What are the Requirements to Graduate With a Criminal Justice Degree?

Liz Heintz

Written By: Liz Heintz

Published: 5/12/2022

It can feel daunting trying to figure out the admission and graduation requirements for criminal justice degrees. To help make it easier, we've broken these processes down so you can understand how earning your degree may look. From a program description and prerequisites to the courses you'll take and the skills you'll develop, we've fit the pieces of the puzzle together to help you set realistic expectations for yourself.

Find an Online Degree:
Find an Online Degree:

What Is a Criminal Justice Degree?

You can complete a degree for work in the criminal justice field at the undergraduate and graduate levels. An associate degree can be an introduction to criminal justice, the first step to an entry-level position, or a segue to more advanced education. A bachelor's degree can help prepare you for a career in law enforcement and public safety as a police officer, private security, corrections officer, bailiff, parole or probation officer, or in victim advocacy. A master's degree can help prepare you for a career in public administration, Homeland Security or other federal law enforcement agencies, criminal law, or advanced leadership roles within the justice system. In addition, you can specialize by selecting a concentration within each degree path to hone your skills to focus on a specific criminal justice career path.

Criminal Justice Degree Program Requirements

Each school and program has specific requirements to meet to successfully enroll in and graduate from a criminal justice degree program. If you can't meet these enrollment or degree requirements, it can cause delays in starting and finishing a program. Therefore, it helps to have everything dialed in to avoid any unnecessary delays.

Admission requirements may vary slightly from school to school. However, it can help to gather as much information as possible regarding your work and school history before starting the enrollment process to ensure you have everything you may need.

Degree Admission Requirements
Associate
  • A completed application
  • An application fee of approximately $50
  • A minimum 2.0 GPA
  • Any official high school, college, and military transcripts or GED scores
  • Standardized test scores, though many schools waive this requirement
Bachelor's
  • A completed application 
  • An application fee of approximately $50
  • A minimum 2.0 GPA
  • Approximately 24 transferable credit hours from letter-graded college courses or official high school transcripts or GED scores
  • Official college and military transcripts as applicable
  • A letter of intent 
  • Standardized test scores, though many schools waive this requirement
  • Prerequisite coursework that needs to be completed prior to enrollment or within the first one or two terms after enrollment
Master's
  • A completed application and fee of approximately $50
  • A bachelor's degree that can be in a different discipline, though it helps to have one in criminal justice or a related field
  • A minimum 3.0 GPA
  • Official college transcripts
  • Two to four letters of recommendation
  • A letter of intent 
  • A professional resume showing relevant work experience
  • Assessment test scores if required

Graduation requirements also differ between degree levels.

Degree Graduation Requirements
Associate
  • The completion of approximately 60 credit hours, which usually takes full-time students two years to complete
  • Total credit hours include approximately 40 in general education and 20 in major courses
  • A minimum 2.0 GPA with a minimum grade of C in all major courses
  • Demonstrated competency in reading, writing, and math
Bachelor's
  • The completion of approximately 120 credit hours, which usually takes full-time students four years to complete
  • Total credit hours include approximately 30 in core courses, 50 in major courses, and 40 in elective courses — a portion of these need to be upper-division courses at the 300 and 400 level
  • A minimum 2.0 GPA total with a minimum grade of C in all major courses
Master's
  • The completion of approximately 36 credit hours, which typically takes full-time students two years to complete
  • Total credit hours include approximately 24 in core classes and 12 in electives
  • A minimum 3.0 GPA in all courses
  • A capstone project or thesis demonstrating the development of skills and knowledge in criminal justice

Criminal Justice Classes

Criminal justice degree coursework supports industry expectations of what professionals need to succeed in their careers. While course titles may change across programs and schools, learning outcomes and goals are similar. Courses between associate, bachelor's, and master's programs also vary in complexity because graduate coursework prepares students for more advanced leadership roles within the criminal justice system.

Examples of Associate and Bachelor's Degree Criminal Justice Courses

Title Description
The Juvenile and the Law The intent of this class is to help students develop an understanding of how legal, political, and practice issues impact youth in the juvenile justice system. Students may analyze case studies, legal theory, and additional research.
Deprivation of Liberty Coursework explores the role mental health plays in due process of law, including pleas of insanity and other psychiatric defenses, the right to waive rights, and the application of the death penalty.
Organized Crime Lessons allow students to examine various forms of organized crime, from traditional groups to street gangs, and how they impact the global perspective.
Cultural Awareness Students examine how culture can impact and those working in the criminal justice system. They reflect on their own biases to gain a better perspective and understanding of how they may influence interpersonal behaviors.
Cyber Threats and Security Classroom discussion revolves around the many aspects of cybersecurity, its history, and what motivates these attacks.

