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Law and Criminal Justice Programs

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Students searching for a job that offers both good income potential and meaningful work may find what they seek in the world of criminal justice and law. It is a rigorous field of study, but one that can be both personally and financially rewarding.

It is also one that offers diverse job opportunities. On the criminal justice side, graduates may be employed as police officers, detectives and private investigators. These workers spend their days in the field, working to ensure laws are being followed and courts orders are enforced. Those who prefer to focus on the law can work as legal assistants or become lawyers themselves and specialize in everything from criminal law to corporate law.

Beyond these jobs, positions for arbitrators, hearing officers and probation officers are typically filled by those with a criminal justice or legal education.

While the jobs vary, they all begin with the same thing: the right degree. Keep reading to learn more about what type of education you'll need and how much you could earn with a criminal justice or law degree.

What to Know about Online Degrees in Criminal Justice and Law

Depending on their field of study, students have may have their choice of on-campus or online degree programs. While on-campus programs remain popular, many students are turning to online degrees as a way to conveniently complete their education. Busy adults, in particular, may find it easier to log in to a virtual classroom than travel to campus several times per week.

Regardless of how they choose to earn their degree, the following are the levels of education typically held by criminal justice and legal professionals.

  • Associate degree: Although usually completed in two-years, an associate degree may be earned in as little as one year at some online schools. Paralegals and legal assistants can begin working with an associate degree. In addition, some criminal justice positions, such as that of a campus security officer, may be open to those with this level of education.
  • Bachelor's degree: Police departments, court systems and the federal government may prefer to hire individuals with a four-year degree for police officer and probation officer positions. In addition, people with this level of education may be eligible for jobs in victim advocacy or youth detention counseling.
  • Master's degree: A graduate degree is often required for certain jobs such as that of mediators or arbitrators. In addition, professionals in the field may opt to earn a master's degree in order to move up in the ranks to a supervisory or management position.
  • Juris Doctor: Known as a JD, the Juris Doctor is the required degree for lawyers. Once a person has completed their education, they must then pass the bar exam for the state in which they want to practice.

Many criminal justice programs have fully online degrees. However, online law programs are more difficult to find.

Most states require students to graduate from a program accredited by the American Bar Association in order to sit for that state's bar exam. However, the ABA has only accredited one partially online program at this time. The Mitchell Hamline School of Law in Saint Paul, Minnesota offers a hybrid program that allows students to take most classes online and travel to campus 10 times to complete skills-based classes.

Other online law schools exist but their programs may not be ABA accredited which could limit the ability of graduates to practice law. However, some schools may meet the requirements of specific states. For example, the Concord Law School at Kaplan University offers online law programs allowing graduates to sit for the bar exam in California.

What's the Career Outlook for Criminal Justice and Law Professionals?

Criminal justice degrees may lead to jobs with above average salaries, and lawyers are among the highest-paid professionals in the nation, in terms of average salaries. In addition, jobs in these fields are expected to remain steady in the years to come.

Here's a look at common criminal justice and law occupations along with their required education, average income and expected job growth.

Occupation Level of Education Average Annual Income (2014) Expected Job Growth (2014-2024)
Lawyers Juris Doctor $133,470 6%
Paralegals and Legal Assistants Associate's Degree $51,840 8%
Arbitrators, Mediators and Conciliators Bachelor's Degree $70,740 9%
Police and Sheriff's Officers Varies by Agency $59,560 4%
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists Bachelor's Degree $53,360 4%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How Can I Choose the Right Criminal Justice and Law School?

Students interested in criminal justice degrees should consider whether a concentration is available in an area of interest to them. For example, schools may offer the following specializations:

  • Homeland security
  • Corrections
  • Criminalistics
  • Forensic toxicology
  • Public Safety

Those selecting an online criminal justice degree program should check for an accredited school and inquire into retention rates and the job placement of recent graduates.

Meanwhile, those considering online law programs should proceed with caution. Check with your state's bar association to determine whether a JD from the online law schools you're considering will qualify you for to sit for the bar exam.

To easily compare degree programs, you can request information from the schools listed on this page. Once you complete the simple form, a school representative will be in touch to discuss your career goals and the school's degree programs.

Sources:
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition,
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, May 2014
3. Concord Law School, Kaplan University
4. Hybrid J.D. Program, Mitchell Hamline School of Law

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