Inside Look at the Best Criminal Justice Schools in California

Learn everything you need to know about the best criminal justice schools in California, your career options and earning potential, and much more.

Last Updated: 08/31/2021

Do you have an interest in protecting and serving your community? Would you like to have a direct impact working toward positive social change via the criminal justice system? Criminal justice schools in California prepare you for a meaningful career as a criminal investigator, detective, probation officer, police officer, and many other interesting options. While some entry-level careers in the field require only a high school diploma and on-the-job training, the more lucrative careers require education at the certificate, associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral level. This guide provides an inside look at the best criminal justice schools in California to help you get started on your search for a quality program.

Best Schools with Criminal Justice Majors in California for 2021

The school spotlights below give you a detailed look at some of the best criminal justice schools in California. These accredited programs were chosen because of their affordability, high curriculum quality, and excellent student support services. The universities featured below are a preview of our full rankings of schools with criminal justice programs in California, which will be posted later in 2021. For now, see which top criminal justice schools in California stand out this year.

1

California State University Long Beach (CSULB)

Established in 1949, CSULB is a public university with approximately 39,400 students. The school is one of 23 schools in the California State University System and one of the best schools with criminal justice majors in California.

The school offers both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminal justice. The 123- or 124-credit, four-year bachelor of science in criminal justice is an on-campus program. Master’s students can choose from a 36-credit, two-year on-campus or online program. Required courses for the bachelor’s degree include statistics for criminal justice, substantive criminal law, policing, and crime analysis. Master’s students must have completed five graduate-level prerequisite courses before admission to the criminal justice program.

Bachelor’s applicants for this criminal justice school in California must have a 3.0 or higher GPA and a history of coursework in sociology, psychology, American government, and introduction to the criminal justice system in society. Master’s criminal justice applicants must submit a statement of purpose, two letters of recommendation, transcripts, and complete Cal State online application. Additionally, master’s applicants may submit a writing sample, GRE scores, or LSAT scores for consideration. 

Delivery:

  • On-Campus (bachelor’s and master’s)
  • Online (master’s option)
  • Part-Time
  • Full-Time

Undergraduate Programs:

  • Bachelor of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice

Graduate Programs:

  • Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Master of Science in Criminology and Criminal Justice Online
  • Master of Science in Emergency Services Administration

Specialization Options:

  • Minor in Criminal Justice
  • Minor in Forensics Studies

2

San Diego State University (SDSU)

Located in its School of Public Affairs, SDSU offers one of the best criminal justice majors in California. The school was established in 1897 and is the third-oldest university in the California State University System. This public institution boasts an enrollment of approximately 35,600 students. 

SDSU degree-seekers can choose from a bachelor or master of science in criminal justice. The bachelor’s degree prepares learners to work in several essential areas, including law enforcement, parole and probation, corrections, and a variety of social service agencies. The master’s degree, which combines criminology, criminal justice, and sociology, prepares students for additional graduate-level research or law school. Graduates of schools with criminal justice majors in California also move on to careers in government, nonprofit organizations, consulting firms, and the private sector. 

Incoming bachelor’s students should have a 2.8 or higher GPA and at least 60 transferable semester units. In addition to prerequisites and transfer credits, learners complete 36 units in criminal justice, public administration, and electives. Master’s students also need 36 units to graduate, including coursework in research methods, criminal justice and criminological theory, and six units of electives. Like many other criminal justice schools in California, SDSU also requires graduate students to complete a thesis or capstone project. 

Delivery:

  • On-Campus (bachelor’s and master’s)
  • Part-Time
  • Full-Time

Undergraduate Programs:

  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice

Graduate Programs:

  • Master of Science in Criminal Justice

3

Sacramento State University

Sac State is a public university established in 1947. Located in Sacramento, the school serves approximately 31,500 students and is one of the best criminal justice schools in California. Bachelor’s criminal justice degree-seekers choose from on-campus and online formats, while master’s criminal justice students complete their program on-campus.

Incoming bachelor’s students should have a C or higher in their prerequisites, including introduction to criminal justice in society, law of crimes, general investigative techniques, and the community and the justice system. At this criminal justice school in California, the program requires 60 units of major coursework and 120 units total for graduation. The school offers a widely diverse set of elective courses for criminal justice majors in areas including investigation, corrections, offenses and offenders, and criminal justice administration. 

