize.
Career Opportunities You can land entry-level positions (e.g., police officer, corrections officer, probation officer, fire inspector)You will have a wider range of career opportunities in fields including law enforcement administration, criminal justice research, policy analysis, and specialized areas within criminal justice.
Further EducationCredits can often be transferred to a bachelor’s programYou can go on to pursue graduate-level programs and advanced roles within criminal justice.

In summary, while an associate degree provides a solid introduction to the field and qualifies individuals for entry-level positions, a bachelor’s degree offers a more extensive education along with broader career prospects.

Both degrees offer solid careers and potential for growth. Depending on your career goals and interests, you can choose to pick either one of the two. 

An associate degree in criminal justice offers many advantages, particularly if you wish to join the workforce quickly and complete your studies faster.

Here are some super advantages of pursuing an associate degree in criminal justice:

1. Join the workforce quickly

As we’ve said, an associate degree in criminal justice typically requires a shorter duration of study compared to a four-year bachelor’s degree. This allows you to enter the workforce more quickly and start gaining practical experience sooner. It’s like learning on the field as you go.

2. Build foundational knowledge

You will learn all the basics of this field of study. Your degree will touch upon all the important concepts in the field, be it law enforcement, corrections, or the legal system. You will go out there with a strong working knowledge of the criminal justice system and be ready for the many roles that the field has to offer.

3. Cost-Effective Option

Your associate degree in criminal justice won’t put a huge dent in your bank. Since you’ll study for two years, it won’t be as expensive, plus if you plan on doing your degree online then you’ll end up cutting some more expenses too. Cost-effective option for sure.

4. Skill Development

The curriculum of an associate degree in criminal justice is designed to help you pick up practical skills relevant to the field. Through this degree, you will develop valuable skills including critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, and understanding of legal procedures. This will make you job-ready sooner.

5. Transferable Credits

If you wish to pursue higher education later on, know that it won’t be difficult. Many institutions allow students with an associate degree to transfer credits toward a bachelor’s degree program, but it is always a good idea to check if your credits will transfer to a 4-year college. This will allow for a smoother transition when you do decide to go for it. 

6. Flexible Study Schedule

If you prefer studying on your own terms, then there’s some good news, associate degree programs often offer more flexibility in terms of class schedules and course delivery formats. This is all the better if you have work or other commitments, as it allows for a good balance.

7. If You’re Already in a Career, an Associate Degree Can Be a Good Add-On

If you’re already working in the criminal justice field and wish to pursue a relevant degree to boost your career prospects or gain additional knowledge, then an associate degree would be a good choice for you. It can serve as a valuable addition to your resume and can also make it easier for you to land jobs.

8. Opportunity to Give Back to Society at Any Age

Do you feel like giving back to society in some way? Even if you are in another field, an associate degree in criminal justice can teach you all that you need to learn to get started in this field. With your associate degree, you will be able to work toward maintaining law and order in society. By pursuing a career as a probation officer or substance abuse counselor, you could help people transition back to society and get them on a better track and thus make a positive difference in society.

Pursuing an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice is a meaningful way to contribute to society by entering a field dedicated to maintaining law and order, promoting justice, and ensuring the safety of communities. 

The classes you take will be a combination of subjects that cover different aspects of the law. An Associate Degree in Criminal Justice also includes general education classes covering English composition, mathematics, natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. These courses provide students with essential skills in writing, communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving, as well as a broader understanding of the world and its complexities.

The curriculum may differ depending on the specific program but here is a general description of some common courses that you can expect to learn:

1. Introduction to Criminal Justice:

An overview of the criminal justice system, including its components such as law enforcement, the court system, and corrections.

2. Criminal Law:

Examination of the fundamental principles of criminal law, understanding legal terminology, and exploring the elements of various criminal offenses.

3. Policing and Law Enforcement:

Study of the role of police in society, police procedures, community policing, and ethical considerations in law enforcement.

4. Criminal Investigation:

Exploration of investigative techniques, evidence gathering, crime scene analysis, and the procedures involved in solving criminal cases.

5. Corrections and Penology:

Overview of the corrections system, including the study of jails, prisons, probation, and parole.

6. Criminal Procedure:

Examination of the legal procedures that law enforcement officers must follow when interacting with suspects, making arrests, and conducting searches.

7. Juvenile Justice:

Study of the juvenile justice system, including the unique legal and procedural considerations when dealing with juvenile offenders.

