What Types of Criminal Justice Majors Are There?

For students who are interested in starting a fascinating and rewarding career in the criminal justice industry, it is important to recognize that there are multiple different majors that can be pursued. Since there are so many sub-fields of criminal justice that students can study, there is a high likelihood that students will be able to find a major that best fits their interests and goals. In addition, there are a wide variety of career options that will lead to favorable job prospects following graduation. Read on to learn more about the different criminal justice majors offered and the potential career paths resulting from the majors.

Law Enforcement

While it used to be common practice for aspiring law enforcement officers to enter the police academy after graduating high school, law enforcement has become increasingly more complex. Therefore, many employers at the local, state, and federal levels require college education, as well as hands-on experience training. In fact, most police academies now make sure all candidates possess at least an associate’s degree before acceptance. It is even expected that they will require bachelor’s degrees in law enforcement in the very near future.

Degree programs in law enforcement are more than just learning to fire a weapon or train a police dog. The law enforcement major focuses on providing students with extensive knowledge on police procedures, court policies, prison systems, psychology, sociology, and human behavior. Students learn how to effectively interrogate suspects, maintain uncontaminated crime scenes, and rehabilitate or counsel prisoners in correctional facilities. After receiving this broad understanding with a law enforcement degree, graduates have their pick of career paths as police officers, public or private security guards, correctional officers, private bodyguards, or detectives.


Programs in corrections are designed to prepare students for entry-level positions by giving them a thorough understanding of the daily procedures and operations of correctional facilities. Corrections students often gain hands-on experience through job shadowing or internship opportunities. Upon completion of the degree, students will have a broad knowledge of how prisons and rehabilitation facilities function, including their communication systems, hierarchies, and regulations.

When students earn a college degree with a major in corrections, they enter an important field with the responsibility of supervising a criminal population and guaranteeing the safety of citizens. Students with a corrections degree can become correctional officers, probation officers, parole officers, correctional counselors, and child protection service workers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists is expected to rapidly grow by 18 percent before 2020, as a large number of openings will be created to replace retired individuals.


Criminology majors focus on the social implications and roots of criminal behavior within the legal system. Students master the application of theoretical tools of sociology and psychology to better understand crime. Coursework typically includes a variety of substantive topics, such as juvenile delinquency, hate crime, drug abuse, terrorism, media and crime, and punishment/social control. Criminology graduates will better understand why laws are mad, how they are violated, and how society responds in the criminal justice system.

Careers in criminology include state or federal correctional officers, criminal investigators, forensic scientists, law enforcement officers, private investigators, detectives, criminal justice researchers, and many other positions at government agencies. While it is not required for entry-level positions, having a degree in criminology usually allows for faster promotion and higher potential earnings. Depending on experience, education, and area of employment, salaries can range from $25,000 to $65,000 each year for criminology majors.


If a student is interested in starting a career as an attorney, he or she has the ability to obtain a criminal justice degree with a specialization in law, before entering law school. Law degrees can provide endless career paths because all occupations need individuals who possess communication and problem solving skills. With a Juris Doctor law degree, graduates can become an attorney in criminal law, environmental law, international law, corporate law, tax law, and many other specializations of interest. Although salaries vary according to employer, lawyers earn substantial salaries between $62,000 and $137,000 annually.

Within a law degree program, students will complete a number of courses that are mandated by the American Bar Association, including contracts, constitutional law, criminal procedure, civil litigation, torts, and legal writing. Students can also choose to complete specialized electives, such as tax, intellectual property, or environmental law. Most schools also require real-world legal experience through trial practice, clinical practicum, and independent study.

Homeland Security

Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, educational and job opportunities have dramatically flourished in the field of homeland security. Depending on the specialization of studies and degree level, graduates with a homeland security major may work in public or private businesses, airports, law enforcement, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Secret Service, custom investigations, and border patrol. Jobs for individuals with high expertise in the complex homeland security field are in high-demand and only increasing further, as threats for terrorism continue to rise.

By earning an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree in homeland security, students are well-prepared to take advantage of these new career opportunities. Students study a multitude of course topics, such as political science, engineering, emergency preparedness, disaster management, intelligence analysis, psychology, and counterterrorism techniques. Since most homeland security professors are government experts in the field, students gain significant technical and analytical experience in researching real-world security issues.

Forensic Psychology

For students who are interested in criminal justice and psychology, the forensic psychology major may be a perfect combination. Within a forensic psychology program, students take coursework in criminal justice, social psychology, victimology, psychopathology, psychology of the law, criminal behavior, and psychological profiling of homicidal offenders. They gain valuable skills for conducting psychological assessments, competency evaluations, recommendations for parental custody, crisis management, and counseling.

Graduates with a forensic psychology degree have a multitude of career and educational opportunities. Often, those with forensic psychology degrees go on to attend law school, pursue a master’s degree in criminal justice, or a doctoral degree in forensic psychology. Forensic psychologists are employed in correctional facilities, rehabilitation centers, police departments, schools, government agencies, law firms, and private practices. These specialized psychologists often work directly with attorneys, offenders, victims, and families to be a vital member of the criminal justice team.

Overall, there are many different types of criminal justice majors that students are encouraged to research further and take advantage of to align with their personal career goals. Each of the mentioned majors can lead to a diverse assortment of career opportunities in the exciting field of criminal justice.