Choosing the top criminal justice colleges will often mean attending a traditional, on-campus university. Many people these days choose online education routes for criminal justice, but there’s a lot of benefit to attending on-campus and traditional university experiences. In some cases, on-campus learning is a degree requirement, as some types of education do not really translate well into an online experience. The best colleges for criminal justice and law enforcement will typically offer an on-campus education that includes a lot of benefits strictly because these programs happen on-campus.
When it comes to education, traditional campus programs come with other benefits that facilitate the educational process. Students will have more social interaction and engagement, which can help facilitate the spread of ideas, learning, and networking. The campus itself will have things like labs, libraries, and other facilities to help students achieve more. Campus life also provides structure, which can help a great deal. In addition, students on campus have better access to instructors, professors, mentors, and other professionals who work at or with the school.
Our Process: Ranking the Best Undergraduate Criminal Justice Programs
There are many, many criminal justice degree programs in the US, but the colleges and universities that offer the best opportunities for traditional students are a breed apart. Criminal Justice Degree Hub editors focused exclusively on accredited, highly-respected programs that offer an on-campus component well worth the investment. Programs are ranked according to Tuition Cost, Student Satisfaction, Salary Potential, and National Reputation, using data from College Scorecard, Niche, IPEDS, and U.S. News & World Report’s criminal justice ranking.
1. University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania’s Criminology program is the only one of its kind among Ivy League schools. In this program, students don’t just learn how to respond to crime. They also learn what causes crime. For example, students learn about sociology and how certain environments can have more crime than others. Students also learn about the psychological aspect of violence and criminal behavior. This deeply focused approach gives Penn one of the best undergraduate criminology programs.
Penn is a well-respected school that can take students places after graduation. Academics are challenging and rigorous. However, Penn goes beyond academics. It teaches students how to turn their knowledge into action. Students learn how to help others and themselves with their knoweldge. Penn takes a well-rounded, deep approach to education that encourages critical thinking. Penn offers “all grant” financial aid opportunities, replacing loans with grants, which helps students reduce their educational debt.
Degree: Major in Criminology
2. University of Maryland
University of Maryland’s Criminology program is intensely practical and career-focused. The program is designed to give students a clear pathway into employment and on-the-job confidence. Students get plenty of classroom learning, but they also have lots of opportunities to become more employable in this dynamic field. For example, students can participate in undergraduate research, which gives them a competitive edge. They also get access to networking opportunities. Because of this practicality, University of Maryland provides one of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs.
The University of Maryland turns ideas into action. It’s one of the top research universities in the United States, and it provides lots of opportunities for its students. UM shows students how to turn their passions into real, measurable career moves. It also emphasizes social justice, helping students make the world a better place with their knowledge. The University of Maryland is right outside Washington D.C. For those who want exciting criminology opportunities, this school provides a great location.
Degree: BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice
3. University of California, Irvine
The University of California, Irvine Criminology program provides a complete look at why crime happens. Students learn how to respond to the root causes of crime. They study sociology and criminal theory. This way, students can understand why society punishes certain actions while rewarding others. They also take a look at psychology and criminal risk factors. Networking opportunities provide a practical addition to theoretical knowledge, giving students a balance. Overall, this program is one of the best undergraduate criminology programs.
UCI is a vibrant, thriving university with strong research and challenging academics. This school values innovation. It encourages students to think outside the box. Students don’t just get an academic education. They also learn how to apply their education to social issues and other real-world opportunities. UCI’s Criminology program includes field placement studies, which gives students a competitive edge for employment.
Degree: BS in Criminology, Law, and Society
4. Arizona State University
Arizona State University’s Criminology program acknowledges that there are lots of reasons for crime. These reasons include economics, sociology, biology, and more. Students at ASU study all of these reasons deeply. Of course, they also learn how the criminal justice system makes a difference in these factors. ASU also provides practical opportunities for career advancement. With practical research projects and lots of networking opportunities, students can forge a pathway into career success. This combination of theoretical and practical knowledge makes this program one of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs.
