Criminal Justice & Legal Degree Rankings

Criminal Justice and Legal Degree Rankings


Admission Requirements

Criminal Justice degrees prepare graduates to enter into an occupation in the vast criminal justice system. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 3.5 million people employed in the criminal justice field. For individuals interested in earning a criminal justice degree, we take a look at the admission requirements for bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. degrees.

Bachelor’s Degree
Admission for a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice requires acceptance into the university or college, followed by acceptance into the criminal justice department or school, which administers the degree. For general university admission, students should have a high school diploma or a GED. Other admission factors include:

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  • high school GPA
  • standardized test scores
  • admission essays
  • letters of recommendation

Once admitted to the institution, students will need a minimum GPA of 2.5 or higher. The more competitive the department, the higher the GPA needed to gain acceptance to the major. Additionally, students should have successfully passed at least one criminal justice course, such as an intro to criminal justice class.

Master’s Degree
Master’s degree admission to a criminal justice program varies according to the type of program and particular field of study. Technical programs such as cybersecurity and forensic technology generally require a bachelor’s degree in a related field and work experience. General or non-technical programs will require a bachelor’s degree (sometimes in a related field, but often not) and a 2.5 minimum GPA.

Programs that allow students from any academic background may require prerequisite courses such as:

  • intro to criminal justice
  • psychology
  • sociology
  • statistics

Any legitimate master’s program will require a statement of purpose and letters of recommendation. More competitive programs or institutions will require GRE test scores and higher GPA thresholds.

Doctoral Degree/Ph.D.
A doctoral degree in criminal justice is generally an applied degree designed for occupational advancement into the upper tiers of management. The admission standards require applicants to have two or more years of management experience in a criminal justice career along with:

  • a statement of purpose
  • letters of recommendation
  • a master’s or bachelor’s degree in a related field
  • a minimum GPA

Many doctoral programs will waive the GRE test score requirement.

A Ph.D. in a criminal justice field is designed for a career in academia conducting research and teaching college/university courses. These programs require GRE test scores and a bachelor’s degree. Students must also submit:

  • admission essays
  • letters of recommendation
  • writing samples

These programs are typically full-time and do not allow students to work full-time or attend classes part-time.


Air Marshal
Air marshals are law enforcement personnel who ride passenger airplanes to maintain safety against hostile acts. Their job is to observe and act in an undercover fashion. The program was started under the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) under the Department of Homeland Security. The position requires a bachelor’s degree as well as rigorous training once an applicant is hired. These professionals earn an average of $50,000 annually.

Blood Splatter Analyst
This profession is a specialty within the forensic science field. These individuals use their expertise to analyze blood patterns to assist law enforcement with understanding crime scenes. These professionals work for a variety of criminal justice organizations and agencies. A bachelor’s degree is required.

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Corrections Officer
Correctional officers oversee the prison population in local, state, and federal correctional facilities. Their main tasks are to enforce policies and rules dictated by the facility to maintain order in the facility. While the occupation does not require a college degree, many aspiring corrections officers find that earning a criminal justice degree gives them a competitive advantage during the application process as well as more upward mobility after entering the profession. The average salary is $44,400.

Cyber Security Analyst
These professionals bridge the world between information technology and criminal justice. They can work for a wide variety of organizations such as:

  • law enforcement agencies
  • private security firms
  • technology companies
  • corporations
  • the military, and more

Information needs protection in any sector, which bodes well for the employment of these individuals. A minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required. Cyber Security Analysts earn an average salary of $95,510 according to the BLS.

Emergency Management Directors
The job of an emergency management director is to coordinate services with multiple agencies in the event of a natural or man-made disaster. They also spend much of their time strategizing on how best to prevent these types of acts. Establishing protocol and policy includes communication with the public, various agencies, and the media as a part of the critical planning that is part of the job. These individuals will have a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a related field such as emergency management as well as years of experience in the field. The median salary is approximately $74,000.

FBI Agent
The media exposure in film and television makes this occupation one of the most coveted of all criminal justice careers. The Bureau is highly selective when it comes to candidates, which add to the prestige associated with this career. While media portrays agents engaged in thrilling, and often dangerous work, much of the real work entails patiently gathering data behind the scenes. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree.

Forensic Psychologist
These professionals assist with the psychological dynamics in legal cases. They provide expert opinion and testimony as well as behind-the-scenes information regarding the psychological motivations and context that drive behavior. Their education requires an in-depth understanding of psychology and law. They work for a variety of criminal justice agencies including:

  • government agencies
  • police departments
  • correctional facilities
  • private organizations

They may also be self-employed. Forensic psychologists earn an average salary of $79,010, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A doctorate is the preferred education level for this profession.

Forensic Science Technician
These criminal justice professionals collect and analyze evidence using scientific principles that assist law enforcement in solving crimes. In addition to collecting and protecting physical evidence, forensic science technicians use evidence to re-enact or re-create crimes that assist law enforcement. These professionals are paid an average salary of $58,230 per year and need at least a bachelor’s degree in forensic science to enter the field.