Examples of Master's Degree Criminal Justice Courses

Title Description
Introduction to Justice Research This course provides the tools students need to conduct research on criminal justice topics, including developing research questions, formulating hypotheses, and identifying suitable materials and methods.
Capital Punishment Through coursework, students examine the pros and cons of executing those who commit serious crimes and the major theoretical, philosophical, and empirical areas of concern with this action.
The American Jury Instructors review how Americans participate in the judicial process through juries and how the legal system entrusts potentially life-changing decisions to them. Other topics include how politics, economics, and publicity may influence jury trials.
Deviant Behavior Lessons explore various deviant and criminal behaviors, what motivates and sustains them, how society responds to them, and how they may be brought under control.
Violence Across the Globe Studies include an overview of human-made tragedies and how global weaponization may influence widespread possibilities for armed violence. In addition, lessons explore violence from street gangs to genocide and the political/diplomatic history of violence.

Criminal Justice Specializations

When planning for your career, it can help to choose a concentration within a criminal justice degree program. A concentration is different from a minor because while a minor can be in any subject, a concentration is within the same discipline as the major. By choosing a concentration, you'll acquire job-specific knowledge and skills that can help you become a subject matter expert and more competitive in the job market. It usually takes approximately 15 credit hours to fulfill concentration requirements.

Common Criminal Justice Degree Concentrations

Degree Concentration
Associate
  • Corrections
  • Criminology
  • Forensic science
  • Homeland Security
  • Human Services and Advocacy
  • Security Management
  • Substance Abuse
Bachelor's
  • Crime Scene Investigation
  • Criminal Psychology
  • Digital Forensics
  • Forensic Mental Health
  • Maritime Law Enforcement
  • Organizational Leadership
  • Public Relations
Master's
  • Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging
  • Intelligence and Crime Analysis
  • Law and Justice
  • Public Policy and Administration
  • Terrorism and Counter-terrorism
  • The Supreme Court, U.S. Constitution, and Criminal Law

Core Skills Developed in a Criminal Justice Program

There are two types of skills needed to perform almost any job: soft skills and hard or technical skills. Soft skills can't be taught in school and develop from our personality, attitude, work ethic, and personal experiences. They include how we interact with others, approach our work, and think. Hard or technical skills can be learned in school, and proficiency with these skills is measurable.


Employers often find soft skills more valuable because they influence your interactions with others, how easily you can learn new things, and how well you may do your job. In addition, these skills may give you a competitive edge.

Criminal justice majors bring a balance of both soft and hard or technical skills to their occupation. The skills can be interdependent. For example, you can't successfully present report findings to a large audience if you don't have strong communication skills. One set of skills may enable you to cultivate the other.

Soft Skills Hard/Technical Skills
  • Active listening
  • Analytical thinking
  • Attention to detail
  • Critical thinking
  • Empathy
  • Integrity
  • Ethical leadership
  • Observation
  • Problem solving
  • Relationship-building
  • Teamwork
  • Written and oral communication
  • Adherence to safety standards
  • Computer literacy
  • Conducting criminal investigations
  • Forensics and criminology
  • Interviewing and interrogation
  • Law and ethics
  • Presentation skills
  • Project management
  • Report writing
  • Research methods
  • Social justice
  • Theories and practice

Still Have Questions?

The decision to enroll in a criminal justice program can be overwhelming, and you may still have questions. A program advisor at the school you are interested in attending should be able to answer any other questions you may have. You can also see what others think of the schools and programs you are interested in attending by checking out student reviews or connecting with current students and alumni through professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. You may be able to learn what it's like to complete these degree programs and what career options may be available to you from the invaluable experience of others.

Related Articles

Criminal Justice Career Guide

Interested in a career in criminal justice? Learn more about job paths, salaries, education requirements, and more.

By Usmaan Farooqui | 7/15/2022

2022 Best Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Discover top online criminal justice degrees ranked by alumni salaries to find the best program to kickstart your career.

By the OnlineU team | 6/7/2022

What Can You Do With A Criminal Justice Degree?

From private investigators, to paralegals, to forensic science technicians, learn about the careers available with each level of a criminal justice degree.

By James Holbrook | 4/25/2022

ADVERTISEMENT

Start Your Online College Search:

Review schools that align with your career aspirations.

ADVERTISEMENT

Start Your Online College Search:

Review schools that align with your career aspirations.