Planning Your Career in Criminal Justice

Those looking to break into the criminal justice field should first consider what area of the field they want to pursue. There are a variety of occupations available to those with a degree in criminal justice, including law enforcement, court administration, and homeland security. Each of these job positions have different criteria for applicants, so students should research what their ideal position requires. Websites like the Bureau of Labor Statistics provides information on job outlooks as well as training and education requirements for many criminal justice positions and can be useful to those looking to learn more about a particular occupation.

Most entry-level jobs in the criminal justice field require a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree due to the rising standards of many employers. State and federal positions typically only accept applicants with at least a Bachelor’s degree. Though some opportunities exist for those without a degree, career advancement is limited. Those looking to move up the ranks of any position, whether it is law enforcement as a uniformed police officer or in a behind-the-scenes administrative setting, should consider earning a college degree. Generally, the more advanced the degree, the more the starting pay and the greater the chance of promotion.

After deciding what field and occupation interests you most, plan the degree level you want to obtain and find a school that offers a quality program pertaining to that field. For example, if you are interested in becoming a law enforcement officer, the minimum education level required is an Associate’s degree in criminal justice. However, competition for positions, especially in bustling metropolitan police agencies, is tight, therefore earning a Bachelor’s degree will give you an advantage over the other applicants. On the other hand, if you are interested in becoming a criminal justice instructor, the minimum education level required is a Master’s degree in criminal justice. There is a huge demand for criminal justice instructors, according to Austin Peay State University, as evidenced by the large number of job postings asking for qualified teachers. To teach more advanced subjects, instructors need to earn at least a Doctoral degree, so students looking to pursue that field should plan accordingly.

After earning a degree, graduates are able to dive directly into entry-level positions in their respective fields. Depending on the specific occupation and your experience and education level, you should expect a promotion within a few months to a year. For example, uniformed police officers typically receive advancements after a probationary period of six months to three years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These promotions may mean that the officer is then eligible to conduct detective work or specialize in a specific type of police duty, such as working with juveniles. Promotions to become a sergeant or lieutenant are given on the job as a result of a grading system done by superiors and therefore can come at any time. Other positions can differ greatly in when and what kind of promotions are given.

DEGREE FINDER is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.