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Is criminal justice a good major for your career goals? A true cost/benefit analysis depends on your plans and concerns. The degree opens opportunities within the criminal justice field, including work in police departments, parole, and the court system. It offers a stable career that focuses on helping others in your local and state communities. On the other hand, is a criminology degree useful for your goals? It ultimately depends on what you plan to accomplish in your career.

For students who want to work in the justice system – whether as law enforcement officers, administrators, or even attorneys – a bachelor’s in criminal justice is the place to start. On the other hand, for those who want to work in the fields as investigators, detectives, forensics experts, and criminal psychologists, a bachelor’s in criminology is the right move. Many programs include both choices, while others focus on one. In either case, a traditional, on-campus bachelor’s, offering mentorship, networking, and connections to employment, is a good choice for those at the beginning of their career.

Methodology: Ranking the Best Undergraduate Criminal Justice Programs

To rank the best undergraduate criminal justice and criminology programs, Bachelor’s Degree Center editors set their sights on accredited, reputable institutions offering a solid education and real opportunity. Programs are ranked according to five key factors: Cost, Graduation Rate, Job Placement, Reputation, and Salary Expectations. With those criteria in mind, students can feel secure that their investment will pay off on the job market and in their salary.

1. University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania offers one of the best undergraduate criminology programs. This particular program educates students about law and justice. Pupils learn about crime victims as well as the role of every individual in the criminal justice system. During one of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs, students evaluate crime statistics and have an opportunity to draw feasible conclusions regarding lessening crime. This degree program can prepare students for careers like a forensic science technician, probation officer, or loss prevention specialist. A criminology degree from the University of Pennsylvania has a proven job market reputation, considering the school is tough in terms of their acceptance process.

Students who attend the University of Pennsylvania encourages students to live by the motto, “Veritas et Virtus,” which translates to, “Truth and Virtue.” The origin of this educational institute dates back to the 18th century. Students who attend this school earn the opportunity to become a red and blue quaker and attend a school that’s one of the original nine colonial schools.

What We Like: U.S. News Report & World Report ranks the University of Pennsylvania number six in the category of national universities.

Degree: Major in Criminology

2. University of Delaware

Students who attend the University of Delaware in Newark’s BA in Criminal Justice receive a quality education in one of the best criminology programs, in particular, one that focuses on criminal justice. The program educates teachers about topics like law enforcement, history, and sociology. Students take political science and psychology courses as well. A pupil in one of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs takes courses related to civil liberties and constitutional rights, too.

In addition to offering one of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs, the University of Delaware provides students with a high-quality education from the largest educational institution in Delaware. The school has a long history dating back to 1833. The school encourages students who become blue hens to live by the motto, “Scientia Sol Mentis Est,” which means, “Knowledge is the light of the mind.”

What We Like: Students who enroll in the University of Delaware’s criminal justice program benefit from a low tuition.

Degree: BA in Criminal Justice

3. University of Florida

The University of Florida’s BA in Criminology offers students an opportunity to earn a degree in one of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs. This program is a bachelor’s degree in criminology and educates students about criminal justice, laws, and procedures. One of the courses focuses on juvenile law. A pupil in this course learns about the criminal justice process as well as other legal processes, anthropology, and psychology.

The University of Florida is known as a research university. It has an origin that dates back to 1853. Students who enroll in this school become an orange and blue gator. The school stresses the importance of morals and their impact on the community.

What We Like: The University of Florida’s bachelor of science in criminology has a low tuition rate.

Degree: BA in Criminology

4. University of Iowa

The University of Iowa’s BA and BS in Criminology, Law and Justice offers students the option to complete one of the best undergraduate criminology programs since it gives pupils the option to earn either a bachelor of science or a bachelor of the arts. Either program focuses on criminology, law, and justice. While completing the courses, students learn about topics like sociology and criminology. Students also learn about law and society. When a student chooses one of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs from this school, he or she receives the benefit of a low tuition rate for in-state students.

The University of Iowa was founded in 1847 and is the second-largest university in the state. This particular educational institution was the first to open a co-educational medical school. Moreover, it’s among one of the first co-educational institutions in general. Additionally, this school has a high acceptance rate of over 80 percent.

