What classes are required for criminal justice (Ultimate Guide)

What classes are required for criminal justice (Ultimate Guide)

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 Brian Humenuk | Author | COPJOT Police Notebooks and Pens


By Brian Humenuk, MS, COPJOT  

Updated on August 1, 2023

4 minute read or less


According to the Academy of Criminal Justice there are 7 broad areas for students to explore that are essential for Criminal Justice degree programs.

A career in criminal justice offers the opportunity to make a significant impact on society by upholding the law, maintaining order, and promoting justice.

Whether you want to become a police officer, a private detective, a corrections officer, or work in the courts, a solid foundation of education is important.

In this article, we'll explore the key classes required for a criminal justice degree, highlighting on the essential knowledge and skills you'll acquire during your academic journey.

What degree requirements are there for criminal justice?

The degree requirements for criminal justice degrees are a combined 46 or more credits in required core classes, diversity elective classes, criminal justice elective classes and cognate classes.

The Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice provides students with a solid background in criminal justice and criminology, enabling them to develop a broad understanding of crime and the criminal justice system.

The core classes in the chart below reflect the standards that are affirmed by the Academy of Criminal Justice (ACJS). Program standards emphasize the development of skills in critical thinking, communications, conceptualizing ideas and understanding criminal justice data.

There are seven broad areas that are essential for criminal justice programs: 1) Administration of Justice; 2) Crime Theory; 3) Law Enforcement; 4) Criminal Law; 5) Corrections; 6) Ethics; and 7) Research and Analytic Methods.

Intro to Criminal Justice
Crime Theory
Analyzing Criminal Justice Data
Foundations of Criminal Justice
Research Methods in Criminal Justice
Police, Community, and Society
Courts and the Judicial Process
Ethics in Criminal Justice


Introduction to Criminal Justice:

This foundational course provides an overview of the criminal justice system, including its components such as law enforcement, the courts, and corrections. 


In this class, students delve into the study of criminal behavior, exploring its causes and patterns. Criminology offers essential insights into the motivations and theories behind criminal activities.

Criminal Law:

Understanding the legal framework of the criminal justice system is crucial. This class focuses on the laws governing crimes, the elements of specific offenses, and the legal principles involved in the prosecution of crimes.

Policing and Law Enforcement:

This course offers a comprehensive view of law enforcement agencies, their organization, and the roles and responsibilities of police officers. You'll explore various policing models, ethical considerations, and procedural justice.

Corrections and Rehabilitation:

Students examine the corrections system, including jails, prisons, probation, and parole. This class covers the purposes, practices, and challenges of the correctional system, as well as rehabilitation efforts.

Criminal Procedure:

Understanding the procedures and rules governing criminal investigations, arrests, and trials is vital. This class delves into the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments, as well as relevant case law.

Juvenile Justice:

This class explores the juvenile justice system, which operates differently from the adult system. You'll learn about the unique challenges of working with young offenders and the principles that guide the juvenile justice process.


Students study the impact of crime on victims and explore the rights and services available to them within the criminal justice system. This class emphasizes the importance of supporting and advocating for victims.

Ethics in Criminal Justice:

Ethical decision-making is a critical aspect of criminal justice work. This class addresses moral dilemmas and professional conduct, providing guidance for ethical behavior in the field.

Criminal Justice Research Methods: Understanding how to conduct research is essential for a career in criminal justice. This course covers research methodologies, data analysis, and report writing, ensuring graduates are equipped to gather and evaluate information effectively.

Electives and Specializations

Depending on the program, students often have the opportunity to choose electives or specialize in particular areas of criminal justice, such as homeland security, forensic science, or cybercrime. These electives allow students to tailor their education to their specific career goals and interests.

What classes are required for a degree in criminal justice

What do you learn in criminal justice?

A degree in criminal justice covers a wide range of topics and concepts to prepare students for careers in law enforcement, the legal system, corrections, and related fields.

The specific curriculum may vary depending on the institution and the level of the degree you are looking to work towards.

What topics do you learn in Criminal Justice?

Criminal Law:

Students learn the fundamentals of criminal law, including the elements of various crimes, legal defenses, and the criminal justice process.


This area explores the causes of crime, criminal behavior patterns, and the sociological and psychological factors that contribute to criminal activities.

Policing and Law Enforcement:

Students gain insights into law enforcement agencies, their structure, procedures, and the role of police officers in maintaining public safety.


The study of corrections covers topics related to prisons, probation, parole, and rehabilitation programs for offenders.

Criminal Justice Ethics:

Ethical considerations and decision-making in the criminal justice field are explored, emphasizing the importance of moral conduct and integrity.

Criminal Justice System:

An overview of the criminal justice system, including the courts, legal procedures, and the roles of various professionals within the system.

Forensic Science:

Introduction to the techniques and principles of forensic science, which involves using scientific methods to solve crimes.

Juvenile Justice:

This area focuses on the unique aspects of the justice system as it applies to minors and delinquent youth.

Research Methods:

Learning how to conduct research and collect data is essential for understanding and improving criminal justice practices and policies.


