A criminal justice degree prepares undergraduate students for a criminal justice career in several areas, including law enforcement, criminal justice management, and legal investigation.
Hundreds of universities have created criminology and criminal justice departments to serve interested students seeking a criminal justice degree at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, and increasingly schools are offering a degree in criminal justice online as well.
Before considering schools, it’s important to first make sure that a criminal justice career is the right choice.
Considering a Criminal Justice Career
Carefully consider the different career options available to students earning a criminal justice degree, and understand the challenges posed by a career involving legal proceedings, the punishment of criminals, and the investigation of crime scenes.
A degree in criminal justice prepare students for many different law enforcement jobs, including forensic investigation, juvenile justice, police enforcement and prison management. Most of these careers involve either direct contact with criminals or the investigation of crime scenes, and individuals should be sure this line of work matches their personality.
Criminal Justice Career Options
Think about the specific criminal justice career that is of interest, and make sure the schools being considered provide courses that serve the specific area of interest. For example, not all criminal justice programs offer training in forensic investigation or juvenile detention management.
Students are encouraged to review program concentrations and course offerings to find those programs which are good educational matches.
Think About Criminal Justice Career Geographic Options
Students should make sure they are willing to be flexible about where they live. While criminal justice jobs are available across the country, the majority of job openings are in large cities. If a student is not interested in living in an urban setting, a criminal justice degree may not be the right career.
Students interested in careers in small towns or rural areas, particularly those in which they already reside, should consider online criminal justice programs which allow for internships to be completed at home. Such programs provide opportunities to make professional contacts in a local area which may lead to employment.
Degree in Criminal Justice Coursework Considerations
Consider the academic rigor of a criminal justice degree, and make sure the coursework can be handled. Most undergraduate programs require that students take a general education load of courses in English composition, humanities, social and physical sciences, and mathematics.
Additionally, both undergraduate and graduate criminal justice degrees typically offer the following core major courses: law enforcement, criminology, penology, comparative criminology and criminal justice, forensic science and justice administration.
Criminal Justice Degree Schedules
Ensure that personal schedules allow for the pursuit of a degree in criminal justice. While a standard undergraduate degree takes four years to complete, graduate degrees typically take two years.
Students with prior undergraduate credits can transfer into some programs and receive credit reductions. For example, Florida State University allows students to transfer credits from previous schools, thus reducing the total amount of time it takes to earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.
Degree in Criminal Justice Internships
Students need to decide whether or not they would like their criminal justice degree program to provide internship opportunities, and consider only those programs which fit their educational interests. Internships can provide invaluable professional experience which not only provides students with hands-on skills, but makes students more attractive on the job market when looking to launch a criminal justice career.
However, some students may find the rigor of an academic program coupled with the demands of an experiential internship to be too much. Such students should focus on a degree in criminal justice which does not require an internship.
Criminal Justice Degree Online Options
Nontraditional and working students who are unable to attend campus-based programs should consider an online degree in criminal justice and determine if online learning – which requires a high degree of self-management and independence – is a good educational fit.