Criminal justice is a large system which deals with the totality of the institutions and practices which work to ensure social control through the mitigation of crime. The term criminal justice is an umbrella term and there are a large number of career opportunities available to those who study criminal justice. If you’re interested in this field, but don’t want to pursue a Bachelor’s degree at this point, an Associate degree in criminal justice will give you the requisite knowledge and skills to begin working in the criminal justice system.

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The Criminal Justice System

The criminal justice system is designed to ensure that society is protected from rampant crime. Without agencies and processes to control the occurrences of crime, society would be in a constant state of disorder. The system, which is made of various agencies, institutions, and practices, aims to deter offenders from committing crimes and disrupting social order.

In order to meet this objective, the criminal justice system requires laws to spell out what constitutes unlawful behavior. Law enforcement agencies then enforce those laws and apprehend those who break the law.

The courts are also part of the criminal justice system. This institution is responsible for holding offenders accountable for their offences.

Perpetrators are then placed in correctional facilities. Corrections officers are needed to monitor those individuals who are in jail, prison, or out on probation or parole.

Why you should consider an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice

Why you should consider an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice

An associate degree in criminal justice can provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to enter the highly dynamic field of criminal justice. Here are a few other reasons why an associate degree in criminal justice is a good degree to pursue:

  • It enables you to increase your qualifications if you are currently working in an unrelated field
  • It is a good degree choice if you are considering pursuing a bachelor’s degree at some point down the road
  • It may increase your marketability and earning potential
  • It may open doors to a wide range of job opportunities

Entry Requirements

There are a number of different traditional universities and colleges that offer an associate degree in criminal justice. Online degree programs are also available for those individuals who have commitments or who are working professionals.

When applying for an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice, the following entry requirements need to be satisfied:

  • High school diploma or GED
  • Completed application
  • Personal statement explaining why you want to join this degree program
  • SAT scores (if requested)

It is also very important to carry out research into the schools you are applying to ensure that the school and your program are accredited.

The Curriculum

An associate degree in criminal justice typically takes 2 years to complete and is comprised of about 60 credit hours of coursework. The degree establishes the groundwork of how to navigate through the criminal justice system, examine evidence, write reports, etc.It is intended to prepare individuals for a variety of entry level positions in law enforcement and the criminal justice system.

There are two different types of associate degrees offered in this field:

Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice

This degree has a stronger focus on general education requirements with components of English, language and writing.

Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

This degree has a stronger focus on general education requirements which emphasizes on science, math, and humanities.

In addition to general education requirements, the typical courses that make up the curriculum include:

  • Criminal law
  • Criminology
  • Correctional systems
  • The victim and the justice system
  • Constitutional law
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Forensic science
  • Ethics
  • Criminal justice system
  • Sociology
  • Criminal procedures
  • Criminal investigations
  • Legal research
  • Evidence laws

Some associate degrees in criminal justice can also be taken with a concentration in a particular aspect of the criminal justice system. For instance, homeland security or cybercrime concentrations are available and may be taken.

Career Options

An associate degree in criminal justice can prepare individuals for a variety of different entry level positions within the criminal justice system. The most common examples of jobs available for students upon graduation include:

It is also worth remembering that you may also continue your education and improve your qualifications to access a variety of jobs, increase your earning potential, and seek out senior positions.

Employment Outlook and Salary

Employment options within the field of criminal justice are varied. It is also worth noting that due to the fact that the government always has need of law enforcement officials; the demand for those with a criminal justice degree generally remains pretty strong.

For instance, data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows us that job growth for police officers and detectives from 2020 to 2030 is expected to be 7%. This is faster than the average of other professions.

Salaries vary greatly within the field and are often influenced by factors such as experience, location, and type of job. Furthermore, since an associate degree in criminal justice opens doors to entry-level positions in the field, it is worth keeping in mind that starting salaries typically start out low and increase with time.

The median annual salaries for the following professions in 2020 according to BLS were:

OccupationAnnual Mean Salary (2020)Growth Rate (2020-30)
Detectives and Criminal Investigators$89,3002%
Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers$70,0007%
Transit and Railroad Police71,0009%
Fish and Game Wardens$57,8100%

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics


As you move up the ranks and with added experience and time spent on the job, there is the potential for higher wages.

An associate degree in criminal justice is a program which is highly suited to those individuals who are looking to enter the field of criminal justice. This dynamic, challenging, and rewarding field has many facets and components. To enable candidates to effectively tackle the challenges that face the criminal justice system, an associate degree in criminal justice provides students with all they need to understand the complexities of the system. An associate degree in criminal justice can give candidates the ability to apply to a wide variety of entry level positions within the field. It is also a good starting point if you intend to continue your education at some point in the future.