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10 Best Degrees to Get for a Career in Law En­force­ment

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Contributing Editor
A graduate of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Susan A. Kemppainen has been a freelance writer and researcher for nearly 10 years, following a career in healthcare developing and coordinated continuing clinical education programs for physicians, nurses, and ancillary staff. She also has significant experience working with students and administration in a university setting.
Managing Editor
Carrie Sealey-Morris has covered bootcamps, careers, and higher education for College Consensus since 2017. Carrie is a graduate of the University of New Mexico where she earned a B.A. in American Studies. 

Starting a career in law enforcement provides a wide range of opportunities for advancement and stable employment that is unlikely to go away in the near future. There are 808,700 people who are currently employed in law enforcement in the U.S., so there are a broad range of jobs that you can choose from in the field. You can work as an investigator, police officer, intelligence officer, or in other important positions that are critical in any high-functioning society.

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To start your career in law enforcement, you will need to start by getting the right education. Many jobs require an undergraduate degree, but you should be sure to research your prospective career path to fully understand what training you will need. Therefore, you should take a look at some of the best degree options that available for people who are seeking to start a career in the field of law enforcement.

1. Criminal Justice

Criminal justice is one of the best degree options for people in law enforcement because it directly addresses relevant topics. When you get a degree in criminal justice, your studies will almost exclusively focus on topics that you will use on a daily basis as a law enforcement officer. Criminal justice degrees teach about many related topics, such as the deterrence of crime, the psychology of criminals, and the management of law enforcement agencies. You will also get to learn about theories related to law enforcement that are used to make decisions in challenging sociological and political areas.

Learning about criminal justice specifically is useful for starting a career as a police officer, working in a correctional institution, joining the military, and for investigating crimes. Criminal justice degrees can even be useful in the private sector for people who wish to get into private security, premises security, or private investigations. Some people are even able to use their degree in criminal justice as a building block before going on to get an advanced degree as an attorney, psychologist, or military officer.

Criminal justice degrees come in many forms because of the broad range of topics that they cover. Many high schools, for instance, offer criminal justice classes or even certifications. Some criminal justice programs partner directly with law enforcement agencies to enable students to get practical experience while obtaining their education. You can also study for a criminal justice degree online, and this mode of study could be a good option if you wish to save time and money.

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2. Psychology

A degree in psychology can give you an understanding of the feelings, behaviors, and thought processes that lead to criminal activity. People who graduate with psychology degrees are in high demand in the law enforcement field because they can help law enforcement agencies to understand why crime occurs in the first place. When the psychology of criminals can be understood, law enforcement agencies can take preemptive actions to prevent crimes from occurring while minimizing their consequences.

Many people who graduate with criminal psychology degrees are able to get jobs in almost any branch of the government that involves the criminal justice system. If you get a degree in psychology, you could get a job as a law enforcement officer, a worker in the court system, a corrections officer, or even as a mental health professional. Most criminal psychology jobs are in the public sector, but there are also jobs available in private practices and privately owned hospitals.

Another major advantage of a psychology degree is that these programs provide you with a broad range of career options that you can pursue after graduation. If you want to get into another area of law enforcement, having a background in psychology is often a preliminary requirement. For instance, people who are involved in intelligence and investigations usually have to obtain some training in psychology before they can get started with their careers.

The work that you do as a criminal psychologist can also be highly rewarding. For instance, if you work in a prison, you might help to counsel people on how to avoid committing crimes again in the future. Many criminal psychologists are also able to work in a consulting capacity for law enforcement agencies or for the private sector.

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3. Law

A background in law is in high demand throughout the law enforcement field. Many law enforcement agencies struggle to attract sufficient talent with a background in criminal law. Having a strong education in the field of law can, thus, give you significant advantages in your future career.

One of the biggest challenges that law enforcement agencies face is understanding whether they can prosecute certain types of activities. If you have a background in law, you can help your law enforcement agency to make good decisions that will help to provide more justice to your community.

Obtaining a degree in law will also give you significant opportunities for advancement in your career. You can, of course, use your degree to become an attorney. As an attorney, you can continue to help law enforcement agencies. You can also help people who have been convicted of a crime to defend themselves.

However, you do not have to work as an attorney to utilize your undergraduate degree in law. You can use your law training to supplement your work as a police officer or to perform more effectively as an investigator. In fact, with a background in law, you will be an important addition to almost any law enforcement team.

The fields of law enforcement and law are highly compatible, so you can also leverage your background in law enforcement to achieve further advancement by assisting private law practices. If you go on to become a lawyer, law practices will be eager to recruit you because of your background. There are also a wide range of jobs available in the public sector that are in need of people who have an undergraduate degree in law or who become an attorney.