ASU is an innovative, research-focused school. This school emphasizes real-world applications for new ideas. As a result, ASU creates strong and confident leaders. Students here don’t just learn about theories. They learn how to turn those theories into actions they can use on the job. As a result, students gain confidence and career-ready skills. ASU is the #1 public research university in the US for first-year experience.
Degree: BS in Criminology and Justice
5. Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Rutgers University offers a great Criminal Justice program. As a BA, this program provides core knowledge for criminology students. Students get to take a broad look at all things criminology, from juvenile criminology to forensic science. The program provides a firm foundation, helping students with whatever direction they choose to take their careers. For those who want a solid experience with all things criminology, this is one of the best undergraduate criminology programs.
Rutgers is one of the top research institutions in the US. As such, it values innovative ideas and encourages students to think deeply. Rutgers prides itself on its affordability and diversity. Students of all backgrounds have found their place here. The school shows students how to bring their unique perspectives and current knowledge into their careers. 99% of Rutgers faculty members hold PhDs. Students get to learn from some of the most knowledgeable people in their fields.
Degree: BA in Criminal Justice
6. Florida State University
Florida State University’s Criminology program is described as “intentionally broad.” It gives students a wide scope of knowledge that encourages critical thinking. No matter where students take their criminal justice careers, they’ll have a solid foundation of core knowledge and skills. The Cyber Criminology major provides more specificity. In any case, these programs are challenging, multifaceted, and innovative. That’s what makes this program one of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs.
FSU is one of the top 20 national public universities, and with good reason. It provides students with all the resources they need to think critically and foster new ideas. It’s a widely-regarded research university, which means that it’s at the forefront of innovation. This culture of new ideas means that students have lots of opportunity to turn their knowledge into action. Those who want to study criminal justice online should consider FSU. This school’s online Criminology program was voted as one of the best online programs in 2019.
Degree: BS in Criminology
7. Michigan State University
Michigan State University offers a BA in Criminal Justice. As a BA program, it lets students explore a wide array of ideas. Students learn all about the causes of crime and how to manage risks. They also learn about the ethics of criminal justice and how they can make their society a more fair and ethical place. These classes demonstrate the challenges that face the criminal justice system today, so students are prepared to meet these challenges when they graduate. For those who want a multifaceted approach, MSU has one of the best undergraduate criminology programs.
MSU is a respected and recognized school with a name that looks great on a resume. More importantly, though, it provides an excellent education. This school helps students transform the world around them. It turns visions into actions. As a result, MSU has had a lasting impact all across the globe. Its alumni have made plenty of advances in their fields. MSU is one of the top 70 universities in the world.
Degree: BA in Criminal Justice
8. University at Albany (SUNY)
The University of Albany offers a BA in Criminal Justice. This program studies all apsects of crime and criminology. Then, it helps students to connect the dots between subjects and apply those lessons to their future careers. As a result, students learn how to think critically. In the criminal justice field, they’ll feel empowered to explore their jobs from all angles. This program is built to prepare students for graduate level work, so for those who will eventually want an advanced degree, this program ranks among the best undergraduate criminal justice programs.
The University of Albany is deeply focused on student success. It encourages problem-solving and deep thinking. Its programs focus on career preparation, helping students build their own success after graduation. The University of Albany is also in a great location for career building. The surrounding area comes with plenty of networking and job opportunities. Forbes has ranked Albany as one of America’s top colleges.
Degree: BA in Criminal Justice
9. University of Florida
The University of Florida’s Criminology program explores the reasons behind crime. It covers all kinds of complexities, letting students connect the dots and make the most of their knowledge. This interdisciplinary degree provides plenty of challenge, and that challenge prepares students for a rewarding and fast-paced career. UF’s Criminology program is the largest interdisciplinary degree at the school, and it’s also one of the best undergraduate criminology programs in the country.
UF is committed to helping students reach their goals. This school values challenges, vision, and creating goals for the future. Students at UF want to improve lives, and UF’s programs help them do just that. Once they graduate, UF alumni move on to fulfilling careers where they get to help other people and themselves. UF is the #7 public university in the United States.