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Immigration, Customs, and Border Patrol Officer
Commonly known as “ICE” agents, these professionals are responsible for the prevention of illegal immigration and banned substances from entering the United States. ICE agents may focus on specific areas of enforcement such as:

  • immigration
  • customs
  • cybercrime
  • human trafficking, and more

They frequently work with government agencies such as:

  • the FBI
  • Homeland Security
  • the TSA

The minimum education is a bachelor’s degree and one year of graduate study, which may be waived for veterans with certain credentials.

These professionals perform support functions of attorneys and lawyers. They work for government agencies as well as private law practices. They generally specialize in specific areas of law such as:

  • family
  • personal injury
  • criminal, and more

Their duties include:

  • preparing for trials
  • preparing for hearings
  • preparing legal documents
  • conducting legal research
  • interfacing with clients

The paralegal profession requires at least an associate degree with a bachelor’s degree becoming more commonplace.

Degree Cost

Data clearly shows that an investment in a college degree is a wise choice leading to increased economic freedom and upward social mobility. A degree in a criminal or legal discipline is no different and has shown to improve the lifetime earnings and overall quality of life for degree earners.

The average criminal justice bachelor’s degree ranges from approximately $10,500 to more than $40,000. These figures reflect tuition, textbooks, and fees only. Not included are living expenses such as:

  • lodging,
  • food
  • transportation

lThe wide range in cost is reflected in the diverse delivery and structure of programs that vary by institution. Online or in-person programs offered to in-state residents by state institutions often reflect the lowest costs, along with non-profit institutions that provide online instruction. Private schools are typically more costly on paper but can often provide more financial aid due to large financial aid coffers.

Master’s degrees are generally more costly, ranging from $30,000 to $120,000. Criminal justice graduate programs generally fall within this range. Free monies such as financial aid grants and scholarships are less common so it is critical for individuals to try and minimize student debt through workplace reimbursement or scholarships.

The nominal cost for a Ph.D. degree in criminal justice is between $18,000 and $25,000 per year. The average time to complete a Ph.D. is eight years, which means a Ph.D. can cost $200,000. These costs reflect more traditional academic programs that prepare students for careers in academia. Most of these programs waive tuition and fees for their students and provide a small monthly stipend. In essence, the institution pays the student to earn the degree. Doctorate degrees are more career-focused and take fewer years to complete and do not typically waive fees or provide stipends.

Degree Levels

Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice
A bachelor’s degree in a criminal justice or legal discipline takes at least four years to complete. The degree focuses on knowledge and skill acquisition and prepares graduates for entry-level occupations with the opportunity to advance.

Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice
A master’s degree focuses more narrowly on a particular field of criminal justice such as:

  • forensics
  • psychology
  • cybersecurity, etc.

Students engage in more rigorous coursework and often learn how to conduct research using valid methodologies. A master’s degree opens doors for upward career mobility into management. The degree can take anywhere from 1-3 years to complete.

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Ph.D./Doctorate in Criminal Justice
A Ph.D. in a criminal justice discipline prepares the graduate for a career as a researcher or professor. A doctorate is a career-based program designed to prepare existing criminal justice professionals for top positions.

Earnings & Pay

The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates there are 3.5 million individuals employed in criminal justice-related occupations. The median salary is just shy of $50,000. The highest sectors hiring these individuals include:

  • local government
  • investigation and security services
  • state government

Graduate School

Graduate school includes the obtainment of a master’s and/or a Ph.D/doctorate. In the criminal justice field, these degrees are often career-focused and prepare graduates to assume more critical duties, including:

  • budget management
  • human capital management
  • strategic decision-making

The focus of inquiry narrows as students choose a specific area of criminal justice, related to their interests and career aspirations. Specialties graduate students can choose nclude:

  • forensic science
  • forensic accounting
  • law and terrorism
  • emergency management

Job Outlook

The job outlook varies greatly according to the type of criminal justice career. For example, occupations including substance abuse and behavioral counselors who work with offenders are expected to grow by 22%. This is compared to police and detectives, which are expected to grow just 4% during that same time-frame (2014-2024). Jobs that focus on rehabilitation and mitigation, rather than law enforcement, are expected to grow much more rapidly.

Possible Majors

Criminal and legal majors are nearly innumerable due to the extensive scope of possible careers. Below we focus on the fastest-rising majors according to future employment growth and annual salary levels. For context, the fastest-rising occupations include those that focus on crime prevention, rather than enforcement. In addition, science-based occupations are all expected to experience above-average growth. These iclude:

  • forensic science
  • cybercrime analysis
  • forensic accounting

Forensic Science
This science-heavy major focuses on coursework in the physical and biological sciences such as:

  • entomology
  • pathology
  • biomedicine

In addition, students take coursework in social sciences such as:

  • sociology
  • psychology
  • anthropology

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A student majoring in criminology will study both the biological and social reasons that drive crime and criminality. The students receive a broad education that covers:

  • the natural sciences
  • social sciences
  • public policy
  • politics

Computer Forensics
This major is often administered in an institution’s information technology or computer science program. Students should choose programs accredited by a legitimate organization such as the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology. Students should expect heavy coursework in mathematics and computer science.

Human Services (Substance abuse and behavioral counseling)
This major is typically delivered at the master’s or Ph.D. levels. Coursework focuses on all aspects of addiction as well as the consequences it causes. Coursework includes:

  • foundations of addiction
  • social psychology
  • criminal justice systems
  • drug types.