Criminal Justice Degree Programs: What to Expect

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Pursuing a degree in criminal justice can open a wide range of opportunities in career fields such as law enforcement, forensic science, corrections and more. Although police officers and detectives make up a large portion of the workforce in criminal justice – their employment reached more than 800,000 in 2022 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics – there are many other related career fields, even for former police officers.

Criminal justice can be a wide-ranging academic subject, one that helps students develop skills that can apply in many careers. If you’re looking to get started in criminal justice or you already work in the field, there are many different types of criminal justice degrees to help you advance your career.

Here are some examples of the curriculum and topics covered while attending classes in a criminal justice degree program.

Criminal Justice History and Theory

Working in this field requires a deep understanding of the philosophy of criminal justice and the ways this philosophy is put into practice in law enforcement, legal, and correctional contexts. Some of the key topic areas are:

  • Studying the theory and practice of law enforcement, which gives you an understanding of why modern law enforcement operates the way it does and the challenges faced by police departments across the country.
  • Criminology explores crime and crime causation theories, including traditional and modern approaches and emerging technological innovations. Students examine how crime is reported, examine social policies, and more.

Criminal Justice Practices and Investigation

These topics include the practical application of criminal justice techniques, technology and theory. Some of the key areas of study are:

  • Forensics and forensic investigation, which can include investigating crime scenes, gathering evidence, and reconstructing a crime based on that evidence. These courses can cover everything from interaction with victims and witnesses to the scientific analysis of pieces of physical evidence.
  • Arson investigation, which includes everything from the physics and chemical details of combustion to the analysis of a site of a potential arson using fire industry standards and practices. Students can learn about the various methods and technology that can help determine the origin and cause of a fire and its spread.
  • Courses in criminal justice administration will teach you the more complex aspects of acting as a coordinator or administrator in a courtroom, law enforcement, or correctional setting.

Criminal Law

Knowing the details of criminal law is critical for a successful career in criminal justice. Courses in criminal law explore the rights and restrictions present in the criminal justice system and the ways they pertain to criminals, inmates, investigators, and victims. Here are some of the key topics:

  • The Constitution is the foundation of all laws in the U.S., including criminal law, which makes it a critical component of legal studies. Students learn how the Constitution supports the criminal justice system.
  • You will also study modern criminal law, learning about the range of criminal offenses, how these are determined, and how responsibility for a crime is handled in a court setting.
  • You will learn about the workings of the court system and juvenile court system, gaining an understanding of who does what and how laws are made and enforced.

Homeland Security

Some criminal justice degree programs cover homeland security topics, while some schools also offer specific degree programs focused on homeland security. These courses can be relevant for those who work with government agencies to respond to terrorist and cybersecurity threats, disaster response, and more. Examples of homeland security-focused topics include:

  • You’ll learn about the history and classification of domestic terrorism, as well as its relationship with international terrorism. You’ll also get an overview of the historical and current counterterrorism procedures.
  • Courses may cover the multidimensional topic of terrorist weapons, including weapons of mass destruction. You’ll learn about their provenance, use, and modern techniques for uncovering them.
  • Cybersecurity is a topic of growing importance and will be included in any study of homeland security issues. You’ll learn about how cyberattacks work, how they choose targets, and why they are carried out. You’ll also learn best practices for guarding yourself and your organization against cyberattacks, and other strategies to combat them.

Related: Homeland Security Degree vs. Criminal Justice Degree: How They’re Different.

Criminal Justice Degree Programs at CSU

Education is important in criminal justice, whether you work in law enforcement or elsewhere in the legal system. Here at Columbia Southern University, our criminal justice degree programs are designed to give you a world-class education in all the topics above and many more, as well as offer you unique and valuable concentrations in topics that interest you.

To learn more about our online criminal justice degree programs at CSU, visit our website.

Multiple factors, including prior experience, geography and degree field, affect career outcomes. CSU does not guarantee a job, promotion, salary increase, eligibility for a position, or other career growth.

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