When I was young and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I had all sorts of crazy answers for them. My answers changed all the time: a doctor, an astronaut, a cook, a dolphin… well, I’m pretty sure that last one is impossible.
But now I think I might have finally found a real answer. I'm interested in criminal justice. A couple of my friends are in school for criminal justice right now, and some of what they're doing seems really interesting to me. I still have some questions, though, and I'm hoping the experts can help. What sorts of careers will a criminal justice degree help me pursue? Can I get a job with this? And where should I go to get this kind of degree — do I have to go to school full-time?
Our daily lives are made possible by the rules in our society. Everything we do without fear — from walking down the street during the day to falling asleep at night — is something that is made safe by the hard-working professionals that uphold our criminal justice system. The list of criminal justice professionals includes police officers, but that's far from the end of the list. From probation officers and forensic detectives to park rangers and game wardens, our authorities and rule-enforcers are everywhere helping to keep us safe, uphold justice, and rehabilitate criminals.
If you're interested in a career in criminal justice, you'll have a lot of jobs to choose from — and a lot to learn! Let's talk a bit about what a criminal justice degree involves, what jobs you can get with one, and how you should go about building your education and career.
Our criminal justice system is broad and complex. It touches on a lot of different issues, including issues that are central to the criminal justice system and ones that are related or tangential to it. If you go to school for criminal justice, you'll take classes that will cover a whole lot of different topics.
You'll learn about crimes, criminals, and law enforcement, of course. You'll learn about the history of our criminal justice system and its laws, and you'll learn what procedures are used to identify, arrest, try, convict, punish, and rehabilitate criminal offenders. You'll learn the ins and outs of both the investigative and legal parts of criminal justice, plus lots of details about how the system deals with specific groups, such as juveniles and repeat offenders. You'll learn about forensic evidence and other cutting-edge criminal investigation tactics. Your curriculum will also touch on the social and political factors that relate to our criminal justice system.
This broad curriculum will set you up for lots of great career options. In some cases, a criminal justice degree will get you started with your first job; in other cases, you'll be looking to head back to school or into new certification courses in order to complete your training. One way or the other, though, your degree will put you on track to become something special: a law enforcement officer (such as a local police officer, as state trooper, or federal agent such as a secret service agent or DEA agent), an investigator (such as a police detective, forensic analyst, or a private investigator), a corrections or parole officer, or even a fish and game warden.
Sound appealing? Great. You'll need to study up. You have lots of degree options. You can pursue a certificate in criminal justice, an associate's degree in criminal justice, or a bachelor's degree in criminal justice to start. From there, you can pursue even higher levels of education as you see fit: a master’s in criminal justice, for instance, will open doors to more professions. How far you go will depend on what career you're hoping to pursue and where your passions take you.
Getting a degree doesn’t have to be time-consuming or disruptive. You can go to school part time, and even higher degrees are available in ways that fit your schedule. You could get a master’s in criminal justice online from the comfort of your own home!
You should start your own journey by talking with people who have been where you want to be. Start by asking your friends in criminal justice programs for advice directly. Then ask people with jobs you might someday want: reach out to police officers or even federal agents, and you might be surprised by how many of them are willing to share their insights and advice. Their guidance can help you know if you've finally find the right career — and it can help you determine which degrees and certifications to pursue in order to land the job!