Across the United States, populations are in need of criminal justice and homeland security professionals: Protectors to keep people out of harm’s way. Responders who are quick to react and know how to effectively handle emergencies. Leaders who are able to guide others in times of chaos and crisis. Heroes. Trained, skilled, educated professionals who are ready to step up.
If you are interested in a high-impact, high-demand career helping others, you may be considering a career in criminal justice. Or, maybe you are considering a position in the homeland security field. Maybe you do not know the difference between the two. You are in the right place. Below, Goodwin College walks you through the fields of homeland security and criminal justice – what they are, what they do, and the career outcomes of each.
What is Homeland Security?
Homeland security is an umbrella term for national security in the United States. In general, it involves protecting the United States and its population from outside threats, ranging from natural disasters to terrorist attacks. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is the backbone of this field – anticipating potential problems, preparing plans to manage them, and actively responding to any threats that occur.
The nation’s focus on homeland security has heightened greatly since the 9/11 terrorist attacks. In 2008, the DHS’ strategic plan defined homeland security as “a unified national effort to prevent and deter terrorist attacks, protect and respond to hazards, and to secure the national borders.” The White House supplemented this in 2010, defining homeland security as “a seamless coordination among federal, state, and local governments to prevent, protect against, and respond to threats and natural disasters.”
For those interested in entering homeland security, it’s important to understand that homeland security needs protectors in all stretches of the field: law enforcement, disaster, immigration, cyber security, as well as terrorism. It needs readied professionals to fulfill varying and vital roles within the Secret Service, FBI, ICE, Coast Guard, FEMA, TSA, and more. Homeland security encompasses both national defense and emergency management, making its authorities critical to the safety and well-being of the United States.
What is Criminal Justice?
Criminal justice is an overarching field that is also in need of protectors – protectors who can control crime, enforce laws to prevent crime, and deliver justice to those who have committed crime. But this is just the beginning. Criminal justice also involves rehabilitating criminal offenders, and providing support for victims of crimes. In the United States, we have an entire criminal justice system in place to mitigate and manage criminal activity – this includes law enforcement, the court system, and corrections.
Within the U.S. criminal justice system, there are many individual systems, jurisdictions, agencies, and sectors involved. The criminal justice system also works differently depending on the area and jurisdiction in charge – whether that’s city, county, state, federal, or tribal government, or military installation. Criminal justice is all about protecting the public from crime, and enforcing laws to keep the population out of harm’s way. As a result, criminal justice professionals are also vital to the nation and the greater good.
Many people confuse criminal justice and homeland security because they do, in fact, overlap. Technically, the Department of Homeland Security is a law enforcement agency – putting it under the larger category of criminal justice. Both fields, when looked at as separate careers, fit under public administration and safety, however the concepts and applications behind each are very different.
Homeland Security vs. Criminal Justice Careers
If you know you want to become a protector, but are unsure which field is right for you – homeland security or criminal justice – think back to your passions and your career goals. Where do you envision yourself making a difference? Who, and how, do you envision yourself protecting?
As noted above, the Department of Homeland Security goes much beyond the common security careers that come to mind. Today, you can work in citizenship and immigration, emergency management, the fight against terrorism, the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and even the U.S. Secret Service. Some specific homeland security career options include:
- Customs and Border Protection, such as a Border Patrol Officer
- A Natural Disasters Specialist for organizations like FEMA
- First Responder to both natural and man-made disasters
- Computer Scientist, Engineer, or Physicist
- Cyber Crime Investigator
- Detention Officer in Immigration and Customs
- Criminal Investigator for TSA or Secret Service
- FBI Agent
All of the above can also fall under the category of criminal justice careers, specifically in the pillar of law enforcement. However, the criminal justice system encompasses other pillars as well, including courts (jurisdiction, defense, and prosecution) and corrections (prisons, probation, and rehabilitation). Criminal justice career options are undoubtedly vast, including high-demand positions such as:
- State or Federal Police Officer
- Lawyer (either Prosecution or Defense)
- Corrections Officer
- Forensic Scientist or Technician
- Probation Officer
- Patrol Officer
- DEA Agent
- TSA Officer
- Federal Bureau of Prisons
- Private or Personal Security Agent
- Public Safety Officer
- Prison or Forensic Psychologist
- Prison Warden
- And many more!
If you see yourself protecting the people or specific populations, there is no doubt that a criminal justice career is for you. If you see yourself specifically defending the greater nation, your career path is driven more towards a high-level, homeland security career. But to be sure, let’s assess the different takeaways and curriculums of each degree program.
Deciding Between a Homeland Security or Criminal Justice Degree
If you are deciding between a homeland security or a criminal justice major, it is important to choose the degree that most aligns with your interests and goals. While many criminal justice careers – within or outside of homeland security – may not require a specific degree focus (for example: certain law enforcement agencies may just require a bachelor’s degree), it can help to choose a program that you will be actively interested in and excited about. This degree program will offer you specialized knowledge and skillsets in your path of choice, as well as an active, hands-on internship in a professional setting, putting you at a great advantage for your dream career.
Criminal justice degree programs are usually offered at the associate- or bachelor’s degree level. In criminal justice school, you can expect to learn the ins and outs of the American criminal justice system (including the juvenile justice system), as well as the skills necessary for modern law enforcement, security, emergency response, and investigative professions.
Homeland security degree programs are also offered at different levels, including bachelor’s and associate degrees. In general, these programs cover topics such as emergency planning, terrorism (both domestic and international), personal and physical security, as well as the operations, ethics, and impact of the homeland security professionals today.
Goodwin College in Connecticut offers associate degree programs in both Criminal Justice and Homeland Security. We also offer a bachelor’s degree program in Public Safety and Security, for those looking to advance their education and level of impact in this growing field. To learn which degree program is right for you, please do not hesitate to reach out. Call us at 800-889-3282 or explore our degrees online: Homeland Security and Criminal Justice.
Goodwin College is a nonprofit institution of higher education and is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE), formerly known as the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Goodwin College was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.