Becoming a Police Officer: Fields of Study

Updated on Dec 2, 2010

If you have decided that you will need a four-or two-year degree before or during your pursuit of a police officer career, the next step would be to consider what you will study. Many colleges and universities across the country have Criminal Justice degree programs. However, you don't necessarily need to major in one of these programs.

There are many in the field who believe that a well-rounded college education, one that includes courses in accounting, psychology, foreign languages, and courses that will improve your communication and computer skills, makes for the best candidate. You can concentrate your study on any one of these areas and enhance the skills needed for your future career. The Berkeley, CA police department, for example, requires 60 college credits, and specifies that they be in Administration of Justice, Criminology, Police Science, Public Administration, Psychology, Sociology, and/or English.

Just the Facts

College students are expected at some point in their education, generally in the second or third year, to declare what is called a major. This can be defined simply as what you are specializing in and the subject matter you will study in your advanced courses.

All colleges require that a student take a certain number of what are called general education courses. These may be similar to subjects you took in high school such as English, math, government, and history. Others, the liberal arts and humanities, will introduce you to fields such as economics, psychology, anthropology, sociology, history, and possibly a foreign language. Within the past decade, a number of colleges have added courses on ethics and on cultural diversity to provide an introduction to living in a diverse society.

If you do decide to get a bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice, you will probably need 33 credits in your major, which might look like this:

Criminal Justice 101 Introduction to Criminal Justice 3 credits
Law 203 Constitutional Law 3 credits
Sociology 203 Criminology 3 credits
Corrections 201 The Law and Institutional Treatment 3 credits
Law 206 The American Judiciary 3 credits
Police Science 201 Police Organization and Administration 3 credits
Statistics 250 Principles and Methods of Statistics 3 credits
Literature 327 Crime and Punishment in Literature 3 credits
Philosophy 321 Police Ethics 3 credits
Police Science 245 Seminar in Community Policing 3 credits
Police Science 401 Seminar in Police Problems 3 credits

For an associate (two-year) degree, majoring in Criminal Justice, you could take courses such as:

CRIJ 1310 Fundamentals of Criminal Law 3 credits
CRIJ 1301 Introduction to Criminal Justice 3 credits
CRIJ 1306 Courts and Criminal Procedure 3 credits
CRIJ 1307 Crime in America 3 credits
CJCR 1307 Correctional Systems and Practices 3 credits
CJSA 2300 Legal Aspects of Law Enforcement 3 credits

For an associate (two-year) degree, majoring in Criminology, your core course work could include:

CRIM 150 Introduction to the Criminal Justice System 3 credits
CRIM 200 Criminology 3 credits
CRIM 201 Institutional and Commercial Security 3 credits
CRIM 210 Introduction to Corrections 3 credits
CRIM 220 Introduction to Law Enforcement 3 credits
CRIM 280 The Law of Criminal Justice 3 credits
CRIM 285 Introduction to Criminalistics 3 credits
CRIM 298 Practicum in Criminal Justice 3 credits

For all degrees, you will probably be required to take the remainder of your credits in courses such as sociology, math, accounting, computers, writing/composition, psychology, government, and philosophy.

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