Close this search box.

Criminal Justice Degree Programs: Certificates, Majors & Important Info You Need to Know

Criminal justice degree programs study the criminal justice system, a complex network of law enforcement, courts, and correctional services. It seeks to investigate crimes, punish offenders, and protect victims.

Criminal Justice Degree Programs

In this ever-connected digital society, news of injustice travels with remarkable speed. Every day we are exposed to new crimes being committed, and it’s only natural for us to feel a sense of responsibility in striving for change.

This is where Criminal Justice Programs come into play.

Pursuing the proper education can make a meaningful difference in society by upholding justice and bringing criminals to account. In addition, you will be able to support those affected by crime.

This guide will help you understand the key features of criminal justice degree programs, gain insight into possible job opportunities as a major, and how you will take part in the fight against crime.

Let’s explore what your future can look like!

On This Page

What are Criminal Justice Degree Programs?

The criminal justice system is a comprehensive setup involving law enforcement agencies, courts, and correctional services. It works by systematically investigating crimes and punishing the perpetrators while simultaneously rehabilitating them and protecting the victims. Criminal justice ensures that laws are implemented with fairness and order to promote public safety throughout society.

A criminal justice program is an academic curriculum that focuses on teaching students the fundamentals of the law and its application to society. It offers courses related to criminology, criminal law, ethics, psychology, sociology, and other related topics.

These studies allow students to understand the U.S. judicial system in-depth while preparing them for exciting career paths within this ever-changing field.

Additionally, many programs include internships or experiential learning opportunities that allow students to gain hands-on experience working in the field.

Criminal Justice Degree Program Skills You'll Learn

If you’re considering a degree in criminal justice, you’re probably curious about the skills and knowledge you’ll gain as part of your studies.

There are specific core skills that all criminal justice students should expect to develop, such as Active Listening, Critical Thinking, Speaking, Monitoring, Social Perceptiveness, ethical decision-making, etc., – although the specifics may vary depending on the program and courses you take.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these skills and why they are important.

Active Listening

Active listening is an invaluable skill in criminal justice because it helps you better understand and process information. In a criminal justice setting, active listening allows investigators to accurately assess evidence, assess client needs, and build relationships with individuals involved in investigations.

You can uncover critical facts that could lead to successful prosecutions through active listening.

Critical Thinking

Critical thinking is analyzing data and evaluating multiple perspectives on a given situation. This skill is essential for any criminal justice professional because you must be able to weigh all available evidence before making decisions or reaching conclusions about cases.

As a student enrolled in a criminal justice program, you will be taught how to think critically about situations and make informed decisions based on your analysis of evidence and data.


Another key skill learned through a criminal justice program is speaking. Proper communication effectively ensures that the messages being communicated are understood by all parties involved, which is critical for successful prosecutions or other outcomes of legal proceedings.

Public speaking also plays a vital role in developing relationships with individuals involved in investigations or cases and conveying information between law enforcement agencies or organizations.


Monitoring involves carefully observing people or situations to detect suspicious activities that may indicate illegal behavior or security threats. This skill is essential for law enforcement officers and private investigators because they must remain vigilant while on duty.

By monitoring suspects closely, you can uncover new evidence or detect suspicious behaviors, which could lead to solving a case.

Social Perceptiveness

Social perceptiveness refers to an individual’s ability to pick up on subtle nonverbal cues from other people and use this information appropriately when interacting with them or gathering information during investigations.

Social perceptiveness allows officers and investigators to more accurately read people’s intentions, emotions, and motivations when communicating with them during interrogations or hearings, which can lead to more accurate assessments of potential suspects’ guilt or innocence and reveal new leads during investigations.

Ethical Decision-Making

As a practitioner in the criminal justice system or legal field, you must always abide by ethical standards.

Your program should equip you with an understanding of various ethical frameworks so that you can make sound decisions throughout your career without compromising your principles or breaking any laws.

Common Outcomes

A criminal justice program can provide valuable knowledge that can benefit current professionals and those looking for entry-level positions or career changes within the industry.

The courses are designed to understand all aspects of the criminal justice system, from policing to legal proceedings. This knowledge can be helpful when looking at individual cases or understanding how different components interact within broader contexts, such as communities or countries affected by high levels of crime or corruption.

Furthermore, taking a criminal justice program gives individuals access to up-to-date information on case studies and emerging trends in crime prevention which may prove beneficial when applying for jobs or pursuing graduate studies later on down the road.

Skills gained from completing a Criminal Justice Degree program include:

  • Researching relevant laws and regulations,
  • Analyzing data & documents,
  • Writing reports & proposals,
  • Preparing court presentations,
  • Conducting interviews,
  • Problem-solving abilities,
  • Critical thinking skills,
  • Ability to communicate effectively with various stakeholders (judges/lawyers/police officers/victims),
  • Understanding criminal behavior & motivations, etc.

