Associate of Science (AS): Criminal Justice Degree Overview

Learn about criminal justice studies offered at the associate degree level. Read details about courses, program objectives, advanced degree options and careers commonly pursued by graduates. Find projected employment growth rates and average salary figures for those working in law enforcement.

Essential Information

An Associate of Science program in criminal justice provides students with a basic understanding of criminal behavior and legal system operation. These programs are widely available at community colleges and technical schools. Through lecture sessions and hands-on experiences, students can develop insight into police strategies, types of crime and methods of research. Some programs offer concentrations in areas such as corrections, security or law enforcement. Further training may be required for some professions in the criminal justice field.

First-time students and professionals already working in law enforcement may enroll in these programs. A high school diploma or its equivalent is generally required to enroll in an associate's degree program.

Course Topics

Within a criminal justice program, students learn biological and sociological theories, criminal law principles and decision-making skills. In addition to general education courses, students complete required courses such as:

  • Criminology
  • Criminal justice
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Criminal law
  • Constitutional law

Popular Career Options

Graduates of a 2-year program have the investigative skills and research methods to work within local, state and federal law enforcement organizations. Program graduates may work as:

  • Police officers
  • Correctional officers
  • Security personnel
  • Probation officers
  • Criminal investigators

Employment Outlook

From 2012-2022, police officers were projected to see a six percent increase in job opportunities, stated the U.S.Bureau of Labor Statistics. Mean annual wages were $57,770 for police and sheriff's patrol officers in May 2012. The top paying industry for police officers was the state government that year.

Continuing Education Information

Completion of an associate's degree program in criminal justice can be a step toward completion of a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. These programs teach theoretical and practical knowledge about crime and the criminal justice system, helping students broaden their understanding of complex societal issues and increase their career opportunities.

Bachelor's holders may continue their educations by enrolling in graduate programs in criminal justice or related areas. Within a master's degree program, students learn theoretical and specialized knowledge, along with basic research methods and analytical techniques used to understand the effectiveness of the current legal and justice systems. Ph.D. programs emphasize scientific research methodology and high-level specialized knowledge, preparing students for careers in academia or research.

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