Criminal Justice Scholarships and Financial Aid Guide

Liz Simmons
Updated April 24, 2024
Edited by
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If you’re interested in solving crimes, advocating for victims, and pursuing justice in the criminal justice system, you can consider earning a degree in criminal justice. Schools, independent organizations, and other providers offer criminal justice scholarships at the undergraduate and graduate levels to help cover costs for these programs.

Besides scholarships, other forms of financial aid include grants, fellowships, the federal work-study program, and student loans. Explore information on criminal justice scholarships and tips for successfully applying for funding with this helpful guide.

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Popular Criminal Justice Scholarships

Criminal justice students who demonstrate academic merit may qualify for scholarships to help pay for school. The table below highlights several criminal justice scholarships.

The following section covers scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students pursuing a degree in criminal justice or a related field, such as an online master’s in criminal justice. We also note award amounts and deadlines, as well as when a scholarship requires that applicants meet specific additional criteria.

Criminal Justice Scholarships
ScholarshipDegree LevelField of StudyAward AmountDeadlineSpecial Criteria
Paul Janosky Criminal Justice ScholarshipUndergraduateCriminal justice$2,000May 3, 2024Son or daughter of a sworn officer working for a law enforcement agency in Miami-Dade county
Christopher W. Todd Police Science ScholarshipUndergraduateCriminal justice, police science, law, public safety, or social services$2,000May 3, 2024Officer or son or daughter working for a law enforcement agency in Miami-Dade county
Mike Byrd Crime Scene Investigation ScholarshipUndergraduateAny major related to crime scene investigation$2,000May 3, 2024Son or daughter of a sworn officer working for a law enforcement agency in Miami-Dade county
Constitutional Officers Association of Georgia ScholarshipsUndergraduateAny$1,000March 15Georgia residents
Division on Corrections and Sentencing of the American Society of Criminology Dissertation ScholarshipPh.D.Must be working on a dissertation related to sentencing and corrections$3,000August 31Ph.D. candidates working on dissertations
Harry Frank Guggenheim Foundation Emerging Scholars ScholarshipPh.D.Any major but must be studying violence$25,000February 1Ph.D. candidates at the dissertation stage of study researching any aspect of violence
Helen Taylor Greene and Vernetta D. Young Graduate Fellowship for the Study ofMaster’s or Ph.D.Major related to race and crime$2,500September 1N/A
Ritchie-Jennings Memorial ScholarshipUndergraduate or graduateAccounting, business administration, finance, criminal justice, or a similar fraud-related discipline$2,000-$10,000February 5N/A
Kush Arora Federal Criminal Justice Reform ScholarshipUndergraduate or graduateLaw, criminal justice, or related$500May 1N/A
Women in Federal Law Enforcement ScholarshipUndergraduateCriminal justice or a related discipline$2,500May 1N/A
Women in Federal Law Enforcement Members-Only ScholarshipUndergraduate or graduateCriminal justice or a related discipline$3,000May 1Members of Women in Federal Law Enforcement

How Much Does a Criminal Justice Degree Cost?

Average Annual Tuition and Fees in 2020 by Field of Study
Field of StudyAssociate Program CostBachelor’s Program CostMaster’s Program CostDoctoral Program Cost
Security, law enforcement, firefighting, and related protective services$3,109$12,626$8,331unavailable
Legal professions and studies$3,560$16,006$21,657$37,408
Source: NCES DataLab

Tips for Landing a Criminal Justice Scholarship

No matter the award amount, criminal justice scholarship applicants can expect to have competition. They should take care during the application process to write a captivating essay, gather multiple endorsements, and put in extra studying time for standardized tests. Continue reading to see what criminal justice students can do to stand out among other scholarship applicants.

Write a Standout Essay

Essays are not afterthoughts — they are difference-makers. Many applicants will have similar GPAs and test scores and, if they’ve chosen their references well, great recommendations. In this case, the personal essay carries more importance as the applicant’s opportunity to explain why they should receive funding for their criminal justice education. Here’s how to make your essay stand out:

  1. 1

    Read the instructions.

    It can be tempting to reuse or recycle portions of previous application essays. While that can sometimes work, applicants should clearly frame their essays to each scholarship committee by reading the prompt and restating it in the introduction. Students also applying to general scholarships should keep essay prompts separate and pay close attention to the audience for whom they are writing.

  2. 2

    Highlight relevant academic achievements.

    While colleges may be equally concerned with a student’s grades in Spanish and calculus, a criminal justice scholarship committee is most interested in relevant classes and academic accomplishments. Highlight these areas and attempt to make a direct link to criminal justice. For example, good grades in a computer science class are important for a career fighting cybercrime, while a foreign language award looks great for those who want to work in homeland security.

