High School Classes Needed for a Criminal Justice College

What High School classes are needed to get into a Criminal Justice college or university degree program?

If you are planning on a Criminal Justice degree in college than you may want to consider taking specific classes while still in high school. But I know, and so do the colleges and universities nationwide, that 99.9% of high schools don’t directly offer courses related to the CJ field. This is okay! You don’t have to worry about getting into a Criminal Justice degree program if you don’t have the opportunity to take the classes in high school.

If you have an opportunity to pick courses, pick those that directly relate to Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement… duh! You know that! But, here are other topics that may help you choose your high school classes:

  • politics
  • current issues
  • psychology
  • sociology
  • political science
  • international affairs
  • public policy
  • international relations

High School Criminal Justice ClassesMost importantly, make sure to keep your grades as close to an “A” as possible. Try to join organizations, teams, and after-school groups (this will look very good on your college app).

Get to know your teachers and keep contact with them (even after your freshman or sophomore years — these first teachers in high school can be very helpful to your cause). When it’s time to apply to a Criminal Justice school you can ask them for letters of recommendation, to check your application, or the entrance essay to the program.

Just so you know, not all schools require letters of recommendation or an entrance essay. This is usually needed for Master and PhD level programs.

If you are in your junior and senior year, you should start looking for Criminal Justice programs, as you should apply to more than one school. You would be surprised how many high school students never get into college because of this very reason.

Your chances of getting into a Criminal Justice program may be higher if you complete these steps. Most of your peers don’t even think that far ahead. So with that in mind, you should be just fine in your quest of getting into some of the best Criminal Justice, Homeland Security, Forensic Science, Public Administration, and Foreign Policy degree programs.

The Criminal Justice Online blog has the info on schools and even offers search options in your quest of pursuing the best college education. So stick around and good luck!

You might also like:

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

164 comments… add one
  • victor

    hey im a 10th grader interested in criminal justice my school offers a intro to sociology/psychology should i take it my junior or senior year and would u recommend any other classes?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Victor, you’re on the right track taking the intro to sociology / psychlogy class. I don’t know exactly what courses your high school offers, but besides the ones mentioned in the blog post above, you should consider an American History class. It’s broad, but it will give you some hints about the Criminal Justice system as it was in the past. This so called “boring” class can give you insights into the present Law Enforcement field.

      Even if you don’t have the chance to take these classes you should be in the clear towards further criminal justice education or work in the law enforcment field, granted you take your grades seriously and other factors (above) seriously.

      Hope this helps. If you need any more info with anything just let me know.

      – Radek

  • natashia

    hey I’m a sophmore and i am interested in becoming a csi wgat are the classes i should take while i’m still in highschool?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      You don’t need to take any additional classes, but if you can take these, they can help you in the CSI field:

      Earth Science
      Math classes

      The Crime Scene Investigation field is very science based, so courses like those above can help you in pursuing your choice of study. I know that some of these courses may be scary, but taking them now will help you immensely in most of the hard courses in college since you will be prepared for all the cool science stuff like: bullet trajectory analysis, blood splatter analysis, finger print and palm print analysis, and other forensic stuff.

  • Jasmine

    Hello…I’m a sophomore and im currently enolled in the iT prgram. its the one with computer graphics. i don’t know if i should take computer graphics 2 and multimedia 1 or multimedia 1 and 2. ??

    • Radek M. Gadek

      In regards to Criminal Justice and IT, I would take both multimedia classes if you want to work in IT security or related fields.

  • Ashley Neighbarger

    Hello…I am a sophmore this upcoming August and I would like to join the Military after college. I am thinking about majoring in Criminal Justice and then after I give so many years to the military, I would go and try to find a job as a cop and work my way up to a homocide detective. With having my degree in Criminal Justice and having Military experience would I still have to be a cop or could i just be a homocide detective.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Hi Ashley,

      Congratulations on the path you are considering – it’s a noble one.

      Even with all the education and experience under your belt you would still have to become a police officer first at majority of police departments (more like 99.9% of them). The good news is that many police departments allow you to take the detective exam after you complete your probationary period (6-18 months).

