How long will I have to go to school for a criminal justice degree?

how longYou may have been dreaming about a career in criminal justice, but how long will it take you to get there? Depending on what type of education you want – whether you want a basic Associate’s or you’re striving for your PhD – you could be in school for a year or two or more than a decade. The position you’re after also plays a part in the type of education you need. Some roles require a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, while others will require you to have a Doctorate.

Criminal Justice Degrees

There are criminal justice degrees available at every level, from certifications to doctoral degrees.


Certificate programs are the shortest of the bunch. However, you can earn a certificate in conjunction with a degree if you want to add to your education. Undergraduate certificates introduce you to the field, but you won’t be able to work in the field with just an undergrad certification. These certificates usually take between six and twelve months to earn, while graduate certificates take approximately one year to earn.

Featured Certificate Program: Paralegal Certificate: Rasmussen College

Featured Graduate Certificate Program: Graduate Certificate in CJ Management: Saint Leo University Online


There are three types of Associate degrees you can earn if you want to work in criminal justice – Associate of Arts, Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science. These degrees require 65 credit hours, which can take up to two years to earn.

Featured Associate Program: AAS in Criminal Justice: Kaplan University


To work in the criminal justice field, you can earn either a Bachelor of Arts of a Bachelor of Science. You’ll need a total of 120 to 128 credits to get a Bachelor degree, which can usually be earned in about four years. Some people start with their Associate degree and then decide to earn a Bachelor degree later on. In this case, you’ll just be adding to your Associate degree credits, not starting from scratch.

Featured Bachelor Program: BS in Criminal Justice: Capella University


If you want a Master of Arts or a Master of Criminal Justice, you’ll need to earn 30 credit hours after receiving your Bachelor degree. Many people work on their Master degree while they’re working in the field, which means it can take between two and three years to finish a Master’s program.

Featured Master Program: MS in Criminal Justice: Colorado Technical University


If you want a PhD in criminal justice, it can take up to seven years to earn the required 90 credit hours.

Featured Doctoral Program: Ph.D. in Criminal Justice – General (Advanced): Walden University

Legal Careers in Criminal Justice

If you’re interested in becoming a paralegal or becoming a lawyer, you’ll need a law degree. Once you earn your Bachelor degree, which could take up to four years, you’ll need to complete an additional three years of law school. Paralegals, however, can begin working after only two years of study, since they don’t have the same responsibilities as a lawyer. Paralegals work as legal assistants to lawyers.

If you’re interested in becoming a judge, you’ll need to have worked as a lawyer for at least five years, and often more. Since judges are elected or appointed either by the public or the government, it’s imperative that they have solid reputations as lawyers first.

Featured Paralegal Program: BS in Paralegal Studies: Liberty University Online

Featured Law Program: Juris Doctor (JD) Law Degree: Concord Law School

Check out our Top Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs for 2015

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