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4. Forensics

Forensics is one of the main responsibilities that law enforcement agencies are responsible for. In order to prosecute a crime, investigators have to use forensics to prove that a crime was committed. Law enforcement agencies are, therefore, highly dependent on people who have a background in forensics. Your background in forensics will enable you to detect crimes while ensuring that proper crime scene and evidence-handling procedures are followed.

The field of forensics is growing rapidly because of new technologies that are making forensics more effective. Forensics technologies that detect the presence of chemical substances or unique identifiers that can be traced back to a particular person are becoming more sophisticated. Many forensics technologies now depend on artificial intelligence to improve the accuracy of investigations that are conducted so that findings will be held up in court.

When you work in forensics, much of your work will be done on a computer. Therefore, some forensics jobs can be done remotely from any location around the world. Additionally, the field of forensics and computer science often go together. Your work in forensics will help you to get a strong background in computer programming and using advanced computer applications. As a result, the field of forensics is likely to remain in strong demand as digital technologies continue to advance.

After completing your degree in forensics, you will be able to apply your skills in many different capacities. Some forensics professionals work in the field to conduct forensics work at crime scenes or to interview the perpetrators of crimes. Fieldwork can also be done independently as a private detective. Additionally, you can work in your law enforcement agency’s lab or at a center that specializes in certain types of forensics research.

There are also plenty of opportunities for advancement in the forensics field. You can go on to get a masters degree in forensics, and this can help you to get involved in more complex projects or to obtain a leadership role in your law enforcement agency. You can also work on getting additional training for a second degree that is highly complementary with forensics work. Of course, your salary will also increase as you advance in your career.

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5. Computer Science

Computer science is becoming increasingly important in the law enforcement field. Computers are being used in almost every aspect of modern life, and law enforcement agencies need to respond to the growth of modern technology in an effective way. People with a background in computer science can help to investigate crimes that occur online through social media or with the assistance of smart phones. People with a background in computer science can even help their law enforcement agency to protect their internal computer systems or to investigate and respond to sophisticated cyber crime.

When you start your career in computer science, you will get to choose between working in computer criminology or working in network security. Work related to computer criminology usually primarily involves cyber forensics to detect when crimes occurred, document events, and determine who was the perpetrator. If you work in network security, you will be responsible for keeping the computer systems of your law enforcement agency secure and actively countering the activity of malicious actors.

Most work in computer science is done directly within law enforcement agencies or departments of the government. However, there are also opportunities in the private sector to utilize an understanding of computer science to protect companies against online threats. If you become highly advanced in your field, you could even become a computer security consultant. Computer security consultants can earn a very high salary when they have a strong understanding of methodologies for the prevention and detection of cyber crime.

Undergraduate degrees in cyber crime are sufficient to start your career. However, the field of computer science is highly competitive, so you may later decide that you want to pursue a masters degree. You can get your masters degree in computer science or branch into a more specialized field that will help you to earn a higher salary.

Many people who are involved in computer science also obtain training outside the formal classroom setting. The practical work that you do will likely teach you more about computer science on a daily basis. Since the nature of work in computer science creates incentives for continued education, you are likely to obtain a wealth of knowledge in your field as you gain more experience. With an increased level of knowledge, you can expect to continue to receive a higher salary and to be more in demand in the job market as time goes on.

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6. Cyber Security

Cybersecurity is becoming a popular degree for people who want to get involved in law enforcement. Cyber security is similar to computer science because it primarily involves using computer systems to detect and deter crimes. However, cyber security deals specifically with protecting computer systems against both internal and external threats. If you become a cyber security specialist, you will be responsible for ensuring that your organization’s computer systems remain hardened against the growing web of security threats.

Cybersecurity is becoming increasingly important for law enforcement agencies because sophisticated criminals often target these important institutions. If criminals can break into the computer system of an investigation agency or law enforcement agency, they can potentially cause serious problems by changing how justice is carried out. Cyber security specialists also defend against attacks from government actors in foreign countries that may have hostile intentions.

If you are successful in cyber security, there are a broad range of high-paying jobs that you can get in the private sector. You could even start your own company to build software or systems to ensure a high level of security or to respond to specific types of digital threats. As a result, cybersecurity is a great degree choice for people who want to enjoy a high level of opportunity for advancement.

7. Accounting

Accounting is an important competency that law enforcement agencies have depended on for thousands of years. When fraud occurs, it can almost always be detected with the right accounting methods. People with a background in accounting also have a strong understanding of the skills that are needed to work effectively as a investigations officer.

Forensic accounting is a rapidly growing field that is needed by the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, and state governments. Accountants who specialize in forensics focus on scrutinizing the financial statements of companies to determine when wrongdoing occurred. Forensics can also be used to determine when investigations are warranted to ensure that law enforcement agency resources are utilized effectively.

