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Criminal Law Majors and Criminal Law Undergraduate Degree Programs

The study of criminal law concentrates on aspects of crime and punishment, as well as public safety. Entry into criminal law begins with an associate's or bachelor's degree in specialties such as criminal justice, law enforcement or corrections.

Essential Information

Students in criminal justice, law enforcement and corrections programs will take courses in criminology, sociology, psychology and criminal behavior, as well as complete practical training and labs. They will study overviews of all aspects of the legal system, such as courts, corrections, law enforcement and juvenile delinquency. Some careers could require the completion of additional training programs.

  • Program Levels: Associate's and bachelor's degrees
  • Program Specializations: Criminal justice, law enforcement, corrections
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma or GED; SAT or ACT scores; a interview, essay and letters of recommendation could also be required
  • Program Length: 2 years for an associate's degree; 4 years for a bachelor's degree

Associate's Degree in Criminal Justice

An associate's degree program in criminal justice provides students with a basic understanding of the criminal justice system, while preparing them for entry-level positions or advancement into a bachelor's degree program. Students gain fundamental knowledge of the parole system, law enforcement, corrections, investigations and the legal branches of the U.S. government. The social science portion of this degree program teaches students how society and criminal law relate and addresses issues regarding race, class and gender, as well as global concerns. Courses cover topics such as:

  • Police management
  • Corrections
  • Criminology
  • Criminal investigation
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Criminal justice system

Associate's Degree in Law Enforcement

An associate's degree in law enforcement differs from a similar degree in criminal justice in its emphasis on issues of law enforcement and on the role of public safety officials, such as police officers. Hands-on training in these 2-year programs teaches such skills as interviewing, self-defense, surveillance, evidence handling and investigating, as well as technical skills, such as computer use. Those who want a career protecting the public also learn about sources of crime, the U.S. justice system, criminal law and social problems. Classes include:

  • Juvenile justice
  • Police and society
  • Legal procedures
  • Sociology
  • Psychology

Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice

With a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, graduates may seek careers in areas such as probation, corrections and law enforcement; graduates may also choose to advance into a pre-law program. The B.S. in Criminal Justice program combines fundamental criminal justice courses, while explaining how the components of the legal system, the personnel involved and their public role complement each other. Students will examine aspects of the justice system, including supervising offenders, correctional counseling and treatment, preventing crime and dealing with electronic crimes. Courses include:

  • Criminal court
  • Research methods
  • Legal writing and research
  • Crime and drugs
  • Criminal behavior
  • Crime prevention

Bachelor of Criminal Justice in Corrections

The bachelor's degree in corrections program is designed for individuals who have an interest in working in the parole and corrections division of the criminal justice system. While the program emphasizes sociology and counseling, students typically learn from faculty members who have had hands-on professional experience working in jails, prison and courts. The BCJ in Corrections program equips students with the skills needed to understand legal issues and policy and manage offenders. The program also covers juvenile corrections, private security and the psychology of offenders. Classes include:

  • Case management
  • Crisis strategies
  • Probation and parole
  • Constitutional rights
  • Law enforcement

Popular Career Options

With an associate's degree in criminal justice, students may find employment in several entry-level positions, including:

  • Corrections officer
  • Juvenile detention officer
  • Court clerk
  • Detective

After completion of a law enforcement associate's degree program, students have the skills needed to apply to entry-level positions, such as:

  • Police officer
  • Criminal investigator
  • Deputy sheriff
  • State trooper
  • Security guard

Graduates with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice may seek employment in local, state and federal positions, such as:

  • Private investigator
  • Social worker
  • Court counselor
  • County police officer
  • Correctional administrator

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Police and detectives were projected to see a five percent growth in jobs from 2012-2022, stated the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The mean annual wage for detectives and criminal investigators was $80,540 in May 2014.

Continuing Education Information

Students with a law enforcement or criminal justice associate's degree are eligible to apply to a bachelor's degree program in a related field. Others may seek employment in an entry-level position while earning a bachelor's degree.

Individuals with a bachelor's degree in an area of criminal justice may proceed to law school or apply for a job in the criminal justice field. Many colleges and universities offer graduate degree programs for those seeking advanced education in criminal law or criminal justice.

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