Laura Berlinsky-Schine 6 min read Academic Tips and Info

Should You Major in Criminal Justice?

Who wouldn’t want to delve into the exciting world of criminal justice? From investigations to law enforcement, it’s a path with many different niches — and none of them is boring.

 

Of course, keep in mind that the reality of this field is far from the glamorous TV show and movie portrayals. Sure, the work is often fast-paced and has important implications, but you can also expect a good amount of paperwork and bureaucracy. So, please approach this major with a healthy dose of reality!

 

Are you thinking of pursuing a criminal justice degree and ultimately entering this important field? Find out the areas you can explore, the many different career paths, and the top schools that will help you get there.

 

Overview of the Criminal Justice Major

 

Criminal justice is the study of laws and institutions that are designed to hold lawbreakers accountable. This major is a strong choice for students with excellent communications skills who can thrive under pressure and work with a wide variety of people. Workers in criminal justice can greatly contribute to society, as the field allows you to advocate for victims, rehabilitate criminals, and reform a system that is often discriminatory.

 

Depending on your career of choice in the wider field of criminal justice, you’ll need to attain different levels of education. For example, in some cases, like if you choose to become a police officer, you don’t need a degree at all; a high school diploma usually will suffice. Meanwhile, if you’re interested in becoming an attorney, you’ll need a JD, which requires law school.

 

Most jobs in the field require at least an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, and there are many criminal justice programs that offer these credentials. A program will probably include coursework in:

 

  • Law enforcement
  • Criminology theory
  • Criminal justice ethics
  • Criminal procedures
  • Forensic science
  • Criminal investigation
  • Criminal law
  • Corrections
  • American Court System
  • Corporate security
  • Legal history

 

In some programs, you’ll be able to specialize in different areas, such as juvenile court. Should you choose to go to graduate school, you’ll be able to further specialize.

 

What Can You Do With A Criminal Justice Degree?

 

Here are some of the top careers people choose to pursue with a criminal justice degree.

 

1. Attorney

Median Salary: $85,276 ($51,000-157,000)

Projected Growth: 4% (as fast as average)

 

Representing people, organizations, and other entities on a variety of legal matters, attorneys play a pivotal role in the criminal justice system. The role requires more education than some others in the field, including earning a bachelor’s degree and a JD, as well as passing your state’s bar. 

 

There are many specialties in law, and if you’re interested in criminal law, you may practice as a defense attorney or prosecutor, meaning you’ll be representing either a defendant accused of a crime or the state, prosecuting the defendant.

 

2. Police Officer

Median Salary: $53,506 ($36,000-91,000)

Projected Growth: 5% (faster than average)

 

Police officers are tasked with law enforcement: responding to disruptions and incidents, patrolling the streets and communities, and generally keeping the peace and maintaining public safety. They also sometimes testify about incidents in court. 

 

This is an extremely demanding job that requires strong attention to detail, physical training, and excellent judgment. Because the role is a dangerous one — and because police officers carry weapons — they must undergo rigorous psychological and physical assessments.

 

Police officers don’t need a college degree, but having a related degree can open up more opportunities to you.

 

3. Crime Scene Investigator

Median Salary: $48,147 ($35,000-79,000)

Projected Growth: 14% (much faster than average)

 

Crime scenes are a minefield of evidence for criminal matters. As an investigator, you’ll comb these areas for evidence that can help criminal investigators — another important role in the criminal justice field — solve crimes. In this job, you’ll need to have strong attention to detail and the skills to collect and protect DNA samples, fingerprints, and other important evidence. 

 

Most people in this field have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, forensic science, or a related field.

 

4. Homicide Detective

Median Salary: $74,816 ($50,000-118,000)

Projected Growth: 8% (much faster than average)

 

If you’ve watched Law & Order, you’re very familiar with this crucial role in the criminal justice system. Homicide detectives are people who are essentially meant to solve crimes — murders, to be exact. Their many responsibilities include gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, and identifying suspects, toward the ultimate goal of bringing charges in collaboration with the district attorney. It’s certainly an exciting job, but it’s also a demanding and often dangerous one. 

 

5. Forensic Psychologist

Median Salary: $70,222 ($39,000-101,000)

Projected Growth: 14% (much faster than average)

 

Forensic psychologists play several different roles, including interviewing and evaluating witnesses and suspects, assessing the psychological state of defendants, and testifying about their findings in court. For example, they might be tasked with giving their professional opinion on whether a defendant is psychologically fit to stand trial and the best course of sentencing.

 

Like other psychologists, they must earn a doctorate, among other training and requirements.

