Many of us have an idea of what it means to work in criminal justice. Maybe it’s an idea of a lawyer, defending his client in front of a jury. Or, maybe it’s the idea of police cars, patrolling the streets and keeping crime out of our neighborhoods. In reality, law enforcemant has many faces. If you work in some capacity helping keep the peace, an online criminal justice degree may be the best educational program for you. Criminal justice professionals study theoretical and practical ways to fight crime and promote healthy rehabilitation in society. As a law enforcement professional, your work hours may be long and uncertain. Earning a criminal justice degree online can help you further your career while remaining unemployed on the night shift or under cover helping to restore civil order. Justice professionals who benefit from this major include police officers, federal agents, private security professionals, homeland security officials, prison administrators, and military police.
THE CAREER PATH
Professionals that are interested in maintaining justice can use their unique skills and talents in careers that can range from our local police departments all the way to the FBI, from collecting evidence from crime scenes to helping corporations navigate complex tax laws. There are plenty of options for stable, rewarding careers in criminal justice that can fit any lifestyle.
If you are passionate about the idea of safe communities and healthy people, then you are bound for a journey to your perfect career in criminal justice. It doesn’t have to be difficult to get started, and many professionals are able to enter the field immediately out of high school or make a choice of getting their higher education to gain more competitive skills.
Jobs in criminal justice fall into two primary categories—law enforcement jobs and legal jobs. Jobs in law enforcement may be more appropriate with individuals who are interested in getting involved directly with anything related to crime, from preventing it all the way through punishing it. Legal jobs, on the other hand, are for individuals that are more focused on providing legal services and understanding the law of the land.
The role of criminal justice professionals can look vastly different between different types of careers and agencies. There are specializations in almost every type of role, and they can suit almost any set of interests and skills. The United States Department of Labor gives an overview of some of the most popular careers in criminal justice:
- Forensic Scientist – Most people associate forensic science with their favorite investigative drama series on TV—CSI or Law and Order. The truth is that there’s much more depth to the forensic sciences than what they show on the screen, and these professions include any study and application of scientific methods used for purposes related to the law. Most employers will require at least a bachelor’s degrees of forensic science candidates. There are many certifications available from various professional organizations related to forensic science, and although they are not required, they can provide a competitive edge to a resume and some employers prefer them. With the advancements in technology making it possible to solve crimes with a broader variety of means, the demand for forensic science professionals to draw conclusions is expected to grow by 17% in the coming decade. Not only is this forensic science a reliable career, but it is a rewarding one that pays nearly $60,000 each year on average.
- Lawyer – Licensed lawyers advise and represent individuals, businesses, organizations, and government agencies on legal issues and disputes. In order to practice law, professionals must get their Juris Doctorate (J.D.) and obtain their license to practice through admission to their state bar. All of the schooling pays off for lawyers who make an average annual income of nearly $120,000.
- Arbitrator, Mediator, or Conciliator – These law professionals are impartial third parties that seek to use their knowledge and skills around the law to facilitate negotiations between opposing parties and resolve conflicts outside of the court system. Since negotiating outside of court is often much quicker and less expensive for everyone involved, there’s an increase in demand for these qualified legal professions. Jobs are anticipated to grow by at least 10% in the coming decade, and the average professional makes nearly $60,000 each year.
- Paralegal or Legal Assistant – While lacking the same legal jurisdiction as lawyers, they make the work of lawyers possible by supporting them in a variety of legal and administrative tasks from maintaining documents to conducting research. Becoming a paralegal is one of the quickest ways to gain experience in law. Paralegals make an average salary of nearly $50,000 each year, and it is a great time to look into this accessible career. The demand for paralegals is expected to grow by 15% in the next few years, as organizations and individuals look for cheaper alternatives to solve their legal needs and resolve their disputes.
- Cybersecurity Specialist – The network that we now know as the “internet,” has exploded into a expanding, infinite, global network of possibility. Cyber security is the science of protecting computers, their networks, and cyberspace against malicious attacks. The United States Department of Labor (DOL) generally refers to professionals in the field of cyber security as Information Security Analysts. The time is ripe for careers as an information security analyst. The increasing number and intensity of cyberattacks is causing an increased demand for highly skilled professionals to create innovative solutions to new threats—these types of jobs are anticipated to grow by nearly 28% in the coming decade. Not only are these careers readily available, but they are also highly rewarding. The average information security analyst makes more than $92,000 each year, and most professionals will need a bachelor’s degree to qualify for such positions.
WHO IS THE IDEAL CANDIDATE?
Careers in criminal justice are for many different types of professionals with a passion for justice and safety. More often than not, professionals in criminal justice fields are the type of people that have strong communication and interpersonal skills that allow them to form relationships and work with people from all kind of backgrounds.
They are the type of professionals that are prepared to deal with stressful, dangerous, and upsetting situations while they are on the job. They are able to keep their emotions in check and think critically under pressure in those situations to make decisions that could impact people for the rest of their lives. Often, they need the physical and emotional strength to be compassionate towards adults that they may have to restrain or confront during acts of crime or resistance.
Individuals that may choose to work on the legal side of criminal justice may have the skills that are needed to conduct thorough research, with an eye for detail and the type of analytical mindset that provides for creative problem solving.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
You have options when it comes to picking the best type of online criminal justice degree program for your career goals. A standard criminology degree remains a top pick with police cadets and security personnel as well as correctional officers. If you're more interested in science and technology, consider an online forensics degree, which could land you a gig as a CSI or forensics crime scene investigator.
The online homeland security degree is an in-demand major, and perfect if you're interested in domestic crime control and terrorism. Military personnel and veterans looking to transition into a civilian job may also want to consider homeland security. However, not all criminal justice jobs require hands-on work with crime. An online public administration degree could lead you to a management career in the justice, corrections or military sector.
Regardless of the major you choose, a career in state or federal law enforcement typically starts with a bachelor's degree. You could pursue an online criminal justice degree or an allied degree major. A degree is highly recommended for state and federal positions. If you already work in federal or state law enforcement, earning a bachelor's degree will also help you qualify for the highest paying positions.
To work as an FBI agent or in the Secret Service, you generally need a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Investigative careers, such as CSI or detective work, also require at least a bachelor's degree. For some statistical or forensic positions, you may even benefit from a master's degree. Advanced online criminal justice programs may also let you switch careers and jump into law enforcement.
Specialized programs may require accreditation or certification from the appropriate professional associations, such as the American Bar Association (ABA) for law programs, the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) for forensic science programs, the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP) for emergency management studies, and the Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), for computer-related criminal justice. Professionals that are considering careers in criminal justice will want to do thorough research on jobs that are related to their specific goals and interests.
Our rankings reveal that the average cost of a online bachelor's degree in criminal justice in the United States is just under $47,000. The average cost of an online master's program is $20,000. Use this data to compare programs you are considering. The most affordable programs will cost thousands less than average. Additionally, make sure to factor in additional costs for school supplies, certification exams, and more. It’s critical to look into programs that meet your goals and needs by offering internships, specialized courses, and other exceptional opportunities.