What We Like: Those who attend this school benefit from a lower teacher to student ratio than most national research universities, meaning pupils may receive more individualized attention.

Degree: BA or BS in Criminology, Law, and Justice

5. University of Maryland-College Park

The University of Maryland’s BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice provides students with an opportunity to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminology and criminal justice. It ranks as one of the best undergraduate criminology programs because it allows students to analyze crime statistics. As one of the best undergraduate criminology programs, pupils in this course get to learn about violence and formulate an opinion about reducing it. Additionally, students learn about other issues that plague the country.

Dating back to 1856, the University of Maryland has a long history of turning terrapins into successful professionals. Pupils who represent red, white, black, gold are encouraged to live by the motto, “Fatti maschii, parole femine,” which means, “Strong deeds, gentle words.” This college ranks in the top 40 colleges for veterans.

What We Like: Students at the University of Maryland benefit from a low tuition rate and a high ROI as a result, especially with its proximity to jobs in the DC metro area.

Degree: BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice

6. Michigan State University

Michigan State University’s criminal justice division offers one of the best undergraduate criminology programs. In one of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs, students learn how criminal justice affects society. Pupils are given knowledge to help them formulate opinions about correcting problems in society. Students learn about civil liberties and even have an opportunity to receive information about cybercrimes and homeland security. Once a student has a degree in criminal justice, he or she can benefit from a field that’s in-demand and a degree from a respected educational institution.

Back in 1855, Michigan State University opened its doors as a public research college. Over 70 percent of students who apply gain an opportunity to represent the green and white Spartans. In the school’s best undergraduate criminology programs and other major programs, students advance their knowledge and transform their lives, as indicated by the school’s motto.

What We Like: Michigan State is home to the oldest criminal justice and criminology schools in the US.

Degree: BA in Criminal Justice

7. Northeastern University

Students who choose Northeastern University have an opportunity to complete one of the best undergraduate criminology programs. In this school, students earn a bachelor’s of science in criminal justice, which prepares them for a career as a police officer, probation officer, or another criminal justice professional. Students gain adequate knowledge about the criminal justice process and crimes that plague the country.

Northeastern University is a rather pricey institution that opened its doors in 1898. They have stringent requirements for admission, but once a student receives acceptance, he or she earns a degree from a well-respected institution. The school’s slogan is “Light, Truth, Courage,” possibly because they believe in instilling more than just knowledge in their students.

What We Like: Northeastern is one of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs, offering students an education from a reputable college with a proven job market reputation.

Degree: BS in Criminal Justice

8. Indiana University Bloomington

Indiana University’s BA in Criminal Justice offers students the option to complete one of the nation’s best undergraduate criminology programs. As one of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs, students learn about a variety of subjects that help them to become well-rounded criminal justice professionals. Some courses in this program include psychology, sociology, anthropology, and history. Students complete courses related to juvenile criminology and cybercrimes as well. Pupils in this program benefit from a school that has a proven job market reputation.

Indiana University’s colors are cream and crimson and have been that way since the school opened in 1820. While the school doesn’t have a mascot, students who attend this school are known as “Hoosiers.” The school encourages students to live by the motto, “Light and truth.”

What We Like: Indiana University ranks among the top 50 schools for veterans.

Degree: BA in Criminal Justice

9. Pennsylvania State University

At Pennsylvania State University students may earn either a BA or BS in criminology. This program ranks as one of the best undergraduate criminology programs for two reasons; it’s a highly reputable school, and the program is comprehensive. Students are adequately prepared for a job in criminal justice or a law school degree program. Just like in programs from other schools that offer the best undergraduate criminal justice programs, pupils learn about crimes and corrections. Additionally, students in this program learn about gender and ethnicity and its impact on crime statistics.

Pennsylvania State University was founded in 1855 and has become a prominent public educational institution. The school’s motto is “Making Life Better,” and they truly do, considering most graduates earn over $50,000 per year. This is a school ideal for veterans. Additionally, students who become “Nittany Lions” benefit from a low student-to-teacher ratio.

