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Earning a Criminal Justice Degree Can Lead To Excellent Career Options

It is rare to turn on the television in today's world and not find at least one legal or criminal justice drama playing. This reflects the growing interest that many have in the legal and judicial systems. If you find yourself drawn to these career options, then you might also be strongly considering a criminal justice degree.

To pursue the most lucrative and stable criminal justice careers such as detective, private investigator or police officer, having some kind of college training is a requirement. Discover how earning a criminal justice degree might be the perfect way to advance your career as well as your lifestyle.

Quick Facts: Criminal Justice Industry
Median Pay:   $53,130 per year | $26 per hour
Entry-Level Education:   Bachelor's degree
Work Experience:   None
Number of Jobs, 2014:   108,000

Criminal Justice Occupations:

  • Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists$49,060
  • Criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, postsecondary$57,200

Choose the Perfect Degree: Associate, Bachelor's or Master's

The very first step in earning the right criminal justice degree is to determine which education option is best for your future and your needs. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, police departments and federal organizations require their potential hires to have some college coursework or a college degree.

Ultimately, there are three major degree choices for potential students: Associate degree, bachelor's degree and master's degree. The quickest is the two-year associate degree, which can be suitable for entry-level careers in the field.

The bachelor's degree is the most popular option, and it serves as a stepping stone to many careers such as police detective and court administrator. If you have the time to pursue a master's degree, you will be ready to tackle the top positions in crime and the legal system. The master’s program will take a year or two beyond the bachelor's degree.

Meet Admission Prerequisites

Before you can start taking classes for your criminal justice degree, it is important to keep in mind that each college has its own specific prerequisites for enrollment. For any degree, you will need to be over the age of 18 or have parental permission and have earned either a high school degree or the equivalent of a general education degree.

If you are more interested in earning a bachelor's degree, aspiring students should be able to submit either SAT or ACT scores that meet specific standards. In addition, a high school grade point average of a certain level might be required, depending on the competitiveness of the school you wish to attend.

For a master's degree program, all applicants should already have completed their bachelor's degree and have at least some experience in the field, which could be a decade of employment or a short-term unpaid internship.

Decide Between An Online Or A Traditional Campus Degree

Over the past two decades, there has been a significant increase in the number of students who opt to earn their degrees online. According to the Sloan Consortium, a staggering 6.1 million students had taken at least one course online as of 2010, and that number is forecast to continue its upward growth.

However, there are also benefits to earning a degree in a traditional college campus. It is up to each individual student to weigh the pros and cons of both in order to decide which option best fits into their schedule and meets all of their educational needs.

Understand the Typical Courses Included in the Degree

Before you enroll in a criminal justice degree program at the associate, bachelors or master's level, it is important to take into consideration the types of courses you want to take and how they can boost your career potential.

Generally, the kind of classes you might expect to find on your syllabus could include that of criminology, corrections procedures, law, criminal psychology, constitutional law and sociology. However, some students may decide to double-major or pursue additional courses that could help their careers.

According to the BLS, for example, computer forensics investigators need to have experience in computer science, and many corporate investigators get hired because they have some background knowledge in finance or accounting.

Discover More About Career Options For Graduates

One of the things students should think about carefully before enrolling in a degree program is the various types of criminal justice careers that are available. With as little as an associate degree, you might be able to work as a corrections officer, a security guard or a screening agent with the Transportation and Security Association (TSA).

With a bachelor's degree, you will also be eligible for a career as a police detective, a probation officer, a domestic violence counselor or a forensic investigator. Earning a master's degree opens even more doors for top-level careers in courthouses, police headquarters and various state and federal agencies.

A degree in criminal justice can prepare you to work on the local, state, or national level. There are many opportunities in homeland security to help protect our country from terrorist attacks since the enactment of the Homeland Security Act of 2002.

Whether you plan to earn an associate degree in criminal justice online or pursue a bachelor's degree through a local college campus, having the right credentials is easier than you might expect and can prepare you for a new and exciting career in the field of criminal justice.