Guide To Majors – Law and Criminal Justice

Spurred by the desire to serve the public in a time of national crisis, or simply inspired by the portrayals of lawyers and crime scene investigators on television, more and more students are choosing to pursue law and criminal justice majors at college.

What Do Law & Criminal Justice Majors Study?

There are many avenues of study available to aspiring law and criminal justice professionals, depending on their interests and abilities. Online degrees have become increasingly common as young and transitioning professionals seek to enhance their resumes without committing all their time and resources to a full-time, traditional degree program.

College Majors for Law School

Bachelor’s degrees are required for law school candidates. Although undergraduate majors exist that are specifically pre-law, they are not required by law schools, which encourage applications from students with all kinds of backgrounds. That said, most college students who wish to go into law school choose liberal arts degrees that will enhance their critical writing, speaking, and analytical skills. Other popular pre-law college degrees include political science, history, English, philosophy and economics.
Those students who move on to formal law schools can expect three or more years of rigorous training in topics like torts, civil procedure, contracts and criminal law. As fewer lawyers enter general practice in order to pursue more marketable specialties, many law programs offer advanced studies or concentrations in areas like business law, intellectual property law and contract law.

Criminal Justice Majors

Meanwhile, most criminal justice majors concentrate on critical areas including law enforcement, corrections, the judicial process, juvenile law, and criminal behavior. Depending on their selected career track, criminal justice majors can also develop their scientific and investigative skills through internships and laboratory courses.

The study of criminal behavior and law enforcement is becoming more sophisticated as technology improves. Beyond changes due to technology, the increasing complexity of American law and society requires that criminal justice professionals be properly educated before engaging in their sworn duties. As a result, professionals working in our police forces, court systems, correctional facilities and related agencies need a broad social science background.

Online degree programs for criminal justice can help students learn the theories and practices used in the criminal justice system while completing their studies at their own pace. Those interested in a criminal justice major can find degree levels ranging from certificates to Ph.D. programs. Some programs may require an internship prior to completion.

Keep in mind that policework isn’t the only career path you can pursue with a criminal justice associates degree, criminal justice bachelors degree, or even a more advanced degree in this field. You could also use your degree to become a corrections officer, or even to learn how to investigate crime scenes like on your favorite television crime drama. A degree in criminal justice could also be the first step toward a career in the FBI or forensic science. Of course, where you end up with your degree depends a lot on the level of education you complete in this field.

Certificate Programs in Criminal Justice

Criminal justice certificates are designed to give students a fast track into this important field of study. These programs typically help students who are already working within the American criminal justice system acquire a better understanding of the theories that inform police criminal justice policy.

Factors prospective students should consider

In some cases, a criminal justice certificate program can be counted as credit toward a more advanced degree in this field.

Type of courses and clinical experiences offered

Courses you can expect to take during this program include criminal law, policing, corrections, and ethics in criminal justice, among others.

Skills students can learn

Not only can you learn the theory behind common police practice and criminal justice operations, but you can learn how to write a police or corrections report and learn about the most common crimes you’ll likely deal with in this field.

Jobs related to this degree

The certificate program can help entry-level workers get their first jobs in the field such as a bailiff, correction facility officer or a security guard.

Associates Degrees in Criminal Justice

Graduates holding an associate degree may be able to command a higher salary, and you can use this degree as a stepping-stone toward a four-year degree in criminal justice or a related field.

Factors prospective students should consider

Earning an associate degree in this field may help open the door to more potential jobs since this is often the minimum educational requirement for criminal justice.

Type of courses and clinical experiences offered

Courses you can expect to take in an associate degree program include criminal law, criminal procedure, criminal investigation, social impact of technology, and more.

Skills students can learn

You may learn how to write policy reports, understand the ethical considerations of criminal justice work, and find out how to apply critical thinking to the complicated world of corrections and law.