What We Like: Penn State graduates benefit from an educational institution with a solid job market reputation.

Degree: BA or BS in Criminology

10. University of California, Irvine

The University of California, Irvine’s BS in Criminology, Law, and Society rates as one of the best undergraduate criminology programs because it takes a comprehensive approach to educating about criminal justice. Students learn to look into the sociological and psychological factors that attribute to crime. Pupils who complete one of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs learn about various aspects of law. Moreover, at UC Irvine, students who live in the state receive a low tuition rate.

In addition to having one of the best criminal justice programs, UC Irvine itself has benefits to students. For instance, students who represent the blue and gold are part of school that dates back to the mid-1800s.

What We Like: UC Irvine is ranked one of the top 10 colleges in California – a state known for not one, but two of the nation’s strongest public universities systems.

Degree: BS in Criminology, Law, and Society

11. Rutgers University

Rutgers University supplies one of the best undergraduate criminology programs. Specifically, this bachelor of the arts in criminal justice takes a look at police, crime, and law. Students even have an opportunity to complete a course in forensic science, which is a unique course that’s not in all the best undergraduate criminal justice programs. The program also gives students an opportunity to evaluate the current criminal justice system.

Rutgers University is the largest of all the educational institutions in New Jersey. It’s the eighth oldest school in the nation and was among the first nine colonial colleges. Although it was originally a private school, it’s now a public university. It’s beneficial for veterans to consider becoming a “Scarlet Knight” because this school ranks as one of the top 40 schools for veterans.

What We Like: Students at Rutgers benefit from a relatively low tuition rate and an acceptance rate of more than 50 percent.

Degree: BA in Criminal Justice

12. University of South Carolina

When a person searches for the best undergraduate criminology programs, the University of South Carolina comes up. The University of South Carolina’s BA in criminology and criminal justice ranks among the best undergraduate criminal justice programs because it’s a comprehensive program. In addition to gaining a thorough understanding of the criminal justice system, students learn about factors that affect crime statistics. Pupils get to evaluate the police system and criminal procedures. Students benefit from entering this program because the tuition rate is relatively low.

The University of South Carolina was discovered in 1801. Students who become “Gamecocks” benefit from an education from this research college since it stresses the importance of education and building character, as noted by its motto, “Learning humanizes character and does not permit it to be cruel.” The admission process isn’t rigorous as indicated by the 63-percent acceptance rate for students to have an opportunity to represent the garnet and black.

What We Like: USC is known for some of the nation’s most pioneering research in criminology.

Degree: BA in Criminology and Criminal Justice

13. California State University, Long Beach

The California State University, Long Beach BS in Criminology and Criminal Justice ranks as one of the best undergraduate criminology programs. Students learn about the judicial system as well as policing. Part of the program consists of learning about crime statistics and developing an understanding of what affects crime. One reason why this rates as one of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs is because of the power students have to choose electives that interest them. Some examples include homeland security, the war on drugs, and forensic psychology, among others.

California State University is a public higher education institute that was started in 1857. It wasn’t until 1949 that the Long Beach campus was added. This university owns several laboratories and observatories throughout California, such as the T.S. Golden Bear. As part of the red and white, students attend a school that ranks as number 20 in the west.

What We Like: Students at CSU Long Beach in a criminal justice program benefit from a low tuition rate as well.

Degree: BS in Criminology & Criminal Justice

14. University of Texas at Dallas

The University of Texas at Dallas offers a BA in Criminology. Students studying for UT Dallas’ best undergraduate criminology programs must complete 120 credit units and a culminating research project to graduate. The coursework offered for these best undergraduate criminal justice programs includes Comparative Justice, Criminal research, and Theories of Criminology, to name a few. UT Dallas provides degree candidates the option of fast-tracking their education by combing graduate-level programs in the Criminal Justice baccalaureate program.

The University of Texas at Dallas was established in 1961. The school became a member of the University of Texas System eight years later, in 1969. UT Dallas’ urban campuses cover more than 440 acres and is home to nearly 30,000 students. The school is organized into eight colleges/schools.