Master’s students need 30 units for graduation. Sac State requires incoming students to have a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution and a 3.0 GPA. Applicants for the graduate degree should also have a score of 4 or higher on the analytical writing section of the GRE exam. Applications must include a personal statement outlining interests and goals, as well as three letters of recommendation.

Delivery:

  • On-Campus (bachelor’s and master’s)
  • Online (bachelor’s)
  • Part-Time
  • Full-Time

Undergraduate Programs:

  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice

Graduate Programs:

  • Master of Science in Criminal Justice

Top Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs in California

With sophisticated remote-learning technologies, more and more schools with criminal justice majors in California are offering robust online programs for distance learners. Some of today’s best criminal justice schools in California offer fully online and hybrid programs. Whether you’re a working professional who’s trying to earn a degree in their spare time or a young part-time learner with work or family obligations, a flexible online program might be a great choice for you. 

In many cases, remote students save time and money compared to those in traditional on-campus programs. You can avoid time-consuming, and sometimes costly, commutes to campus by completing a program online at one of the best criminal justice schools in California. When you attend an accredited program, you’ll earn the same credentials and skills as on-campus learners in criminal justice schools in California. An online accelerated program may also help you complete your credentials more quickly.

To help you start your search for the online criminal justice degree program that’s right for you, here’s a list of the top programs. These are accredited and offer either a fully online program or hybrid format with limited in-person obligations. Check out our main guide for more information on what you can expect from an online criminal justice degree program.

1

California State University San Bernardino (CSUSB)

CSUSB is a public university founded in 1965 and is part of the California State University System. This campus boasts approximately 19,500 students. In partnership with its College of Extended and Global Education, remote students can attend one of the best criminal justice schools in California entirely online. 

Degree-seekers need 120 semester units for graduation. Prospective students must complete various requirements before gaining admission to this program, including 60 semester units of transferable coursework at a regionally accredited university or community college. Applicants must have a 2.75 or higher GPA and a course history in introductory criminal justice classes. 

Upon admission to this criminal justice school in California, CSUSB criminal justice bachelor’s students complete 15 semester units of required classes and 21 units of criminal justice classes. Required courses include correctional theory and institutions, theories of crime and delinquency, and statistics in criminal justice. Criminal justice students also choose up to six elective courses to tailor the degree to fit their needs, such as women and crime, white collar crime, forensic profiling, and social network analysis. Classes cost $420 per unit; learners pay about $6,300 per semester.

Undergraduate Programs:

  • Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice

Program Delivery:

  • Part-Time
  • Full-Time
  • Fully-Online

2

California Southern University (CSU)

CSU is a private university in Costa Mesa, with accreditation from the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC). Established in 1978, this program is at one of the best criminal justice schools in the California. Learners choose between a fully online bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice.

Bachelor’s degrees require 120 credits for graduation. CSU allows incoming students to transfer up to 90 credits toward the degree. Learners pay $425 per credit; in most cases, full-time students complete the program in four years. Upon completion of the program, bachelor’s degree holders from schools with criminal justice majors in California often move on to careers as peace officers, probation or correctional officers, detectives, forensic science technicians, security officers, and more. 

Students pursuing the master of science in law enforcement executive leadership need 36 credits for graduation. Students pay $445 per credit. Master’s students at CSU can transfer up to six credits toward the degree and typically need two years to complete the program. Master’s degree-holders from criminal justice schools in California like CSU often pursue careers in homeland security, police and security management, criminal justice administration, and government organizations. 

Delivery:

  • Online
  • Part-Time
  • Full-Time

Undergraduate Programs:

  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice

Graduate Programs:

  • Master of Science in Law Enforcement Executive Leadership

3

National University (NU)

NU is a private institution in La Jolla. Started in 1971, the school holds regional accreditation from the WSCUC. With one of the best criminal justice programs in California, NU offers degree-seekers online learning options for its bachelor’s and master’s programs. 

NU’s bachelor of science in criminal justice administration helps students develop a strong foundation in criminology, corrections, leadership and management, investigations, and criminal law. Bachelor’s degree-seekers need 180 quarter credits for graduation, 45 of which must be completed through NU. Online bachelor’s students also complete a supervised research project for graduation. This program typically takes full-time learners four years to complete.

The 54 quarter-unit master of criminal justice at NU can be completed in as few as 12 months. The rigorous curriculum at criminal justice schools in California like NU helps students engage with essential components of theory and practice in today’s complex criminal justice field. Upon completion of the program, master’s degree-holders are prepared to take on criminal justice careers at the federal, state, and local levels, including roles in security administration, correctional administration, criminal justice research, and instructional assignments.

