The criminal justice field is full of dedicated officers, knowledgeable court officials, and tactical investigators who all work together to keep our communities safe. In their own ways, each of these professionals have an incredible impact on the greater good. This makes criminal justice a highly gratifying – and appealing – line of work. If you are aspiring to enter law enforcement, corrections, courts, or criminal investigations, you may be wondering about the steps to get started: Do you need a criminal justice degree in order to land a job? Is a criminal justice degree worth the investment?
Let’s start with the basics.
Do You Need a Degree to Work in Criminal Justice?
The requirements for a criminal justice career depend on several factors, including the job title, employer, and state of work. Each place of work will have their own standards and prerequisites, and job requirements will vary based on the scope of work involved. For example, federal government agencies – like the Drug Enforcement Administration or Federal Bureau of Investigation – require a college degree (and often a bachelor’s degree) among applicants. Many agencies, both private and government, also require a college degree among those seeking a promotion or managerial role.
While it depends on the employer, aspiring police officers typically do not need a college degree to get started. However, this is a recommended step for those seeking a career in law enforcement. There are a couple reasons for this. Firstly, it sets you apart from the competition. Today, more than half of police officers in the United States have a two-year college degree. About one-third of officers hold a four-year, bachelor’s degree, according to research from the Police Foundation.
Most officers actually earn their degrees after getting hired, which brings us to the second benefit of a criminal justice degree: It may enhance your quality of work and skillsets on the job. Some studies report that college-educated officers are less likely to engage in the use of force than those with only a high school education. Other research supports this, stating that officers with a college education are 30 percent less likely to fire their weapons. With the modern day’s calls for criminal justice reform, a college degree can be an incredible asset in helping you pave the way for change.
Why Is a Criminal Justice Degree Worth It?
As noted above, a criminal justice degree can:
- Help you stand out when applying for a job, in a highly competitive workforce
- Position you for advancement opportunities and leadership positions (and, in turn higher pay potential)
- Qualify you to work for federal government agencies
- Enhance your quality of work and level of knowledge within the field
The reason behind all of these benefits is actually quite simple. Criminal justice degree programs are designed to equip you with versatile knowledge and skills that can be directly applied to a career. In a degree program, you can learn about the structure of the U.S. Criminal Justice System as well as the contemporary challenges facing today’s professionals. You can take specific courses in law and ethics as well as cultural competence. You can also learn about the psychology of the criminal and contemporary perspectives regarding ethical procedures in this field. These courses can provide a mindful foundation that some officers without college experience might lack.
Additionally, a criminal justice degree prepares with you with career-oriented skills in all facets of the field: investigative reporting, criminology, grant writing, emergency planning, and more. You can then apply those learned skills to practical experiences in an internship, a required part of your studies. With that, you can gain direct, hands-on experience in criminal justice before applying for jobs in the field.
Is a Criminal Justice Degree Worth the Investment?
There is no question that college is an investment. In addition to tuition costs, college also requires a time commitment – which can be tough for already-working professionals. Fortunately, there are options to ease the level of investment required for college today. For example, scholarships and grants are available to aspiring college students. (At Goodwin, 94 percent of students receive this financial aid.) Additionally, there are flexible programs available for those who are balancing multiple priorities. The right criminal justice school will offer classes on a schedule that works for you – whether that is days, evenings, online, on-campus, or even in a part-time format.
So, is a criminal justice degree worth it? With the prospect of advanced career opportunities, valuable and versatile skill sets, and a competitive edge in the field, the answer is yes. Obtaining a criminal justice education can position you for long-term success and upward mobility in the field.
Ready to get started? Learn about the criminal justice and public safety programs at Goodwin University. Whether you dream of becoming a federal agent or working in your local corrections facility, our associate and bachelor’s degree programs can help you succeed. Request more information online today.
Goodwin University 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 University was founded in 1999, with the goal of serving a diverse student population with career-focused degree programs that lead to strong employment outcomes.