The subjects you study will vary depending on the degree level. Whether you are considering an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree. In addition, as you proceed up the academic ladder, there are opportunities to select specialized areas of criminal justice. For example, forensics, psychology or computer fraud. In this article, we will give you an overview of what to expect at the different degree levels.

Associate’s Degree

A high school diploma will suffice for entry into law enforcement, such as a police officer. An Associate’s degree increases your job opportunities and could secure you an interview over a high school graduate. Or you currently work in the criminal justice field and want to upgrade your skills and knowledge. This degree can assist you in that goal.

Of course, the classes vary according to each college’s program. Each school has different coursework, but the majority provide a well-rounded study plan.  You may study the areas of law enforcement, forensic science, corporate security, criminal investigation, crime and punishment, and department of corrections. This may include a study of the U.S. court system, the U.S. Constitution, and corrections system. You may also take support courses in communications and behavioral sciences in order to develop the soft skills necessary for a career in law enforcement or another area of criminal justice.

Prior to the above classes, most schools have set General Requirements. These could take you into mathematics, literature, public speaking, and business courses. Colleges/universities want you to have a liberal arts education in addition to the courses related to the major. This major may explore the complex relationships among legal, historical, and psychological influences affecting the U.S. legal system.

According to, 7 out of 10 internships turn into full-time jobs.  Therefore, during your college program research, look for programs offering an internship component. These provide workplace experience under the supervision of a public agency or private firm in the criminal justice field. Upon successful completion, you will be ready to apply for law enforcement positions in many municipal organizations and select federal departments. Internships emphasize the skills, knowledge, and attitudes needed to be an effective professional law enforcement agent in a democratic society.

Bachelor’s Degree

At this level, you can tailor the classes to your area of interest. Many criminal justice programs allow you to focus on an area of interest, such as paralegal studies or forensic science. However, a typical four-year program teaches such topics as the role of technology in forensics and criminal justice, how the corrections system works, how the courts work with law enforcement, and criminal justice theory. Sample courses for the major may include Criminal Investigation and Procedure, Forensics, Function of Police in Modern Society, and Criminological Theories. Another program’s major courses include Criminal Justice Research Methods, Statistics for Criminal Justice, Police in Contemporary Society, and White-Collar Crime.

Additionally, you can expect a choice of electives. These prepare you for your desired career track, which could be corrections, juvenile justice, law enforcement, legal studies, international justice, or management/administration. Required courses exclusive of the electives may include Theories of Criminal Behavior, Ethics in the Criminal Justice System, Constitutional Criminal Procedure, and Substantive Criminal Law.

As with the Associate’s degree, colleges offer internships at the baccalaureate level. One example is a minimum 120-clock hour criminal justice internship, which takes place in a law office or criminal justice agency setting. Students may optionally complete a second internship during the final semester of study for elective credit. In some instances, the internship is part of the coursework.

Master’s Degree

A graduate degree allows you to branch into different specialties. Earning a master’s degree could result in a promotion to a higher level of management or rank in a law enforcement agency or police department. A Master’s of Criminal Justice provides an advanced understanding of theory and best practices of individuals in management positions of criminal justice, fraud management, and law enforcement organizations. The curriculum addresses topics including ethics, decision-making, and the impact of crime in society to improve the effectiveness of criminal justice systems.

Classes in a typical 36-credit program involve criminal justice policy, management of criminal justice organizations, analytical methods, and criminology theory. Elective courses offer a means to pursue your interests and professional aspirations.  Your choice of electives can steer you towards your planned career in criminal justice administration, law enforcement, corrections, juvenile justice, sex crimes, or homeland security.

Graduate Degree Options

If the electives seem too restrictive, search for schools offering specialties in their Master of Science. Individuals interested in the psychology of crime can choose a concentration in Behavior Analysis. You learn the skills to transfer basic principles of behavior analysis into effective and comprehensive functional behavioral assessments, behavioral interventions, and program evaluation. You accomplish by taking classes in behavioral development, therapeutic strategies in criminal justice, and applied behavioral analysis.

You may prefer a concentration in Homeland Security. Generally, this specialty focuses on major elements of preparedness and response to risks and disasters. Coursework addresses the causes and effects of terrorism from political, religious, and historical perspectives; the sociological effects of disasters on communities; and risk assessment and management. You will also gain a comprehensive understanding of roles and functions across agencies as well as complex policy issues related to homeland security.

Still undecided about a degree in Criminal Justice? These organizations may help you decide.

National Criminal Justice Association

Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS)

American Society of Criminology (ASC)

American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS)

American Correctional Association (ACA)