Degree: BA in Criminology
10. Pennsylvania State University
Penn State University’s Criminology program includes a BA option and a BS option. The BA is a good choice for those who want a criminology overview and may want to pursue an advanced degree later. It provides criminology background knowledge, writing skill building, and a foundation in all things criminology. The BS option is more focused on research and the sciences. It also provides a foundation for further study. For those who want a science-focused criminology career, the BS makes a great choice. Either way, students get a challenging and rewarding education. That’s what makes these programs two of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs.
Penn State is a name that people recognize around the world. This school offers challenging academics and pathways to career success. Whether students learn online or on campus, Penn State’s programs provide all the resources and encouragement that students need for success. Eight PSU programs have ranked among the top 10 in their fields.
Degree: BA or BS in Criminology
How Do I Find Criminal Justice Schools Near Me?
A search term like “criminal justice schools near me” will likely show quite a few potential places. Narrowing down the options to the top criminal justice colleges will require applicants to take a close look at things like accreditation and reputation.
However, a search like “criminal justice schools near me” can also have a mix of online and on-campus options. Applicants must make sure to narrow the search by pointing out they are looking for the best colleges for criminal justice and law enforcement that have traditional on-campus classes, rather than online or hybrid ones.
What the top criminal justice colleges offer on-campus can include all the experiences that come with a traditional college facility. For example, students can enjoy things like sports, extracurricular activities, events, and other campus-only amenities.
These are all hallmarks of the top criminal justice colleges and the best colleges for criminal justice and law enforcement degrees will give students all the tools they need to make campus life beneficial in every way.
What Can I Do with a Criminal Justice Bachelor’s Degree?
Careers and criminal justice bachelor degree jobs come in a wide variety, depending on whether you have a background in criminal justice or criminology. The criminal justice field is rather large, so there are a number of opportunities available. One of the main career paths for degree holders is in law enforcement.
However, even in the field of law enforcement, there are several criminal justice bachelor degree jobs available. For example, applicants can join the police force, become a private detective, work as a correctional officer, or a security guard. Even niche law enforcement jobs, such as in forensics or crime scene investigation also open for those looking for criminal justice bachelor degree jobs.
Nevertheless, criminal justice bachelor degree jobs are not limited to law enforcement. Practically any industry that works with or requires some element of criminal justice or security will want applicants with a criminal justice degree. The court system also values degree holders for every position from bailiffs to paralegals. Management positions are also available, and so are security consultant jobs.
How Much Can I Make with a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice?
Criminal justice jobs salary can vary widely depending on the career someone chooses. While there are some general criminal justice jobs salary listed as averages, it is sometimes better to look at the averages of specific jobs within the field.
According to PayScale, the average BS in Criminal Justice jobs salary sits at $55k. However, the average criminal justice jobs salary for those who enter federal law enforcement is $65.2k, also according to PayScale.
At $55k, the average criminal justice salary per hour comes to roughly $27. Criminal justice salary per hour can sometimes rise or fall depending on the nature of the job.
Keep in mind that average pay, no matter what the occupation, is just an average. This means people can earn far more depending on the location, their experience, and the need for a particular type of criminal justice professionals in the area.
Is There Any Special Accreditation for Criminology and Forensics Programs?
For those looking for colleges that offer criminology or forensics as a degree or specialization, the rule of thumb about checking for accreditation still holds. However, the only group that sets criminal justice accreditation standards is the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS).
The ACJS is an international accrediting body but is not as widespread or far-reaching as some national accrediting bodies tend to be. Because of this, a lack of ACJS accreditation isn’t a cause for concern. Nevertheless, applicants should still make sure the school or university they are considering has regional accreditation.
Colleges that offer criminology and forensics programs are not all the same, so applicants must choose the one that aligns best with their goals. Always look for accreditation, even if it is not specifically criminal justice accreditation standards. In addition, the ACJS isn’t currently accepting new applications from programs for accreditation. So, paying more attention to regional accreditation will work best when it comes to these programs.