Major Spotlight: What is a Criminal Justice Major?

How is the threat of terrorism affecting city life? Should drug abusers be rehabilitated in prison or drug treatment programs? What punishments are “cruel and unusual”? These are just a few of the questions you’ll confront as a student in criminal justice. You’ll also study the law backward and forward, learn how the judicial system works, and learn the ins and outs of police departments and other law enforcement agencies.

Criminal justice is an interdisciplinary major, so get ready to study everything: law, psychology, sociology, public administration, and more.

Students in criminal justice explore every aspect of crime, the law, and the justice system.

“Criminal justice is a great field. You don’t have to become a lawyer. You can be a counselor, a probation officer, or a police officer.”

Amelia, freshman, criminal justice, San Jose State University

Are You Ready To...?

  • Do an internship with, for example, the police, the FBI, or a human rights organization

  • Interpret statistics

  • Learn the law

  • Read about countless court cases

It Helps To Be...

Interested in all aspects of the law, such as the psychology behind criminal behavior and the way law enforcement agencies operate. If you want to serve society and have good people skills, this may be the major for you.

College Checklist

  • Is the program more concerned with theoretical questions or with preparing students for specific careers?

  • What specializations does the department offer?

  • Is the department keeping up with the times by offering classes on current-day issues such as terrorism and international security?

  • Is the internship program strong? Will you be able to work in your area of specialty?

  • Do the professors have academic training in addition to experience in the field? If not, you might hear war stories and not much else.

Did You Know?

It wasn't until 1981, when President Ronald Reagan appointed Sandra Day O'Connor, that a woman joined the U.S. Supreme Court.

Course Spotlight

Almost all students majoring in this field are required to take an introductory course in criminal justice. This is typically a large lecture class covering a little bit of every subject taught in undergrad programs in the field. These topics include the causes of crime, policing styles, courts, and probation and parole.

This course provides the big picture you’ll need before plunging into upper-level courses. And if you’re interested in criminal justice but not sure you want to major in it, taking this class is a good way to find out.

Explore this major in more depth on Career Finder