Criminal Justice Degrees & Programs

Are you looking for a career where you can make a difference in your community? Are you fascinated by television shows like “CSI” and “Criminal Minds”? If so, earning a degree in criminal justice can open the door to a variety of interesting careers for you, from law enforcement to public policy making.

A Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice is a four-year degree, offered by a variety of traditional and online schools around the United States. Such a degree generally includes coursework in statistics, the U.S. court and justice system, victimology, criminal law and police procedure as well as sociology, psychology and criminology.

A degree in criminal justice can help you advance your law enforcement career and qualify you for entry level positions in corrections and probation departments. A criminal justice degree is also a good base towards earning a graduate degree in law and becoming a lawyer and towards a position in local government.

Types of Criminal Justice Degrees

Police Science Degree

After seeing police shows on TV you might be interested in a career in this field. While reality is always different than fiction, police science is a fascinating line of work.

What is police science?

This field is the broad term used that applies to research and studies directly or indirectly related to many facets of police work. Police science includes specific fields such as criminology, forensic science, jurisprudence, penology, community policing, psychology and forensic science.

What will I learn while earning a degree in police science?

While perusing a degree in police science, you will be exposed to all aspects of police work. The program includes:

  • Criminal law
  • Surveillance techniques and equipment
  • Handling missing person reports
  • Handwriting analysis
  • Fingerprint techniques
  • Investigating techniques
  • Report writing
  • Corporate intelligence
  • Job opportunities

Other than a job on a police force, with a police science degree there are other job opportunities with government agencies, corporate legal departments, security agencies and becoming a private investigator. You might be working as someone’s bodyguard, a traffic constable, protecting a school, a safety patrol officer, a detective, or an investigator handling various cases.

A police science degree prepares candidates to complete duties as a police or public security officer, traffic control, public relations, crowd control, crime prevention, evidence management, witness interviewing, weapon handling and maintenance, patrolling, investigating, high speed driving, and report writing.

Preparing for a police science degree

For many local police jobs, a high school diploma is enough; however, if you are ambitious and have set your sights on a federal law enforcement job, you will need a college degree.

In order to obtain a police science degree, it will help if you relate well to people and are passionate about their safety; are able to remain cool under pressure; and have the ability to absorb information as you will have to memorize considerable parts of the law. Nerves of steel are also an asset as you might find yourself in dangerous situations. Can you handle a gun? How would you feel facing firearms or riding along in a police patrol car involved in a high speed chase?

Before making your commitment to pursue a police science degree, get experience by volunteering at a police station and talk to as many police officers as possible.

Private Investigation and Detective Degree

Private investigators in TV shows speak to the imagination. They lead intriguing, exciting and interesting lives. They make a living spying on people, finding missing children, gathering evidence for court cases and other matters.

What training do I need to become a private investigator?

Strictly speaking there is no training or degree to become a private investigator. Anyone with an analytical mind, keen observation, endless patience and a camera can do the work of a private investigator. However, having a college degree will give you credibility.

State laws require that a private investigator is licensed, and restrictions might apply whether or not they may carry a firearm. In many cases, former police officers, military staff, security agents or bodyguards become private investigators because of their background. They know how to be inconspicuous, they know the importance of keeping notes (as these notes might be used in court), and they have the endurance the job requires. Being a private investigator is not a 9 to 5 job, surveillance might take several hours or even night duty.

Are there degree programs that can help me gain the proper skills?

While specific private investigator training is not necessary, a bachelor degree in science will help you achieve your goal of becoming a private investigator. Subjects such as engineering, computer science, mathematics or chemistry, a degree in police science, or a degree in criminal justice will give you credibility.

Working as a private investigator

The job of a private investigator is not to be underestimated. Private investigators often spend extended periods of time outside doing surveillance. While some stakeouts happen from the relative comfort of a car, there might be times when the individual is unprotected from the harsh elements.

Who hires a private investigator?

Private investigators are in demand by law firms specializing in criminal defense, insurance companies that suspect insurance fraud or want accident re-enactment, corporations who suspect espionage, or the general public who needs evidence in marital or juvenile cases. Regardless of where you end up, private investigator training can lead to a rewarding career. If you’re thinking of going down that path, talk to a couple of private eyes and ask if you can shadow them on a few cases. Street smarts outdo book smarts much of the time.

What skills do I need to be a successful private detective?

