Associates Degrees in Criminal Justice

An associate’s degree in criminal justice is a two to three year program that introduces students to the main components of criminal justice such as its history, organization and current role in society. There are many courses about the U.S. Court System, criminology, corrections, criminal investigations and police systems and practices.

Consider online Criminal Justice programs currently accepting applicants:

Most agencies require someone to graduate from police academy in addition to their degree in order to qualify for a position. At the police academy, students study civil rights and law ordinances, as well as learn police protocol and technical procedures like emergency response and firearms training.

Most who earn an Associate of Science in Criminal Justice will be able to go to the police academy and be able to apply to become an officer or detective. The median annual salary for a police officer and detective according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics was $59,560 as of May 2014.

An associate degree in criminal justice is the first of several available to students who want to study the subject. It’s a two to three year program completed at an undergraduate university that typically prepares students who wish to enter the police academy or similar entry-level position in law enforcement.

Why Choose an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice?

If you wish to become an officer, you may have found that many police academies now list at least an associate degree in criminal justice as an admissions requirement. You may also want to attend college first and have the knowledge and skills a degree provides you with before you apply to a police academy.

If you aren’t interested in being an officer but instead want to pursue other entry-level positions in criminal justice, an associate’s degree will enable you to jump start your career while being able to seamlessly transition into a bachelor’s program later down the line.

Associate Degrees: Educational Requirements

Associate degrees in Criminal Science are offered at community colleges and universities, both in a classroom setting and online. As it is an undergraduate degree, the education requirements to begin studying are the same for a bachelor’s. You must have successfully graduated from high school and received a diploma or the academic equivalent such as a GED.

Depending on the school you are applying to, additional documentation may be required, but in general, associate degree applicants usually need to provide high school transcripts and ACT/SAT scores.

Core Curriculum

An Associate of Art or Science in Criminal Justice program introduces students to the fundamentals of the criminal justice system through studies of criminology, the American legal system’s structure and operations and how to work with offenders and handle crime and prisoners humanely.

The main objective of an associate in criminal justice program is to prepare students for a future working directly with criminals and prisoners, either as an active-duty police officer or in a corrections facility.

Some of the classes that are included as part of the core curriculum for associate degrees in criminal justice include:

  • Introduction to the Criminal Justice System
  • Criminal Investigation
  • Criminal Procedure
  • Policing and Corrections
  • Constitutional Law
  • Courses in humanities studies
  • Courses in forensic science
  • Courses in legal research

The United States has a strong need for dedicated and well-educated criminal justice professionals, and this need has given rise to the establishment of some of the best criminal justice degree programs that will not just prepare students for a life upholding crime, but also provide them with the background and academic discipline they will need to excel in future educational and professional endeavors. The following are some of the top criminal justice associate degree programs in the United States, a mixture of both on and off-campus accredited universities.

School Spotlight: Associate Degrees in Criminal Justice

Kaplan University

Kaplan University offers an Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice degree on three of its campus locations: Iowa, Maine and Maryland. The program strives to “provide you with a sense of value and commitment to your community” and includes the major criminal justice courses that you need to understand the field, as well as other courses such as composition classes to help you develop your research and professional skills, which are extremely important in the career branches for associate degree graduates.

There are also 35 open elective credits included in the program, which will allow you to enrich your academic career through a subject of your choosing. You could even opt to take electives that will help you in your future career, such as psychology.

ITT Technical Institute

Both of ITT Tech’s Pennsylvania campuses allow students to study for an associate degree in criminal justice or paralegal studies. The School of Criminal Justice at ITT pays close attention to a balance of knowledge and criminal justice theory and the interpersonal communication and investigative research skills that are necessary to succeed in the work force. Certain technical skills are also implemented into the curriculum that will assist in the forensic research aspects of future careers.

Florida Tech Online

Students looking for an online program can check out Florida Tech’s unique 20-month associate’s of criminal justice program that is intended for students who want to enter the police academy post-graduation or pursue careers such as court administrators, private security officers, crime scene investigators or probation officers.

The criminal justice program at Florida Tech emphasizes the practical application of computer skills alongside statistical analysis, crime and legal research, critical thinking and computer solving. This is the type of program that gives you the skills that will be most needed and sought after in the job market, and enable you to transition easily from school to work. There are also plenty of criminal justice and constitutional law courses throughout the duration of the program that give a well-rounded education as well as prepare students who wish to continue their education an edge in bachelor’s of criminal justice degree programs.

