A criminal justice degree can be your passport to many exciting careers. Depending on your level of education, you may be qualified for several different careers that utilize your skills and allow you to help victims of crime or to solve criminal cases. You can also work in the field of social services or government.
Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice
Many two-year schools offer an associate’s degree in criminal justice. This is often the entry-level degree required for state or local criminal justice jobs, though some jobs require only a high school diploma. Preference is often given in these job openings to applicants with a two-year degree.
While you can get right to work with a two-year degree, you will probably find that the pay scale for the jobs for which you are qualified does not equal what you spent on your degree for several years. For this reason, it may be more feasible to push through and get a four-year degree while you have your momentum in college.
Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice
A bachelor’s or four-year degree in criminal justice opens many doors into the criminal justice field. While a two-year degree does give you an edge in entry-level jobs, a four-year degree opens doors that would never be opened to you without this level of education.
First, most probation and parole officer jobs require a four-year degree. Working in these fields can be very well-paid in some locations. When these jobs involve state positions, they usually have good benefits, as well, including paid vacation and insurance coverage, as well as a retirement plan. This is also true of social worker positions, another area favored by criminal justice majors.
Police officers and detectives are coming to have four-year degrees more often, although there are still many who work their way up through the ranks. Beginning with a four-year degree then going to police academy has several benefits. First, when promotions become available, you will already be qualified. Next, when you understand the nature of the criminal justice system by studying theory, you will be better able to appreciate the law and your job as a police officer. Finally, as a graduate of a four-year degree program, you will develop the professionalism and stamina to study hard for the exams you may face if you wish to be promoted to a higher rank.
Some correctional officers are required to have four-year degrees. Although most local and county prisons hire correctional officers with a high school diploma, a four-year degree is mandatory for federal prison guards. A four-year degree is also required for promotion beyond entry-level jobs in many state and local prison systems.
At the federal level, a four-year degree is required for entry-level employment at any federal law enforcement agency, including the U. S. Marshals, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Central Intelligence Agency.
Master’s and Doctoral Degrees in Criminal Justice
A master’s or doctorate in criminal justice is your ticket to the world of executive management in the fields of law enforcement or social work. If you want to become the director of an organization or a high-level manager, a master’s degree will almost always be a necessity. Many police chiefs have a master’s in criminal justice, and some agents and law enforcement officials choose to return to school for this important degree to further their careers.
Doctoral students often study remote areas of the criminal justice field and do original research in these areas. Doctoral students usually teach after their degrees are conferred, often in a criminal justice program at the college level.
What Is The Outlook for Criminal Justice Majors?
The number of jobs in the criminal justice field is growing overall, but some areas are growing more slowly the others. The Bureau of Labor Statistics published the Occupational Outlook Handbook which gives projections of how much growth is expected over the next ten years in a particular job field. Here are the expected growth percentages for several jobs in the criminal justice field. Note that the average job growth rate of all jobs is 14 percent.
- Police officers, seven percent
- Probation officers, 18 %
- Social workers and counselors, 26%
- Private investigators, 21%
- Paralegals and legal assistants, 18%
- Postsecondary criminal justice teachers, 17%
- Correctional officers and jailers, five percent
- Protective service occupations, 11%
One of the largest areas of growth for fields related to criminal justice is in youth counseling. Many youth detention centers hire counselors to work with young people who have been incarcerated to attempt to turn the course of their lives before they become hardened criminals. The growth expected for youth corrections counselors is 27%.
How Can I Get a Criminal Justice Degree?
Two-year criminal justice degrees are offered through both vocational schools or technical colleges and junior colleges. Be sure to choose an accredited program and to inquire about the terminal degree; some “two-year” programs result only in a certificate, and those classes will probably not transfer if you later decide to seek a four-year degree. Focus your search on schools offering a true associate’s degree and accredited by your state’s college accreditation board.
Four-year criminal justice degrees are available at many colleges. A four-year degree involves two years of core or general classes and two years of classes focused on criminal justice, along with some electives. Your electives may be business-related or social-work related; either would serve you well with your future career in criminal justice.
Master’s and doctoral programs are not available at every college. To find a graduate program, check with your undergraduate advisor or talk to a career counselor at your school. Be sure to choose a graduate program that is accredited, whether you go to school online or on campus.
A criminal justice degree can certainly lead to a number of rewarding opportunities and with the expected growth rate of jobs in criminal justice earning this type of degree may just be a wise choose for many people.