Criminal Justice Careers after Completing an Associate’s Degree

Classroom with chairs and blackboard at Cornell University

Photo by Tom Sulcer

If you’re interested in a criminal justice profession, but are not quite ready to commit to a four-year Bachelor’s degree, there are several entry-level positions you may pursue after completing a two-year Associate’s degree. That way you can get a taste of higher education, followed by professional work experience, and then always go back to school to complete a Bachelor’s degree or higher to upgrade your skills and move up to senior level positions. (Several colleges offer transfer/transition Associate degree programs so that all or some of your credits can be transferred to a Bachelor’s).

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As follows are some positions you may be eligible for after completing a two-year Associate’s degree. (Note that this is just a guideline as some employers/agencies may have higher or lower educational requirements).

Police Officer/Sheriff’s Deputy

While some law enforcement agencies only require candidates to have a high school or GED diploma and to successfully complete their police academy training, several require candidates to have completed college credits or an Associate’s degree (i.e. in law enforcement or criminal justice). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “State and local agencies encourage applicants to continue their education after high school by taking courses or training related to law enforcement. Many applicants for entry-level police jobs have taken some college classes, and a significant number are college graduates…Many agencies offer financial assistance to officers who pursue these or related degrees”. Additionally, those who apply to law enforcement agencies are more appealing if they have pursued higher education. Some departments also offer incentive pay (higher salary) to those with a degree.


According to the BLS, the minimum requirement for paralegals is an Associate’s degree. Many schools offer such programs online if you prefer to pursue the degree at a time and location convenient to your current lifestyle. Working as a paralegal is an excellent way to enter the legal profession. Potentially you can move up to a supervisory role or choose to advance your education to become a lawyer.

Corrections Officer

Again the educational requirements to be considered for corrections officer positions vary by employer. Some only require a high school or GED diploma while others require the completion of some college credits (i.e. an Associate’s degree in corrections, law enforcement or criminal justice). Again, even if a degree is not strictly a requirement, relevant higher education and/or experience will increase your chances of employment and higher pay. Should you decide to work in a federal prison or to rise up to a senior position (such as a “correction program officer,” states the Massachusetts DOC) a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree must be completed.

Transportation Security Officer

Working with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as a Transportation Security Officer is an ideal entry point into the criminal justice field. “In this role, you will protect passengers in airports and on aircrafts,” states ICDC College. While college education is not necessarily a requirement, an Associate’s degree in homeland security, criminal justice or law enforcement will help you stand out from a pool of applicants.

These are just some of the criminal positions you may pursue after completing an Associate’s degree. As you begin to research potential schools and programs, take the initiate and talk to the school’s academic advisors or instructors to find out which jobs you would be eligible for after completing a particular two-year degree.