Should You Earn a Criminal Justice Degree?

Criminal Justice symbol commonly associated with criminal justice degree

The three major branches of the criminal justice system are made up of law enforcement agencies, the court system and corrections organizations.

Law enforcement agencies are on the front lines, working to respond to emergencies and keep communities safe. The court system convicts or acquits defendants and sees that justice is carried out. The corrections branch can be thought of as an administrative branch as 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 these branches.

What Is a Criminal Justice Degree?

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.

Undergraduate Degree

A criminal justice degree can serve as an excellent starting point for specializing in a law field. While it is possible to enter the criminal justice field with an undergraduate degree, you may desire to further your career by earning an advanced degree.

Graduate 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 or a court official. A master’s degree can help professionals advance to positions of greater responsibilities and better benefits. 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 you are applying to practice law.* It is always important to research the requirements you need to progress in your career, though a master's degree will always be valuable.

What Do You Study During a Criminal Justice Degree Program?

A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice studies covers a broad framework of knowledge and skills that will be useful regardless of which 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 help to make you a reliable 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, best practices in consulting and legal research. 

Types of Careers in Criminal Justice

There is a wide range of career possibilities that students with a criminal justice degree 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:

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 the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, click on the Request Info button on this page.


*Retrieved from: Harvard Law School, Taking the Bar Exam, in June 2021 

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.

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