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Best Colleges for Criminal Justice Majors

 

1. Texas Christian University

Location: Fort Worth, TX

Acceptance Rate: 62%

Undergrad Enrollment: 9,474

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1150-1340/26-31

 

A Christian university in Fort Worth, Texas, TCU is known not only for strong academic programs but also for its athletics; the university is a member of the Big 12 conference.

 

TCU offers a bachelor’s degree, graduate degree, and minor in Criminal Justice. In each program, you’ll gain skills such as research, communication, statistical reasoning, and critical thinking. You’ll also have the opportunity to apply your skills in the real world through internships and other opportunities.

 

Undergraduate majors take courses covering themes like Critical Issues in Crime and Justice, Courts and Judicial Procedure, and Criminological Theory. They must also complete distribution requirements in subjects such as Police in a Free Society, Community Corrections, and Multiculturalism in the Criminal Justice System. Meanwhile, the two-year Master of Science in Criminal Justice & Criminology program is a distance-learning geared toward working professionals, as well as recent college graduates and future doctoral candidates.

 

Learn more about TCU and what it takes to get accepted.

 

2. University of Florida

Location: Gainesville, FL

Acceptance Rate: 37%

Undergrad Enrollment: 35,405

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1280-1440/27-32

 

Established in 1853, UF has a long, illustrious history. It is a top-ranked public university that has called Gainesville its home for well over a century.

 

Criminology, offered through the Department of Sociology and Criminology, is the largest interdisciplinary degree program at UF. Students pursuing a bachelor’s degree examine a range of issues, such as the historical, political, and psychological context for crime, law, and justice. They also have the opportunity to apply for a combination BA/MA program, earning credits toward a master’s degree in the field as undergraduates.

 

UF also offers an MA degree in Criminology, Law and Society, as well as a PhD degree program in the field. Each level and program involves an interdisciplinary approach to coursework and academics.

 

Learn more about the University of Florida and what it takes to get accepted.

 

3. The Citadel, The Military College of South Carolina

Location: Charleston, SC

Acceptance Rate: 75%

Undergrad Enrollment: 2,923

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1020-1220/20-25

 

Widely known for its Corps of Cadets, The Citadel, as it’s commonly known, educates future military leaders, in addition to offering a civilian Graduate College.

 

The second-largest major at The Citadel, Criminal Justice leads to a BA. The program combines data analysis, investigation, research, problem-solving strategies, and other studies to understand the forces that mold current criminal justice policies. Students may also participate in the alternative, completely online Criminal Justice program. There are also two minors available: Criminal Justice and International Criminal Justice.

 

While there is no specific graduate program in Criminal Justice, students may earn an MA in Social Science. This 100% online program is an interdisciplinary approach that combines criminal justice and disciplines such as political science, sociology, anthropology, and homeland security.

 

Learn more about The Citadel and what it takes to get accepted.

 

4. University of the Ozarks

Location: Clarksville, AR

Acceptance Rate: 4.5%

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,788

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1460-1580 SAT, 33-35 ACT

 

Affiliated with the Presbyterian Church, U of O is a liberal arts college that employs a multidisciplinary approach to learning.

 

Although U of O doesn’t offer a Criminal Justice major, it does have a robust minor program through the Social Science department. The interdisciplinary approach gives students the chance to complete coursework in Political Science, Psychology, and Sociology and familiarize themselves with ideas and methodology necessary for a career in social service, counseling, law enforcement, and other disciplines.

 

Learn more about U of O and what it takes to get accepted.

 

5. Temple University

Location: Philadelphia, PA

Acceptance Rate: 4.5%

Undergrad Enrollment: 6,788

Middle 50% SAT/ACT: 1460-1580 SAT, 33-35 ACT

 

Although more well known for its graduate and professional programs, Temple, a public university in Philadelphia, is also a top undergraduate college.

 

Temple has several programs in Criminal Justice, including a BA, MA, 4+1 BA/MA program, and PhD. Additionally, students can receive a Certification in Cybersecurity and Human Behavior, a Graduate Certificate in Police Leadership, and a Graduate Certification in Crime Scene.

 

The BA program covers the history, policies, and societal implications of the criminal justice system, with an emphasis on skills like critical thinking and problem-solving. The multidisciplinary approach addresses areas like healthcare and education systems. Students can also learn about the prison system through the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program. 

 

Learn more about Temple and what it takes to get accepted.

 

There are many more schools that are great for criminal justice majors. See the complete list of best colleges for criminal justice.

 

What are your chances of acceptance at top criminal justice schools? With our free chancing engine, you can find out. Learn how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile, too. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today!

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University, where she majored in Creative Writing and minored in History. She lives in Brooklyn, New York and works as a freelance writer specializing in education. She dreams of having a dog.