Are you thinking about pursuing a career in criminal justice? Professionals in this field contribute meaningfully to society and benefit from the opportunities to develop their skills and advance in their work. And it isn’t hard to get started – with the right school, it’s possible to finish your criminal justice education quickly and affordably!
Criminal justice encompasses more than one kind of career path. That’s a key reason the field appeals to many people and why you should consider a criminal justice degree.
What Does a Career in Criminal Justice Look Like?
Depending on your preferences, abilities, and training, you could be working at a police precinct, your local FBI headquarters, a forensics laboratory, or a prison. Your work may take place mostly in a government building, or you may find yourself outdoors, collecting evidence, providing protection, tracking suspects, or checking up on parolees.
The advantages of choosing criminal justice over another field potentially include:
- A clear sense of purpose that comes from helping people and promoting public safety.
- Excitement, variety, and intellectual challenges in your work.
- A steady salary, benefits, and opportunities for advancement.
- Flexibility that comes from developing skills essential to a variety of careers.
How to Begin Learning Criminal Justice
Although some jobs in criminal justice currently require only a high school diploma, it’s best to earn a bachelor’s degree. An undergraduate degree makes you more competitive. You can enjoy a greater number of opportunities, including an increased likelihood of earning a pay raise or promotion.
A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can also help your career prospects. Although majoring in criminal justice isn’t necessary for all jobs, it can give you invaluable knowledge and signal your commitment to the field.
If you’re pursuing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, you should supplement your studies with additional coursework or a second major, such as training in biology, chemistry, computer science, or accounting. These fields are often essential for different jobs involving forensic science and analysis. It also gives you an edge in other criminal justice jobs. For example, if you’re aiming to become a detective or agent who investigates digital crimes, a deeper knowledge of computers gives you an advantage over competitors.
Psychology coursework can also be important for pursuing a career as a criminologist or police detective. Detectives draw on psychological insights when interviewing suspects and considering motives. Correctional treatment specialists call on their knowledge of psychology when rehabilitating prisoners.
To further advance your career, you may also want to pursue graduate-level work. A master’s degree or doctorate helps you specialize in your niche and could increase the chances of higher pay and advancement. A graduate degree may also enable you to conduct research and teach.
What Types of Jobs Are Available in Criminal Justice?
All criminal justice jobs require a commitment to upholding the law. In other respects, they may be quite different. The following are a few examples:
Police patrol officer: These officers are tasked with a variety of duties. They respond to reports of criminal activity, emergencies, and other disturbances. They patrol neighborhoods, make arrests, issue citations, provide the public with helpful information, and assist detectives with criminal investigations.
Forensic scientist: This job involves the application of scientific analyses to different kinds of crime-related evidence. Working in a laboratory, forensic scientists need to handle evidence carefully, conduct their tests with unimpeachable accuracy, write up reports, and provide testimony in court.
Youth correctional counselor: Working with underaged offenders, youth correctional counselors provide guidance and counseling, monitor progress, assess needs, and help coordinate the transition to normal life. Their work is critical for the rehabilitation of young offenders.
How Much Can You Earn?
Salaries in criminal justice vary by job and location. Within a particular job, pay will differ based on your rank in a department, years of experience, and the degrees you hold. The same kind of job may also have different titles and salaries depending on the agency you’re applying to.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics¹ reports that the median pay for forensic science technicians, laboratory scientists, and crime scene investigators is $57,850. For police and detectives, the Bureau of Labor Statistics² reports a median yearly pay of $62,960. First-line supervisors, including police sergeants, have a median pay of $87,910³.
How to Get Started on Your Criminal Justice Career
Given the many possibilities for a career in criminal justice, the first step you should take is to assess your skills, needs, and preferences. What job would you enjoy? What kind of training or degree program are you willing to complete?
You should also talk to people in the field. Make appointments with professionals in the areas you’re considering and attend information sessions run by schools and agencies. With more research, you’ll find a career path in criminal justice that suits you.