As a forensic accountant, you will primarily work in the office of a law enforcement agency. Many law enforcement agencies contract with private accounting firms to conduct investigations in specialized areas. You can also use your skills in accounting to help businesses detect fraud or other malicious activities within their organizations. Therefore, getting a degree in accounting could be a great start to a highly flexible career in both the public and private sectors.

8. Public Safety

Public safety teaches you the skills needed to help governments prepare for disasters and develop effective recovery plans. Some public safety specialists work directly in the field to deliver resources that are needed to respond to disasters. Natural disasters and pandemics are the major response areas that public safety specialists focus on, but you may also develop plans for war, terrorism, and the collapse of law and order.

On a practical level, many public safety specialists assist police officers and firefighters with organizing and coordinating their activities. For instance, some public safety specialists get jobs as emergency dispatchers or as public safety coordinators. The field of public safety can, therefore, be seen as doing the work that is necessary behind the scenes to keep communities safe.

When you get a degree in public safety, you will take a wide range of classes that will prepare you for helping to safeguard the public. Therefore, many public safety curricula allow you to specialize in a particular area, such as criminal justice, disaster relief, or cyber crime.

To get a job in public safety, you usually need to start by getting an undergraduate degree. There are some jobs that you can get with only a high school education, so you may be able to start your career while you get the training that you will need. However, after graduating, you can expect to get a relatively high salary as a law enforcement officer, as an investigator, or as an emergency management director.

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9. Homeland Security

Homeland security is a growing field because of the broad range of domestic threats that modern society faces. People who specialize in homeland security help to protect the nation against terrorism, sabotage, and other internal security threats. The domestic problems the world now faces are unlikely to go away in the near future, so the field of homeland security provides a stable career path with plenty of opportunities for advancement.

As a homeland security specialist, you will primarily work on detecting and investigating suspicious activity. Most homeland security work involves domestic threats, but you can also find jobs working for the government to protect the nation against threats in foreign countries. Most jobs in the field involve working directly for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but there are also other government agencies at the federal, state, and local levels that can employ your skills.

Homeland security degrees can also be useful for people who wish to become law enforcement officers. Law enforcement officers can detect potential threats while in the field when working as investigators. You can also use your homeland security degree to interview people who have been convicted of crimes or to understand the psychology of domestic terrorists.

Although many universities offer homeland security degrees, you can also consider enrolling in a homeland security training program while getting a relevant degree of your choice. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security, for instance, offers the FLETC college intern program for students who major in fields that are related to criminal justice. Enrolling in the FLETC program will get you a significant amount of training in homeland security that will help you to get a job after graduation.

10. Political Science

Political science is a great option for starting a career in law enforcement because the field is ultimately dependent on the political environment. When new laws are passed, law enforcement agencies must understand how to respond effectively and to enforce the new legislation. People who have a thorough understanding of political science can also help law enforcement agencies to adapt to societal changes that could potentially impact how laws are enforced.

Getting a degree in political science can help you to rise to a management role within the government. Some people with backgrounds in political science also go on to become elected representatives by using their background in the law enforcement field. Many members of the public have a high amount of respect for law enforcement officers, so people with law enforcement backgrounds are often able to succeed at getting a party’s nomination and in obtaining the votes needed to get a high-level elected role in the government.

Of course, there are also a broad range of other jobs that you can get in the law enforcement field by using your political science degree. Most law enforcement agencies are happy to take on candidates who have a background in political science because of the field’s relevance to the work that law enforcement officers do.

There are also opportunities for advancement that a political science degree can help you to achieve. For instance, people with a political science background can act as liaisons who work with elected officials so that law enforcement agencies can negotiate for resources effectively. Political science majors can also help law enforcement agencies to purchase products and make decisions that are aligned with changes in the political environment. You can also help law enforcement agencies to foresee the emergence and impact of legislative changes so that they can make good decisions to utilize their resources in a more productive way.

Choosing the Right Degree for Law Enforcement

Selecting the degree that is right for you is a decision that you should make after conducting thorough research. After all, the career path that you choose will likely be the focus of your life for several decades. If you choose a degree program that you will enjoy, you are likely to be motivated to get a high-paying job and to achieve further advancement. Therefore, you can set yourself up for success by putting in the effort to conduct your own research before diving into the degree of your choice.

Salary Expectations

The wide range of careers available in Law Enforcement makes it difficult to provide exact salary information. Law Enforcement careers can range from patrol officers, detectives, transit officers, game wardens, corrections officers, forensic technicians, security guards, and others.

Salaries will fluctuate based on job responsibilities, employer (local, state, federal, or private), and location. Drawing on both government and private sources, the table below should give you an idea of what you might expect in terms of salary compensation.

Law Enforcement CareersSalary Estimates
Police Officers, Sheriff Deputies$66k
Transportation Law Enforcement$69k
Detectives, Criminal Investigators$86k
Game Wardens$59k
Cyber Security $71k-$85k
Public Safety Officer$44k-$88k
(Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,

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