Delivery:

  • On-Campus (bachelor’s and master’s)
  • Part-Time
  • Full-Time

Undergraduate Programs:

  • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice

Graduate Programs:

  • Master of Science in Criminal Justice

Types of Criminal Justice Degrees in California You Can Earn

As you begin to dig into schools with criminal justice majors in California, you’ll find that several types of credentials are available. From associate and bachelor’s programs to master’s and doctoral degrees, how do you know which one is best for you? 

Each program level has specific academic requirements, so your educational history will help you narrow your choices. Additionally, higher degrees usually open the doors to upper-level careers with more lucrative salaries. No matter where you’d like to work in the criminal justice field, there’s a school to get you there. Take a closer look at your options with examples from California schools with criminal justice majors.

Undergraduate Criminal Justice Degrees in California

Associate Degrees in Criminal Justice

Associate degrees offer learners an excellent introduction to the foundations of criminal justice. At schools with criminal justice majors in California, for an associate degree you’ll complete several general education classes, including classes in science, history, English, and math, along with your criminal justice coursework. Major-specific classes cover areas such as crime scene investigation, ethics, and constitutional law. Upon completion of this 18- to 24-month degree, you’ll be prepared to seek a job as a probation officer, corrections officer, investigator, and police officer, to name a few.

Examples of Accredited California Colleges with this Criminal Justice Degree

  • City: Ventura
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WSCUC
  • City: Santa Ana
  • Delivery: Online
  • Accreditation: Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
  • City: Stockton
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WSCUC
  • City: Alhambra
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
  • City: Norwalk
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges

Bachelor’s Degrees in Criminal Justice

At schools with criminal justice majors in California offering bachelor’s degrees, typically you’ll need to spend four years of full-time study to complete the program. A bachelor’s program can be a good choice for those with an associate degree or other transferable college credits. You’ll study criminal justice topics more in-depth and explore subject areas such as criminology, crime prevention, governmental policy, and corrections. Bachelor’s programs often allow students to complete coursework in a specialized area or concentration, which helps learners personalize their studies and focus more on their interests within the field. Many bachelor’s degree-holders from criminal justice schools in California move on to careers as government agents in homeland security, the FBI, or the Drug Enforcement Administration. Others seek out work as investigators, corrections officers, crime lab analysts, police officers, and more.

Examples of Accredited California Colleges with this Criminal Justice Degree

  • City: Los Angeles
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WSCUC
  • City: Fullerton
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WSCUC
  • City: Irvine
  • Delivery: Online/Hybrid
  • Accreditation: WSCUC
  • City: Riverside
  • Delivery: Online
  • Accreditation: WSCUC
  • City: Los Angeles
  • Delivery: Online/Hybrid
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Graduate Criminal Justice Degrees in California

Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice

Master’s degrees from the best criminal justice schools in California prepare you for mid- and high-level careers in the field, typically in administrative, management, and leadership positions. Master’s programs are designed for experienced learners who have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field as well as relevant work experience. In these programs, you’ll be able to further refine a specialized skill set by taking classes in a concentration area such as cybersecurity, forensic science, crime analysis, or strategic management. Degree-holders from criminal justice schools in California often seek careers as emergency management directors, computer forensics investigators, correctional officer supervisors, and police and detective supervisors.

Examples of Accredited California Colleges with this Criminal Justice Degree

  • City: San José
  • Delivery: Online
  • Accreditation: WSCUC 
  • City: Long Beach
  • Delivery: Online
  • Accreditation: WSCUC 
  • City: Los Angeles
  • Delivery: Online
  • Accreditation: WSCUC 
  • City: Los Angeles
  • Delivery: Online
  • Accreditation: DEAC
  • City: Turlock
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WSCUC 

Criminal Justice PhD Programs

Like most doctor of philosophy programs, the PhD in criminal justice at schools in California is for those advanced students interested in research, theory, and education. Professionals with a PhD in criminal justice often spend three to five years earning this degree, which includes writing a traditional doctoral dissertation based on original research. You’ll likely need a master’s degree in criminal justice or a closely related field to apply. Those with a PhD in criminal justice often move on to careers in higher education, research at private or government research institutions, forensic science, or homeland security.

