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Types of Criminal Justice Degrees: BA vs. BS

Written by: Hilbert College   •  Feb 9, 2023
A police investigator searches a criminal database.

Types of Criminal Justice Degrees: BA vs. BS

The criminal justice system plays a vital role in maintaining social order and protecting the rights of citizens. However, it is a system that needs improvement and new employees who have a deep understanding of how it functions. Whether it’s a career in corrections to reduce overcapacity, forensics science to ensure that convictions are backed by science and evidence or in paralegal work to assist lawyers in preparing for difficult trials, one of the best ways to prepare for a future in the criminal justice field is to obtain a thorough and foundational education.

When choosing a degree program, one decision students will face is whether to pursue a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS) in criminal justice. Both types of criminal justice degrees will equip students with a solid understanding of the system, but the focus and curriculum of the two degrees differ. Students need to consider their career goals and interests before deciding, as this will help them choose which bachelor’s degree program best benefits their aspirations.

What Is Criminal Justice?

Criminal justice is the field of study that examines the various systems and institutions responsible for enforcing criminal law and maintaining social order. This field encompasses many disciplines, including law, sociology, psychology, and political science.

As a field of study, criminal justice examines the various systems and institutions that make up the criminal justice system, the processes and practices used in law enforcement, the courts and corrections, and the impact of criminal justice policies on society. It also examines the causes and consequences of criminal behavior and ways to prevent and control crime.

The criminal justice field comprises three main components, each of which has can be found at the local, state and federal levels:

  • Law enforcement: This consists of the agencies responsible for investigating and preventing crime and apprehending and arresting offenders, such as police departments or the FBI.
  • The courts: These are responsible for determining guilt and imposing punishments on those convicted of a crime.
  • The corrections system: This includes institutions such as prisons and probation offices responsible for supervising and rehabilitating offenders.

Differences Between a BA and BS in Criminal Justice

While either a criminal justice BA or BS will assist students as they work toward criminal justice careers, it’s worth aligning one’s education with one’s career goals. The BA in criminal justice and BS in criminal justice degrees have some notable differences in scope, curriculum and long-term goals. A BA is typically a liberal arts-focused degree emphasizing the social sciences and humanities. The curriculum for a BA in criminal justice often includes courses in sociology, psychology, political science and philosophy, as well as studies specific to criminal justice. Students in a BA program may also have the opportunity to take electives in related fields such as criminology, forensic psychology or law.

On the other hand, a BS in criminal justice is more science-focused and emphasizes the technical and quantitative aspects of the field. The BS curriculum typically includes statistics, research methods, technology and courses specific to legal processes and criminal justice. Students in this program may also have the opportunity to take electives in related fields such as computer science, forensic science or emergency management.

In terms of long-term goals, a BA in criminal justice may benefit students interested in pursuing careers in law enforcement administration, criminology or corrections. A BS in criminal justice may benefit students interested in pursuing careers in fraud investigation, forensic science or paralegal work.

What Will You Learn in a Criminal Justice Curriculum?

Both types of criminal justice degrees have their own unique focus and curriculum, but in general a BA has a broader curriculum and a BS has a more specialized curriculum.

A BA in criminal justice program is likely to offer a broader curriculum that includes a variety of liberal arts courses, such as courses in philosophy, sociology and the arts, in addition to courses directly related to criminal justice. These liberal arts courses may give students a well-rounded education and a deeper understanding of criminal justice’s social, ethical and cultural context.

On the other hand, a BS in criminal justice program may have a more focused curriculum that centers on topics surrounding the criminal justice system, such as investigation, interview and interrogation techniques; ethics; and introductions to the components of the justice system such as law and corrections. These courses provide students with the specialized knowledge and technical skills required for particular roles in the criminal justice field. The BS curriculum is also likely to include an introduction to research methods in the social sciences and general education requirements such as courses in writing, public speaking and public service.

Make a Difference in the Criminal Justice System

Both types of criminal justice degrees can provide individuals with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed and make a difference in the criminal justice system. The criminal justice field constantly evolves alongside society and needs experts who can drive reform and bring new perspectives to the table. Those ready to tackle this challenge should consider the benefits of Hilbert College’s online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice.

This degree prepares students to become innovative leaders who promote equality and justice via critical thinking, communication, research, analysis and problem-solving. With courses such as “Ethics in the Criminal Justice System” and “Diversity Issues in Criminal Justice,” students can build a foundation in criminal justice that will help them pursue justice for all citizens. Discover how you can make a difference with Hilbert College.

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Britannica, Criminal Justice

Forbes, “What Can You Do With A Criminal Justice Degree? 8 Jobs And Their Requirements”

HeinOnline, Criminal Justice & Criminology

Indeed, “The Differences Between a BA and a BS in Criminal Justice”

Indeed, “10 Criminal Justice Majors (Plus 16 Jobs You Can Pursue)”

Nature, “A Large-Scale Analysis of Racial Disparities in Police Stops Across the United States”

The Sentencing Project, “The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State Prisons”

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