Criminal Law Majors and Criminal Law Undergraduate Degree Programs

Read about undergraduate degrees that can be earned in criminal law and related areas. For each program, find out about admission requirements and curriculum details. Continuing education and career options are also provided, as is information about employment outlook and salaries for criminal investigators.

Essential Information

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. Students of these types of 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. Graduate degrees can be pursued by those intending to pursue senior management or academic careers.

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.

Educational Prerequisites

Criminal justice programs are often offered at community colleges and some universities. Admission into the program requires a high school diploma or GED, SAT or ACT scores and typically an essay and letters of recommendation.

Program Coursework

In the associate's program, students learn the fundamentals of the legal system and criminal law, in courses such as:

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

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

Continuing Education Information

Students 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.

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 in particular and on the role of public safety officials, such as police officers. This 2-year program teaches skills such as interviewing, evidence handling, and investigating, as well as technical skills, such as computer use. Those who want a career protecting the public learn about sources of crime, the U.S. justice system, criminal law and social problems.

In this program, students are often trained in self-defense, firearms, surveillance and crime scene evaluation. The material and hands-on training provides students with the necessary knowledge and skills needed to successfully perform as public law enforcement officers at the state or national level.

Educational Prerequisites

Admission to this law enforcement program requires a high school diploma or GED, high school transcripts and ACT or SAT scores. In addition, some colleges require an interview, letters of recommendation and personal essay.

Program Coursework

Law enforcement majors learn about how police and other law enforcement officers interact and perform in society. Classes include:

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

Popular Career Options

After completion of this associate's degree program, students earn the skills needed to apply to entry-level positions such as:

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

Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice

With a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, graduates may seek a career in areas such as probation, corrections, 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, 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.

Education Prerequisites

Most colleges and universities accept bachelor's degree prospects with either an associate's degree with all applicable transfer requirements or as a freshmen applicant. New applicants should have at least a 2.5-3.0 GPA, SAT or ACT scores and be a high school graduate. Some schools may also require an essay, interview or letters of recommendation.

Program Coursework

Bachelor's level courses not only introduce the criminal law system, but may also cover special topics, such as behavior, terrorism and computer crimes. Courses include:

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

Popular Career Options

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

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 in the treatment of offenders, understanding of legal issues and policy, management of offenders and discussion of specialized offenders such as sexual predators. The program also covers juvenile corrections, private security and the psychology of offenders.

Educational Prerequisites

A high school diploma or GED is required for entry into the BCJ in Corrections program. Students with an associate's degree may submit transfer credits for entry, while others may apply as a freshman applicants. New applicants may need to supply standardized testing scores, an essay and letters of recommendation.

Program Coursework

Corrections courses combine management, theory and general corrections issues. Classes include:

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

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Police and detectives were projected to see a seven percent growth in jobs from 2010-2020, stated the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The mean annual wages for detectives and criminal investigators were $77,860 in May 2012.

Continuing Education Information

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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