Criminal Justice

It’s not a coincidence that some of the hottest shows on television today are crime-related dramas and police procedurals. The criminal justice field makes for compelling television.

While real-life criminal justice careers may not be quite as exciting as they are portrayed on television, they undoubtedly are rewarding for those who work in the industry. The field continues to expand to include advances in areas such as forensics and international crime, making a career in criminal justice anything but boring.

The level of education required to work in criminal justice depends on the type of career being pursued. There are several career options under the umbrella of criminal justice, including law enforcement officers,crime scene technicians, forensics and protective services.

One of the most recognizable jobs in the criminal justice field is that of a police officer. Each state has its own requirements for becoming eligible to work as a police officer; however, at a minimum, most states require the successful completion of police academy training. In addition to graduating from the academy, candidates who possess higher-education degrees in criminal-justice related fields are more likely to land lucrative jobs within the industry.

Required Education

Traditional and online programs are available in criminal justice, as well as hybrid programs which require a combination of both online and traditional classroom participation in order to complete the degree.

  • Associate Degree: This entry-level degree program, whether offered online or in a traditional setting, generally provides an overview of the U.S. criminal justice system. Courses in criminology, criminal investigation, domestic/international terrorism, counter-terrorism techniques and criminal law are offered as part of an associate degree in criminal justice. Programs at this level generally take 18 to 24 months to complete.
  • Bachelor Degree: Those who wish to work in jobs beyond the entry level will want to earn a Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice. This four-year degree program includes the basic foundation of the criminal justice system, as provided at the associate-degree level. Students then take that basic knowledge and build on it with more in-depth study of the areas of corrections, crime scene investigation, forensic psychology, juvenile justice, law enforcement and homeland security (terrorism). The program takes four years to complete.
  • Master Degree: Administrative careers with the federal government – including in the areas of homeland security and counter-terrorism – generally require more advanced degrees. A Master of Science degree in criminal justice will focus on the training required to work as an administrator or instructor in this subset of the criminal justice field. Because many professionals working in the industry choose to work while pursuing advanced degrees such as this one, online degrees in criminal justice at the graduate level can be convenient. Traditional classroom settings also are available. Regardless of whether an online or traditional program is chosen, students can expect to delve into the causes of criminal behavior in cultures around the globe, with a specific emphasis on the causes of social deviance. Management, organizational and leadership skills also will be taught.

Regardless of the level of education chosen, or whether an online school or traditional setting is selected, it is important to ensure the program is properly accredited by an accrediting agency that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Future Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for law enforcement professionals is expected to increase by as much as 22percent over the next decade. The greatest demand will be in the areas of cyber security and domestic/international counter-terrorism.

Depending on the level of education and the area of expertise, professionals in this field can expect to earn between $40,000 andover $100,000 annually.

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