What We Like: The University of Texas at Dallas is recognized by US News among the top public institutions of learning and Times Higher Education as a top university that is not yet fifty years old.

Degree: BA in Criminology

15. University of South Florida

The University of South Florida’sCollege of Behavioral and Community Sciences offers a BA in Criminology that is available on campus, online, or a hybrid of both delivery methods. USF’s best undergraduate criminal justice programs prepare students to enter the criminal justice fields of probation, corrections, parole, detention, law enforcement, and the judiciary. Degree candidates in any of USF’s best undergraduate criminology programs must complete 36 hours of criminology coursework to meet the major’s requirements. Coursework includes Criminal Behavior Theories, Research Methods, Criminal Justice systems, and a senior seminar.

The University of South Florida was established in 1956 and is a member school of the State University System of Florida. USF’s three urban locations (Tampa, Sarasota-Manatee, St. Petersburg) serve more nearly 51,000 students studying from fourteen schools/schools.

What We Like: The University of South Florida is considered the 4th largest institution of higher learning in the Sunshine State of Florida.

Degree: BA in Criminology

16. American University

American University’s Department of Justice, Law & Criminology, and the School of Public Affairs offers a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree program in Justice & Law. AU’s criminal justice programs are considered among the best undergraduate criminal justice programs available. American’s best undergraduate criminology programs require the completion of 120 credit units to graduate, of which 36 credit units must be related to the major. Classes include Justice Research, Policing America, Justice Workshop, and an internship in a related field.

American University is a private university that was established in 1893. American University holds a religious affiliation with the United Methodist Church; however, admission decisions are not faith-based. The school’s student body of more than 14,000 studies on the campus’ suburban neighborhood vying to earn an academic degree from the university’s eight colleges/schools.

What We Like: American University was established by a chartered act of the United States Congress.

Degree: BA in Justice and Law

17. Washington State University

The Department of Criminal Justice & Criminology offers Washington State University’s BA in Criminal Justice. The best undergraduate criminology programs offered by Wazzu prepare students to be effective communicators and critical thinkers in the many facets of the criminal justice world. Degree candidates studying for one of the best undergraduate criminal justice programs available must complete 120 credit units to graduate. Wazzu’s undergraduate criminal justice coursework includes classes in Social Justice, Communication, Constitutional Protection, Crime Theory, and Information Literacy, to name a few.

Washington State University was established in 1890 under the Morrill Land Grant Act. This public institution of higher education operates satellite campuses throughout the state of Washington. The main campus in Pullman sits atop a hill in the rural eastern portion of the state. Washington State University’s rural college-feel covers 600+-acres and serves more than 30,000 students.

What We Like: Wazzu’s distance learning student enrollment is approximately 10% of the school’s total enrollment.

Degree: BA in Criminal Justice

18. George Mason University

George Mason University offers a BS in Criminology, Law, and Society degree program that focuses on how to best use the justice system to improve the moral and social problems created by the justice field. GMU’s best undergraduate criminology programs prepare students for careers in homeland security, corrections, social services, the courts, or investigations, among others. George Mason University’s best undergraduate criminal justice programs require criminal justice students to complete 120 credit units to earn the baccalaureate degree.
George Mason University was established in 1949 by George Mason by the author of Virginia’s Declaration of Rights. The school operates several satellite campuses in Virginia and an international facility in Songdo, South Korea. The school’s student enrollment exceeds 35,000, including all colleges.

What We Like: George Mason University was initially chartered as a branch campus of the University of Virginia.

Degree: BS in Criminology, Law, and Society

19. University at Albany (SUNY)

The University at Albany’s School of Criminal Justice offers a BA in Criminal Justice. SUNY Albany’s best undergraduate criminal justice programs are recognized across the country and the world. The best undergraduate criminology programs curriculum requires the completion of 36 credit units of major coursework – Criminology, Intro to Law, a one-semester undergraduate internship program (with a minimum of 135 project hours), and a senior capstone project.