      The reason detectives get paid more and get to wear civilian clothing is because they know what it is to be a police officer first. It may seem unnecessary now, but it is an integral part of the job.

      Advice: If you find that you can’t wait a few years to become an investigator, try to apply with your local, county, or state investigation agency… heck with your experience you can apply to places like DEA, FBI, and ICE. I know that in Wisconsin, for example, there is an agency called Wisconsin Department of Justice (WIDOJ). Up until this economic recession, I have seen openings for a position that is investigative in nature for persons with a college degree and professional experience (professional experience – is job experience, and often equates to ANY job experience). Try looking at your such agencies and see what is the scope of their work and where you would fit in. Then, AIM and FIRE.

      Good luck!

  • Alana Best

    Hello, I am currently going to the 10th grade and I would like to ask what colleges are best for Criminal Justice and related fields? Are there classes in school I should take to prepare myself and are there college courses I should take to more futher ahead?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Sophomore year is a good time to start thinking about your academic future. Kudos to you Alana!

      There are so many great schools out there, and the list of best schools depends on the state you are planning on attending college in. Within the upcoming weeks and months I should be posting a list of what I call “BEST” criminal justice schools. Stick around for that. In the meanwhile, see some of the blog posts under the “Colleges & Universities” category. They will give you an insight into which schools may be great. Also, you can use U.S. News and World Reports, as well as The Princeton Review, to look for great colleges and universities that offer Criminal Justice degree programs – you might want to start searching at the graduate level on U.S. News as I know there’s an option to find Criminology schools. Even though these schools are often for Master and PhD candidates, they are usually the schools you might want to attend in your undergrad (it’s not always the case, but for the most part it is).

      My advice for classes stays the same. If you can take any criminal justice related classes from genres listed above than you are prone to discover what you will like in college. I highly recommend any classes that teach you about human relations, psychology, history, and even biology or chemistry if you would like to consider working in the crime scene investigation (CSI).

      If you have the chance to take any of the courses listed in this post, or in this reply, then you will be above and beyond the rest of your peers. If you don’t have such an opportunity, try going to your local college, university, or community college to see if you can sit in on a lecture (or a few). You would be surprised how many professors would welcome the idea of a high school student SO VERY MUCH interested in their own future and subject matter (Criminal Justice). Hope this helps.

      Good luck Alana!

  • Alex

    hey…i am now an 8th grader and i love forensic science. i would like to know what classes i could take in high school that would be helpful for college.

    it also may be helpful if i could get some college ideas so i am prepared. no private colleges though please!!!

    thnx 4 ur time

    • Radek M. Gadek


      Forensic Science is an awesome criminal justice field. I would take lots of chemistry and biology courses if I were you. These, and other high school science courses, have the potential to get you prepared for college courses in Forensic Science.

      As for college ideas…
      1. Choose wisely
      2. Go for state schools (much cheaper)
      3. Going private is not bad if you can get a scholarship – some of the best schools are private
      4. Keep in touch with your HS teachers to help guide you into the career path and college that you want
      5. Check out the posts in the new section under Best Criminal Justice Schools for some really good college ideas (more coming soon)
      6. Use outside resources like U.S. News, The Princeton Review, and etc.
      7. See the list of the Best PhD Schools and Programs to gauge which undergrad schools you might want to attend

      I hope this helps. Good luck to you!

  • Morgan

    hey i want to be a CSI agent or an autopsy person what classes in highschool and middle school do i need to take

    • Radek M. Gadek


      You should consider biology and chemistry courses. Also, if your HS has anatomy classes take as many of them as possible.

  • Brittney

    Hey, I am in 9th grade and am immensely interested in forensic science. I was curious What colleges ( preferably universities if possible) present the criminal justice courses in Canada ( Preferably Ontario) or are within a few hours from the boarder….

  • erika whitaker

    Hey.. I am in the 11 grade and i want to become an undercover cop what should i take in college what classes are required in college to become an undercover cop?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Any college degree program can help. To become an undercover cop you first have to become a police officer, then you usually get promoted or assigned to a special unit where you would do undercover work. Not all departments have these special units.

