Are you looking for a criminal justice degree but are not sure about the time you should invest? Yes, there are different options, and they are of varied lengths. Some would require months, while others, even decades. No, this is not sarcasm. 

Okay, but first, why exactly do you need a degree in criminal justice? For a job in the illustrious system. Right? For that, you should research a bit and then take up the best-suited degree required for that dream career of yours. Or, we could help you with that. 

In this article, we will guide you through the different degree options, the time each option takes for completion, and which degree option is best suited for you. Also, we will talk about going the online route and the advantages it holds. 

So, let the exploration begin:

How long is Criminal Justice Degree

Criminal justice Degrees 

A degree in Criminal Justice can help you pursue a career in the different systems of criminal justice, like Law enforcement, courts, and corrections. There are 4 major types of degree options and a certification option to choose from. Each option will enable you to pursue a dedicated set of careers in the criminal justice system. 

Read -> Criminal Justice Degree

Let’s explore the criminal justice degree options: 

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Associate Degree 

An Associate Degree will introduce you to the criminal justice system and let you get a brief understanding of how each system operates to investigate, prosecute, and punish criminals.

Credits: 60 credits

Course Duration: 2 years

What will you learn? 

  • Introduction to criminal justice
  • Introduction to corrections
  • Introduction to forensic psychology
  • Juvenile justice
  • Criminal law
  • Criminal investigations
  • Court systems
  • Ethics

Bachelor’s Degree 

A Bachelor’s Degree will give you a theoretical, foundational, and practical understanding of the criminal justice system. It is the most sought-after option that allows a wide array of job opportunities.

Credits: 120 credits

Course Duration: 4 years

What will you learn? 

  • Introduction to the criminal justice system
  • Criminology
  • Forensic science
  • Criminal law
  • Criminal psychology
  • Corrections
  • Ethics in criminal justice
  • Security and policy administration
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Research Methodology

Master’s Degree  

It is a graduate degree that equips you with advanced knowledge and practices of the criminal justice system and its policies. You would learn advanced research methods and data analysis techniques. Well, if you are looking to leap above the competition, try getting a Master’s Degree.

Credit Hours: between 30 and 36

Course Duration: 2 years (if full-time)  

What will you learn? 

  • Theories of Crime and Criminology
  • Criminal and constitutional law
  • Juvenile justice
  • Public Policy and policy analysis
  • Quantitative research methods
  • Statistics

Doctorate Degree 

You will master a niche of criminal justice and will be honored with a doctorate. You will be a subject matter expert in any topic you choose depending on your interest, and contribute to the field and the system.

Credit Hours: 40 to 60 credit hours  

Course Duration: 3-6 years

What will you learn? 

  • History and contemporary issues in criminal justice
  • Psychology of crime
  • Criminal justice Public policy
  • Advanced research methods, including qualitative research
  • Advanced Statistics

Certificate Course 

Course Duration: 6 – 12 months  

You will get a brief introduction to the field and a general overview of the criminal justice systems – law enforcement, courts, and corrections. You will still be able to get some entry-level positions in the criminal justice field.

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Which Criminal Justice Degree Should You Pursue?

You now know about the different types of degrees but can’t decide the best-suited degree for your career; that’s fine. We warned you about it, because – the last kind of situation you wanna be in, post PhDs you finding out that an associate alone could have worked. 

What we mean is; the degree that you choose will depend on your professional goals. If the career you are looking for requires only a basic knowledge of criminal justice, you could opt for a certificate course. 

If the career you are aiming to pursue needs experience and expertise, you could choose an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Or, some programs might require a 4 years undergraduate degree, in that case, a bachelor’s would be a better option. 

If you want to opt for graduate degrees, you have the options of Master’s and Doctorate degrees. You will be a subject matter expert in any topic you choose depending on your interest, and contribute to the field and the system. 

By acquiring these degrees, you also can leap above the competition by becoming eligible for advanced and higher-level positions.

But, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is the most sought-after degree option. The employers and the students too, opt for this degree option. It is the most common and relevant criminal justice degree that makes you eligible for almost all types of careers in – law enforcement, courts, and corrections.

You now know which degree is most sought-after and is rewarding at the same time. You will be pleased to know that all these degree programs from an associate to the doctorate, are available online. If you are wondering why, let’s explore some of the advantages of taking the online route.

Online degree programs 

Did you know you could also get these criminal justice degrees online? Yes, and this route is slowly gaining trust as many of the students are now opting for online degree programs.

Here is a fact to prove the point – as reported by National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)

Data of undergraduates pursuing their degrees online in the U.S. 

2018 – 2.3 million

2019 – 6 million

2020 – 11.8 million

If you think these numbers are due to the pandemic, stop! 

2022 – 17 million. 

Why online? Here are some of the advantages: 


Online programs are flexible. They offer –

On-demand courses – you take up the classes whenever you want, without the fear of losing a lecture.

Earn as you learn – you could take up a degree without the need of quitting your job. How’s that for a Work-life balance?


Online programs are the most convenient. They are Self-paced, which means you learn at your own pace, at any time, from anywhere even from the comfort of your home. It offers convenience in schedules, traveling, expenses, and more.


The online programs are the most affordable for they don’t have to pay the bills of a large campus or the maintenance associated with it. You can accelerate your learning and complete your degree in a record time.

Spend less, learn more.  


So, by now, we hope we could guide you on some important points – with basic research and some self-assessment, you can choose the best degree option suitable for your career needs. You can advance your career by attaining a graduate degree. And, you should never rule out the online options that can help you to get any of these degrees.

That being said, follow your instinct, choose your degree option wisely, and chase your dream career in serving people through the criminal justice system. We hope for your best.

Learn More:

-> What Can You Do with A Masters in Criminal Justice? 

-> What Jobs Can You Get With a Criminal Justice Degree?

-> What Can You Do With a Criminal Justice Degree Besides Being a Cop?

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About the Author
Grant founded with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, American Express, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.