Criminal justice studies can lead to a variety of professions, such as police detective or paralegal. Read on to learn about the many criminal justice careers and the training you'll need to get started.
Criminal justice professionals are responsible for enforcing laws, with career options ranging from criminologists to sheriffs and paralegals to private detectives. Regardless of position, a college degree in criminal justice or a related discipline is typically required. Earning a higher degree can help broaden your job options for criminal justice positions. For example, a bachelor's degree in criminal justice is a common minimum requirement for careers in corrections and law enforcement, while a master's degree in criminal justice can prepare you for a career as a lawyer, as well as professional research or supervisory criminal justice positions.
Degree programs in criminal justice can focus on a number of more clearly defined topics such as cultural anthropology, political science, criminology, adjudication, violent crime and juvenile delinquency. Focusing on a specific area of criminal justice allows you to better prepare for job employment. Employers generally prefer graduates who can bring specific skill to the job and specializations may include deviance, criminal law, police administration and investigative techniques.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job prospects for police and detectives are expected to grow by ten percent from 2008-2018 and employment of probation officers is projected to grow by 19% during the same period (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that lawyers will see job growth of 13% through the same time period. In addition to educational requirements, those that wish to work as police officers or detectives are typically required to pass a physical examination and background check. Criminal justice careers at any level may require you to have strong communication and critical thinking skills, along with an analytical ability and desire to provide justice to the community.
The criminal justice degree area you study, as well as the level of the program, will greatly determine what criminal justice careers are available for you. Associate's degrees in criminal justice can prepare you for entry- and mid-level positions, such as probation or corrections officers. According to the BLS the average salary for probation officers was $51,240 in 2011, while correctional officers earned an average of $42,780 in the same year.
A bachelor's degree program in criminal justice administration can help you prepare for a career as a paralegal or legal assistant, both of which the BLS predicts will see an employment growth of 28% from 2008-2018. Most of these programs also require an internship with local organizations or law enforcement agencies, where you will gain professional experience that can be used upon entering the field.
Master's degree programs in criminal justice generally allow students to choose to take a thesis or directed study path. Completing a thesis will allow you to conduct original research, which you could apply to criminal justice careers like, criminologist or crime analyst. A doctoral degree program in criminal justice offers concentrations in areas such as law and society, public policy or public service leadership, which can also lead to careers in research or academia.