Earning an associate degree in criminal justice (CJ) gives students foundational knowledge and skills in diverse areas, such as homeland security, law enforcement, and firefighting. Graduates can work in roles such as paralegal, parole officer, and forensic science technician. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for forensic science technicians to grow 14% from 2018-2028.
In addition to entry-level criminal justice roles, criminal justice associate degree programs prepare students for advanced study in areas such as criminology, law, criminal psychology, and forensics. Check out our ranking of the top online associate’s in criminal justice programs.
Featured Online Programs
Explore program formats, transfer requirements, financial aid packages, and more by contacting the schools below.
Criminal Justice Associate Programs
Criminal justice associate degree programs typically entail 60-68 credits and require two years of full-time attendance to complete. However, many online programs allow self-paced degree completion, tailored to busy adult students.
In addition to general education courses, students take courses on essential CJ topics including criminal law, law enforcement, and community relations. Some programs allow students to choose a concentration, such as law enforcement, corrections, or forensics. Many programs include internships that enable real-world learning.
According to PayScale data, graduates of CJ associate programs average about $14.50 per hour, but pay varies heavily by position, employer, and other credentials, such as work experience.
Associate Degree in Criminal Justice Courses
Exploring the origins and patterns of crime, this course provides an overview of major schools of thought in modern criminology theory. Students also critically analyze cultural representations of and responses to crime, criminals, and crime victims. The course includes discussions of the origins and uses of crime statistics.
QUANTITATIVE METHODS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE
This course examines the use of quantitative methods in studying crime causation. The class discusses the complex economic and social issues contributing to crime and examines data-collection and analysis methods used by criminologists.
CRITICAL ANALYSIS OF THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
Students critically examine current crime reduction and safety methods used by various criminal justice organizations and systems. Students also learn to research, critically evaluate, and write about criminal justice topics.
This course surveys the functions of the criminal justice system, exploring how law enforcement, courts, and corrections work in concert to lower crime rates and protect the public. The course examines principles and practices related to justice and punishment, including the importance of criminal defense and the burden of truth.
CRIMINAL JUSTICE ETHICS
This course familiarizes students with ethical codes followed by law enforcement professionals. Students learn ethical strategies for resolving conflicts and solving problems.
Associate Degree in Criminal Justice Career Outlook
Due to the criminal justice system’s scope and complexity, CJ graduates can choose from diverse career options. Graduates interested in law enforcement often become police officers or investigators, while individuals interested in emergency response may gravitate toward jobs as firefighters or emergency dispatchers. Meanwhile, the legal branch of the criminal justice system offers careers such as bailiff, court official, and legal assistant, while the corrections branch offers corrections officer jobs.
Cybersecurity and forensics, some of the fastest-growing fields in criminal justice, also boast career options. Scientifically minded students may pursue careers as forensic technicians, who enjoy projected career growth of 14% during the 2018-28 period. Tech-savvy CJ students may use their degrees to explore the growing field of cybersecurity. Keep in mind that the careers mentioned here may require additional credentials, work experience, or education.
What Jobs Can You Get With a Criminal Justice Associate Degree?
Graduates of criminal justice associate degree programs often qualify for entry-level careers in criminal justice, such as correctional officer, gaming surveillance officer, and firefighter. We outline several common careers and potential salaries for graduates below.
LEARN MORE ABOUT CAREERS IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE
Correctional Officer and Bailiff
Usually employed at jails and prisons, correctional officers (COs) oversee the transport and activity of arrested and/or incarcerated people. COs enforce rules, perform safety inspections, and follow designated procedures. Bailiffs, sometimes called marshals or court officers, work in courthouses to enforce order and deliver important documents. This career guide contains additional information on how to become a bailiff.
Median Annual Salary: $44,400
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): -7%
Security Guard and Gaming Surveillance Officer
Tasked with identifying and intervening in rule-breaking and illegal activity, security guards and gaming surveillance officers keep watch over an area by means of patrol and/or video surveillance. Security guards usually perform security checks to ensure that no trespassers, vandals, thieves, or otherwise destructive individuals enter an area. When necessary, security guards also assist in emergencies, remove or detain rule violators, and report incidents. This guide offers additional information on security guard careers
Gaming surveillance officers watch gamblers at casinos, ensuring that players obey casino rules and play fair. Surveillance officers typically use audio and video surveillance equipment to monitor multiple areas.
Median Annual Salary: $28,530
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 4%
Private Detective and Investigator
Private detectives and investigators collect information to help solve crimes, document dishonest activity, or find missing persons. Lacking any special legal authority, private detectives and investigators must conduct their investigations without breaking any laws themselves.
These professionals often watch, photograph, and follow persons of interest, recording evidence of incriminating behavior. Detectives and investigators may also conduct various kinds of research, such as interviewing relevant persons. This guide includes information on how to become a private detective.
Median Annual Salary: $50,090
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 8%
Tasked with protecting public safety through firefighting and medical emergency response, firefighters actively prevent or lessen the destruction of people, property, and the environment by fire and other dangers. Firefighters fill out incident reports, maintain emergency vehicles and equipment, and hone skills and strength for firefighting.
Firefighters may specialize in areas such as hazardous materials clean-up, wildlands firefighting, or arson and fire investigation. Firefighters also participate in community education programming related to fire safety.
Median Annual Salary: $49,620
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 5%
Police and Detective
These professionals work to prevent and solve various crimes against people and property. Police officers patrol assigned areas, respond to emergencies, and enforce traffic laws. Other duties may include arresting, handcuffing, and transporting suspects in police vehicles. This career guide provides guidance on how to become a police officer. Like police officers, detectives may perform surveillance, collect crime scene evidence, and appear in court when necessary.
Median Annual Salary: $63,380
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 5%
Frequently Asked Questions
How many credits are required for an associate degree in criminal justice?
Associate degrees in criminal justice typically require 60-68 credits of general education, criminal justice, and elective courses. Learners study topics such as criminal investigations, criminal law, and law enforcement ethics.
What can I do with an associate degree in criminal justice?
Many graduates of CJ associate degree programs pursue bachelor’s programs in related fields. However, when combined with requisite preliminary or on-the-job training, an associate degree in criminal justice can also qualify graduates for entry-level positions in fields such as law, law enforcement, information security, and emergency response. Some associate degree programs offer concentrations tailored to particular CJ career paths.
How long does it take to earn an associate degree in criminal justice?
Like most associate degrees, an associate of criminal justice takes about two years of full-time attendance to complete. However, some programs allow students to graduate faster, while part-time attendance lengthens the time to completion.
What are the highest-paying jobs for graduates with an associate in criminal justice?
Salaries depend on position, employer, and work experience. Paralegals average $48,179 annually, according to PayScale. Case managers make an average annual salary of $40,279, though top earners in this field make over $70,000 annually. Security supervisors make an average hourly wage of $15.16.
What is the difference between an associate of arts and associate of science in criminal justice?
An associate of arts (AA) degree focuses more on humanities topics, while an associate of science (AS) degree emphasizes math and science topics. Both degrees prepare students to transfer to a bachelor’s program. However, students interested in scientific, technical careers or advanced study of criminal justice, criminal psychology, or criminology often opt for the AS, which allows for greater specialization and requires more 200-level courses.