Jobs related to this degree level

Fields you may find work in after this program include security and gaming surveillance, corrections, probation officer or police officer.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Criminal Justice

A criminal justice bachelor degree can provide a well-rounded education that can lead to higher pay and more advancement within the field of criminal justice. You should note that many leadership positions in this field require a four-year degree, so pursuing one can give you an edge over other applicants no matter which criminal justice career you apply for.

Type of courses and clinical experience offered

Courses you can expect to take include criminal procedure, introduction to criminal organizations, cultural diversity in criminal justice, introduction to court systems, and introduction to corrections.

Skills students can learn

During this program, you may learn how to investigate crimes, use critical thinking to get to the bottom of complex issues, and understand the administrative components of criminal justice careers.

Jobs related to this degree level

Potential career opportunities you may find after earning the bachelor’s degree include arbitrator, mediator, or conciliator, correctional treatment specialist and forensic science technician.

Master’s Degrees in Criminal Justice

Master’s degrees in criminal justice are commonly pursued in order to advance one’s career. These programs focus on high-level, upper-division education in research methods, statistical and policy analysis, and program management.

Type of courses and clinical experience offered

Courses you can expect to take in these programs include cybersecurity, forensic psychology, law enforcement management, and public administration.

Skills students can learn

Not only can you learn the theory behind advanced criminal justice strategies, but you also tend to learn how to manage various departments within criminal justice, including their legal requirements. You’ll also learn how to analyze policy and approach criminal justice from a public relations perspective.

Jobs related to this degree level

Fields you may find work in after this certificate program include homeland security, police administration or social services. Potential occupations are intelligence analyst, operations officer, police chief, or profiler.

Ph.D. in Criminal Justice

Doctorate programs in criminal justice mostly focus on training students for a career in postsecondary education or advanced public policy. These programs help students understand crime and justice, then put these concepts together to discover new solutions for better crime control. You may be introduced to advanced research methods and criminal justice theory, although you may be able to pick a specialty in your Ph.D. program.

Factors prospective students should consider

Doctoral students typically have to complete a dissertation based on their original research after passing a set of qualifying examinations. They then have to defend their dissertation to a panel of subject experts.

Types of courses and clinical experiences offered

Types of courses you should expect to take in a Ph.D. program include homeland security policy and administration, public management, justice administration, and more. Also note that your curriculum may vary depending on whether you have already earned a master’s degree.

Jobs related to this degree

Potential occupations after earning a Ph.D. in criminal justice are bureau chief, government contractor, intelligence analyst, research consultant, university professor.

What Can You Do With a Criminal Justice Degree?

Graduating from an online criminal justice program can allow you to follow a career path that meets your interests. The following table, using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) outlines the various occupations you may have along with their average wages, the employment outlook and projected job openings.

Police and Detectives

The most common place to start in criminal justice is the local, city, or county police force. Although a criminal justice degree is not always required, it is helpful and may increase the potential for promotion. Depending on the size of the department, most police departments have military-style rankings: corporal, sergeant, lieutenant, captain, and chief. Most departments of moderate size also have separate positions for detectives. Larger departments offer even more specialization, with harbor patrols, canine patrols and more.

At the state level, police officers are most often referred to as troopers. While their jobs are similar to city officers, they spend much more time enforcing traffic laws on state and interstate highways. They may also be called upon to handle emergency scenes and to assist local departments when needed. Some troopers are assigned to provide protection and security for courts, or to work as investigators. Federal level employees are often referred to as “agents.”

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: Educational requirements vary by locality and state. Most require either a high school diploma or college degree. Additionally, graduating from a police training academy and undergoing on-the-job training is typically required. For federal agents, completion of rigorous training through the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center is almost always a prerequisite to employment.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Police and detectives are usually granted authority by the local, state, or federal jurisdiction under which they serve.

Correctional Officers and Bailiffs

A bailiff is a sworn law enforcement officer charged with keeping order in the courtroom and protecting those in attendance. Correctional officers work inside jails and prisons. Their duties typically include enforcement of jail rules, inmate supervision, facility inspection, and more.

