The fields of criminal justice and law are closely related and filled with many career opportunities for those interested in shaping, enforcing, or arguing the law.
A criminal justice degree can lead to a career in law enforcement, corrections, advocacy, or politics, among other fields. Criminal justice programs can also help aspiring lawyers lay a foundation before pursuing a law degree.
Students interested in criminal psychology, victimology, ethics, and American courts and penitentiary systems flock to the subjects of criminal justice and law. This guide looks at the various career paths available to criminal justice professionals with various levels of education and experience.
What Kinds of Criminal Justice or Law Degrees Are There?
Criminal justice degrees have a wide range of applications in a variety of industries, and they lead to job opportunities at all levels of schooling. Each degree is distinct in its preparation for a certain job route, as indicated below, with higher progression and compensation opportunities for advanced education levels. Students interested in becoming judges, for example, must have at least a JD.
Associate Degree in Criminal Justice
Students can get the skills they need for entry-level positions in security, law enforcement, and correctional by earning an associate degree in criminal justice. The majority of two-year associate degrees include social science, criminal law, and the American judicial system as required courses.
Because many law enforcement occupations rely on on-the-job training rather than a college diploma, individuals with an associate’s degree and sufficient field experience may be overqualified for police and detective positions. Court clerk and security guard are two other options for associate degree graduates.
Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice
Criminal justice bachelor’s degrees build on the core skills obtained in an associate program and equip students for a wider range of professional options. Unlike associate degree students, bachelor’s degree students can specialize in criminal justice. Corrections, criminology, and homeland security are all common disciplines.
Communication, criminology theory, and criminal justice trends are all topics covered in a typical program. Schools may offer a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in criminal justice, with most programs lasting four years (or less, for accelerated online programs). Graduates can work as a parole officer, victim advocate, or prison officer, among other jobs.
What Is the Difference Between a BA and a BS in Criminal Justice?
While most colleges provide BS degrees in criminal justice, several also offer BA degrees. A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is usually a more focused, technical program than a bachelor’s degree in general. A BS program might cover topics like policing in the United States, the American penitentiary system, and criminal justice technology, while a BA program might cover criminology, white-collar crime, and juvenile delinquency.
Specializations provided as part of a BS or BA in criminal justice vary by degree type, with the BS offering more career-oriented concentrations and the BA offering more philosophically motivated focus areas, similar to courses. An internship or field experience may be required for either program. A final thesis is required for some BAs.
Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice
Existing law enforcement, criminal justice, and homeland security professionals can improve their employment and compensation prospects with a master’s degree in criminal justice. A master’s degree in criminal justice can also give learners with the qualifications they need to pursue careers in law or behavior management analyses, as well as becoming a professor.
The majority of criminal justice master’s degrees take two years to complete. Criminology, research methodologies, and criminal justice administration and ethics are all common courses in an MS in criminal justice program. Many programs offer advanced specializations in criminal analysis, federal law enforcement, cybercrime investigation, or behavior analysis, though the alternatives vary.
Master’s Degree in Law
Must be obtained after a Doctor of Jurisprudence (JD) degree.
An LL.M. allows students to concentrate on a specific area of law for professional practice. Business and trade law, environmental law, human rights, taxation, and dispute resolution are all prevalent specializations. An LL.M. is a specialist curriculum available to lawyers who have completed their JD and passed the bar test. In their areas of competence, LL.M. graduates can broaden their professions to accommodate overseas customers.
Coursework in LL.M. degrees is often tailored to a student’s chosen concentrations. Some schools allow students to choose their own curriculum based only on their areas of interest. While the LL.M. is normally completed in two years, many institutions provide flexible completion choices, such as full- or part-time attendance. Others provide online programs that are more intensive.
Though career paths vary depending on the specializations of each student, LL.M. graduates may work in industries including transnational law, global securities, or international arbitration.
Doctoral Degree in Criminal Justice
A PhD in criminal justice qualifies students for high-level research and leadership positions in the fields of criminology, science, and education. Students who earn a doctorate in criminal justice, for example, are prepared for academic research and teaching jobs through coursework in criminal justice management, theory and enhancement of criminal justice practices, and prisons crisis management.
While completion dates vary, many students can earn this Ph.D. in four years if they study full-time. Doctoral degrees in criminal justice, like most Ph.D.s, require a dissertation. Doctoral program graduates are frequently employed as criminal justice academics or public policy consultants.
Doctor of Jurisprudence
While there are post-graduate alternatives, the JD is typically regarded as an attorney’s final degree. The minimal academic requirement for lawyers to practice in the United States is a JD, and most lawyers get one before passing the bar exam and receiving their licenses.
A JD, as opposed to an LL.M., provides a general legal education. In many circumstances, applicants must have a JD in order to be admitted to an LL.M. program. The majority of JD programs last three years and include coursework on torts, judicial and civil procedures, as well as criminal, public, international, and commercial law.
Doctor of Juridical Science
Must be obtained after a Doctor of Jurisprudence (JD) degree.
The SJD is the highest level of legal education, and it is normally exclusively undertaken by aspiring legal scholars. Most prospective attorneys only pursue a JD, which allows them to practice law professionally; those who pursue an SJD often work as legal researchers or writers.
Law and humanity, American legal philosophy, and legal scholarship are all topics covered in a normal SJD program. Students must also deliver a series of colloquial presentations, pass an oral test, and write and defend an original dissertation. While curriculum lengths vary, most SJD programs span three to four years.
What Is the Difference Between an SJD and a Ph.D. in Law?
Law curricula for the SJD and Ph.D. are similar, and most large universities offer one or the other as their most advanced legal degree. In many situations, institutions only differentiate an SJD from a Ph.D. in law based on the name, as the programs provide many of the same sorts of courses and have similar graduation requirements. Harvard Law School, for example, offers an SJD, while Yale Law School offers a Ph.D. in law.
A minimum of three years of full-time study is required for most SJD and Ph.D. law schools. Through first-year coursework in legal scholarship, research methodology, and social science and humanities fields, both degrees investigate the philosophical study of law. Students must pass qualifying tests and teaching experiences, as well as present a dissertation, in order to receive the degree.
What Can You Do With a Criminal Justice or Law Degree
A criminal justice degree can lead to a variety of job opportunities. While prospective lawyers can take a traditional employment path by receiving a law degree, students can also pursue a higher degree, such as an SJD, in order to conduct academic study.
Paralegals, mediators, probation officers, police officers or detectives, politicians, and lobbyists are among options for students with a law or criminal justice degree. Careers in fields other than law and criminal justice, such as business, education, and counseling, include corporate lawyer, forensic psychologist, and correctional counselor.