The basic difference between an associate degree and a bachelor’s degree is the cost and the amount of time that one studies for each. An associate degree is a two-year degree and a bachelor’s is a four-year degree. Clearly, the bachelor’s degree in any subject involves more coursework in the chosen field of study and thus gives the graduate more education. But for the field of criminal justice, what is the actual difference in the two?
An associates in criminal justice will differ from the bachelors in criminal justice in both curriculum and the jobs for which it prepares graduates. An associate degree will generally offer introductory-level classes while a bachelor’s degree will include more in-depth classes. At the bachelor’s level, students will have more opportunity to specialize in a particular area whether that area is corrections, law enforcement or something else.
The associate degree will prepare the student for either an entry-level job in criminal justice, for further study toward a bachelor’s or both. Many students obtain an associate degree and take a few years out to work before returning to complete their bachelor’s. Students who are looking at this particular career path should make sure that credits from the associate program are transferable to most schools and that there will be ample time to return to school before the credits expire. Typical entry-level positions for students graduating with an associate degree are corrections officer and police officer. Both of these, however, are likely to require further training and certification, and in order to advance in some of these areas, the student may need a four-year degree.
A bachelor’s degree opens the field up more for the graduate. Jobs such as probation officer are available to the graduate with a bachelor’s degree, and while additional experience in the field will be required, a bachelor’s degree is the minimum for jobs like secret service and FBI agent. No degree can guarantee someone a job in any field, but a student graduating with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is more likely to be able to go straight into a job after college.
A bachelor’s degree also prepares the student for a masters in criminal justice which is required for higher-level work including profiling, forensics and criminal psychology. However, a student with an associate could go on to earn a bachelor’s and subsequently a master’s as well.
An associate degree may be the best option for a student with limited time and money who isn’t certain that criminal justice is the right field. It may also be the best choice for a student with those limitations who is focused and dedicated enough to work toward a bachelor’s while working at the job obtained with the associate degree. Students aiming for the associate, however, should be aware that they may need further training and education to advance beyond entry-level positions.