The University at Albany (SUNY Albany) was established in 1844 as an NYS normal school. SUNY Albany is organized into ten colleges/schools providing education opportunities to the school’s 13,000+ students. The University at Albany holds the distinction of being home to the New York State Writers Institute.

What We Like: In 1948, the University at Albany became a member school of the newly formed State University of New York system.

Degree: BA in Criminal Justice

20. North Dakota State University

North Dakota State University offers a BA and a BS in Criminal Justice. These best undergraduate criminal justice programs each require a minimum of 120 credit units to graduate; however, the coursework varies slightly between each, based on the type of degree. NDSU’s best undergraduate criminology programs require degree candidates to earn a minimum of 60 credit units at the degree-granting institution of higher education.

North Dakota State University was established in 1890 as the North Dakota Agricultural College under the Morrill Land Grant Act. North Dakota State University is a member school of the North Dakota University System. The school’s 240+ acre suburban campus is home to more than 14,000 students studying from the university’s nine colleges/schools.

What We Like: North Dakota State University is one of the state’s largest employers.

Degree: BA or BS in Criminal Justice

21. San Diego State University

San Diego State University offers a BS in Criminal Justice that requires a student to complete 36 credit units of the criminal justice major’s coursework requirements. SDSU’s best undergraduate criminal justice programs prepare degree candidates for criminal justice careers in law enforcement, the court systems, or the correctional system. Classes for SDSU’s best undergraduate criminology programs include Investigation & Reporting, Law in Society, and Social Control through Criminal Justice. Students have the option to study abroad if they meet eligibility requirements.

San Diego State University was established in 1897 as a public institution of higher education with a space-grant designation. SDSU’s 275+-acre urban campus in sunny San Diego is home to nearly 35,000 students.

What We Like: San Diego State University is a member school of the California State University System and the 3rd oldest campus in the system.

Degree: BS in Criminal Justice

22. West Virginia University

West Virginia University offers a Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) in Criminal Justice. West Virginia University offers one of the best undergraduate criminology programs as an applied science degree. Coursework for WVU’s best undergraduate criminal justice programs includes Victimology, Criminal Justice Research Methods, Criminal Evidence, and a culminating senior capstone project. Applicants for the WVU’s baccalaureate criminal justice program must have already earned 60 credits (from an accredited school) or hold an Associate’s of Applied Science degree.

West Virginia University was established in 1867 under the Morrill Land Grant Act. WVU is also a public, flagship, and space-grant institution of higher education. West Virginia University’s student enrollment is about 30,000 (across all campuses) studying for academic degrees from the university’s fifteen colleges/schools.

What We Like: West Virginia University maintains the Core Arboretum that is open to the public.

Degree: BAS in Criminal Justice

23. University of Illinois at Chicago

The University of Illinois at Chicago offers a BA in Criminology, Law & Justice. The best undergraduate criminology programs offered by UIC require the completion of 120 credit units (with 33 credit units from approved major courses) to graduate. Classes for these best undergraduate criminal justice programs include Criminal Law, Youth & Crime, Forensic Science, Criminal Investigations, and Punishment, Prisons and Corrections, to name a few.

The University of Illinois at Chicago was established in 1982 and operates two urban campuses in Chicago – one campus is located by the loop and the other in Chicago’s West Side community area. This public institution of higher education is home to more than 33,000 students studying for degrees offered by the school’s sixteen colleges/schools.

What We Like: Times Higher Education World University recognizes the University of Illinois, Chicago, the 18th best university that is less than a half-century old.

Degree: BA in Criminology, Law, and Justice

24. Temple University

The College of Liberal Arts at Temple University offers a BA in Criminal Justice that is considered among the best undergraduate criminal justice programs in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the nation. Coursework for these best undergraduate criminology programs offered by Temple University includes the Nature of Crime, Research Methods, and a senior capstone project. Temples’ criminal justice program requires the completion of 123 credit units to graduate.

Temple University was established in 1884 as a private institution of higher education; however, Temple University is now a public university. The school’s main campus is home to more than 40,000 students studying from the university’s 17 colleges/schools.

What We Like:Temple University holds the distinction of being among the largest professional education providers, and the top school for professional practitioners in Pennsylvania.

