Is a Degree in Criminal Justice Worth It?

Young law enforcement officer

If you’re wondering, Is a degree in criminal justice worth it? it’s helpful to understand the potential impact of your future career. You may end up working on the front lines in law enforcement, responding to emergencies and keeping communities safe. Alternatively, working in the court system allows you to see that justice is carried out. Another possibility is a career in the corrections branch, which is vitally important because it implements the orders of the court system, such as carrying out prison sentences.

If you earn a degree in criminal justice studies, you may be qualified to pursue a career in one of the branches of the justice system. The criminal justice system comprises three main branches with many different arms. The three major branches are law enforcement, the court system and corrections organizations. The professionals within these branches of criminal justice have made it their life’s work to protect their communities and respond to threats.

In This Article:

Criminal Justice Degrees Basics: Is a Degree in Criminal Justice Worth It?

A criminal justice degree focuses on a variety of disciplines within the field. Courses include subjects such as criminal behavior, ethics in criminal justice and crime prevention. Depending on your emphasis, you may take classes aimed at advancing your career into a specific line of work.

You have options regarding the kinds of degrees you can pursue in this area. The undergraduate program that typically takes the least amount of time to earn is an associate degree. Although an associate degree program will teach you the fundamentals of the criminal justice system and the professional roles within it, you’ll only have two years to work through this program — which simply isn’t enough time to take an in-depth look at the subject.

A baccalaureate criminal justice degree can serve as an excellent starting point for specializing in one of the three branches of criminal justice. For example, you may decide to apply to a police academy after earning a bachelor’s in criminal justice degree.

Earning a master’s degree can equip you with the knowledge and skills you need gain a competitive edge and advance in your career. By furthering your education in criminal justice, you can learn more about important subjects like constitutional rights under the law, including due process, equal protection and freedom of speech and religion.

Strengthen Your Criminal Justice Interests With Valuable Skills

Your courses will teach you valuable skills in the areas of:

  • Criminal behavior analysis: Understanding psychology and behavior can help you as you pursue a career in the criminal justice field. Learning how to understand this method of research is extremely beneficial.
  • Organizational behavior and leadership: If you want to take on a leadership role in your future career, a master’s degree can help you understand what it takes to be successful in a leadership role, as well as what behaviors you can apply in your field to set you apart.
  • Law and public policy: In order to be successful in criminal justice, you need to understand laws and policies. With this skill, you will be better equipped to administer justice in your career.
  • Research methods: Research skills can be used in a wide range of careers, but the courses in this program develop research and analysis skills that are particularly applicable for criminal justice.
  • Ethics and decision-making: Ethical thinking is critical in the law enforcement and criminal justice fields because these professionals work with the general public, who represent many different backgrounds and beliefs.

Not only can this knowledge benefit you personally, but your expertise can also equip you to foster a healthy community and preserve a sense of safety and security, which is important in today’s world.

If you have the desire to go to law school, enrolling in a criminal justice program can put you on the right track. In your coursework, you will learn essential information that will help you succeed as a law school applicant. The knowledge you will gain about legal issues, law enforcement management, criminal activity and prevention and conflict resolution can give you a competitive edge as you apply for law school and in careers beyond.

Criminal Justice Prepares You for A Career In Law

As an alternative to earning a master’s degree in criminal justice (or after earning a master’s degree), graduates with a BS in Justice Studies may decide to go on to law school so they can pursue a career working in the court system as a lawyer, paralegal or a court official. Depending on what type of job you are pursuing, you may need to earn more than just a degree.

For example, people wanting to become lawyers need to pass a state’s written bar examination to practice. Admission to the bar is usually conducted through the Board of Bar Examiners in the state where you are applying to practice law.1 It is always important to research the requirements you need to progress in your chosen career path.

What Do You Study in Criminal Justice?