8. Criminology:

Exploration of the theories explaining criminal behavior, the social aspects of crime, and the factors influencing criminal conduct.

9. Ethics in Criminal Justice:

Examination of ethical considerations and dilemmas faced by professionals in the criminal justice field, emphasizing moral decision-making.

10. Introduction to Forensic Science:

An overview of forensic techniques, including the analysis of evidence, crime scene investigation, and the use of scientific methods in solving crimes.

These courses collectively provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the criminal justice system, its components, and the principles and practices associated with maintaining law and order. Keep in mind that the specific course names and content may vary between institutions.

Your associate degree in criminal justice will help you learn many valuable skills that are essential to excelling in this field. Here are a few important skills you can expect to learn:

1. Critical Thinking

If you have seen the work of professionals in this field, whether on TV or in real life, you know that it takes a lot of brain work. So it’s no surprise that your associate degree in criminal justice will train you to develop the ability to analyze complex situations, evaluate evidence, and make informed decisions. This fosters critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

2. Communication Skills

Your work will require you to work with other people, be it to brainstorm, present your findings, or just collaborate. For this, it is important to sharpen your communication skills. Your degree program will help you enhance your ability to articulate ideas clearly, write reports, and communicate. 

3. Legal Knowledge

Your degree program will equip you with a solid understanding of the different aspects of the criminal justice system. This foundational understanding of criminal law, constitutional rights, and legal procedures is essential to navigating your way around this field.

4. Problem-Solving

As part of your criminal justice education, you will develop problem-solving skills to address issues related to law enforcement, corrections, and the legal system. Effectively solving the many problems that arise is the way to go!

5. Ethical Decision-Making

Telling right from wrong is very important in this career. Your degree program will guide you through topics like making ethical decisions and navigating moral dilemmas commonly faced in the criminal justice field. This is to ensure that ethical considerations are a cornerstone of your decision-making process.

6. Interpersonal Skills

Like in every career, interpersonal skills are also very important in criminal justice. Building positive relationships and working effectively with diverse populations requires strong interpersonal skills and your program will help you with just that. 

7. Research Skills

Research is going to be part of your job; depending on your specific role, research may be a smaller or bigger component. It may be to investigate cases, gain information, or prepare a report. For this, it is important to be well-versed in research. Your program will help you build those essential research skills through projects or hands-on experience.

8. Conflict Resolution

In criminal justice, there are going to be conflicts. But dealing with those conflicts effectively and resolving them is what matters. Through your criminal justice program, you will acquire skills in de-escalating conflicts and resolving disputes peacefully, contributing to a safer and more just society. 

9. Technical Skills

Criminal justice relies on technology in many ways. Depending on your focus, you will develop technical skills related to crime scene investigation, forensic analysis, or the use of technology in law enforcement. 

10. Adaptability

Your program will nurture your ability to adapt to new challenges, technologies, and legal developments. This will help you get ready for the dynamic nature of the criminal justice system.

These are just some of the many skills you can expect to pick up. By working on these skills and polishing them, you can lay the groundwork for a prosperous career. 

Earning an associate degree in criminal justice can open doors to various entry-level positions within the criminal justice field. While some roles may require additional training or experience, here are several potential careers you can pursue with an associate degree:

1. Police Officer or Sheriff’s Deputy:

With an associate degree, you may qualify for positions in local law enforcement agencies. Police officers and sheriff’s deputies play a crucial role in maintaining public safety, enforcing laws, and responding to emergencies. The median annual salary for this role is $69,160 per year.

2. Corrections Officer:

Corrections officers work in jails or prisons, overseeing the custody and security of inmates. They are responsible for maintaining order, enforcing facility rules, and ensuring the safety of both staff and inmates. The median annual pay for corrections officers is $49,610.

3. Security Officer:

Security officers work in various settings, including businesses, schools, and public spaces. They are responsible for monitoring and protecting property, preventing theft or vandalism, and responding to security incidents. This role has a median annual pay of $34,770.

4. Probation Officer or Correctional Treatment Specialist:

Probation officers work with individuals who have been placed on probation, monitoring their behavior and helping them reintegrate into society. Correctional treatment specialists assess the needs of individuals in the criminal justice system and develop rehabilitation plans. While the typical educational requirement is a bachelor’s, some places hire individuals with an associate degree as well. These professionals make a median annual wage of $59,860.

5. Private Investigator or Detective:

Private investigators and detectives conduct investigations for private clients or organizations. They gather evidence, interview witnesses, and analyze information to solve cases. The median annual wage for these professionals is $52,120.

