In the US, we’ve always looked at criminal justice and law as a reliable career option; while being a law enforcement officer may be dangerous, with that danger comes a steady paycheck, benefits, and retirement, along with the respect and admiration that comes with the role.
In the 21st century, though, criminal justice and law have expanded far beyond the traditional beat cop to a wide field that represents one of the fastest-growing job markets in the nation. Much of this change has come about since the 2001 9/11 terror attacks, which instituted an unprecedented level of security and enforcement. The Department of Homeland Security has become one of the nation’s biggest recruiters, from immigration and border patrol to the TSA, not to mention the large administrative infrastructure necessary to keep all of these agencies together.
Whether you want to be the person on the street keeping citizens safe day to day, or an office worker making sure the whole network is supported, a Criminal Justice or Law degree is the place to start. The College Consensus is dedicated to the information and data needs of prospective students, from the new high-school graduate to the working professional returning to school after years of a career. We’ve put together a thorough introduction to the world Criminal Justice and Legal education for you to make the best decisions for your future.
What Are the In-Demand Major Options?
Criminal Justice degrees are usually conventional Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Science (BS), Master of Arts (MA), or Master of Science (MS) with a major in Criminal Justice, though there are some specialized degrees like the Bachelor or Master of Criminal Justice. The real key is the concentration.
Of course, criminal justice majors may be shooting for conventional law enforcement and corrections careers, but in recent years, due to the war on terrorism, Homeland Security has become one of the most sought-after specializations. With a Homeland Security concentration, graduates may go into border patrol, immigration, counter-terrorism, and related professions.
Another major area of currency is Cybersecurity. As hacking and other cybercrime becomes more prevalent, Information Security is an increasingly important career, from government to corporate sectors.
One of the other most popular majors today is Criminology and Forensics. The popularity of police procedural shows on television created a big surge in criminology majors in the early 2000s, but it wasn’t just a fad – development in law enforcement technology has really created a demand for experts who are prepared for the field and laboratory work of criminology and forensics.
Are There Any Online Options for Studying Criminal Justice & Law?
Criminal Justice has become one of the fields that is most easily converted to an online degree program, so, with high demand in the 21st century, it has become one of the most common online degrees. An online Criminal Justice degree can be found at virtually every kind of institution, from large public research universities to small liberal arts colleges.
In part, Criminal Justice works well online because so many students interested in the field are already working adults, either in some level of the criminal justice profession, or, often, military veterans entering civilian life. In both cases, life and work experience covers for the aspects of an education that students get on-campus, such as mentorship and camaraderie.
In other cases, such as as Paralegal career, the most significant parts of the job are suited to covering in an online format, such as writing, research, and communication. The same is true of Criminal Justice Administration; there is less hands-on learning than in a field like Forensics, making an online degree a natural choice.
Are There Complimentary Majors or Fields to Criminal Justice & Law?
Criminal Justice is already an interdisciplinary field, taking in government and law, sociology and psychology, and computers and information technology. But depending on what direction you want to take your career in, there are several minors and specializations you can use to increase your chances on the job market.
Some good double majors or minors for those going into criminal justice administration include:
- Human Resources
- Business and Management
These sorts of concentrations will help set prospective managers apart, and give adults already working in the criminal justice field a better shot at promotion into administrative positions.
On the other hand, other minors may help those going into forensics, crime prevention, and corrections:
- Computer science and IT
- Social Work
Students who are going into law typically find a minor or double major in communications, English, or writing to be very helpful, especially to stand out as a paralegal or junior partner in a law firm – many lawyers are talented in the courtroom, but one who can handle a jury and write a document equally well are a step above.
Advanced or Alternative Degree Options?
So far, Criminal Justice and Law have not lent themselves well to alternative educational methods; because of how regimented and regulated the field is (being closely tied to government and the public sector), traditional educational systems still rule.
However, many colleges and universities do award graduate certificates in criminal justice, or in specializations like cybersecurity or forensics. These shorter programs can offer a working professional some useful credentialing, particularly for those who are already in the criminal justice field and only want to add a specialization that will help them on the job market. Usually a few months to one year, graduate certificates can often be as useful for promotion and advancement as a full master’s degree.
There are also very few advanced degree options beyond the master’s level, except, of course, in law, where the Juris Doctor (JD) is the standard degree for a practicing lawyer. PhD programs in Criminal Justice do exist, but they are intended for those who want to be college professors in Criminal Justice. For a professional career, a master’s degree is sufficient, and even in most colleges, a PhD is not necessary to teach.
What Kind of Career Might I Pursue?
There are a few different career arenas you can enter with a degree in Criminal Justice or Law. The first is law enforcement:
- Police officer
- Corrections and Probation
- Criminal Justice Administration
Federal positions related to Homeland Security are a major areas for criminal justice as well:
- Border patrol and immigration
Of course, in law there are many specializations and categories, from prosecutor or defense attorney, to tax, corporate, estate, and immigration attorney, among many more. For every area where a lawyer might be needed, there is a specialist.
Required Skills or Personality Type?
Criminal Justice and Law is an extraordinary diverse field, with very different working conditions and demands from one specialization to another, so there are a wide range of skills and personality types. For law enforcement and corrections, we might expect characteristics such as responsibility, empathy, and compassion, with a healthy amount of skepticism and analytical ability. Communication skills are also valuable to maintaining safety.
In areas like Cybersecurity, Forensics, and Criminology, good organization, strong analytical skills, curiosity, and patience are key. These can be jobs in which long stretches of hard work seem to yield very little return, and in which small details may reveal much.
In Law, strong people skills, communication skills, and attention to detail can make the difference between a successful lawyer and failure. Good writing and speaking ability is especially important.
In all cases, ethical responsibility is an ideal, while a sense of humor or ability to process emotions can be critical to good mental health. All areas of criminal justice and law can be extremely stressful, emotionally draining, and even traumatizing. Dealing with these feelings in a healthy, productive way may be the most important skill.