For those interested in a wide range of opportunities related to law enforcement and careers in justice, a criminal justice degree offers a variety of opportunities and points of entry to many professional paths. The variety of work available and the ability to transfer skills to different positions within the field make it an attractive career choice for many students and career changers.
Overview of Criminal Justice Degree Progression
Maintaining social order, affecting policy that governs society, implementing due process for offenders and securing safety for diverse communities are all important aspects of a criminal justice professional. Whether you are interested in law enforcement, becoming a field agent, working with the courts as an advocate, or going on to law school, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is typically needed for the entry level positions with the most opportunities for growth. An Associate of Arts degree may present less significant professional growth potential, but is an ideal point of entry for professionals who work with a company or agency in the industry that provides additional paid education and training. Advanced criminal justice degrees are most common for mid-level professionals in leadership positions.
Associate of Arts Degree
Jobs as an administrative assistant whose work supports the role of professionals in criminal justice, court clerks, and assistant level security officers are available to students graduating with a two year A.A. degree in criminal justice. In addition to coursework, many jurisdictions and job openings also require passing an examination to secure aptitude in a particular skill set, even at the A.A. level. Additionally, many social workers with an interest in family law will find that criminal justice coursework is helpful to augment their career goals and will enroll in the A.A. courses.
At the bachelor’s level of proficiency, there are more opportunities and a wider range of career paths available. In addition to jobs as a police officer, security guard, or entry level field agent, other positions available to new graduates include a variety of cybersecurity jobs through the Department of Homeland Security as well as positions through a variety of private companies that provide security for a wide range of clientele.
The bachelor’s or baccalaureate degree is a four year degree; some of the coursework from an A.A. degree may be applied toward credits needed to complete the four year degree – this will vary with institutional requirements. Many positions, such as a field agent, require additional work experience to be completed before applying. Internships and other important educational opportunities exist for college students enrolled in online or in traditional criminal justice degree programs.
Professionals entering law school often have criminal justice backgrounds, as do those interested in research related to the criminal justice system. Over the course of one’s career, ongoing training is typically necessary as laws change and standard protocol receives updates. Moving into leadership positions often requires a masters degree, while most researchers at the university level will hold a Ph.D.
A master’s degree traditionally adds the equivalent of two to three years of coursework beyond the bachelor’s degree. A Ph.D. generally adds 3 to 5 years of education and research beyond the master’s; however, Ph.D. candidates often extend their Master’s level research to complete the Ph.D. so some of the work will transfer reducing total years toward completion.
This versatile degree offers many career paths through which one will gain specialized training, in areas such as family advocacy, research protocol, training tools or policy development. Exploring independent internships in one’s chosen path can help a professional can gain invaluable experience that builds mentoring relationships, creates opportunities, and provides a gateway to a wider range of jobs.
Because the best jobs in criminal justice are highly competitive and may require passing proficiency exams, it is important to secure education from highly ranked and regionally accredited online and/or traditional programs. In addition, joining a professional organization or seeking ongoing mentoring outside of one’s degree program in a specialized area can boost résumé power and open additional doors to a wider set of opportunities.
Other Points to Consider
Aside from the education and work experience necessary to advance in the criminal justice field, professionals interested in this field need to pass background checks throughout their professional development and gain advanced security clearances as duties and obligations arise. In addition to training, clearance, and education, professionals in this field are also required to demonstrate a strong psychological fortitude and must show the ability to communicate effectively and calmly, even in dire situations.
The ability to work well with a team, manage time effectively, and organize and respond to many details at once are also necessary skills for most positions in this industry. Speaking a second language is a valuable asset to have in any criminal justice career, as is being fluent in current technology as it relates to a professional’s area of interest.
For students and career changers looking for a degree program offering a solid base with many potential opportunities, a degree in criminal justice from a highly ranked and regionally accredited program can open doors to many paths. Through internships, seminars, mentoring, volunteering, and participating in activities sponsored by professional organizations, students gain vital practical skills necessary to augment coursework and build an area of specialty in the field.
Many employers offer ongoing training and education, so it is important to do research into a career path and map out a plan that makes the best sense for one’s own unique situation and interests. While there are many opportunities in this field, the best positions require the highest proficiency and educational achievement. Professionals seeking to serve society in a meaningful way, while at the same time securing a steady career with ongoing professional growth, should consider the wide range of opportunities possible with a degree in criminal justice.