How Long Does it Take to Complete a Degree in Criminal Justice?

Having a criminal justice degree timeline allows aspiring law enforcement officers to plot their career paths. When choosing from the assortment of degree programs available, students should consider their ultimate goals and their current resources. Depending on the program they select, students could earn a professional certificate in under one year or spend almost a decade completing their doctorate. Most will choose an option somewhere in the middle.

Criminal Justice Certificate Programs

Often offered by community colleges, certificate programs take a few months to a year to complete. Most have flexible schedules that allow students to maintain full-time employment while attending classes. They focus on a specific skill or area and offer limited opportunities for entry-level positions. For students with limited resources or adults looking to switch careers, certificate programs can be a get a start in a new field.

Criminal Justice Associates Degrees

Two-year associate degree programs are another option often found at community colleges. Intended to provide students with basic skills and some foundational knowledge, this type of program generally includes roughly 60 credits of coursework in law, crime theory and psychology. Some programs will award credit for work experience. Graduates have the option of seeking entry-level positions in law enforcement and security or continuing their education in a four-year program.

Criminal Justice Bachelor’s Degrees

Earning a bachelor’s degree typically requires four years of undergraduate study at a college or university. Most programs will require students to complete around 120 credits of coursework, which is comprised of both general education subjects and criminal justice topics. Classes will likely cover law, ethics, criminology, corrections, security and police administration. Students who have already earned associates degrees may be able to transfer the credits they earned in their previous degree programs, allowing them to earn bachelor’s degrees with two additional years of coursework. After earning a bachelor’s degree, employment options become more plentiful, making it easier to get the type of job desired. Many federal organizations require candidates to hold a bachelor’s degree to be considered for positions.

Criminal Justice Master’s Degrees

While some special programs make it possible to earn both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in five years, most master’s degree programs require that students already hold a bachelor’s degree. This graduate degree generally requires about 30 credits of advanced coursework in topics like federal law enforcement, criminal justice administration and police administration. With both full-time and part-time options available, this degree typically takes one to two years to complete and prepares participants for leadership roles within the criminal justice system.

Criminal Justice Doctoral Degrees

People who pursue doctoral degrees tend to have a distinct specialization within the field in mind. Credits required and lengths of program vary depending on the topic chosen, the program selected and the educational background of the student. After earning their doctorates, graduates can consider careers in higher education, research, public policy and consulting.

Law enforcement organizations have different eligibility requirements, explains Aspiring law enforcement officers should review the requirements of the agency that most interests them and consider the criminal justice degree timeline in order to map out the best path to the future they want.