Exploring the Majors of Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Aspiring criminal justice professionals have an array of exciting opportunities to explore.

As a student with the proper knowledge and qualifications, you can launch dynamic careers in this field through various majors, certificates, or degrees related to criminal justice studies that align with your interests.

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular options.

Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Certificate

A CSI certificate program focuses on teaching students about forensics, including evidence collection and handling techniques, as well as laboratory analysis. Courses may cover topics such as fingerprinting, evidence processing, photography, DNA analysis, ballistics identification, trace evidence analysis, and more. 

You will also learn about proper documentation methods for criminal cases while receiving hands-on training in data analysis tools like computer software programs.


A degree in corrections is designed to prepare you for a career in law enforcement or the correctional system.

Courses will cover topics such as behavior management strategies for offenders; correctional systems operations; research methods in criminal justice; treatment strategies; criminal justice ethics; psychology of crime; sociology of deviance; offender reentry; parole processes/procedures; etc.

You will also gain an understanding of relevant state and federal laws related to corrections. 

Criminal Justice

The major in Criminal Justice provides a broad overview of the structure and function of the criminal justice system within the United States.

It introduces you to each component of the system, including courts, police agencies, juvenile justice systems, and legislation governing both state and federal issues related to crime control policy-making processes.

Additional topics include criminology theories and research methods used to study crime trends. The major provides theoretical foundations and practical applications necessary for a successful career within these fields.


A criminology certificate or degree focuses on understanding why people commit crimes in order to create practical solutions for preventing them from happening in the future. Courses may include psychology of deviant behavior patterns, white-collar offenses theories, victimology studies, and more.

Students who pursue a bachelor’s degree in criminology often pursue careers as police officers or detectives, while those who seek master’s degrees typically go into academia or research roles within public administration agencies like the FBI or CIA.

Homeland Security and Emergency Management

The homeland security and emergency management major focuses on protecting citizens from natural disasters, terrorism threats, cyber-attacks, and other domestic threats.

This field requires strong leadership skills, so graduates are prepared to manage resources in crises while also understanding the importance of collaboration with local agencies to ensure public safety. 

With this degree, you will be prepared to work in public safety roles such as first responders.

Cyber Security

A degree in cyber security prepares you for careers that require you to understand threats posed by cyber-attacks which include identity theft, hacking attempts, online frauds, data breaches, etc.

The curriculum teaches how to protect information systems from unauthorized access while addressing the ethical implications of working in this field. This program overlaps with the field of Information Technology.

A degree in cyber security provides you with the technical expertise needed to secure networks and the problem-solving skills necessary for detecting threats before they occur.

Forensic Science

Forensic science is one of the most popular fields within criminal justice programs due to its focus on applying scientific methods to criminal investigations.

This major requires solid scientific skills such as chemistry or biology, along with an understanding of other disciplines like law enforcement or psychology.

You will be well-equipped to pursue a career in criminal investigations, as you’ll be able to assess evidence from crime scenes and laboratory samples. Your expertise can assist law enforcement in capturing criminals who have committed offenses.

Law Enforcement

Historically, seeking a career in law enforcement meant entering the police academy straight out of high school to acquire the essential skills and knowledge for working at local or state departments. Over the past decade, policing has developed into an intricate undertaking that requires further college education and preparation.

Earning a degree in law enforcement provides an extensive array of concentrations and career options. You will acquire key knowledge such as criminal law, ethics, and dispute resolution strategies; you will also gain the professional communication abilities, leadership talents, and problem-solving skills needed to succeed in your chosen field.

Upon graduation, you can pursue a career as a police officer, detective, or probation and parole officer.

What does the course curriculum look like in Criminal Justice Degree Programs?

If you’re considering a career in criminal justice, it’s essential to understand the types of courses and course topics typically found in the curriculum.

Most criminal justice programs include courses that cover the fundamentals of criminal justice, as well as more specialized classes that focus on particular areas within the discipline.

Let’s take a closer look at some sample courses and what you can expect from a typical criminal justice program.

Criminological Theory (Criminal Justice Course)

This course offers an in-depth examination of a range of theories regarding criminal activity and victimization. It draws on the works of celebrated authors from numerous disciplines, such as crime, social deviance, and causation – exploring their ethical and legal underpinnings in defining wrongdoing.

Moreover, this study area delves further to uncover how you may use multiple theories to help explain criminal justice policies and programs.

