Matching Criminal Justice Degrees to Careers

If you have already researched the fascinating career possibilities following completion of a criminal justice degree, it is time to explore what type of degree will get you started in the right direction. From an associate to a PhD, there are many degrees and majors within the field of criminal justice. Just as an associate degree in the science of criminal justice will not make you a lawyer, gaining a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice is extraneous to a crime scene technician. Learn how to match criminal justice degrees to their prospective career fields to make the most of your time and money in school.

The most basic college-level degree is an associate degree. This versatile degree acts as a launching pad for myriad entry-level careers, or you can use it as a building block for higher degrees in the future. Criminal justice majors may choose either an associate in science or art. Science tracks usually lead to careers that are hands-on or practice oriented, such as crime scene technicians, police or law enforcement, paralegal, or private security and investigations. Students applying for the arts degree track are usually vested in the theories of criminal justice and academia, and include legal secretaries or professionals, such as registered nurses, trying to gain secondary degrees within specialty fields for career advancement purposes.

Certain associate-level criminal justice degrees will require subsequent specialized schooling or certifications before you get started in your chosen career field. Law enforcement personnel, such as police officers, will get hired into the police department with an associate degree; however, they will need to attend the department's police academy before they start work. Individuals interested in paralegal work are encouraged to attend a paralegal certification program to complement their degree prior to seeking a job. Similarly, a security guard applicant may be requested to attend a security guard certification school.

Career potential, job options, and pay increase exponentially upon attaining a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Graduates may seek any job listed at the associate level or chose one of the elite career paths eligible to baccalaureate grads. If you are seeking entrance into a very large police department, a bachelor's degree may be required or at the very least encouraged. Corrections jobs, including corrections treatment specialists, parole officers, and counselors, require a bachelor's degree for entry into the field.

At the very least, a bachelor's degree in criminal justice is necessary to enter government agency positions. Agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Drug Enforcement Agency are extremely competitive in hiring new employees. Depending on the job you seek, such as a position as an analyst or an investigative field agent, you will require additional training above and beyond your college degree. Most jobs within the executive branch of the government, including those with the Postal Service, the Department of Defense, and law enforcement, are extremely difficult to obtain due to their stability and benefits.

Following threats to the nation's security from both internal and external sources, criminal justice professionals holding a master's degree are in high demand. Although a bachelor's degree will gain you access to most fields within this specialty, it will not ensure you a position or place your credibility above that of peers with the same educational background. In addition, higher-level degrees, such as a master's in criminology or criminal justice, can take your career to the next pay grade in government agencies.

Social workers and therapists working within corrections must hold at least a master's in the field to practice. Over the past century, the nation has pulled away from a punishment theory in criminal corrections and moved toward a rehabilitative attitude. Social workers need a background in law, abnormal psychology, and criminal behavior to supplement their careers within corrections.

If you have the time, money, and inclination, consider getting the crème de la crème of criminal justice degrees: a PhD in criminal justice. Educators, researchers, and aspiring lawyers may need this degree for career entrance and progression. Most major universities require teachers to hold at least a master's in the field, with a PhD preferable.

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