  • heather_dawn

    Hey I’m a junior in high school and i really enjoy forensic science, i was wondering if there are any classes online that i could take that could help me with a career in forensic science while i’m still in high school. i have taken physical science, biology, currently in chemisty, and next year i’m taking physics. plus i have taken algebra 1 parts one and two, geometry, this coming semester i’ll be in algebra 2, and next year i’ll either be in advanced math or math essentuals. i have looked into it and so far all i have found is classed that i can take after i turn eighteen or after i graduate. do you know of anything i can do?


    • Radek M. Gadek

      To be honest I don’t know any online classes that would be available to anyone under the age of 18, unless prior permission was given by the school or training company – and your parents. The classes you’re taking now are great and will really help you with your journey towards a Forensic Science degree. If you find anything let us know.

      • heather_dawn

        Actually I applied for University of Phoenix Online and they have a program just for juniors still in high school. I’m not sure exactly what all it is yet but they have one.
        Thanks !

        • Radek M. Gadek

          Hope all goes well. Let us know if you like it.

  • Erika Whitaker

    Hi me again… when you become a police officer how much do they make for there first year when you patrol a big city like los angeles? What kind of beneifts do police officers recieve? Do you have to also pay to attend the police academy or do they pay you? and how long is it?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Los Angeles police officers are some of the highest paid in the nation — even more than those working in New York City or Chicago —

      If you plan on working in a metropolitan city you’ll definitely start over $42,000 – Los Angeles should be significantly more. Usually when you start you get starting pay for when you go to the police academy (ie. $42,000, or more, in most cases). When you’re done with the police academy, you’ll most likely get a significant raise right away – several thousand dollars – (police academy should last 6 months).

      You wouldn’t have to pay for going to the police academy in a metroplitan city or state agency, for example – they pay you. However, smaller towns and rural counties often ask that you pass a state sponsored certification on your own time and dime. It’s not very expensive, but you wouldn’t get paid for it if you had to go this route. The pay in smaller municipalities and rural counties is much smaller, but that shouldn’t stop you if you like to live in the country. It’s a lifestyle choice.

      Hope this helps and to find out more about what a specific police department has to offer try Googling it using the name of the city / town / county / state AND police department / sheriffs office / state police:

      Los Angeles Police Department
      Cook County Sheriff
      New York State Police

  • Nikole Wilson

    hello, I am currently a freshman in high school and I am very interested in having a job as a crime scene investigator. I’m wondering what classes I should take to prepare me for a criminal justice program. I’m would also like to know if you have to take certain math classes to get into a criminal justice program because math isn’t one of my strong suits. Right now I’m in Algebra A, but I’m getting a better understanding of it as time goes on. Basically I am wondering if I have to take super advanced math classes at this point in time.
    thank you

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Those are great questions. In all, if you’re pursuing a criminal justice program, there won’t be a heavy emphasis on Math. However, as any accredited college or university would tell you, chances are you’ll have to take Math classes in college regardless of the program. Whether you take Criminal Justice, Business, or History in college as a degree, you’ll still have to take some math. So any advanced math that you can tackle now can help you later.

      If you go to the CAREERS section of this blog you’ll notice that I recently added over 10 articles on forensic careers, including the one of a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI). You should be aware that a CSI relies on Math, Geometry, and Trigonometry concepts, as well as Statistics in order to examine and present data from the crime scene. Now that I’ve said that, that doesn’t mean you’ll be doomed in college, but some Mathematics would help.

      Taking a Criminal Justice degree does not prepare you as well as taking the Forensic Science route for your degree. If you truly know that the CSI career is the ONLY thing in life you would like to do, then you should really consider the Forensics. If you are interested in ALL aspects of crime, perhaps a CJ degree alone or a CJ degree with a minor in Forensic Science will do. This will become your decision when it’s time to pick your program of study.

      As for Math troubles, I recommend asking your teacher for some help or getting a tutor. Other than that, when you’re in college, Math will be a small dent in all the cool courses you’ll be taking. Maybe by then you’ll get a little bit better and this whole fiasco can be a funny memory. Let us know how things go. I wish you all the best : )

  • Alana

    Hello my name is Alana and I am living in Guyana but I will be migrtaing so to Canada.Anyhow I would like to start prepare myself for career in Forsenic Science and I would like your advice.Can you help me????

