Criminal justice is both a professional field and an area of academic study. In general, criminal justice deals with the institutions and individuals that establish societal order, enforcing laws and appropriately punishing individuals who violate them. Certificate programs are available at two levels of study in this field: the vocational level and the post-master's level. A vocational certificate addresses the practice of enforcing the law and policing. A post-master's certificate approaches criminal justice from a theoretical, academic perspective, with the goal of informing administrative efforts in the criminal justice system.
A vocational certificate in criminal justice prepares you for an entry-level career with a law enforcement agency or other criminal justice or security organization. Certificate programs are also a great way to become familiar with the field of criminal justice before committing to an undergraduate program on a full-time basis. The courses and credits of a certificate program meet the job requirements for many administrative positions as well as some law enforcement personnel positions. However, many law enforcement agencies require a two-year associate degree to be eligible for law enforcement officer positions.
Most certificate programs take one to two years of full-time study to complete. You will take classes in criminal law, criminal investigation, interviewing and report writing, police systems, traffic law, and ethics, among others. In an online program, many of these courses will be available through video lectures with grades based on exam scores and projects.
A post-master’s certificate in criminal justice is for professionals who already have a master’s but want to specialize in an area of the field. If you are currently working in criminal justice and would like to gain a specific expertise without getting another degree, a certificate might be for you.
Graduate certificate programs vary in length, but usually require between 15 and 30 hours of course credit. These programs offer specializations in a number of areas of criminal justice, such as corrections, management and justice, behavior analysis, federal law enforcement, executive police administration, and crime analysis. The courses you take online will be delivered via live-streaming or video-conferencing.
What’s Next for Criminal Justice Certificate Holders?
With a vocational certificate in criminal justice, you may be eligible for some law enforcement and security officer positions. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a high school diploma is required for most police positions, so a certificate in criminal justice can increase your marketability for similar positions. However, hiring requirements vary from agency to agency, with some requiring more advanced educational experience. With a post-master’s certificate in criminal justice, the possibilities are vast. For example, a criminal justice certificate with a specialization in crime analysis could lead to a career as a criminal investigator or crime intelligence analyst at a local or federal agency.
After completing a vocational certificate, you can expand your education with a bachelor’s in criminal justice. From there, you can complete a master’s in criminal justice or in a related field, like criminology or corrections. If you decide to complete a post-master’s certificate, you can also pursue further graduate study with a doctoral degree. Online degrees in criminal justice are available at most degree levels, although Ph.D. programs in online formats are more difficult to find.