Criminal Justice Degree

Criminal Justice as a Field of Study

The study of Criminal Justice integrates theories of criminal behavior with an in-depth look at the different components of the criminal justice system, which are responsible for enforcing laws, detecting criminal activity, mitigating crime, detaining offenders, and punishing those who violate laws. Students in criminal justice programs build the critical thinking and methodological skills needed to analyze data and address problems related to crime and social control, and are exposed to the technology, practices and procedures used by the law enforcement community. Degree programs draw on a number of academic disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, philosophy, and the behavioral sciences.

Career Options with a Degree in Criminal Justice

A degree in criminal justice is one of the many acceptable degree paths for students interested in a career as a Game Warden, and is the most common degree pursued by candidates seeking jobs in law enforcement, homeland security, juvenile justice, corrections, the FBI, CIA, Secret Service, and U.S. court systems. A bachelor's degree in criminal justice is also one of the most popular degree choices for students planning to further their education by attending law school or graduate programs in criminal justice administration or public policy. Below you’ll find the most popular career paths for graduates in this field:

  • FBI Agent
  • CIA Agent
  • Secret Service
  • Paralegal
  • Court Clerk
  • Probation Officer
  • U.S. Marshall
  • Criminologist
  • Private and Public Security
  • Drug Enforcement Officer
  • Loss Prevention Agent
  • Detective

Summary of Criminal Justice Programs

Criminal justice programs equip students with the skills and knowledge to succeed in a broad range of careers, by exploring theories about the root causes of crime along with the practices and procedures used to deter, mitigate and punish criminal behavior. Degrees in Criminal Justice are available at the associates, bachelor's, master's and doctorate levels (PhD). Like most areas of study, higher levels of education typically lead to higher levels of responsibility, autonomy and salary within the job market.

Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice (AA)

An associate degree in criminal justice is a two year course of study that prepares students for entry-level careers in the field of criminal justice. In addition, students can earn an associate degree as the first step towards furthering their education with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Graduates of an associate degree program should be able to meet the following objectives at graduation:

  • Understand how laws are created, the history of law enforcement, changing philosophies of policing, social control, the U.S. correctional system, and the court systems.
  • Think critically and apply research methodologies to solve common problems encountered in the field of law enforcement.
  • Display knowledge of the investigation process and information-gathering techniques.
  • Demonstrate a basic understanding of the root causes of criminal behavior and theories of incarceration, punishment and rehabilitation.

Curriculum for Associate of Criminal Justice Programs

Students enrolled in associate level criminal justice programs experience a blend of liberal arts courses with introductory level courses in criminal theory, principles of law enforcement, behavioral psychology, and social sciences. Curriculum is designed to enhance the writing, critical thinking, communication, and social skills of students while providing them with a foundation that will prepare them for entry-level employment or higher levels of education. The following courses are examples of the coursework typically offered at the associate degree level:

CourseCourse Description

Criminal Justice

Survey of the American criminal justice system with a focus on the role, development, policies and management of its public agencies and organizations.

Constitutional Law

Overview of the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court, Bill of Rights and individual rights in the United States.

Correctional Systems

Examination of the various aspects of the correctional system in U.S., such as its history and the law as it pertains to prisoners and correctional officials.


Highlights relevance of physical evidence through hands-on experience in scientific analysis, comparison and identification.

Law Enforcement

Overview of the procedures and techniques needed to understand policing in the United State including areas such as police subculture, administration, community policing and civil liability.

Bachelor Degree in Criminal Justice (4 Years)

Undergraduate criminal science degree programs prepare students for future career opportunities by exploring crimes and their effects on communities. Students also learn methods of promoting community safety. By graduation, students should be able to meet the following objectives:

  • Demonstrate a strong understanding of the technology, practices and procedures used by law enforcement to mitigate and deter criminal activity.
  • Proficiency in researching, collecting and organizing complex data, solving problems and working collaboratively
  • Display advanced knowledge of criminal theory and be able to explain principles of social and behavioral psychology that affect the field of law enforcement and its practice.
  • Display a strong knowledge of crime measurement and analysis, victim assistance, and other areas of crime prevention.

Curriculum for Bachelor of Criminal Justice Programs

The curriculum created for bachelor's programs in criminal justice expands on the concepts introduced at the two-year level. Most programs are comprised of 120 credits, which begin with general education courses and builds towards more advanced concepts that are central to the criminal justice system and the practice of law enforcement. The following table includes examples of core coursework in a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice program:

CourseCourse Description

Complex Organizations

Introduction to sociological theories of complex organizations to provide understanding of sociological thinking.


Examination of criminal victimization in U.S. with overview of current theory, research and trends within the context of specific victimization types.

Courts and Criminal Justice

Analysis of the structure, process and socio-political function of the U.S. criminal court system including roles of prosecutors, defense counsel, judges, jurors and court administrators.

Contemporary Issues in Criminal Justice

Exploration of current issues in criminal justice with emphasis on the application of law, management, practice and ethics to the analysis of contemporary criminal justice policy.

Principles of Corrections and Public Safety

Overview of professions in law enforcement, security and corrections and the associated roles and responsibilities.

Deviant Behavior

Examination of criminal and noncriminal social deviance including mental disorders, drug use and prostitution.

Sociological Theories

Examination of the nature of theory and a review of major sociological theories such as structural-functionalism, conflict theory and exchange theory.

Master's Degree in Criminal Justice (2 Years)

Graduate programs in criminal justice are two-year courses of study that expose students to specialized and distinct curriculum that is directly relevant to a career in law enforcement or one of the many related careers in the field of public safety or public service. Coursework is centered around advanced level theories, concepts and practices that are important for candidates applying for supervisory or administrative level jobs.

Master's of Criminal Justice Curriculum

A master's degree criminal justice program allows students to delve deeper into subjects introduced in an undergraduate program. For example, students learn more about the inner workings of the judicial system and correctional institutions. They also gain a better understanding of issues such as family violence and victimology. A criminal justice thesis is usually required at the end of the program. The following table presents some of the electives offered in a masters-level criminal justice degree program:

CourseCourse Description

Crisis and Emergency Management

Advanced level examination of disaster management with emphasis on learning from history of disasters.

The Criminal Mind and Anti-Social Behavior

Examination of theories about why people commit crime and their practical application.

Advanced Princicples of Forensic Psychology

Overview of psychological theories, principles and research that concern the criminal justice system.

Threat Assessment and Risk Management

Exploration of risk assessment issues and the process of threat assessment and management.

Crime Analysis and Mapping

Advanced principles of crime analysis and crime mapping that examines concepts, theories, practices, and data and analysis techniques associated with the field of crime analysis for law enforcement.