Forensic Science Foundations (Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Course)

This course provides a comprehensive overview of foundational crime scene processing and investigation methods, tools, and applications. It includes instruction on physical evidence recognition, working with diverse scenes, documenting the body as a crime scene, and assessing unique scenarios.

Furthermore, you will learn about sketching/mapping sites for future reference points and reconstructing these locations through photography plus written reports.

Crisis Intervention (Crisis Management Course)

Through this course, you will gain an in-depth understanding of how to handle crisis situations effectively for law enforcement agencies and develop knowledge about developing mental health and law enforcement partnership teams throughout the U.S.

Not only will you explore the theoretical aspects of crisis intervention strategies within the framework of law enforcement, but you will also attain essential hands-on skills that are useful during any crisis.

Cybercrime Law and Public Policy (Cyber Security Course)

Get a firsthand look into emerging cybercrime challenges and the consequential legal and public policy implications in this course.

You will review pertinent court cases, explore significant changes in public policy approaches to cybercrime, and analyze ongoing trends related to this ever-evolving field.

Foundations of Homeland Security (Homeland Security and Emergency Management Course)

This course provides an expansive, current, and comprehensive overview of the ever-evolving subject of homeland security.

You will examine topics such as public policy, public administration, regulation and compliance with law enforcement, and assessment of terrorism’s effects on society and behavior.

Drugs and Alcohol in the Criminal Justice System (Law Enforcement Course)

This course delves into the complexities of drug use and abuse while providing a comprehensive overview of the criminal justice system’s perspective. Here you’ll learn about America’s history regarding drugs and identify distinctions between legal and illegal substances.

You will leave this course equipped with the essential knowledge to help protect yourself from possible substance misuse or addiction risks.

Criminal Justice Degree Programs: Career Outlook, Salary Potential & Positions

Criminal justice graduates hold a wide range of positions, from police officers and crime scene investigators to victim advocates, probation officers, private detectives – the list goes on! With such a broad choice of career options, you can be sure that your degree in criminal justice is both vital and rewarding.

A career in this field is full of exciting challenges, such as upholding laws; conducting and evaluating investigations; interpreting regulations; providing counsel on legal matters; safeguarding victims’ rights, supervising parolees, and maintaining offender records – to name a few.

Career Outlook & Salary for Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Criminal justice is a rapidly growing field that offers excellent job security.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the number of people employed in this area is expected to grow by 3% from 2021 to 2031.

This growth can be attributed to an increase in population as well as an increase in crime rates across the United States.

Even though 3% does not sound like a high increase, there will always be a need for criminal justice positions.

When it comes to salary potential, there is no one-size-fits-all answer, criminal justice professionals can expect a wide range of salaries depending on their level of education, experience, and location.

Let’s look at what kind of salaries are possible with a job in criminal justice.

Top Criminal Justice Degree Jobs you can get:

First-Line Supervisor of Police and Detectives

Mentor and lead criminal case investigation, providing officers with guidance and knowledge while ensuring protocols are followed by laws and regulations.

Make precise police operations to subordinates to aid them in executing their tasks properly. Educate personnel on correct practices of police work.

Average Salary - Job Positions

Average Salary

$98,760 per year

College Degree Type Needed For Job Position

Degree Level

High School Diploma

Information Security Analyst

Information security analysts play an integral role in constructing their organization’s disaster recovery plan, a set of guidelines that I.T. personnel abide by when confronting unforeseen events.

These plans ensure the continuous functionality of an organization’s tech department and include preventative tactics such as routinely backing up data to external sources. Analysts continually assess these protocols to guarantee smooth operation should disaster ever befall them.

Average Salary - Job Positions

Average Salary

$102,600 per year

College Degree Type Needed For Job Position

Degree Level


Forensic Science Technicians

Forensic science technicians are essential to criminal investigations, helping to uncover the truth by gathering and assessing evidence.

Depending on their specialty, they may be responsible for crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis.

Average Salary - Job Positions

Average Salary

$61,930 per year

College Degree Type Needed For Job Position

Degree Level


Criminal Investigator

As a Criminal Investigator or Detective, you will join forces with other law enforcement professionals to unravel and decipher criminal cases.

Your job responsibilities include examining evidence to deduce suspects’ identity and intentions, conversing with witnesses and potential perpetrators, and documenting all the exploration in your case files for future reference.

Average Salary - Job Positions

Average Salary

$90,370 per year

College Degree Type Needed For Job Position

Degree Level


ICE Agent

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), agents are grouped with police officers and detectives in occupational categories.

ICE agents are tasked with maintaining the security of our borders and preventing any illegal immigration or smuggling efforts into the United States.

Average Salary - Job Positions

Average Salary

$98,760 per year

College Degree Type Needed For Job Position

Degree Level


Correctional Officers and Bailiffs

Correctional officers are tasked with supervising people who have been apprehended, are awaiting trial, or have already been convicted in prison.

