Students and career changers seeking a fulfilling career in a growing field are often drawn to opportunities in criminal justice and criminal law. To help choose the most appropriate career path, it is important to understand the similarities and difference between criminal justice and criminal law; these two overlapping, yet distinct, educational and career paths.

Overall, the criminal justice system includes opportunities for career seekers to pursue a path in criminal justice or criminal law. A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice prepares individuals for jobs related to the policies and procedures that shape the criminal justice system. A criminal justice degree is versatile and graduates may find themselves working in a variety of professional environments such as non-profits and government agencies. Some graduates of criminal justice may choose to go on to enter a law enforcement academy to become a police officer. The courses in a criminal justice degree program provide a strong foundation for a number of future opportunities. In addition to law enforcement, other related occupations can include:

  • Correctional Officers
  • Game Wardens
  • Probation Officers
  • Special Agents
  • Gaming Surveillance Officers
  • Policy Analysts 

While some coursework in criminal justice will overlap with criminal law, there are important differences to understand. A criminal law degree generally involves graduate-level courses that lead to becoming an attorney. Criminal law focuses on the laws surrounding crime as opposed to the policy or social aspects of the system. Some professionals study the historical aspects of criminal law and work in universities after achieving a Ph.D. degree. However, most students who decide to study criminal law do so with the goal of obtaining a Juris Doctor, (J.D.) and then practicing law after passing the standardized bar exam. Attorneys in criminal law either focus on the prosecution or the defense side of the process.

For students interested in either criminal justice or criminal law, there are a number of local chapters of national professional organizations that provide internship and mentoring in the field. Many organizations host job fairs and career days to showcase professional opportunities. With the versatility of online courses, students and career changers can also pursue education in a new career path while still maintaining their current job. Because online courses are typically presented by leaders in their fields, students are able to interact with an expert that has first-hand knowledge of career paths and opportunities in either criminal justice or criminal law.

There are many overlapping similarities and differences related to the pursuit of jobs in criminal justice and criminal law. Both pathways offer an exciting and fulfilling long-term career track with a variety of high demand jobs possible. To make sure the correct path is chosen, it is important to take the time to understand the educational requirements needed to excel in criminal justice or criminal law. 

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