Students in search of a career that would enable them to serve their community may wish to consider the criminal justice field. Criminal justice professionals are needed in every state and community to patrol the roads, ensure the security of the postal system and safeguard passengers in the skies. There are many career possibilities you can explore when you pursue a criminal justice degree.
As you begin to think about your career options, you will also need to decide exactly which type of degree is best suited to your ambitions. There are different types of justice-related degree programs, including degrees in criminal justice and the administration of justice. This career guide explores the similarities and differences between the administration of justice degree vs. criminal justice degree.
Administration of Justice vs. Criminal Justice Degree: What Is the Difference?
If you are passionate about protecting public safety by entering the justice field, you will need to choose between an administration of justice degree and a criminal justice degree. This choice raises an important question: What is the difference between these two similar-sounding areas of study?
There is indeed considerable overlap between these two degree programs. They both cover many of the same topics and teach many of the same skills. However, these two degrees are not quite the same thing.
An administration of justice degree program will explore the various branches, agencies and roles within the criminal justice system. Students will learn about such topics as the following:
- The roles and responsibilities of law enforcement agencies, the court system and the corrections system
- The principles and procedures of justice, or how the three branches of the criminal justice system establish ethical and effective procedures
- The philosophy and development of criminal law, with a look at the classifications of crime, case law and methodologies
- The complex relationship between the criminal justice branches and the multicultural communities they serve, with an emphasis on conflict resolution and professional ethics
The curriculum for a criminal justice degree will also typically cover these topics. However, a criminal justice degree places greater emphasis on the principles, procedures and methodologies of law enforcement. For example, criminal justice students may learn about the following topics:
- The differences between an arrest warrant and a search warrant
- The application of the Fourth Amendment when conducting lawful searches and seizures
- Constitutionality issues in interrogations, confessions and identifications
- Constitutional protections for defendants during trials and for inmates in correctional facilities
- The categories of corrections programs, with a look at reforms, challenges and rehabilitation
Criminal justice students will also study topics such as criminal behavior, victimology, threat assessment and professional ethics in policing.
Administration of Justice vs. Criminal Justice: Career Possibilities
In addition to the curriculum, another difference between administration of justice and criminal justice degree programs is the career options that may follow. An administration of justice degree is appropriate for students who are interested in administrative positions within the criminal justice field, or perhaps civilian administrative positions in the military. A criminal justice degree is better suited to students who would like to work in the field as law enforcement officials.
A student who decides to major in criminal justice is more likely to pursue careers that require an active presence in the field. For example, a criminal justice major may enroll in a police academy and become a police officer or corrections officer. Other possibilities include the following:1
- Law enforcement officer
- Air marshal
- Fraud investigator
- U.S. postal inspector
- Border patrol agent
- Private investigator
- Juvenile probation officer
Note that both an administration of justice and a criminal justice degree will teach a range of transferrable skills, including critical thinking, analytical reasoning and communication. These skills are valued by employers in many other industries, which introduces the possibility of transferring to a different type of career altogether.
Criminal Justice vs. Justice Studies Degree: What Is the Difference?
Some schools may offer justice studies degrees in addition to, or in lieu of, criminal justice degrees. These programs are not quite the same, although there is considerable overlap. A justice studies degree explores criminal justice through a social lens, whereas a criminal justice primarily focuses on the enforcement of laws.
If you opt to major in justice studies, you may have additional career options you could pursue. For example, you may decide to work toward becoming a social worker by earning a master’s degree in social work. However, a justice studies major could also opt to pursue a career in law enforcement, corrections or the court system.
How Long Does It Take To Earn a Criminal Justice Degree?
Like other bachelor’s degree programs, it typically takes four years of full-time study to earn a criminal justice degree. There is no difference in the timelines of administration of justice and criminal justice degree programs. Students who have transferrable credits, including Advanced Placement (AP) credits from college-level high school courses, may be able to obtain their degree sooner.
Degrees in the justice field do not require laboratory learning experiences. This means that universities are often able to offer these programs entirely online. Online classes allow for flexible scheduling and can help students to more easily balance school and part-time work commitments.
Should You Earn a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice?
After earning your bachelor’s degree, you may decide to immediately enter the workforce or to pursue a graduate degree. Alternatively, you could return to school later on to continue your education. But is a master’s degree in criminal justice worth it?
It all depends on your particular career goals. If you intend on becoming a police officer, then a bachelor’s degree — along with police academy training — is all you will need. However, earning a master’s degree may enable you to climb to the higher-level positions within a police precinct, such as the rank of lieutenant, captain or chief.
Similarly, students who aspire to work in corrections will need only a bachelor’s degree to get started. However, a master’s degree may qualify you to pursue supervisory roles, such as that of warden.
You may also become better qualified to pursue careers in federal law enforcement if you earn a master’s degree. For instance, you may qualify for a higher pay grade in federal agencies such as the FBI, DEA or Secret Service.
A master’s degree can also be helpful if you would like to pursue a more technical position. For instance, if you are passionate about cybersecurity investigations, you may need a master’s degree in cybersecurity. First, however, you may need to complete a bridge program to acquire foundational skills in computer science.
Grand Canyon University strives to provide an exceptional academic experience for every student. If you would like more information about GCU’s degree programs, including the Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies program, visit the College of Humanities and Social Sciences or click on the Request More Information button at the top of this page.
1Criminal Justice Degree School, What Can You Do With a Criminal Justice Degree? in February 2022.
2Indeed, Administration of Justice in February 2022.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.