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Well, that depends, what’s your question?

  • Brooke

    I am a junior in high school and im uncertain of what career field i want to go in. I want to be a lawyer but also a crime scene investigator. I am just about to be done with street law as a class and im going to be taking sociology next semester. Im not sure which i would like better and i have no clue where i should go to law school either. any help??

    • Radek M. Gadek

      If you can, try taking some pre-law classes to get a better glimpse about what it is to be a lawyer. Think of it this way, law school is far far away… you have to get a Bachelor’s degree first. When it’s time to look for law schools try U.S. News and World Report.

      I can’t help you decide which career path would be best for you. Only you can do that. Both careers are in the criminal justice realm, but they are very different in work duties and pay – just to name a few differences. Try reading more about each profession, taking classes, and keep asking questions. To get you started you can check out the “Careers” section – on top – to see a glimpse of which profession entails what. Good luck with everything.

  • chelsy marsh

    im a grade 11-12 student in a high school specialize for teen moms so i need to know what courses i need to take in high school to qualify for a degree in criminology?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Chelsy, please read the post and the replies to other comments. They are filled with nearly all possible scenarios. I think they should help. Alternatively, you should also visit the college or university website / office to find out if the school has any specific requirements. Most don’t as high school is a general form of education and academic institutions know that they can’t expect everyone who graduates from high school to be meticulously prepared for criminal justice and criminology course work. In all, I feel that the overall grades that you receive for ALL the high school courses (especially junior and senior year) are a good indicator to colleges if you would be a good fit in their criminology program. So try to keep up your grades and GPA and the rest usually flows smoothly. It’s always good to talk with a counselor at your school about career and education goals.

  • Dan

    Math is not my best subject in my highschool career. I don’t know if I should take math 12r in my senior year. I’d rather not take the math course next year. So will a college require me to take a math course in my first year if I’m majoring in Criminal Justice?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Dan, most colleges and universities require math classes in the first year no matter if you completed Algebra and Geometry or Advanced Calculus. This is in a case of nearly all subjects (Criminal Justice, History, English, or Basket Weaving) – standard math is a given. Don’t worry too much about it though. Nearly all schools have tutoring help if you need it.

  • Kam

    im a junior in high school and want to go into the criminal justice field. i want to major in Forensic science, Crime scene investigator and a FBI agent. I was wondering what classes i should take and if you think ANATOMY is important to take?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Take a look at the career section of the site in the top navigation menu to find out more about forensic careers. In general terms, it is wise to take more science classes like Chemistry, Physics, Biology, and etc… yes… Math, too. Forensic scientists and crime scene investigators (CSIs) use the knowledge from these courses to do their jobs. Yes, Anatomy is a great course to take if your interests lie in forensics.

  • Jan V. E.

    Hey, I’m currently a freshman in high school and this week we are registering for classes. I have several different options for math, which i don’t enjoy, and I want to be a criminologist and I was wondering how much math I’ll need, I can eventually graduate haviing taken AP Calculus 3 or only up to AP Calculus 2. Would it be better to go ahead and get all that math out of the way?, or will I just have to take it again in college as a manditory course?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      It’s nice to get all the math out of the way so it’s easier in college. Most criminal justice and criminology programs will make you take math anyway, but you can ask if there’s anyway to test out of it (either via initial test or a course specific test administered by the school – Algebra, Trigonometry, etc.). If that doesn’t work, find out if the college or university you’re going to accepts the CLEP (Google it for more info), which is a great test-out tool for college courses. I took the test while trying to get rid of some math and humanities classes in college, passed all of them, and saved myself thousands of dollars + 1/2 year from my college studies. You should definitely look into it when it’s time. Good luck, Jan!

  • dylan

    Im a freshmen in highschool and i have been interested in being a police officer for some time now seeing as how i have been around them a bit recently because my house was broken into and they were helping out. but i was wondering if you could tell me any classes that would help me out with pursuing this. thanks.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      All the criminal justice classes that you find listed in the article and comments should be more than enough to start.