The criminal justice courses you’ll take during your undergraduate program cover a broad framework of knowledge and skills that will be useful in any career path you wish to pursue. These core competencies typically include the following:

  • Civil and criminal law
  • Case management and justice technology
  • Public safety practices and threat assessment
  • Organizational psychology applied to justice organizations
  • Professional responsibility in criminal justice fields

A criminal justice curriculum offers students a wide range of knowledge in all major branches of the criminal justice system. In addition, students will continuously refine their communication skills, learn how to become effective servant leaders and understand ethical decision-making. These skills can apply to any job and will help make you a dependable, valued member of a legal firm or court.

A master’s degree in the criminal justice field will have a narrower focus than a bachelor’s degree, depending on the student’s preferred specialization. For instance, criminal justice master’s degree students may choose to focus on legal studies or law enforcement.

Students who earn a specialization in law enforcement will work through a curriculum that focuses on crime prevention, criminal behavior, crime analysis and the intersection of law and public policy. Students who earn a specialization in legal studies will explore topics like legal communication, legal research and best practices in consulting.

Types of Careers in Criminal Justice

There is a wide range of career possibilities that students with a focus in criminal justice may pursue, depending on the general or specialized content in the degree program. Some of these career fields may require a master’s degree or additional education and training.

To become an attorney, for example, you will need to complete law school and pass the bar exam. To become a police officer, you will need to complete the training academy for the jurisdiction in which you wish to work. Some examples include the following:

  • Probation officer: Probation officers work with offenders during their probation period. They attempt to help the offenders they supervise make progress toward successful lives after probation. Other tasks that probation officers complete may include filling out reports, evaluating treatment options and investigating backgrounds.
  • Police officer: Police officers work for local and state law enforcement agencies. They are responsible for responding to emergencies, patrolling an assigned area, conducting investigations and testifying during court cases.
  • Private investigator: Private investigators have a variety of duties, depending on the case they are working on. They may conduct interviews, conduct research and carry out surveillance while they search for information on their case.
  • Corrections officer: Corrections officers work within prisons and jails to make sure rules are being followed and conditions are safe. Because corrections officers work so closely with inmates, this career can be dangerous at times. Some tasks that corrections officers may perform include supervising activities, conducting inspections and writing reports.
  • Law clerk: Law clerks aid judges and provide information that can help the judge come to a conclusion about a case. Law clerks often come from different levels of experience after law school.
  • Criminal justice and law enforcement teacher: Teachers with a master's degree are needed at universities, colleges and government agencies to help train the next generation of law enforcers.
  • Law librarian: Law librarians specialize in helping legal professionals find information. Law librarians work in an assortment of settings, from universities to law firms. On top of the normal responsibilities of a librarian, these professionals also conduct legal research.
  • Lawyer: Lawyers typically work with criminal and/or civil law. Depending on their area of interest, they may work at a law firm, government agency, private company or nonprofit, supporting a variety of clients.
  • Paralegal: Paralegals work with attorneys to assist them through research, administrative work, interviews and documentation.
  • Compliance officer: The main job of a compliance officer is to make sure that laws, regulations and rules are being followed. This work can take different forms, depending on the company or organization that the compliance officer is working for. Some tasks that a compliance officer may perform include reducing risks, training employees and observing or reviewing practices within a business or organization.

Getting Started in Criminal Justice at GCU

Prepare for a rewarding career in the criminal justice field by enrolling as an undergraduate in Grand Canyon University’s Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies degree program. If you already hold an undergraduate degree, consider applying to the Master of Science in Criminal Justice with an Emphasis in Law Enforcement degree or the Master of Science in Criminal Justice with an Emphasis in Legal Studies program. For the working professional, these programs are offered online as an alternative to weekly evening courses. To learn more about these programs and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, fill out the form on this page.


1Harvard Law School. (n.d.). Taking the Bar Exam. Harvard. Retrieved March 15, 2023

Approved by the justice studies department chair of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences on April 25, 2023.

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.