Before we dive right into comparing various criminal justice programs, let’s make sure we have a firm understanding of what criminal justice really is.
Criminal justice is, in fact, one of the most popularly pursued academic fields of study. It’s a series of governmental systems that deals with:

  • The protection of citizens
  • Standing up for victims
  • Deterring crime
  • Upholding laws
  • The prosecution of criminals who break the law
  • The institutionalization of criminals who are found guilty of breaking laws
  • The rehabilitation of criminals

There are three main areas in the criminal justice system:

  • Law enforcement identifies crimes and criminals
  • The legal system or courts oversees the trial and potential conviction of criminals
  • The corrections system handles issues related to the punishment of convicted criminals, including incarceration and parole

Criminal justice offers many careers and several degree programs to help you obtain the career you’re looking for. Examples of criminal justice careers include:

  • Police officer
  • Sheriff
  • Private investigator
  • Probation officer
  • Court clerk
  • Corrections officer
  • Paralegals
  • Criminologist

Education in criminal justice could also equip you to join several federal agencies including the:

  • US Marshals
  • Immigration and customs enforcement
  • Border patrol
  • Homeland security
  • Secret Service
  • FBI
  • CIA

The career you intend to pursue will determine which criminal justice program is right for you. With that in mind, let’s look at a criminal justice certificate, criminal justice degree and master’s in criminal justice.

Criminal Justice Certificate

There are several academic paths for criminal justice programs. The most popular include an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree; however, one other option—a certificate program—has grown in popularity over the last few years. Some students choose to pursue a criminal justice certificate as a fast-track solution hoping it will make them more competitive when it comes to the criminal justice job market.

A criminal justice certificate is a short, non-degree program that increases a student’s knowledge base and enhances their skill set. The program goals for a certificate are to offer students the opportunity to discover what’s required by the industry and to learn about new developments in the field of criminal justice. A program typically involves courses that must be completed to meet credit hour requirements. A certificate program is generally career-oriented, focusing on a job task or a specific field of work. Specialization options include, but are not exclusive to:

  • Law enforcement
  • Corrections and case management
  • Criminal procedure systems
  • Forensic science
  • Criminal law
  • Criminal litigation
  • Homeland security and crisis management

Professionals often use criminal justice certificates to expand job opportunities and/or boost their careers. Many individuals currently working in law enforcement opt to pursue an online criminal justice certificate program to increase both their skill set and income potential.

Career Opportunities with a Criminal Justice Certificate

The jobs for which you qualify will depend on the specialization area of your certification, your experience and other qualifications. Examples of what a certificate can help you accomplish include training to become an investigator, joining the police academy or working as a private detective.

While income levels vary, career opportunities are rewarding and vast. For example, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, with less than five years’ work experience, the 2021 median annual salary for private detectives and investigators is $59,380. (Note: Licensing and career requirements for private investigators vary by state.) The 2021 average annual salary for correctional officers and bailiffs is $47,920. Lastly, the 2021 average annual salary for paralegals and legal assistants comes in at $56,230.

Job outlooks vary, however. For private detectives and investigators, jobs are expected to increase by 13% between now and 2030, that of correctional officers and bailiffs to decline by 7%, and that of paralegals & legal assistants to increase by 12%.

Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice

A bachelor's degree in criminal justice is typically a 4-year program, although the duration may vary from school to school. Many careers in criminal justice require a bachelor's degree. This degree program provides insight into current law enforcement techniques and trends. It also sheds light on issues faced by criminal justice agencies, homeland security, and other organizations interested in upholding the law.

Subjects covered in a bachelor's degree program vary from school to school; however, most curricula cover the following areas of study:

  • Criminal law
  • Justice studies
  • Political science
  • Criminal psychology
  • Police and the community
  • Research methods
  • Ethical issues in criminal law
  • Security management
  • Social networking and cyber-security
  • Crime and prevention
  • Law and cultural issues

Upon completion, students should have a thorough understanding of the criminal justice system and how various agencies function within the system. Some bachelor’s criminal justice programs also include internships and field projects, ensuring students receive practical experience as well as classroom instruction.

Career Opportunities with a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice

A bachelor's degree in criminal justice prepares students for many law enforcement careers working with various law enforcement agencies and federal departments, including the police division, homeland security department, border patrol agency and others. Some graduates enroll in police academies to become officers. Many students decide to further their studies by making application to law schools and pursuing a law degree in criminal justice. A few students even elect to apply to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for further training and career opportunities.

Let’s look at specific jobs that can be held by someone with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. These positions and others listed on cover a variety of skill levels. The national average annual salary for each job is listed in parentheses.

Master’s in Criminal Justice

A master’s in criminal justice is a graduate-level degree program available to those interested in the advanced study of criminal justice concepts. Graduate-level degree programs increase a student’s competency and skill levels which in turn help them to advance their careers in the corporate world. A master’s program typically takes two years to complete; however, the duration can vary from school to school. Some online programs even allow students to complete the program in less than two years.

A bachelor’s degree is required for entrance into a master’s program. The goal of a master’s program is to give students an understanding of multiple branches of criminal justice; therefore, the program is separated into multiple subjects, each covering a specific aspect of criminal justice.

At the graduate level, practical experience is highly valued. Subjects covered in the program tend to be theoretical, intending to develop a skill set that increases competency in the practical field. In fact, some graduate programs require fieldwork. Some main areas of study include:

  • Criminology
  • Law and ethics
  • Cyber-crime
  • Crime and criminal behavior
  • Psychology and sociology
  • Social deviance
  • Justice administration
  • Probation and patrolling
  • Principles of correction
  • Terrorism

Online learning programs help working individuals pursue studies while continuing to work. Online studies often help students manage their employment and academics without compromising either one.

Career Opportunities with a Master’s in Criminal Justice

A master’s in criminal justice prepares students for challenging careers in the field of criminal justice, giving them access to many well-paying careers in the criminal justice sector. Graduates often pursue work in various types of crime departments, police departments and federal agencies. Popular careers include police officer, corrections officer, FBI agent, homeland security agent and border patrol agent.

According to, some positions a master’s degree in criminal science (national average annual salaries in parentheses) opens up to students and graduates include:

The main purpose of careers for those with a master's degree in criminal justice is upholding the law, preventing criminal activity, and prosecuting criminals. A master’s degree opens the door to many other career options. The area of specialty chosen, as well as other credentials, may determine career options.

A thesis or capstone project is required by many criminal justice master’s degree programs. Program courses typically prepare students for the research and analytical requirements of completing a thesis. A thesis requires the student to present new and unique information that contributes to the field of criminal justice. An advisor often helps students complete their capstone projects, guiding the direction of research and project design.

Pursuing Criminal Justice at University of the Cumberlands

The demand for skilled and educated law enforcement professionals is expected to increase in the foreseeable future. That means that there’s no better time than now to pursue a career in criminal justice. University of the Cumberlands offers different program options for those who want to pursue a career in Criminal Justice.
Both criminal justice programs offered at the University of the Cumberlands are available online which can lower your education expenses, allow you to study when and where it’s convenient for you and allow you to pursue your degree at a pace convenient to you.

Our graduate-level online criminal justice management certificate program accommodates law enforcement officers who aspire to leadership-specific roles. Our online master’s degree in criminal justice administration program is ranked seventh in the nation by US News & World Report.

If you’re interested in learning more about Criminal Justice, reach out to University of the Cumberlands, contact an admissions counselor or request more information today.Before we dive right into comparing various criminal justice programs, let’s make sure we have a firm understanding of what criminal justice really is.