  3. 3

    Align your passions with your activities.

    An essay is not about creating a list of all the impressive things an applicant has accomplished. It is an opportunity for the writer to identify how relevant experiences led them to a criminal justice degree. A candidate should use this time to talk about experiences like volunteering at the local police station, interning at the county court office, or shadowing a security guard.

  4. 4

    Talk about the future.

    People donate to charities because they have a positive image of how that money will be used. Scholarship applicants, however, sometimes neglect to mention their plans for the money. Applicants should explain what they’ll be studying and how they envision their professional futures in the criminal justice field.

  5. 5

    Be an insider.

    Have someone with a criminal justice background help with editing. Ask if the vocabulary rings true or if there are other industry-specific words or phrases that might resonate more with the scholarship committee.

Secure Strong Letters of Recommendation

Letters of recommendation should not read like high school yearbooks. Their purpose is to demonstrate to the committee that an applicant is respected by people who know the applicant well and can speak to their potential in the criminal justice field. This includes teachers, extracurricular advisors, and community members in a position of authority.

Just as students compete for scholarships, they also compete for references. The best policy is to ask at least a month in advance. That should give the person enough to write the letter and the applicant enough time to make sure it gets done. It’s best to make a formal request to your potential reference writer via email; here’s an example of how to ask:


Subject: Request for Scholarship Reference

Dear Ms. Johnson,

I’m applying for the Wyoming Sheriffs Association Scholarship. The application is due on March 31. Because you’ve been my advisor in student government as well as my civics teacher, I am asking if you would write a letter recommending me for the scholarship. The letter should focus on my participation in student government and my ability to work with others.

I’ve attached a rough draft of my personal essay and the application guidelines so you can get a sense of what they are looking for. If you are able to help me with this, I’d love to set up a meeting to talk further. Would this Friday work?


Jane Reynolds

Send Test Scores and Transcripts

Most scholarship committees want to see applicants’ grades, and some may also request test scores. Transcript policies are determined by the issuing school, but it is always a good idea for students to be on friendly terms with the registrar, especially if they’ll be making multiple requests for transcripts.

In terms of test scores, the SAT and ACT allow students to send their scores electronically to scholarship providers. The first several are free, and additional results can be sent for a fee. For the ACT, the fee is $18.50 per send. For the SAT, it is $14 ($31 for rush delivery). Students can log on to their accounts with the testing company to send scores.

Gather Financial Information

Some scholarships take financial need into account when comparing applicants. To cover their bases, applicants should plan on filing taxes early — or ask their parents to do so if they are still dependents.

After filing their taxes, they can submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®). It is highly advantageous to send in your FAFSA as close to Oct. 1 as possible because some aid is provided on a first-come, first-served basis. After sending in a FAFSA form, students can easily apply for scholarships.

The best online resource for questions about financial documentation is the Federal Student Aid website, but high school guidance counselors should also be familiar with the guidelines.

Scholarship Application Timeline

Earning a scholarship starts with the application process. Students must plan carefully to hit deadlines and meet requirements, especially when applying for multiple scholarships. Since many scholarships are tied to financial need, the starting point for any scholarship application process is not just finding out what awards are available but also submitting the FAFSA. After that, everything else can fall into place if students follow a simple timeline.

Four to five months before scholarship application deadline:

  • Use scholarship search tools and other online resources to find scholarships
  • Inquire about scholarships at local law enforcement offices and financial aid offices of colleges you’ve been accepted to
  • Make a spreadsheet with scholarship deadlines and requirements.
  • File taxes
  • File FAFSA

Two months before deadline:

  • Ask for letters of recommendation

One month before deadline:

  • Write rough draft of essay and get editing help
  • Check in with letter-writers
  • Gather emails and addresses of scholarships that you will be sending test scores and transcripts to
  • Request transcripts from school

One to two weeks before deadline:

  • Polish final draft of essay
  • Send test scores and transcripts electronically to scholarship committee
  • File state grant and loan paperwork

After scholarship application deadline:

  • Send thank you notes to referees

Expert Interview with James Goodnow

James Goodnow

James Goodnow is a graduate of Harvard Law School and practices injury law. His law firm, Lamber Goodnow, awards an annual scholarship to students looking to go to law school.

Q. There are all types of academic scholarships out there. But which ones should criminal justice students look for in particular?

What’s true for public speakers and performers is true for individuals seeking academic scholarships: Play to your audience. If you really want to change the world through a career in criminal justice or the law, seek out the type of scholarships that are rewarding people who want to make this their life’s work.

There is a vast amount of resources online, so it takes a concerted effort and a fair amount of research, but dialing in to the programs that are actually designed to help people with the kind of desires and passions you have for your intended work are far better than just sending out applications “shotgun” style to a variety of disparate entities.