  • zainab

    i’m currently a sophomore in high school and should be graduating next January(2011), and i was wondering how long would i have to go to college to be a homicide detective? also what kinds of courses would i be taking in college? what kind of degree would i get if i did only 2 years? and kind of degree would i get if i did 4 years?

    thank you for your time.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Zainab, you asked some very good questions. I have answered all of them in numerous blog posts. Use the search feature to find exactly what you’ll need to do to become a detective, courses you’ll need to take in college, and more. As for a difference between a 2-year and a 4-year degree (in the U.S.), you’ll either be taking classes towards an Associate’s (2 years) and a Bachelor’s (4 years) degree.

  • Samantha

    I am currently a freshman about to pick my courses for sophomore year. I had a huge lecture at school that really opened my eyes. I really want to plan my future now, and not the end of junior year. I’m really interested in criminal justice and becoming a crime scene investigator, but I’m so confused on what courses i should pick that will help me to get into these types of colleges. I’m looking into these courses but i need to know if they’re the right choice:
    Honors Geometry I (currently taking honor algebra)
    Honors Chemistry (I’m currently taking honors bio)
    World History II
    English II
    Honors Spanish III
    and Honors Theology (i go to a private school)
    Am i on the right track or do I need to challenge myself a little more?
    and what kind of courses should i look into for junior and senior year in these subjects. Also, I’m aware that Psychology is offered in junior year. Would that help? I’m only 14 and already planning my future, but i know its for the best. Thank you for your time.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Check out the “Careers” section in the top navigation menu for info on forensic careers, including one of a crime scene investigator. Some useful info on courses is given there. Also, read through the comments in this post as they have a lot of info on courses you may want to consider. In general, forensic careers are often based on science courses like Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and Math.

  • Luis E

    im trying to figure out if i should sign up for college algebra/trigonometry next year…i want to go into criminal justice once i graduate from high school

  • JP Henning

    So I’m in grade 11 this coming September, and I’m interested in having a future as a criminal lawyer, My school doesn’t’ offer many courses towards my career choice, but would business law be a good coarse, or history law??

    • Radek M. Gadek

      A Criminal Lawyer, at least here in the US, is someone that has completed law school (after completing a Bachelor’s degree first). Since a criminal lawyer may focus on both the business side of crime and historic case law I will have to go for History. You might learn more about different cases through the historic perspective on law. If you were to practice business law, then yes, the business law class would have been great. History should be more relevant. That’s my final answer.

  • Courtney

    Hi, im going to be a senior in high school this upcoming year and im really confused about what exactly i should do to get into the criminal justice field. I want to be in the BAU but i don’t want to have to be a cop or anything before. I go to a small school and live in a very small town, and none of these classes are offered. I already take my basics at Navarro College and I will be taking my first two years there, but im not even sure what classes i should be taking to help me get into the FBI as soon as possible. Can you please help with the direction i should be going in?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      My recommendation.

      1. Find a regionally accredited college or university that you would be attending. I don’t know what BAU exactly stands for so the first part is up to you. Is BAU regionally accredited? If so, good!
      1.a. Find a great program that will meet your needs and inquire about it with the school (in person, over the telephone, or online).
      2. Read the FBI Career description on this site, and see the info you’re seeking.
      3. Go to FBI.gov and find out exactly what direction you would need to go in to be considered for an FBI Special Agent position. They have an FAQ section just in case of such questions like yours.

      For the most part, FBI is seeking intelligent individuals who possess a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree. They like their recruits to be well versed in Law, Business, Accounting, Criminology, and other specialty areas. If you speak another highly desirable language (Spanish, Arabic, Russian, etc.) you may have even better chances of being considered.

  • Sherene

    hi, i am currently a sophomore and i am preparing myself for the classes i should take next year. i will be taking AP US, and also AP enviornmental studies at my school. But i am debating on taking AP Lit, because i am not sure if it is worth the time. i am preparing myself to become a business laywer and hopefully i will go to UC Davis or Berkley for my pre law. any advice on DO’S AND DON’TS?

    • Sherene

      and also i was hoping to do an internship during the su