Degree: BA in Criminal Justice

25. California State University, Chico

The California State University, Chico offers an on-campus BA in Criminal Justice that is recognized among the best undergraduate criminology programs offered in California. The classes required to complete CSU Chico’s best undergraduate criminal justice programs include Forensic Science, the Philosophy of Law, Administrative Law, and Community Corrections, to name a few. CSU Chico’s baccalaureate criminal justice program required the completion of 120 credit units to graduate from the degree program.

The California State University (CSU Chico) was established as a public university in 1887. CSU Chico is the second oldest member school in the California State University system. The school’s small-town feel campus serves more than 17,000 students vying for degrees offered by CSU Chico’s eleven colleges/schools.

What We Like: US News and World Report recognizes CSU Chico among the top public universities in the western US.

Degree: BA in Criminal Justice Campus

Should I Choose Criminal Justice or Criminology?

When you are comparing a criminal justice degree with a criminology degree, you want to understand the differences between the two fields of study. A criminal justice degree focuses on criminal law. If you are planning to work in the justice system, then you may consider a criminal justice degree worth it. When you are planning to work in the FBI or a similar program, criminal justice degree benefits may not offer the same level of opportunity as a criminology degree.

A criminology degree focuses on the behavioral science behind criminal behavior. While it does have many similarities to a criminal justice degree, the focus of the degree is criminal behavior and identifying the causes of the actions. It strives to find solutions to reduce crime based on individual behavior.

You may wonder is criminal justice a social science, and it does have many courses and classes in common with social science majors. The primary difference is the focus on law. Is criminal justice a hard major? It depends on your interests and personal abilities. The degree does discuss topics related to the legal industry and students may face some challenges with the legal courses. The difficulty level may increase as you work on obtaining a higher level of education.

What is the Difference Between Criminal Justice and Criminology?

When it comes to the difference between criminology and criminal justice, it is the goal of the degree and the career path that differs. Colleges that offer criminology and forensics apply the skills to a specific area of crime.

When it comes to identifying what is the difference between criminal justice and criminology, the primary factor to consider is the end goal. Criminology degrees focus on reformation and psychopathology with the goal of improving reformation solutions and preventing crime. It strives to address the cause of criminal behavior and take measures to reduce the risk of crime in the future. It also recognizes the importance of high ethical standards when evaluating potential solutions, so it may emphasis ethics as it applies to criminal reform.

Criminal justice focuses on the practical aspects of crime. It may focus on forensics and investigations, as well as police procedures and victimology. Criminal justice degrees focus on the victims as well as the different types of crimes that may arise. It also provides a strong foundation in forensics for individuals who plan to work on the scientific side of a police force or the justice system.

Would a Criminology Degree Be Good for Pre-Law?

When it comes to the relationship between criminology and criminal law, you will find that it is a good combination. A key reason criminology is a good option for students who plan to move forward into a legal career is the focus on understanding criminal behavior. It strives to understand the reasons for criminal activity and find solutions to prevent crime. A student who plans to work in the criminal justice system as a lawyer may find that the degree offers a strong foundation to build on when moving forward with a law degree.

It is also helpful when students want to take on the role of a judge after working as a lawyer. Since the degree teaches students about ethics as it applies to the criminal justice system, it allows those who plan to work as a judge to gain a strong foundation in ethical standards and proper conduct in criminal proceedings.

The degree prepares students for the rigors of working in criminal law. It also teaches students about different types of crimes and how psychopathology differs based on the type of crime. That may assist students with the process of working with their clients when getting into the criminal justice system.

When students plan to work in the legal system with a focus on juvenile crime, the degree also offers the foundation students need to build on for their law degree. It gives a broad overview of crime based on different situations. Students learn about white-collar crime, juvenile crime, and common crimes that may end up in the legal system. They also learn the reasons behind different types of crime and the ways to address problems within the system as it applies to different groups or crimes.

Criminology is a good option for pre-law because it gives students an overview of crimes and the criminal justice system. It also focuses on criminal behavior, which may help when working in criminal law as a lawyer.

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