The study of victimology explores the experiences of crime victims and the support services available to them.

Homeland Security and Terrorism:

An introduction to security measures, counterterrorism efforts, and national security concerns in the modern world.

Criminal Justice Administration:

The management and organizational aspects of criminal justice agencies, covering topics like leadership, budgeting, and policy development.

Constitutional Law:

An in-depth study of the U.S. Constitution and its application in criminal justice, including issues related to civil rights and civil liberties.

Legal Research and Writing:

Developing skills in legal research, case analysis, and effective written communication in a legal context.

Community Policing:

Focusing on proactive approaches to law enforcement, building positive relationships between police and communities, and addressing community issues.

Cybercrime and Technology in Criminal Justice:

Understanding the impact of technology on criminal activities and the tools used to investigate cybercrimes.

Social Justice and Diversity:

Examining issues related to social justice, diversity, and equity within the criminal justice system.

Internships and Field Experience:

Many criminal justice programs incorporate hands-on experience through internships or field placements, allowing students to apply their knowledge in real-world settings.

Is a Criminal Justice Major hard?

The difficulty of a criminal justice major, like any academic discipline, can vary from person to person, and it largely depends on individual strengths, interests, and learning preferences.

Below are 7 factors to consider on the perceived difficulty of a criminal justice major:

  1. Diverse Subject Matter: Criminal justice is an interdisciplinary field that encompasses aspects of law, psychology, sociology, ethics, and criminology. This diversity can make the major challenging, as it requires students to grasp a broad range of topics.
  2. Critical Thinking: Success in criminal justice often hinges on critical thinking and problem-solving abilities. Students must analyze complex situations, evaluate evidence, and make decisions based on legal and ethical principles.
  3. Legal Framework: Understanding the intricacies of the legal system is a fundamental aspect of a criminal justice major. This may involve studying case law, statutes, and court procedures, which can be demanding for some individuals.
  4. Ethical Considerations: The field of criminal justice often presents moral and ethical dilemmas. Students must learn to navigate these issues while upholding the law and respecting individual rights.
  5. Research and Analysis: Many criminal justice programs require students to conduct research, analyze data, and present findings effectively. This research component can be challenging for those not accustomed to academic investigation.
  6. Varied Career Paths: The difficulty of a criminal justice major can also depend on one's career goals. Some positions within the field, such as becoming a police officer, may have different educational and training requirements, which can affect the level of challenge in your studies.
  7. Practical Experience: While a criminal justice major includes classroom learning, it often demands practical experience through internships or fieldwork. Balancing coursework with hands-on training can be demanding but is invaluable for a well-rounded education.

What are the prerequisites for a Criminal Justice Degree?

The prerequisites for a criminal justice degree are having a solid educational background, dedication towards physical fitness, having interpersonal skills, and having ethical awareness will not only help you gain admission to a program but also excel in your studies and future career.

What are the prerequisites for criminal justice?

Lets explore the key prerequisites for obtaining a degree in criminal justice.

Educational Requirements

The first step in pursuing a criminal justice degree is to meet the educational prerequisites. Generally, a high school diploma or equivalent (such as a GED) is the minimum requirement for admission to a criminal justice program. 

Strong Academic Foundation

While not always explicitly stated as a prerequisite, a strong academic foundation is essential for success in a criminal justice program. Courses in English, mathematics, and social studies can provide you with the skills and knowledge necessary to excel in your criminal justice studies.

Additionally, having good study habits and time management skills will serve you well throughout your degree program.

Choose a Specialization

Criminal justice is a broad field with various specializations, including law enforcement, corrections, criminology, and legal studies.

Before applying for a criminal justice degree program, it's beneficial to have an idea of which specialization you are interested in. 

Physical Fitness

If you're considering a career in law enforcement, physical fitness is often a prerequisite. Many police academies and law enforcement agencies require candidates to meet certain physical fitness standards. 

Background Checks and Moral Character

Due to the sensitive nature of many criminal justice careers, institutions and employers often conduct thorough background checks on applicants. Having a clean criminal record is essential for admission to a criminal justice program and subsequent employment in the field.

PRO TOP: Demonstrating good moral character and ethical behavior cannot be stressed enough while actively pursuing your criminal justice degree as well as at any job that you are employed at. This also extends to your home and family life as well as your social life.

Interpersonal Skills

A key prerequisite for a successful career in criminal justice is strong interpersonal skills. Effective communication, conflict resolution, and the ability to work with diverse populations are vital in this field. Consider gaining experience in related fields, such as volunteering or internships, to develop and showcase these skills.

About the Author

Brian Humenuk isn't just an entrepreneur in eCommerce, he is also an informed leader whose experience provides followers and visitors with a look into current and past police issues making headlines in the United States.

Brian has earned three degrees in Criminal Justice with the last, a Masters of Science in Criminal Justice Administration.

Brian extends his training, education, and experience to the officers just now getting into the field so that they may become more informed police officers and stay clear of police misconduct and corruption. 

You can find Brian on Linkedin here.

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