Q. How should potential students approach the scholarship application process?

You really want to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Remember, most essays are evaluated by a human being, not a machine, so you really need to make an emotional connection in the form of a story. Show how an event in your life — or an activity that you’re currently involved in — led you to believe that a career in the law or criminal justice will tap into all of your talent and potential and, in turn, make it possible for you to transform the world and other peoples’ lives through your gifts and enthusiasm.

Other Financial Aid for Criminal Justice Majors

Federal vs. Private Loans

A loan is money that must be repaid, typically with interest. While it’s possible to secure private loans for school, federal loans have at least three distinct advantages: they come with lower interest rates, the interest can sometimes be deferred until after graduation (or even later), and the loans can be forgiven in certain situations. Types of federal loans available to criminal justice students include direct subsidized loans, direct unsubsidized loans, and direct PLUS loans.

The Federal Student Aid office generally discourages prospective students from pursuing private loans from banks and other lenders until they’ve exhausted all other options.

That said, one benefit of private loans is that borrowers may be able to apply them to a wider range of expenses than tuition, room and board, and books. For instance, criminal justice students planning to head to law school should look into the Bar Study Loan, which they can apply to test prep courses, exam fees, and living expenses for law students studying for the bar exam. maintains a helpful list of private student loans and the terms for each.

Grants and Fellowships

In addition to criminal justice scholarships, you can apply for grants and fellowships, which do not require repayment. To get a grant, you usually must demonstrate financial need. The federal government, state governments, and nonprofit groups provide grants to college students.

Criminal justice undergraduate students may qualify for federal Pell grants, which deliver funding to those demonstrating significant financial need. Fill out a FAFSA form to see if you qualify for Pell grants.

Fellowships usually support graduate students through short-term funding. This aid allows students to pursue academic research or specialized training in their field. Fellowships last anywhere from a few weeks to years. You can find fellowship opportunities at universities, government agencies, and private organizations. Candidates can research available criminal justice fellowship opportunities through the National Institute of Justice.

Student Assistantships

Schools often offer student assistantships, which provide funding to students in exchange for part-time work teaching or helping with faculty research. Student research and teaching assistantships usually occur at the graduate level and may include a full or partial tuition waiver and a living stipend.

Teaching assistants usually help professors with teaching tasks in undergraduate-level courses. They might give lectures, grade papers, and lead discussion sections. Research assistants assist professors with their research by conducting literature reviews, performing lab work, and completing other research tasks.

Contact your school’s criminal justice department to ask about the availability of student assistantships.


The federal work-study program provides funding that lets students work part-time jobs and earn money while in school to help pay for their degrees. You can find out if your school participates in the program by asking your financial aid office. Part-time and full-time students with financial need at the undergraduate and graduate levels can apply for work-study opportunities.

Student Loan Forgiveness for Criminal Justice Professionals

If you take out federal student loans for your criminal justice degree, you might be able to avoid repayment of part of your loan balance. The federal government’s Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program lets borrowers who work for government and nonprofit organizations apply for loan forgiveness after making 120 monthly payments. You must have federal direct loans (or consolidate other federal loans into a direct loan) to qualify.

If you work for any level of government, you may qualify for PSLF. You can find criminal justice jobs at government agencies and departments at the local, state, and federal levels. Consider local police departments, the Department of Homeland Security, and community corrections offices. Some criminal justice-related jobs that might qualify for loan forgiveness include police officers, corrections officers, crime scene investigators, and FBI agents.

Find out more about PSLF eligibility and learn how to apply for the program.

Frequently Asked Questions About Criminal Justice Scholarships

How do I find criminal justice scholarships?

You can find criminal justice scholarships from various providers, including universities, nonprofit organizations, membership groups, and government agencies. Research available opportunities by looking online, at your public library, or with your school’s financial aid office. Make sure to check professional criminal justice organizations to find specialized criminal justice scholarships.

Does the FBI offer college scholarships?

The FBI itself does not offer college scholarships. However, the FBI National Academy Associates, Inc., a nonprofit organization of law enforcement leaders, provides various scholarships through its local chapters. The Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI offers scholarships to children and grandchildren of current members of the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI.

What GPA do you need for criminal justice scholarships?

Scholarships are usually awarded to applicants who can demonstrate academic merit. GPA requirements for criminal justice scholarships vary, but many scholarship providers ask for a minimum 3.0 GPA. Generally speaking, more competitive scholarships require higher GPAs.

How many scholarships should I apply for?

Apply for as many scholarships as you can. However, make sure that you meet the eligibility requirements for any prospective scholarships so that you don’t waste time applying for opportunities you are unlikely to receive.

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