6. Crime Scene Technician:

Crime scene technicians, also known as forensic science technicians, collect and analyze physical evidence from crime scenes. They work in laboratories, assisting in solving crimes through the analysis of DNA, fingerprints, and other forensic evidence. While the typical educational requirement is a bachelor’s, some places hire individuals with an associate degree as well. Crime scene technicians make a median annual wage of $63,740.

7. Loss Prevention Specialist:

Loss prevention specialists work in retail or corporate settings to prevent theft and minimize losses. They use surveillance techniques, conduct investigations, and implement security measures to protect assets. The average salary for this role is $47,990 per year.

8. Court Clerk or Bailiff:

Court clerks assist with administrative tasks in courtrooms, such as managing documents, scheduling cases, and interacting with the public. The average annual salary for a courtroom clerk is $51,205. Bailiffs provide security in courtrooms and ensure the safety of judges, attorneys, and spectators. The median annual salary for a bailiff is $49,100.

9. Emergency Dispatcher:

Emergency dispatchers answer emergency calls, gather information, and coordinate responses from police, fire, and medical services. They play a crucial role in facilitating an effective emergency response. The median annual salary for emergency dispatchers is $46,900.

10. Animal Control Officer:

Animal control officers enforce laws related to the treatment and control of animals. They may respond to reports of animal abuse, handle stray animals, and educate the public on responsible pet ownership. The median annual salary for this role is $39,320.

There are some jobs, like emergency dispatcher or security, listed here that may not necessarily mandate an associate degree in criminal justice but pursuing this degree gives you a competitive advantage over other candidates and puts you forward as a strong candidate.

Bear in mind that career advancement in some roles may require additional education, training, or experience. Also, some agencies or organizations may have specific requirements for hiring. You can try pursuing internships or volunteer opportunities to gain practical experience and, most importantly, figure out what kind of work you enjoy.

Related: Law Enforcement Jobs With A Criminal Justice Degree

There are many respected universities that are offering associate degree programs in criminal justice that are 100% online. Their accreditation ensures that there won’t be any compromise on quality. Your online degree will match the intensity of the on-campus degree and your degree certificate won’t have any mention of ‘online’ anywhere.

Now, knowing that online education is on par with on-campus education, the decision is up to you. What do you prefer? Online, you can learn at your own pace, in your own space, and even at a cheaper cost because you’re saving on accommodation and travel costs. Sure, your learning will require dedication from your end and your interactions will be via a screen. But if that is no problem for you, then you’re good to go.

On campus, you will get to experience the talked-about ‘college life’ be a part of clubs, and participate in events. Your class times will be structured and you can interact with your peers and build a good social network. This option may seem more expensive and a little demanding on your schedule but if you’re all for it, go ahead!

Both options are great, and you can feel free to choose whatever seems more appealing to you as per your life, requirements, and goals. 

You can choose to build on your associate degree with a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree can give you the opportunity to study at a deeper level. With a bachelor’s degree, you can even choose to specialize in a field of your choice and align your career with your interests, be it in law enforcement, corrections, legal services, or another specialized area. Either way, you will have a wide range of careers to choose from and you can expect to have a higher position and a higher salary. Studying further will not only take your career to the next level but it can also prove personally rewarding as you learn and grow.

To quickly sum up, an associate degree in criminal justice is an excellent choice for many reasons. Not only can you join the workforce faster but you also have a range of careers to choose from. The knowledge and many skills you will pick up in your degree program will position you as a great fit for many roles across the criminal justice field. 

If you have a passion for law and you find criminal justice intriguing, then explore more about this career through research and also consider taking up internships or shadowing professionals in this field to get a clear idea of what you’re in for. Your journey in criminal justice will be exciting and rewarding. 

Is an associate degree in criminal justice good?

Yes! Pursuing an associate degree in criminal justice is certainly worth it, and it is a good option for those aiming to enter law enforcement swiftly. This degree offers foundational knowledge in the field and qualifies individuals for various entry-level positions. However, its value depends on career goals; for higher-ranking roles, additional education may be necessary.

What are the challenges of getting an associate degree in criminal justice?

Challenges include limited specialization options, competition in the job market, potential salary constraints, and the evolving nature of industry requirements. Careful consideration of long-term career objectives is advised, and pursuing further education may be beneficial for those seeking advancement and specialization within the criminal justice field.