Choose a School and Program

Pursuing a Criminal Justice degree is only the first step; deciding where to begin your education may take some evaluation. To begin with, start by asking yourself a few basic questions such as, “Do I want to study full time or part time, study over the Internet, study at a community college, or study at a university across the country?” No doubt, each one has their specific strengths and weaknesses, but each one has its proper place in the establishment of your career. There are three major factors that should be considered in choosing a school and a program: location, cost, and the quality of the education.

The Location

Obviously if you can allocate the personal resources and go full time, getting a Criminal Justice degree will come that much quicker than if you should decided to allocate only part time to the pursuit of an education. Going full time also has the benefit of getting into the work force early and earning a salary right away. It also means staying focused for a shorter period of time. Countless studies have shown that those going only part time are more likely to drop out before completing their education. Everything from issues with financing the education, to family, to unforeseen events makes reaching your goal of an education that much more difficult.

Choosing to select the community college down the street, or the university across the country really means, “Do I want to be immersed in the campus culture for outside activities other than just the education?” In a criminal justice education, your education outside of the classroom is really just as important, since many of the careers in the justice system involve a large dose of social interaction and cultural awareness. Of course one can be immersed in the culture of a community college, but there is much more likelihood of having increased social interaction when you are living on the campus.

With the advent of the Internet, more and more colleges and universities are providing their criminal justice course material as distance learning, meaning that you do not have to physically attend a campus for the classroom lectures. Internet learning can sometimes provide the educational basics without the additional hindrance of cost, location, and time implications.

The Cost

The cost of an education is something that we cannot get away from unless, of course, we're born into wealth. But if cost is a major factor in hindering an education in criminal justice, there are several measures that can be taken. First and foremost, you should understand that the cost for teaching criminal justice courses could vary widely between institutions. The community college may be less expensive than the larger universities, and specialized criminal justice colleges may be even less since they are typically focused on a single subject. In fact, there are many extremely capable colleges and universities that have reasonable tuition costs, and the education is usually just as proficient as those high profile and expensive institutions. Using the scholarship route is another avenue that can be explored to limiting the expenses of an education.

The Quality of the Education

Probably the most important consideration, however, is the “quality of the criminal justice education.” The school should offer a wide variety of courses in many areas allowing you the opportunity to take courses in a number of criminal justice fields. If, on the other hand, you're already set on a specific criminal justice path, look for a program that caters to those specialized interests. There are many great criminal justice schools available, but it will take some evaluation on your part to determine where your interest lies.

Criminal Justice Colleges

Choosing the right criminal justice college to provide your education is a daunting task, considering the myriad schools boasting their programs' affordability and curriculum excellence. There are many factors to consider that may help you whittle down your list of potential schools. Whether you are seeking an associate, bachelor's, or master's degree in criminal justice, you will be able to find a college that meets your needs. Take your time and research each college carefully, as the college you choose today may affect your career and educational advancement opportunities in the future.

Do your homework on a couple of different schools before making a selection. Research the validity of each school by ascertaining its accreditation status, regardless of whether you choose a certificate program or a university for a degree. This is especially valuable for online school selections to avoid the many scam schools and diploma mills that flood the virtual market. Without an accreditation, you may end up paying a lot of money for a worthless degree. There are several different levels of accreditation, such as regional or national, or accreditation of the school in its entirety or accreditation of the criminal justice program within the school. Search the database provided by the U.S. Department of Education to find out which schools are accredited.

Both community and four-year colleges have a requisite set of acceptance criteria. Your choice of criminal justice colleges may be limited based on your aptitude and high school performance. At the very least, you will need a high school diploma or general equivalency diploma to enroll in college courses. Your high school grade point average may narrow your school choices, as many four-year colleges have an acceptance threshold above a 2.5 GPA. Admission may also depend on your aptitude test scores, such as the SAT, or Scholastic Aptitude Test. Check with the admissions counselors, as each college may have additional requirements, including the application process, essays, and possibly a professional reference request.

Most colleges ordain a sequence of general academic classes that will lead to the core curriculum in criminal justice. These courses are required to fulfill your general educational requirements and include college-level topics such as writing and composition, sciences, mathematics, and humanities. Once these credits are satisfied, you will be able to move forward and start taking classes that count toward your degree in the field.

Check each university to determine the level of financial guidance you will receive and to compare the cost per credit hour in the criminal justice program. Typically, the higher-level degrees, such as those at the graduate level, will be more expensive per credit hour than the associate or bachelor's degrees. Some criminal justice colleges may help you apply for grants and scholarships or may have financial aid programs, whereas others may offer a discount per credit hour based on military or federal service. Accredited and "name-brand" schools may cost more per credit hour, as you are paying for the school's excellent reputation as well as the education.

The number of prerequisite classes ordained by the college will play a role in overall degree cost. The number of credit hours required to gain your degree will depend on the college. You will pay extra for any additional credit hours, which may not be necessary elsewhere to obtain your degree. Traditionally, most associate programs require around sixty credit hours, whereas bachelor's degrees require about 120. Additionally, start looking for colleges in your geographical region to avoid out-of-state charges, which can double your tuition fees in the long run. If you take distance-learning or online courses from an out-of-state university, you will still incur non-resident fees.

