The criminal justice system offers various fulfilling career opportunities in a variety of professional settings. Many of these promising career paths involve pursuing education in criminal justice or forensic science. While some of the courses will overlap, there are important differences to clarify before deciding upon one of these popular degree programs. Understanding the difference between criminal justice and forensic science requires exploring each of the distinct characteristics that form the foundations of each specific career path.

Criminal justice degrees are primarily aimed at preparing students for a career in law enforcement. It is a balanced degree program that covers a wide variety of details involving the legal system, criminology and other social aspects of the criminal justice system. A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is usually a Bachelor of Arts degree that will include some science and math courses, but not to the degree that forensic science entails.

Forensic science involves the application of sound science knowledge and processes to understand a crime scene and examine evidence. Biology, chemistry and mathematics courses make up a large part of the credits, and as a result, the degree is usually a Bachelor’s of Science degree. Both forensic science and criminal justice are four year degrees and different career paths will demand additional training and education to advance within a chosen profession.

Police officers need to complete specialized training through a police academy in order to become officers in most jurisdictions. A four-year college degree helps to prepare the officer with a broad understanding of the justice system. It can also lay the foundation for leadership development as a career unfolds. A criminal justice degree is also a popular degree path for individuals interested in working as a game warden, parole officer, prison guard or engaging in other security professions including personal body guards.

Forensic scientists must complete years of on the job training to be eligible for the top positions. Fast-paced crime shows have made this career path wildly popular in recent years. From rural crime labs to morgues and from big city precincts to F.B.I. field offices, the field of forensic science offers a wide array of career settings.

Many governmental organizations offer student internships related to criminal justice and forensic science. In addition, there are a wide variety of professional organizations that offer students unique professional development skills and networking opportunities. Local conferences, sponsored seminars and career days make great opportunities to ask professionals working in the field what their job is really like on a day to day basis. In addition to networking opportunities through local communities, online courses allow students more opportunity.

Taught by industry leaders, online courses offer a versatile way for students to engage in education while still leading full and busy lives. Instructors of online courses typically have first-hand expertise around their subject matter and offer an accurate picture of what a particular career is like from their perspective. Networking through instructors and other students can create a dynamic learning environment that may continue beyond the course while boosting future hiring potential, as the criminal justice system offers many interesting and diverse career paths. Those interested in criminal justice or forensic degrees should be sure to know which degree program is best suited for their individual interests and goals before committing to one program or the other. 

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