Private detectives are hired by individuals, businesses, and lawyers. When you’re hired by an individual, you’ll likely be trying to locate a missing person or investigating someone. One of the most common jobs is performing surveillance to see if someone is having an affair. To be successful, you’ll need to be devoted to the task at hand, capable of using the Internet for research, and have the ability to blend in with a crowd.

Businesses may hire a private detective to perform background research prior to a deal. You may require interview skills as well as the ability to work with various organizations to gather information.

Lastly, lawyers and insurance companies may have a private detective on-call. You’ll carry out legal investigations of a wide variety, including things like performing surveillance on individuals to see if they’re committing fraud. Note that in some instances you may have to willingly enter a dangerous situation – this is not a career for the meek of heart.

How can a degree in criminal justice help get me started?

A degree in criminal justice may be necessary to be hired by businesses or law firms. As a private detective, it’s expected that you know the law – what you can and can’t do, and what to look for while working a case. A degree in criminal justice will provide you with the knowledge of applications that will be helpful in tracking missing persons. If you plan to start your own private detective corporation, a bachelor’s degree is mandatory, along with a license, depending on which state you reside in.

Law Enforcement Degree

Law enforcement is a challenging and rewarding career that encompasses various components of the legal system and security. A career in law enforcement provides you with the fulfilling opportunity to serve and protect your community while you prevent crime and enforce the laws and regulations of the land. Law enforcement schools deliver programs that encompass a number of different aspects of the justice system.

While enrolled in a law enforcement school you can expect to take courses in:
Institutional, industrial, and retail security and investigations
Policing from both a public and a private standpoint
Psychology, criminology, and forensics
Law, corrections, and the criminal justice system
Surveillance, interrogation, and crisis intervention
Security systems and security management
Most law enforcement schools will also present you with the opportunity to get some work experience as part of your training program. This valuable on-the-job training will start you on your journey to your career in law enforcement.

What Types of Careers Will I Be Trained To Enter?

Students who successfully complete law enforcement courses become eligible to enter numerous types of entry-level occupations in the legal system. The different types of careers that a law enforcement school will train you to enter include, but are not limited to:

Depending upon hiring practices and the area in which you live, additional training courses may be required for certain positions such as policing.

Probation or Parole Officer Degree

If you want to become a probation officer, then you’ll need a degree in criminal justice. Training to become a probation officer may be ideal for professionals in the fields of psychology, family services, social work, sociology and children’s services.

Typically, professionals that work in these fields already have experience working along-side of the criminal justice system, so additional training as a probation officer would qualify anyone working within these fields for advancement or for a complete career change.

Working as a probation officer enables you to work with offenders of the law and rehabilitate them, rather than these offenders being sent to jail or prison. Your job will be to monitor the offender’s behavior in coordination with the courts. Probation officers monitor an offender’s behavior in various ways, including sometimes visiting an offenders home or workplace and consulting employers, community members and family members for the purpose of gathering more information on the offender.

The probation officer then writes reports and keeps records regarding offenders. As a probation officer, you can make a difference in the lives of others, — including the offenders themselves — and your community, by helping to ensure that offenders do not become repeat offenders.

Requirements for employment as a probation officer

Most agencies require probation officer applicants to be at least 21 years of age, while potential candidates seeking federal employment must be younger than 37 years of age. An applicant can expect background checks, as well as random drug testing. Other requirements may include physical fitness testing and psychological examinations. You can be eliminated from consideration of employment if you have ever been convicted of a felony.

What training can help prepare me to become a probation officer?

While most jobs for probation officers require just a bachelor’s degree, there are many cases where a master’s degree may be necessary. Studying to become a probation officer, you’ll major in either criminal justice, justice administration or a related field.

Program coursework while training to become a probation officer will include criminal justice processes, social behavior, criminology and ethics. Many criminal justice programs will encourage its students to perform an internship in a criminal justice specialty before graduation.

Training to become a probation officer, you can expect to gain an understanding of legal matters and subjects such as laws, investigation, narcotics, court processes, interviewing, ethics, report writing and community relations.

Career Information for Criminal Justice Degree Holders

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for a police officer in the United States is $55,010 per year or about $26.45 per hour. A probation officer earns an average of $47,020 per year or about $22.69 per hour. Jobs in law enforcement are expected to grow more slowly than the average for U.S. jobs–about seven percent between now and 2020. Jobs in probation are expected to grow at an average rate–about 18 percent between now and 2020–according to the BLS.

If you want a career where you can make a difference or want to learn more about the U.S. court and justice system, consider pursuing a degree in criminal justice.