Why This Matters


    Population growth and continual changes in legislation mean the police and detective workforce is expected to grow 5% in the next ten years.


    The need for highly trained police officers and detectives means they can earn almost $10,000 more than other law enforcement workers, with the top 10% earning $109,620.


    A degree in criminal justice opens the path to a number of careers, including police officer, criminal investigator, and federal agent. A bachelor’s degree qualifies you for higher-paying, strategic job roles.

Our Research

We reviewed the top 50 bachelor’s degree programs in criminal justice across the United States, which can be awarded as a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science. The degree you pursue will depend on your existing educational background and your career goals after graduation.

Some degrees are offered exclusively on campus or online, although some universities have a hybrid of on-campus/online instruction, which might better suit your needs.

We looked at universities that hold accreditation from a recognized accrediting body, such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), and the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). This ensures the programs listed here and their curricula are of the highest standard.

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. Our top picks for the best Criminal Justice Degree program are affordable, respected, and flexible. (For a more extensive explanation, check out Our Ranking Methodology.)

  • 58 hours to write this article
  • 153 universities and colleges we assessed
  • 311 education programs we compared

The Top 57 Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Best Criminal Justice Degree Programs
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What You Should Know About This Degree

A bachelor’s in criminal justice prepares you for a career in a range of sectors, including social services, government agencies, nonprofits, and public and private research agencies. If you’re looking for a role as a forensic technician or a federal agent, you need additional specialized training in natural sciences and federal law enforcement, respectively.

Though crime rates are falling on state and federal levels, growing population size and increased demand for public safety services mean the need for police officers and detectives is expected to grow by 5% until 2029. Still, funding for these jobs depends on government budgets, and available jobs can vary per location and year. A few things can improve your chances of getting a job in this sector, such as speaking a foreign language, having prior military or investigative experience, or holding a bachelor’s degree.

As a police officer or criminal investigator, you need to have a license to carry a firearm and a certificate in first aid and CPR. These are usually easily earned on the job, although some states might ask you to obtain them on your own. If you’d like to work as a law enforcement agent at the federal level, you need to undergo additional training, usually at the U.S. Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia or a Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

What’s Next?

Here are a couple of questions to consider when researching bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice:

  • Am I eligible for this program? Anyone who has completed their high school education can apply for a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, although some universities may require minimum SAT or ACT scores. Likewise, certain programs require a minimum of 2.0 GPA or higher. For some law enforcement careers, you must be a U.S. citizen, so consider this when making your long-term career choice.
  • How long does it take to complete this online degree? All degrees require at least 120 credits, yet their duration can vary from state to state. Some universities provide intensive online programs that can be completed within a year; however, most states require four years of undergraduate education for a bachelor’s degree. Most universities are very flexible with their curriculum and method of training delivery, so you should find a program that suits your specific needs easily.

Most universities offer financial aid for talented students if you apply early through their admissions office. You can also apply for federal student aid, although the deadline for these scholarships may vary from state to state and college to college.