The field of criminal justice is an exciting one; there are countless job opportunities available to graduates and, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), median annual salaries like $38,970 for correctional officers or $56,980 for police officers. A criminal justice degree can lead you to a career working the streets as a patrol officer, solving homicides as detective, or managing an operation at the administrative level – choices as engaging as they are distinct.
If you are looking for a job that requires little education to begin with, but that offers the opportunity for fast professional and financial growth, criminal justice may be for you. For instance, you can take advantage of stable career opportunities an associate degree offers, like in police work.
After fulfilling a school's required prerequisites, students can begin to take classes that suit their particular interests in the criminal justice field. Courses vary from program-to-program, but generally include some version of the following subjects: introduction to correctional systems, criminal theory, crime in America, crime procedures, victimology, and fundamentals of criminal law. Criminal justice majors may also find courses in sociology, psychology, and writing helpful, since a lot of criminal justice work relates to writing reports and understanding various psychological and cultural influences.
Within the field of criminal justice, there are numerous specializations, including computer forensics, criminalistics, criminal justice policy, administration, corrections and case management. Your chosen specializations will play an important role in your future as a criminal justice professional; as a police officer, you may be assigned to a narcotics division after taking drug-related courses, or, as a teacher, you may end up designing a course built around your research on sexual assault. Having a specialization will make you a more well-rounded criminal justice professional, and may assist you in securing a job after college.
The level of degree you acquire will likely dictate where you work, what specializations are available to you and the amount of money you'll make on-the-job. One of the many benefits of getting a degree in criminal justice is that there really are job opportunities for graduates at all levels. The following information will assist you in deciding which degree is best for you, or if a certificate in criminal justice best suits your goals.
An associate in criminal justice offers the opportunity to join the workforce quickly, while still filling requirements for additional, more complex degrees. Associate degree-seekers can expect to be proficient in the skills necessary to become a police officer, detective or corrections officer.
Gaining a bachelor's in criminal justice can open up additional opportunities for you, like the ability to become a probation officer, a rewarding career that offers a comfortable median annual salary of $48,190, according to the BLS.
Students who go on to receive a master's in criminal justice are typically interested in applying their knowledge of criminal justice to a career in teaching or research. Postsecondary criminal justice and law enforcement teachers make a median annual salary of $62, 770, according to the BLS. Teaching and research positions can be found at universities nationwide.
Students pursuing a Ph.D. in criminal justice can expect to learn about policy, as well as a number of of other interesting subject areas; Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, for example, offers courses in criminological theory and research methods, as well as an 18 credit dissertation course, for which students have the opportunity to do their own in-depth criminal justice research. Students will participate in in-depth research efforts, with the goal of improving the criminal justice system. A Ph.D. in criminal justice is a great degree for students who want to discover how the justice system fits into modern society, and the various ways that criminal justice professionals can initiate change.
Ideal Candidates for a Criminal Justice Degree
A criminal justice professional must have a strong desire for justice, as well as the following traits: a serious and vigilant desire to serve the public, the ability to interact with a wide swath of people, dedication to physical fitness and the ability to think quickly and react in high stress situations. It may also be beneficial for certain criminal justice professionals to learn a second or third language, depending on the area they work in. For example, police officers working in Southern California or Miami may all but have to speak fluent Spanish.
Many students are attracted to a degree in criminal justice because the term is so broad, and the variety of available jobs is enticing. If you are interested in pursuing the degree, it may be wise to reflect upon where you would like to end up. Doing so will help you figure out what degree to get, and will lead you in the direction of a particular specialization that suits your skill set and interests. In addition to your program's coursework, there are many professional organizations, blogs, books and online courses to help you further immerse yourself in the field. For starters, you'll find some excellent open courseware opportunities below.