Criminal justice is one of the most popular majors among undergraduate students. A criminal justice major is a broad and varied program with opportunities to specialize in a few distinct areas. As a criminal justice major, you will learn about every aspect of the justice system, including crime, law, and the justice system overall.
Read on to learn more about what it means to be a criminal justice major. We’ll go over the different types of criminal justice majors and the possible career paths you can take. Finally, we’ll include a list of some of the top schools for criminal justice majors in the US.
What Is Criminal Justice?
The field of criminal justice includes subfields like criminology, forensic science, corrections, sociology, criminal psychology, and law enforcement administration. The field includes anything having to do with criminal activity and the justice system, which is why it is such a broad discipline with so many different career options and job opportunities.
A criminal justice major seeks to pinpoint and analyze criminal activity, criminal behavior, and how it affects society. It’s a holistic social science that takes an interdisciplinary approach to study every aspect of criminal justice, from root causes of criminal behavior to treatment, corrections, and rehabilitation.
As a criminal justice professional, you may find yourself analyzing a crime scene or working as a law enforcement officer, correctional officer, probation officer, or police officer.
Why Major in Criminal Justice?
The criminal justice system is complex and it’s certainly not perfect. There’s more work to be done to reform and improve our federal and state criminal justice systems. By studying and pursuing criminal justice as a major and a career, you can work to create change from the inside.
If you’re not sure exactly what kind of job you would like to have within the criminal justice world, you can seek out a more generalized criminal justice major. Plenty of schools offer a simple criminal justice major with a broad, interdisciplinary focus.
However, if you know you want to focus on corrections or forensics, for example, you can seek out a specialized or related major in criminal justice, like criminal justice and forensics, police science, or juvenile corrections.
Typical Criminal Justice Coursework
There is no set, typical coursework for a criminal justice major because programs vary. This is why researching individual programs you’re interested in is so important.
However, below a list of some of the core subjects that most criminal justice bachelor’s degree programs include:
- Criminal Investigation
- Research Methods
- Constitutional Law
- Police Science
- Introduction to Criminology
- Judicial Process
Specializations in criminal justice can help you get more in-depth knowledge on some of these subjects and more. Below are a few specializations and possibilities for continuing education that offer excellent career prospects.
Criminology, simply put, is the study of criminals, crimes, and criminal behavior. Understandably, it is a fast-growing field with fascinating job opportunities.
Criminologists typically work with criminal psychologists and law enforcement to understand how and why people commit a crime or a string of crimes. Criminologists are essentially detectives who use deductive reasoning and critical thinking to make hypotheses, investigate, and draw conclusions about criminal cases.
Though forensic investigation is similar to criminology, it is even more specialized since it focuses on forensic science itself. Within a concentration in forensic investigation, you can expect to study aspects of forensic science like toxicology, arson, and document verification.
Also, because so much crime is committed digitally now, forensic investigation also includes the study of digital crime. You may study digital crime related to cyberattacks, cyberbullying, scamming, financial crimes, hacking, and phishing.
As a criminal justice major, you will spend much of your time learning about the law and about the judicial system that upholds it. Understandably, some criminal justice programs take a special interest in this aspect of the subject and decide to focus on the law.
You could choose a college that offers a criminal justice bachelor’s degree with a focus on the justice system or the law. Then, if you want to take a step further and truly devote your career to the law, you would be well on your wat to entering law school. Remember, getting your law degree, a JD, is an extensive process that takes three years to complete full-time.
Best Colleges for Criminal Justice Majors
Below is an unranked list of some of the top criminal justice degree programs for undergrads.
FSU’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice offers three undergraduate majors: Criminology and Criminal Justice, Cyber Criminology, and an online bachelor’s program with both options.
The University of Florida offers a criminology major within its largest interdisciplinary department, the Department of Sociology and Criminology.
As one of the top universities in California’s UC system, UC Irvine has many degree offerings within its interdisciplinary department, Criminology, Law, and Society. The undergraduate major is essentially a criminal justice major, but is named after the department as a Bachelor of Science in Criminology, Law, and Society.
The program is meant to cover many different fields and prepare students for graduate studies, including law school.
Northeastern’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice offers a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice that trains students to understand crime and contribute to public policy to improve the system.
The program encourages students to research and work within the Boston community to put their learning into practice. The university also offers a combined BS/MS program that allows students to earn their Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice in just one additional year.
What Can You Do With a Degree in Criminal Justice?
Again, you have a lot of career options as a criminal justice major and graduate. Luckily, because the field is wide, you might even try working in several areas of the criminal justice system before you settle on what you want to focus on.
Below is more information on just a few of your career options.
As a criminologist, you will get to work on what you learned in your criminology classes. Your understanding of crimes and people who commit them will be outstanding and it will help you contribute to important criminal investigations and cases.
It’s an intense, but rewarding career path that is definitely not for people with a soft stomach. As part of your research into a particular crime or criminal, you might find some gruesome or uncomfortable material. But, as a criminologist, you will be able to use what you learned as a criminal justice major to push through feelings of discomfort and use your critical thinking and analysis skills to get the job done.
Job prospects for criminologists are favorable. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities should grow by 15 percent by 2028.
Forensic experts are forensic scientists who also work on particular criminal cases by studying elements of a crime scene. As a forensics expert, you will be able to analyze important information from a crime scene, either physical or digital.
Digital forensic experts must be skilled computer scientists who can uncover elements of cybercrime and collect important digital evidence.
Law Enforcement Officer
Ask anyone what criminal justice is and many will tell you that it involves law enforcement and the police. Though this is true, law enforcement is only one element of the criminal justice workforce.
If you are interested in working directly in law enforcement as a law enforcement officer, being a criminal justice major will give you important context to help you excel as an empathetic and capable officer.
With a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice, you can get entry-level work in public administration, like local government, and work your way up. You may eventually consider getting your Master’s Degree in Public Administration to become a leader in public administration.
Again, you can definitely pursue a career in the law after getting your undergraduate degree in criminal justice. You may even take a few years between your undergrad and your law degree program to gain work experience in another aspect of criminal justice, like the courts. This would give you some valuable perspective going into law school.
Needless to say, law is a great career path that often promises high earnings and solid job security. According to the BLS, the mean annual salary for a lawyer is currently just over $122,000.
Conclusion: Research About Criminal Justice
Hopefully, you now have a solid understanding of criminal justice and what a criminal justice major is all about. Excited to keep researching? Check out some of our other resources about criminal justice overall, including more info about criminal justice degrees, online degree programs, and careers.
We hope these guides help you out in your research to reach your career goals.