Criminal Justice Degree Programs

A criminal justice degree program aims to teach you about the criminal justice system. This might include the psychology and theory of crime and criminal investigation. Criminal justice majors may go on to work in law enforcement, in a forensic lab, or in the legal system.

Criminal Justice Courses

A bachelors degree is typically 120 credits. As you can imagine, that is a lot of courses! A few of the courses that may be part of a Criminal Justice program include:

Intro to Criminal Justice

This course aims to teach the philosophy, history, objectives, and functions of the criminal justice system as a social institution. It may also discuss the relationship of this system to society. This likely includes a general overview of the administration of justice.

Intro to Courts and Sentencing

This course is an introduction to U.S. criminal courts. It may cover sources of law, court structure and jurisdiction, and also courtroom actors and juries. The course might also cover processes such as pretrial procedures, trials, and sentencing. 

Theories of Crime

This course should explore the biological, psychological, and sociological theories of crime and criminality. It may also explore the policy options for the criminal justice system and for society.

Modern Issues in American Policing

In this course, students should learn about the major modern issues facing police organizations today. They may study issues at the local, state, and federal levels of government. This course should also cover enforcement concerns such as drugs, street gangs, and the use of firearms.


Criminal justice programs may be accredited by the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS). ACJS is an international association. It was established in 1963. As part of theirs standards they lay out minimum content and quality guidelines at a school must meet. ACJS reviews member school programs every 10 years.


A Criminal Justice degree offers many career paths for the graduate including pursuing a career in law enforcement or forensic science. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers include:

Police & Sheriff's Patrol Officer

  • Minimum Edu: High school diploma, though some departments may ask for a college degree
  • Median annual salary: $63,150 (2019)
  • Projected growth: 5% (about average)
  • Number of jobs: 687,100 (2018)

What does a Police Officer do?

Police officers enforce laws and protect lives and property. They may have regular patrols and respond to emergencies. In addition, they may conduct searches and arrest suspects. Lastly, they may also patrol traffic, prepare cases, and testify in court.

Detectives and Criminal Investigator

  • Minimum Edu: High school diploma, though some departments may ask for a college degree
  • Median annual salary: $83,170 (2019)
  • Projected growth: 3%
  • Number of jobs: 110,700 (2018)

What does a Detective do?

A detective or criminal investigator gathers facts and evidence for criminal cases. As part of this process they would conduct interviews as well as examine records and suspects. It is common that a detective would focus on one area of crime such as fraud. 

Probation Officers & Correctional Treatment Specialist

  • Minimum Edu: Usually need a bachelor’s degree in social work or criminal justice
  • Median annual salary: $54,290 (2019)
  • Projected growth: 3% (slower than average)
  • Number of jobs: 91,600 (2018)

What does a Probation Officer do?

Probation officers assist and supervise law offenders who have been placed on probation. They talk with the offenders as well as with their families and with their friends to assess progress. Probation officers also often provide resources such as counseling and job training. Finally, they may testify in court about the offenders they supervise and may also maintain case files on these offenders.

Forensic Science Technician

  • Typical Minimum Edu: Bachelor’s degree
  • Median annual salary: $59,150 (2019)
  • Projected growth: 14% (much faster than average)
  • Number of jobs: 16,700 (2018)

What does a Forensic Science Technician do?

Forensic science technicians collect and analyze evidence to aid criminal investigations. However, most specialize in either crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis. At crime scenes, technicians also record observations and collect evidence. Finally, in laboratories, technicians perform scientific analysis on evidence that has been collected.

*Law enforcement may require additional training. This is an offer for educational opportunities that may lead to employment and not an offer for nor a guarantee of employment. Students should consult with a representative from the school they select to learn more about career opportunities in that field. Program outcomes vary according to each institution’s specific program curriculum.

Colleges With Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Source for school statistics and data is the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics and the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System.