The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that careers in the criminal justice field will grow rapidly between now and 2016. In the next few years paralegal, investigator, private detective and police officer jobs are predicted to grow between 11-22 percent.
Although a bachelor's or master's degree is not always required, a criminal justice degree is often preferred by law enforcement departments. It gives you a strong basis of knowledge when later working for a Police Department, Sheriff's Office, State Patrol or the Federal Government.
Many departments give a substantial percentage of salary increase per educational level completed, and promotions are often quicker and better for officers with a higher education degree. In addition, there's a growing trend amongst law enforcement agencies to offer tuition reimbursement.
"I believe that the degree will be well worth it when I look back on my career," said a deputy sheriff when I asked him about his master's degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University's online program.
"A master's degree in Criminal Justice can help those who are looking for work by giving them an advantage in the initial hiring process. Employers know that a candidate with a master's degree has intelligence, is dedicated, and is a person who is willing to work hard," he says. "Experience is also extremely important, but education can help individuals earn life experience and broaden their understanding of the criminal justice field."
The federal government is offering the deputy and all those working in a federal or county capacity the federal loan forgiveness program, which will pay for the remaining of his school debt after ten years of service.
Criminal justice is a field of innumerable possibilities, and not just in law enforcement. Political science, corrections management and criminal law are some of the specialized areas of study, as well as security, corrections, emergency response, crisis management, information technology, the court system, social work and case management.
Opportunities for graduates include with federal agencies like the FBI, CIA, ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms), the Secret Service, Customs, DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency), INS, and the Border Patrol. Local options include careers as a state trooper, SBI agent, detective, investigator, security specialist, and in the corrections department as a corrections, parole or probation officer.
Criminal justice can also lead to professions in law such as a lawyer, legal assistant, paralegal, court administrator, judge or magistrate, and in military and defense agencies leading to a career as a military police officer or investigator, criminologist, crime scene investigator, or forensic scientist. Other opportunities include: in gaming surveillance as a conservation officer, in colleges and universities as lectures and professors, and in the field of cyber crime and white-collar crime detection and prevention. When you decide what specialization you might be interested in, you will want to conduct more specific research. No matter what career you decide to pursue, a degree in criminal justice will be a strong foundation to have.
You may also consider whether an associate's, bachelor's or master's degree is right for you:
- An associate's degree in criminal justice will give you a general overview of the criminal justice system, including policing and corrections, the court system and juvenile justice. For many departments an associate's degree is the minimum requirement for becoming a police officer or sheriff's deputy.
- A bachelor's degree can introduce you to a specialized field within criminal justice. An added concentration can prepare you for careers in corrections, forensics, juvenile justice or crime scene investigation. A criminal justice bachelor's degree with a technology focus, for example, could help you get a job working in the realm of computer crime and cyber security.
- A master's degree can advance your career from the start or advance you professionally if you're already working in the field. Courses focus on more specialized areas, such as criminology, juvenile law and criminal court systems.
"Higher education helps those going into the work force sharpen their writing skills, gain knowledge of the law, and learn about arresting procedures," the deputy with his master's from BU told me. Among the specialized areas he studied were criminology, white collar crime, terrorism and victimology. "There are, however, many other practical applications that one can only learn while on the job," he has realized, and he named handcuffing, firearm tactics and processing evidence as a few examples.
"Getting a criminal justice degree is as academically challenging as an engineering or mathematics program," says Don Schneidmiller, a Deputy Chief with the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office. He recommends choosing a challenging program with instructors who have experience in the field, and to make sure the curriculum is broad so that you learn all aspects of the criminal justice system.
Most importantly, Schneidmiller believes, if you are interested in a criminal justice degree: "It is critical that students know they'll be held to an extremely high moral and ethical standard," Schneidmiller advises. "They need to start holding themselves to that standard now."