Liberty University

Liberty is a well-respected online university that merges today’s modern teaching techniques with core Christian values into all of their programs. There are over a dozen criminal justice degrees offered, including an Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice and another in Paralegal Studies.

There is a mixture of courses that introduce both essential knowledge and encourage the development of technical skills to give students the academic background they’ll need to find and succeed in the work force. Students will also learn about leadership and managerial skills, which equips them with the necessities they’ll need to be eligible for future promotion opportunities and certifications.

The Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice at Liberty University requires a total of 60 credit hours for graduation, and a minimum of 15 must be taken through Liberty if you plan on transferring from a different school. A variety of criminal justice fields such as administration, law enforcement, probation and parole and social services among others can be pursued with an associate’s degree from Liberty.

Top Careers for Associate Degrees in Criminal Justice

There are plenty of careers that you can choose from if you decide to study criminal justice, and many associate degrees will prepare you for entry-level positions. You’ll be able to work and gain valuable professional experience in a field you love, while simultaneously being able to continue your education and work your way through a bachelor’s program, which can open the door for major advancement opportunities.

These associate level criminal justice careers are all valid options to consider if you have a love for the legal system and a strong desire to help others and serve your community.

Depending on the field you choose to enter post-graduation, your employer will vary. The majority of criminal justice degree holders go on to work for federal or local government law enforcement agencies, but there are other positions that allow them to be privately employed and work in schools, corporations or office settings.

Police Officer

This is the most popular choice among graduates with associate degrees in criminal justice. The education requirements to become an officer vary by agency, but more and more are beginning to acknowledge the importance of higher education and requiring police academy applicants to hold at least an associate’s degree.

Criminal justice is a broad field, and not all of it is covered in the training that one receives at the police academy, which focuses on civil rights, constitutional law and policing techniques. With an associate degree in criminal justice, you’ll be getting the best of both worlds, as you’ll have a college degree that can provide you with other professional opportunities, as well as the police training to back you up on the job.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median annual salary for police officers to be $56,980 as of 2012. Those with additional education, military background and who speak more than one language will find the best job opportunities in the coming years.


A paralegal serves as an assistant attorneys in prepping for trials and hearings. A paralegal prepares drafts of legal documents, investigates the details of a person’s testimony and may also serve as a research assistant to discover laws that are pertinent to specific cases and can assist during trial.

Paralegals who earn an associate degree in criminal justice usually supplement this with an internship, which can lead to them securing permanent positions in law offices, non-profit organizations and other government agencies. Many corporations have also begun hiring full-time paralegals as consultants for their legal division.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the salary for a paralegal was $46,990 as of 2012. The job is also projected to grow 6 percent faster than the national average between 2012 and 2022 at 17 percent.

Fire Inspector or Investigator

The criminal justice system is highly linked, and fire inspectors and investigators play an important role in a fire. A fire inspector’s job focuses more on prevention, as they travel among businesses and other establishments and check that organizations and individuals are in compliance with state and federal fire codes.

Fire investigators, on the other hand, work to uncover the cause behind fires that have already occurred. They collect evidence at the scene and analyze it in a lab to determine a fire’s origin. This can be incredibly important in many cases where arson is suspected. A fire investigator also documents the scene, maintains detailed records and evidence for legal trials and may appear in a court room to testify their findings. Some fire investigators are also hired privately by businesses to rule out arson and validate claims for insurance companies.

The BLS reported the annual median income for a fire investigator or inspector to be $53,990 as of 2012. Although the job outlook was projected slightly below the national average (6 percent vs. 11 percent), the career is still one that is obtainable and provides an interesting combination of criminal justice and fire safety.

Private Detective or Investigator

Private detectives and investigators work to collect, arrange and analyze evidence for legal, financial and personal matters. They may work with police in finding missing persons, investigate claims for insurance companies, work for corporations or even be self-employed. A 2012 study found that 1 in 5 private investigators were working as their own boss.

The vast majority of states require private detectives and investigators to have a license, and it helps to have previous experience in law enforcement. Strong competition can be expected for jobs, and the job growth was projected to match the national average of 11 percent from 2012 to 2022. The median annual salary for a private investigator was $43,990 as of 2012, according to the BLS.