The U.S. criminal justice system is designed to keep the nation safe from harm and to “deliver justice to all.” Criminal justice professionals work hard to safeguard Americans, protect U.S. borders, and deliver justice to criminals who have gone against the law. It carries great importance, and is constantly changing as our country’s demands and policies evolve. Right now, the nation is in need of criminal justice professionals. All facets of the field – corrections, courts, law enforcement, psychology, security, administration – could benefit from fresh, trained, and qualified individuals who want to get involved.
The field of criminal justice is wide-ranging. If you are considering criminal justice as your college major, it’s important to know that alternative majors similar to criminal justice also exist. Within the umbrella field of criminal justice, you can find many related areas of study that can lead to a dream career. The right degree for you will depend on your professional goals.
What is a Criminal Justice Degree?
Criminal justice is an interdisciplinary degree program that prepares students to work within the U.S. criminal justice system. This means graduates of this degree program can pursue careers in corrections, criminal investigation, law enforcement, courts, public security, and more. Criminal justice majors learn about a breadth of topics, from investigative report writing to criminology, with a narrowed focus on the social, criminal, and behavioral sciences as they relate to the field.
Criminal justice degree programs are all-encompassing, covering multiple topics that can be applied to almost any criminal justice career path. Typically, criminal justice degrees are offered at the associate degree level, though advanced programs are available. Many criminal justice majors go on to advance their studies and pursue a related, yet specialized degree at the bachelor’s or graduate level. Some graduates choose to dive right into a criminal justice career, such as:
- Police Officer
- Corrections Officer
- Probation Officer
- Fire Inspector
- Customs and Border Protection Agent
- Immigration and Customs Officer
- Private or Personal Security Agent
- Transportation Security Agent
If you are considering a career in criminal justice, you may be curious which degree path is right for you. Through your research, you may have found that other, related majors have caught your eye. The fact is, criminal justice schools cover many topics related to corrections, law enforcement, and policy, and are great for anyone just get started or looking to advance their knowledge in the field. However, more focused majors are also available for those looking to pursue a certain area of criminal justice. If you are curious what else is out there, or are looking to advance your current criminal justice degree, it is important to explore all avenues. Below, we outline five of the top majors similar to criminal justice.
5 Majors Similar to Criminal Justice:
- Public Safety and Security
Public safety and security is a bachelor’s degree program that provides students with an in-depth understanding of how safety and security agencies work in the greater criminal justice field. This type of program prepares students for leadership careers in agencies dedicated to public safety, security, law enforcement, and emergency response. It covers important topics like current ethical and legal issues, cross-cultural psychology, research methods, and public policy analysis, among other critical courses.
Often, government agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree. Public safety and security, therefore, is a great major to choose if you’re interested in holding a government career. With this degree in hand, you may qualify for upper-level positions in federal emergency management, dispatch, national security, homeland security, corrections facilities, courts systems, and more. If you desire to climb to the top of the criminal justice ladder, and to make an impact at the state or national level, a public safety and security degree is the right choice for you.
- Homeland Security
Homeland security is a specialized program of study that prepares students to combat crime on a national level and keep Americans safe. This is similar to the above public safety and security degree, but more narrow in that coursework is highly focused on domestic security for the United States. Homeland security majors learn about key topics like tackling terrorism, investigating cybercrime, and protecting U.S. lands against hurricanes and other natural disasters. The curriculum focuses on emergency planning, incident response and management, and personal and physical security.
Overall, the goal of the homeland security major is to keep America – and its population – safe. Homeland security majors may work at the local, state, or federal government. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is one of the largest employers of homeland security degree holders today.
Not all criminal justice schools offer homeland security degree programs. However, homeland security coursework is usually offered, often in combination or as a concentration within another, related degree path. When researching potential majors, talk to an admissions counselor if you’re interested in homeland security as a career path.
- Law Enforcement
In some institutions, you will also find law enforcement degree programs available. As a major, law enforcement is designed to prepare students for careers as law enforcement officers. Topics within this major include criminal law, contemporary legal issues, and investigative report writing. These programs teach the skills needed to become a great police officer, and prepare students with hands-on training, too. Law enforcement degree programs often offer internship experiences on a police force, in a fire department, or in other agencies needing law enforcement support.
While a degree is not always required to become a police officer, it is recommended for those getting started in the field or looking to advance their career. A law enforcement degree can teach skills like critical thinking, criminal investigation, grant and report writing, and conflict resolution. It can equip you with knowledge about the entirety of the U.S. criminal justice system. While some of these skills can be learned in a police academy, a law enforcement degree is also an option for you.
- Legal Studies
For those who are interested in the law, working in the courts system, and helping deliver justice to criminals and their victims, a legal studies major may be right for you. Legal studies degree programs teach students about how the law works in the United States and the policies that underlie it. In this major, students also learn how to analyze arguments, think critically about legal issues, assess criminal behavior, and effectively communicate as it relates to the court of law.
Legal studies is not synonymous with law school, which typically involves graduate education. Legal studies, generally speaking, is a bachelor’s degree program that prepares students for careers as paralegals and law enforcement officers. Some legal studies graduations work in administrative positions in legal offices, law firms, and government agencies.
Criminology and criminal justice sound similar, but these majors are distinct in some ways. While criminal justice encompasses all areas of the justice system, criminology is largely focused on research and sociology. Criminology majors study human behavior and psychology as they relate to crime. They try to understand why crime occurs, when and where crimes occur most, and what factors make a criminal. Criminologists’ career, as you can see, is largely research based. They are researching, analyzing, and understanding what causes crime and what measures can be taken to prevent it.
As a result, criminology is important to the greater field of criminal justice in that it informs other criminal justice professionals. Criminology experts research and later inform others of how, when, where, and why crime occurs today—which in turn can play a role in prevention and policy efforts. Criminologists often work in forensic science, criminal profiling, criminology research, and prosecution.
Which Criminal Justice Related Major Is Right for You?
Ultimately, whether you pursue a criminal justice major – or a major similar to criminal justice – will be dependent on your interests and career aspirations. Do you wish to become a paralegal, which needs focused coursework in legal studies? Or, do you wish to become a law enforcement officer, in which you can pursue any of the above majors related to criminal justice? Consider the options above and ask yourself which major best aligns with your passion areas and goals.
If you are interested in learning about the criminal justice and public safety programs at Goodwin University, do not hesitate to contact us today. You may reach an admissions counselor at 800-889-3282 or request more information online.
Goodwin University is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.