  • Minimum Educational Requirement: All bailiffs and correctional officers are required to possess at least a high school diploma, although some positions may require completion of a college degree.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Completion of a training academy and on-the-job training is usually required.

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists are tasked with monitoring criminal offenders and assisting in their rehabilitation so they do not commit more crimes. Duties often include meeting with probationers in person, evaluating rehabilitation tactics, drug testing probationers, maintaining case files and reports, and helping probationers to find employment resources.

  • Minimum Educational Requirements: Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists usually need a bachelor’s degree. Successful completion of training programs is typically required by the state.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: After completing state or federally sponsored training programs, probation officers and correctional treatment specialists are usually required to pass a certification exam. A valid driver’s license, as well as the passing of both a drug test and background check, is also required.

Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers

In private security, organizations contract individuals or companies to protect property and prevent losses of all types. Some of the most common groups that hire private security are amusement parks, malls, colleges, hospitals, country clubs, and many different retail and industrial clients. Casinos and other gaming institutions also hire security and surveillance officers.

  • Minimum Educational Requirements: A high school diploma is typically required for security guard and gaming surveillance officer positions. Experience using video surveillance may also be required.
  • Special Certifications or Licensures: Certification and licensure requirements vary by state, although most states do require some type of registration. Guards who carry firearms must be legally registered to do so.

Why Should You Consider a College Major in Law & Criminal Justice?

Law enforcement agencies and related organizations, which used to supply their own in-house training, now require job candidates to successfully complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program. Even in those situations where an employer does not require a degree in law or criminal justice, a college education will help job seekers to land the best positions. Online degrees are available in these and related fields.

Meanwhile, as a response to constant innovation in the corporate sector, many large businesses hire law and criminal justice majors for hybrid positions that combine legal knowledge with other business skills. Law school graduates, as well as law and criminal justice majors, enjoy the opportunity to blend their training with personal strengths in a variety of challenging corporate positions.

What Kinds of Candidates Make the Best Law & Criminal Justice Majors?

Prospective law and criminal justice majors should steel themselves to encounter stress on the job far more often than students entering other professions. In fact, many schools combine their law and criminal justice degree programs with opportunities to participate in relaxation and exercise programs. Not only does good health help a student perform better in school, but many of the positions in this sector require candidates to maintain a solid physical condition.

More importantly, many colleges and potential employers recommend that students who intend to pursue careers in criminal justice follow these guidelines before and during their classroom education:

  • Avoid recreational drug use, as many potential employers screen for drug use up to three years in the past.
  • Avoid people or situations that could cause you to challenge law enforcement officers or even commit a crime.
  • Check with the Criminal Records division of your State Police to ensure the accuracy of your records.
  • Maintain a clean driving record, or attend remedial courses to compensate for any past mistakes.
  • Maintain a positive credit report and check your report for errors frequently.

Employers in this sector, especially law enforcement agencies, scrutinize their applicants far more than companies in other areas. Prospective lawyers should follow the same advice, since poor personal conduct can prevent a law student from successfully passing the bar in his or her state.

Financial Aid for Criminal Justice Students

If you want to access financial aid in order to earn a criminal justice degree, your first step is filling out a FAFSA form, or a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. This form can help you and any schools you consider figure out if you’re eligible for various types of aid, and if so, how much.

You can also apply for scholarships, including those that are specifically geared to the criminal justice major. Consider the Captain James J. Regan Memorial Scholarship, for example, which offers up to $500 for applicants pursuing a law enforcement or criminal justice major. Make sure to search for scholarships, grants, and other types of aid that may be available to you.

Criminal Justice Associations and Organizations

Graduates with a criminal justice degree have the option to join any number of associations and organizations for career support and advancement. Some act as fraternal organizations while others work to advance the interests of those in the law enforcement and criminal justice community. Here are a few:

Criminal Justice Majors by Subject

CorrectionsEconomic CrimesLaw Enforcement
Court ReportingHomeland SecurityLaw
Crime Scene Investigation Justice AdministrationParalegal
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