Criminal Justice Major Guide

Criminal Justice Major Guide

The Criminal Justice Major concerns three primary subject areas—law enforcement, corrections, and the courts. Majoring in criminal justice is a good starting point if you plan to study policing, law, administration of justice, counter-terrorism and more. Read on to find out what you can expect as a Criminal Justice Major.

You’ll study related subjects including criminal psychology, rehabilitation, and sociology. And if you’re interested in eventually going to law school and becoming a practicing attorney, majoring in criminal justice could be a good starting point. A degree in criminal justice will give you the knowledge and qualifications to contribute to public safety, national security, social justice, and a host of other related fields.

If you’re ready to start earning this degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Criminal Justice.

Or read on to find out what you can expect as a Criminal Justice Major.

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5 Reasons to Major in Criminal Justice

1.Criminal Justice majors have a lot of different career options.

The field of criminal justice is divided into three key areas: law enforcement, corrections, and the court system. Within each of these areas, there are countless avenues to a career. Whether you wish to work in a police precinct, for the Department of Homeland Security, as part of a security agency, as a private detective, or in a specialized field like the prevention of cybercrime, majoring criminal justice can help you get there.

2.Criminal Justice majors can help address social inequalities.

Majoring in criminal justice doesn’t just give you a pathway to enforcing the law. You could also pursue a career aimed at reforming the law and helping others find equal justice in the eyes of the court and prison systems. Criminal justice touches on issues or racial inequality, socioeconomic imbalance, mental health issues, addiction, domestic violence and more. A criminal justice degree could qualify you as a public defender, addiction counselor, social worker, and an array of other careers where you could make a positive difference in the lives of both victims and perpetrators who are capable of being rehabilitated.

3.Criminal Justice majors enjoy strong job security.

Many jobs in criminal justice—including work in law enforcement, homeland security, and counterterrorism—are considered public service jobs. This means that many criminal justice professionals enjoy long-term security, good benefits, and an abundance of opportunities for mobility within and between agencies. A degree in criminal justice can improve your chances of sustainable, long-term employment.

4.Criminal Justice majors have access to jobs with good earning potential.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019, the average median pay for police officers and detectives was $65,170. For criminal investigators, that figure was $81,920 in 2018. And if you parlay your criminal justice major into a postgraduate law degree, note that lawyers, in 2019, earned a well-above-average median pay of $122,960.

5.Criminal Justice majors are influential.

Criminal justice issues are front-and-center today as American society grapples with questions over race relations, civil rights, and national security. Researchers and leaders in the field are working hard to illuminate the most pressing issues in criminal justice as well as the solutions to these issues. As part of this field, you’ll have the chance to influence the direction of this discussion. Today, top influencers in Criminal Justice are working on felon disenfranchisement, place-based criminology, alternative drug policies, and much more.

Check out our interview with influential Most Influential People are in Criminal Justice today!

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What Kinds of Criminal Justice Degrees Are There?

The type and level of criminal justice degree you earn will depend on where you see yourself. Opportunities include roles in policing, corrections, law and more.

  • Associate of Criminal Justice: This 2-year degree is available through most community colleges, and can provide the basic qualifications for an entry-level role as an addiction counselor, a corrections officer, a prison guard, or a paralegal. It can also provide an affordable head-start on your way to a four-year degree.
  • Bachelor of Criminal Justice: A bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice can be earned in four years and will generally qualify you for starting employment as a homicide detective, FBI agent, computer forensics specialist, and more. Some police departments may also require you to have earned a bachelor’s degree before you can begin police academy. A bachelor’s degree is also the hiring threshold for many top government security agencies including the Department of Homeland Security and various other public safety and enforcement agencies. You can also jump directly from your bachelor’s degree in criminal justice to a law school (JDLaw) program.
  • Master of Criminal Justice: Because many jobs are accessible with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree in Criminal Justice is valuable for those pursuing highly specialized law enforcement roles. For instance, if you wish to work in criminal psychology or forensics psychology, you would likely need to earn a master’s degree. The same is true if you’re interested in a leadership role in a law enforcement, security, or terror prevention agency.
  • Doctorate in Criminal Justice: A PhD in law enforcement will qualify you to teach as a professor or work as a researcher for a university, think tank, or government agency.
  • Juris Doctor of Law: Depending on your area of concentration, your bachelor’s degree in criminal justice may be a pathway into law school. In order to sit for the bar exam and become a practicing attorney in your state, you must earn your Juris Doctor of Law (JDLaw) from a law school.

*Note: Many, but not all, degree programs offer the choice between Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees. Likewise, many, but not all, advanced degree programs offer a choice between Master of Arts, and Master of Science degrees. In most cases, the primary difference is the diversity of course offerings. “Science” degree courses will focus almost entirely on the Major discipline, with a deep dive into a specific concentration, including laboratory, clinical or practicum experience. An “Arts” degree will provide a more well-rounded curriculum which includes both core/concentration courses and a selection of humanities and electives. The type of degree you choose will depend both on your school’s offerings and your career/educational goals. Moreover, there are sometimes numerous variations in the way that colleges name and categorize majors. The degree types identified here above are some of the common naming variations, but may not be all-encompassing.

Thinking of a graduate degree in criminal justice? Check out What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice? for more information on obtaining a graduate degree in this field.

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What Are Some Popular Criminal Justice Concentrations?

Your “concentration” refers to a specific area of focus within your major. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides a complete listing of college programs and courses (Classification for Instructional Programs), as sourced from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). According to IPEDS, which lists Criminal Justice under the broader umbrella of Security and Protective Services, the following are among the most popular concentrations:

  • Criminalistics and Criminal Science
  • Maritime Law Enforcement
  • Corrections and Criminal Justice
  • Juvenile Corrections
  • Cyber/Computer Forensics and Counterterrorism
  • Homeland Security
  • Crisis/Emergency/Disaster Management
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What Courses Will I Take as a Criminal Justice Major?

Your concentration will determine many of the courses you’ll take as a Criminal Justice major. Likewise, you will be required to take a number of requisite courses on foundational topics such as criminal psychology and policing. However, you will also have the freedom to select an array of courses that most interest you. As a Criminal Justice major, you’ll have the chance to craft a well-rounded educational experience that ultimately furthers your professional goals.

  • Introduction to Criminology
  • International Law
  • Criminal Psychology
  • Race and the State
  • Big Data and Surveillance
  • Transformative Justice
  • Capital Punishment in America
  • Comparative Criminal Law
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What Can I Do With a Major in Criminal Justice?

With a degree in criminal justice, you could qualify for an array of opportunities in law enforcement, security, forensics, counter-terrorism, corrections, and much more. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) identifies the following top jobs in criminal justice:

Thinking of a graduate degree in criminal justice? Check out What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice? for more information on obtaining a graduate degree in this field.

If you’re still struggling with what to study in college, we can help you to get clarity around college majors and programs with our comprehensive guide to college majors.

Curious how far you could go with a Major in Criminal Justice? Start with a look at the top influencers in the field today!


Check out the The Most Influential Schools in Criminal Justice and get started on your path to a Criminal Justice degree.

And if you’re shopping for the right college, be sure that you’ve reviewed our Resources on critical issues like Accreditation, Scholarships, Financial Aid, and more!

Get valuable tips and expert advice with a look at our Career Guidance homepage.

See our Resources Guide for much more on studying, starting your job search, and more.

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