Additionally, Bailiffs – often called marshals or court officers- maintain orderliness in the judicial system by enforcing courtroom rules and regulations.

Average Salary - Job Positions

Average Salary

$47,920 per year

College Degree Type Needed For Job Position

Degree Level

High School Diploma

Private Detectives and Investigators

Private detectives and investigators are the go-to professionals when it comes to locating information related to legal, financial, or personal matters.

Their services range from verifying people’s backgrounds and testimonies and finding missing persons to investigating computer crimes – providing an invaluable asset for those needing answers.

Average Salary - Job Positions

Average Salary

$59,380 per year

College Degree Type Needed For Job Position

Degree Level

High School Diploma

*Please be advised that the average salary provided by the BLS may deviate significantly from state to state and occupation to occupation, depending on various factors.

Popular colleges with Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Yale University

Yale is a top-ranked Ivy League university in New Haven, Connecticut. It offers a highly competitive law program, the Yale Law School, which is consistently ranked among the best law schools in the country.

Yale’s law program is known for its commitment to social justice and its strong faculty and curriculum.

Harvard University

Harvard is another Ivy League university and is widely considered one of the top universities in the world. The Harvard Law School is a well-respected and prestigious law program that offers a comprehensive education in all areas of law.

Harvard’s law program is also well known for its strong public interest programs and commitment to social justice.

Stanford University

Stanford is a private research university in Palo Alto, California. The Stanford Law School is a top-ranked law program that offers students a rigorous and comprehensive education in the legal field.

Stanford’s law program is known for its strong emphasis on interdisciplinary study, with many students taking courses outside law school in related fields such as business, psychology, and sociology.

University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania is a private Ivy League university in Philadelphia. The University of Pennsylvania Law School is a highly regarded law program that offers students various courses and opportunities for hands-on experience.

The law program at Penn is known for its focus on public interest law and its commitment to social justice.

Columbia University

Columbia is a private Ivy League university in New York City. The Columbia Law School is a well-respected law program that offers students a comprehensive education in the legal field.

Columbia’s law program is known for its strong international law program and commitment to public interest law.

Featured Colleges

What you need to know about Accreditation

Programmatic Accreditation

Programmatic accreditation ensures students obtain a quality education in their desired field of study. Rather than reviewing the institution as a whole, programmatic organizations evaluate individual programs or offerings to guarantee they align with established standards and provide an adequate level of instruction within the specialty area.

*Our website proudly displays a reputable list of colleges and universities, all accredited by either renowned regional associations or highly respected national agencies that have been acknowledged by the US Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

FAQ about Criminal Justice Degree Programs

You can pursue degree programs in Criminal Justice full-time or part-time, depending upon your availability and institutional requirements.

Depending upon the institution, some colleges may offer assistance with internships or job placements after graduation from the program.

It’s critical to check if the college you’ve picked has a Career Services department that can help its graduates search for a job or even directly place them in employment opportunities.

Research opportunities available through a Criminal Justice & Legal Studies program may include internships at government or legal institutions, research projects related to criminal behavior or law enforcement techniques, as well as conducting independent studies involving data collection and analysis of legal documents.

Yes, in general, you may be able to transfer some of your credits from the police academy or military training to the criminal justice program. The amount of transferred credit depends on how many courses you have completed and their content areas. However, keep in mind that all colleges have their transfer credits policies.

You should contact an advisor for more information about transferring credits from the Police Academy.

Yes, you may be eligible for credits based on your experience in the public safety field. Certain colleges offer students the opportunity to gain college credits for prior experience through a well-structured program. This typically involves attending classes and compiling a project or portfolio that reflects their experiences in order to receive credit.

Bear in mind, however, that every college has its policies regarding transfer or experiential credits.


The study of criminal justice is a broad field that can lead to many rewarding career paths. Its programs play a crucial role in ensuring a fair and just society.

They will provide you with the knowledge and skills necessary to work in various positions within the criminal justice system, such as law enforcement, corrections, and the court system.

So, if you are passionate about a career in criminal justice, the opportunities are endless! Do your due diligence and pick the program that best matches your goals.

Editorial Disclaimer

The College Compass is reader-supported and committed to maintaining complete editorial independence. All views expressed are solely ours and are not influenced by any external party. We may include affiliate links in the article, which helps us earn a small commission to support our work. We always have a link to the source for any data or information we include. Learn more about our editorial practices.

Explore More Degrees & Majors

Cybersecurity Degree

Philosophy Degree

Marketing Degree

Biomedical Engineering Degree

Computer Engineering Degree

Biotechnology Degree

Scroll to Top