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Political Science Vs. Criminal Justice Degree

Although similar in certain ways, the differences between a political science degree and criminal justice degree can impact your career path. This article discusses the major differences, typical coursework and topics included, as well as related careers.

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Comparing a Political Science Degree to a Criminal Justice Degree

For those students who are looking to get into law school or gain a better understanding of how laws and public policies are made and executed, a degree in either political science or criminal justice can be advantageous. While a criminal justice degree focuses on criminology, legal procedures and principles of the courts and corrections, a political science degree will specialize in how these laws/policies are created through political processes and government systems. Depending on your preference and specialization, either one of these degrees can head start your career in law or government.

Major Differences Between the Degrees

While there are many similarities between these two degrees and they can often be used interchangeably, the differences can help inform your career path if you are intent on a specific role. A degree in political science will focus mainly on the study of government and public policy/politics whereas a degree in criminal justice deals with general areas of law enforcement. Both paths can lead to opportunities serving the public. For example, a criminal justice major may choose to work in counseling institutions, halfway houses or probation/parole departments. On the other hand, a political science major may be more inclined to opt for a career in campaign management and polling or electoral politics. Ultimately, a criminal justice degree can give students a closer look at how laws affect criminals and the execution of these laws as well as correctional measures. A political science degree will usually delve further into how these laws are initially put into place before they actually reach the court.

Political Science and Criminal Justice Degree Program Coursework

Political Science Degree

A political science degree can provide you with knowledge regarding political behavior, systems and institutions both past and present. You could learn about international issues, conflicts, judicial and legislative processes, criminal and constitutional law, public policy and much more.

Political science courses cover topics such as:

  • Problems in political systems and current national political issues
  • Principles of governments and institutions
  • Terrorism and its effects on society
  • Examination of campaigns, elections, voting history and political advertising
  • Issues in international relations

Criminal Justice Degree

A criminal justice degree could cover a range of topics related to criminology, crime causation and prosecutions. You may be more inclined to choose this type of degree if you would like to work in forensics or security, or if you want to gain an understanding of why specific crimes are committed.

Criminal justice courses cover topics such as:

  • Examination and overview of our criminal justice system
  • Policing and the role of police in society
  • Correctional systems such as prisons and community control sanctions
  • Juvenile delinquency and its causes
  • The harmful effects of deviant behavior in society

Related Careers

If you are drawn to a major in criminal justice, then the duties of a probation officer may interest you. On the other hand, if you prefer political science as a major, then a career as a city planner may be better suited.

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