Search each criminal justice college's accreditation status to gain assurance that the school provides quality education. Aside from an accreditation by the U.S. Department of Education, there are two levels of voluntary accreditation for colleges. A school can be nationally accredited, regionally accredited, or both. The Department of Education lists roughly 6,900 accredited colleges in the U.S., providing a large selection of schools to choose from. Accreditations at the regional level will depend on the college's geographical location, including accrediting organizations such as the Western Association of Schools and Colleges or the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. If you plan on furthering your education at some point in the future, you will need to ensure that the college has at least one of these accreditations. If it does not, your college credit hours may not transfer to another school. Keep in mind that accreditation is voluntary. If you find a well-respected school that meets your needs and you do not plan on furthering your education, you may be able to attend a non-accredited school.

Unlike certificate programs, which are usually offered through vocational or business schools, graduating from a criminal justice college program will result in a college degree. Choosing your degree level is a personal choice, although some careers in criminal justice mandate the level of education you must obtain before starting in the profession. For instance, individuals wishing to teach criminal justice must hold at least a bachelor's degree, whereas working as a crime scene technician or law enforcement officer may only require an associate degree. Criminal justice is a highly competitive field. An associate degree may get your foot in the door, but bachelor's and higher degrees will help your career advancement for years to come.

Criminal Justice Schools Lead to a Fulfilling Future

Careers in law enforcement, justice, corrections, and even the U.S. military may all originate with a criminal justice degree. Criminal justice schools are plentiful and offer courses to actualize certificates, associate, bachelors, and master's degrees in the field. This popular degree provides an infrastructure of knowledge that may be applied toward a fulfilling future in myriad careers. Research criminal justice schools carefully, as each school serves a different purpose. Start here to learn about the types of degrees and certificates awarded by criminal justice schools, as well as how to choose the right fit for you.

Do your homework on a couple of different schools before making a selection. Research the validity of each school by ascertaining its accreditation status, regardless of whether you choose a certificate program or a university for a degree. This is especially valuable for online school selections to avoid the many scam schools and diploma mills that flood the virtual market. Without an accreditation, you may end up paying a lot of money for a worthless degree. There are several different levels of accreditation, such as regional or national, or accreditation of the school in its entirety or accreditation of the criminal justice program within the school. Search the database provided by the U.S. Department of Education to find out which schools are accredited.

Accreditation is not the only factor you will want to research before choosing a criminal justice school. Research the school's graduation rate, specifically the graduation rate from the criminal justice program. This number speaks to the difficulty of the program's curriculum. If a school has a fifty percent dropout rate, there may be a problem with student retention due to poor instruction or a curriculum that is too stimulating or not stimulating enough. Another element of a quality school is a career planning and placement program. A quality criminal justice program may provide internships and job placement upon graduation, which are valuable tools in today's economy.

There are several different types of criminal justice schools. Traditional four-year universities may offer both associate and bachelor's degrees in criminal justice. The degrees may focus on the arts, such as a bachelor's or associate of art in criminal justice, or may focus on the science, leading to a bachelor's or associate of science in criminal justice. Degrees in art are focused toward academic types, whereas degrees in science are more adaptable to career and vocation. However, both types will get you started in the criminal justice field. Community colleges, also known as junior colleges, may offer either a certificate program or an associate degree program for art or science. Business schools may offer a certificate in criminal justice or specialties therein, such as courses for crime scene technicians or forensics.

In addition to the various degrees offered, there is a range of specialty areas within criminal justice. Certificate schools will have a focus on one or more of these specialty areas. Universities and community colleges may also have a particular focus for the criminal justice program. Program focus areas may include criminology, forensics, terrorism, law enforcement, law and justice, crime scenes, corrections, and the business and administrative positions within criminal justice. Research the criminal justice school's curriculum and speak with the career guidance staff prior to making a decision.

Consider the convenience of an online criminal justice school if your schedule is bogged down with work or family responsibilities. Online criminal justice degrees and certificates open the door to the same careers as traditional university instruction, without the scheduling hassle and physical presence in a classroom. Community colleges, universities, and vocational schools offer their programs online. If you are interested in learning more, check out the article, "Criminal Justice Degree Online."

The criminal justice degree or certificate will provide the infrastructure of education to get started in many different career fields, such as paralegal work or forensics. Local and state law enforcement jobs may include working within the police department, sheriff's office, or court system. Criminal justice graduates may hold federal positions within the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, and many other three-lettered agencies.

Regardless of how you choose to use your criminal justice degree, career opportunities should be abundant. Initially, certificate and associate degree holders may begin in entry-level positions. However, if you choose an accredited, respectable criminal justice school, you will be afforded the opportunity to pursue higher degrees in the future.

Example: Handbook for the Criminal Justice Program (Penn State Altoona)

CriminalJusticeDegreeZone.com | © Copyright 2018 | All Rights Reserved