Examples of Accredited California Colleges with this Criminal Justice Degree

  • City: San Diego
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WSCUC 
  • City: Irvine
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WSCUC 
  • City: Berkeley
  • Delivery: Online/On-Campus/Hybrid
  • Accreditation: WSCUC 
  • City: San Diego
  • Delivery: Online
  • Accreditation: WSCUC 

Criminal Justice Graduate Certificates

Graduate certificates at the best criminal justice schools in California are designed to help professionals working in the field to further develop their skills. These programs give you the opportunity to hone your critical thinking and analytical skills. Depending on the program, you may be able to choose a concentration such as victimology, law enforcement, public administration, or corrections. Many students also earn the credential to be more competitive candidates in the job market, especially if they’re looking for a promotion or a career change within the criminal justice field.

Examples of Accredited California Colleges with this Criminal Justice Degree

  • City: Long Beach
  • Delivery: On-Campus
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

Financial Aid Opportunities for Criminal Justice Students in California

Earning a degree from a criminal justice school in California can be a significant financial challenge for just about anyone. Thankfully, there are many financial aid opportunities out there at the federal, state, and local levels. Additionally, many colleges and universities offer financial assistance for criminal justice students through the department that houses the program. Financial awards may be need- or -merit-based or reserved for applicants from particular demographics. California State University Long Beach, for example, offers several scholarships for both undergraduate and graduate students in its School of Criminology, Criminal Justice, and Emergency Management. California State Los Angeles offers internal fellowships, tuition waiver programs, conference travel support, and dissertation support for its graduate students. 

You can also find financial assistance for your criminal justice degree program through professional organizations at the state or national level. The California Association of Criminalists, for example, offers several financial awards for members. Other scholarship opportunities for criminal justice students at the national level include funding offered by My Alarm Center, the Park Law Enforcement Association, Zinda Law Group, and Women in Federal Law Enforcement, Inc. For more information, check out our financial aid guide and scholarships guide, where you’ll learn more ways to fund your criminal justice education.

Employment and Earnings Outlook for Criminal Justice Grads in California

The employment and earnings outlook for professionals in criminal justice looks bright. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, criminal justice workers in California, especially in major metropolitan areas, will see healthy growth in numbers and earnings over the next several years. Gambling surveillance officers and gaming investigators, for example, will see 18.2% growth by 2028. Similarly, private detectives and investigators can expect 8.1% growth. There are also lucrative roles in the field, especially for those located in major metropolitan areas. Detectives and criminal investigators in the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim area make an annual mean wage of $126,320. That’s about $40,300 more per year than the national annual mean wage for professionals working in similar criminal justice roles.

Job Growth
(2018-2028)
Avg. Annual Openings
(2018-2028)
Annual Mean Wage (2020)
Detectives and Criminal Investigators3.2%860$111,480
Private Detectives and Investigators8.1%370$70,350
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists3%1,180$95,820
Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers3.7%5,460$107,440
Gambling Surveillance Officers and Gaming Investigators18.2%170$40,810

Source: Projections Central; Bureau of Labor Statistics

Resources for Criminal Justice Professionals and Students in California

California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA)

The CCPOA is a membership association that strives to benefit criminal justice workers. This includes the improvement of wages and benefits for these workers, as well as the enhancement of training and education for correctional officers in California.

California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

This site offers information, laws, and guidelines for correctional facilities across the state of California. The careers section provides an active job board to jobseekers, including specific guidelines for applying for a state job in criminal justice. They also host an active Facebook page.

Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice (CJCJ)

Located in San Francisco, the CJCJ works with criminal justice stakeholders and community-based organizations to better serve juvenile rehabilitation services in the Bay Area and around the state. Students and professionals use the site to keep up with the latest news and criminal justice information in the juvenile sector, find volunteer opportunities, and apply for additional training through its Next Generation Fellowship.

The Civil Rights Project

Operated by the University of California Los Angeles, the Civil Rights Project strives to create a new generation of criminal justice researchers to investigate critical issues of race and justice in the US. Students and professionals working in criminal justice areas can find the latest reports on today’s most pressing topics in the field. Many of the studies focus on issues in California.

Western Society of Criminology (WSC)

Housed by California State University Long Beach, the WSC hosts an annual conference and offers exclusive publications for its members. Students receive a discount on membership dues and can apply for WSC’s June Morrison and Deschenes scholarships. There are also student chapters designed to help learners build their professional networks in the field.