Choosing a Criminal Justice Program

Those who are considering attending criminal justice schools should be aware of all their options. The top criminal justice schools are generally traditional four-year colleges offering bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice. Many two-year criminal justice programs are available, as well; an associate’s degree in criminal justice can also prepare someone for work in the field. Students can also pursue advanced degrees, such as master’s degrees and doctorates, in criminal justice at various educational institutions.

Choosing the best criminal justice programs requires homework. A potential student should consider several factors, such as cost, schedule, location, and how soon he or she wants to begin work. Whether one is following course work for an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree, for example, will determine how quickly one can start work, as well as determine what level of job is attainable. A student with an associate’s degree may be qualified for an entry-level position in local law enforcement. People with bachelor’s degrees from criminal justice programs may be qualified for a job in more far-reaching organizations, such as the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) or the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency). Advanced degrees, such as a master’s or a doctorate, are usually pursued by employees who already have a career in the field of criminal justice and are interested in moving into leadership and administrative positions within their particular areas.

Online Criminal Justice Programs

Students who want to learn in a program that fits into busy schedules may prefer online criminal justice schools. Online programs usually include interactive classrooms, mandatory web attendance and online discussion, online reference materials, and online quizzes and tests. Some of the top criminal justice programs are online these days.
Programs usually cover the topics of law enforcement, courts and the judiciary and legal systems, the corrections systems, and juvenile justice. Students follow a course load that includes the social problems and impacts of crime, as well as the various methods for managing crime and delinquency in a democratic society. Potential course work also includes law enforcement efficacy and strategies, criminal law, and community relations. Higher-level classes study theories of deviant behavior, justice system research, social justice, and ethical responsibilities and constitutional issues within the justice system.
The advantages of enrolling in an online criminal justice program include the convenience of scheduling classes, the comfort of studying in one’s home or close to home, and the network of students available online. Disadvantages include the lack of personal contact with peers and professors, difficulty in self-motivation that can lead to failure to complete projects, and distractions at home or at the place where one studies. Many programs offer career placement services, externship opportunities, resume assistance, and job placement.
Criminal Justice School Accreditation

The United States Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education provides information about accreditation of various postsecondary criminal justice schools and programs. According to the U.S. Department of Education’s website, each school on its list of accredited educational institutions and programs is or was “accredited by an accrediting agency or state approval agency recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education as a ‘reliable authority as to the quality of postsecondary education’ within the meaning of the Higher Education Act of 1965. All the top criminal justice programs are accredited; steer clear of any school that isn’t accredited.

  • The database does not include a number of postsecondary educational institutions and programs that elect not to seek accreditation but nevertheless may provide a quality postsecondary education.” By law, the Secretary of Education is required to provide a list of accrediting agencies that he or she has determined to be reliable authorities.
  • Furthermore, according to the above website, “The U.S. Secretary of Education also recognizes State agencies for the approval of public postsecondary vocational education and State agencies for the approval of nurse education.”
  • Accreditation is voluntary, and each school’s governing body must decide whether or not to pursue accreditation and from which organizations it will attempt to be accredited.
  • Once the school is in compliance, members of the accrediting entity will visit the school to determine whether it should receive accreditation. These members will closely examine record keeping, curricula, and training facilities; observe teaching in progress; and interview school employees.
  • If the school meets all of the conditions, it will be temporarily accredited. An accreditation must be renewed regularly. Since accreditation standards change, the renewal process requires the school to be up to date with all the required changes.

Criminal Justice School Rankings

There is not a specific overall ranking system that all criminal justice schools subscribe to. The definition of the best criminal justice programs is subjective in many ways. Potential students may compare criminal justice programs according to law school rankings. Law school rankings, like all rankings, vary depending on what organization is providing the analysis.

  • Ranking organizations will usually consider aspects of schools such as available technology, diversity of student body, student-to-professor ratio, average GPA, and the number of professors who have published works, among other factors. Ultimately, it is up to the student to determine which school best fits his or her lifestyle. In addition, each student should understand what is most important to his or her career goals.

Students should research what kind of vocational training, career placement opportunities, externship opportunities, resume assistance, and job placement are offered by each criminal justice program he or she is considering. The most effective way for potential students to rank criminal justice programs or schools is to consider personal choices and preferences and to determine location, program of study, personal schedule, cost, and when they want to begin work.