Is a Criminal Justice Degree Worth It?

Police school

There seem to be opinions that those who pursue a criminal justice degree are spending their hard-earned money on a degree that’s going to be useless. The truth is that it’s a highly desirable degree when coupled with a quality program at a reputable college or university.

Evaluating Criminal Justice Degree Programs
Reputable schools and especially those who have aggressive advertising budgets give the Criminal Justice programs a bad name. The drive-thru effect of graduating students ill-equipped for the real world job market leaves much to be desired.

The reality is that most popular degree programs – not only criminal justice – fall under this presumption and the advent of online learning has created many critics.

Don’t just apply to the first school you saw in your search results – dig deeper for the best fit. Even if your grades weren’t what they could have been in high school or college, aim higher and apply to at least several schools. And probably the biggest thing of all, pick a reputable school that is properly accredited. This means people who know the industry and the educational system have looked at it and have ensured that this is a good place to go.

Remember, you too are being evaluated. Admissions representatives and recruiters are looking for the best possible candidates who will have success at their programs. Who really wants a person with a questionable academic record, questionable character, or a total slacker-like attitude working in the criminal justice system; enforcing laws and protecting people, of all things? No one.

But is it worth it to spend the time and money in hopes of landing a better job?

Going to school for a criminal justice degree can be fairly lucrative when used in conjunction with your education, size of the organization you want to work for, and overall time on the job. For example, in terms of law enforcement job opportunities, like those of a police officer, a Sheriff’s deputy, a detective, or an FBI Special Agent, those applying in mid to large municipal, county, state or federal agencies are often required to have a college degree at the time of application.

Mid to large-size agencies usually pay much better than smaller ones and can pay significantly for each level of education above the standard requirement. There’s a big push for four-year college grads, so, those interested in an Associate’s degree, may want to think about a Bachelor program long term.

Keep in mind that entry-level salaries in Criminal Justice may seem low, but they are ENTRY LEVEL. After you go through your probationary period, thus increasing your seniority, your salary should go up (oftentimes significantly) and advancement opportunities should become more available (keeping in line with the law enforcement example above). Small departments, like those located in villages and townships, may require as little as a high school diploma or a GED, but you get the pay that is commensurate with that minimum educational requirement.

It’s not uncommon to see senior law enforcement officers making high five-figure salaries when performing duties at larger agencies.

What are the Pros and Cons of a Criminal Justice Degree?
If you are interested in working within the criminal justice system; for example, in correctional or law enforcement fields, then you picked the right degree. Be aware that even when a college degree is a requirement in order to apply for or obtain the job, you don’t have to take just take criminal justice – degrees in business, accounting, and law are also quite desirable.

Look towards the future and what are your ultimate goals: if the NSA needs a computer specialist, it probably wants someone with a computer programming or information technology (IT) educational background. If your State Police wants to solve crimes through bullet trajectory analysis, lift latent prints, get a definite photo or video enhancement, or DNA test materials you should probably look directly into the field of Forensic Science. Or you could consider degrees like Physics, Chemistry, Digital Photography, and Biochemistry. These will also play a huge role.

A degree in criminal justice can have its drawbacks. It is best for those that want to pursue one of the many careers in criminal justice. So, is a Criminal Justice Degree a Waste of Time? No, especially if you have aspirations to work within the criminal justice field, have a good credit history and a clean criminal record. This is a great starting place. Today, people will have many different jobs under the heading of their careers.

Reasons why you may not consider a career in Criminal Justice:

• If you have a criminal record that’s has a significant number of domestic violence and felony convictions
• If you have DUIs that are recent or repetitive.
• If your credit is poor, with outstanding collections, judgments, and bankruptcies. If you are working on a plan to recover your credit, you still may be considered.
• If you’re nearing the national traditional cut off for a first-time criminal justice employee age of 36
• If you actually have little interest in the field
• If you only want a desk job/office job – other degrees are more suitable
• If you don’t want to carry a firearm, or will not work on your marksmanship.

So Is a Criminal Justice Degree Worth It? Yes, it’s totally worth it!

Ultimately, a graduate degree in Criminal Justice or Criminology may help those interested in non-front line positions, such as research and teaching opportunities. These are where restrictions on age, work environment, and lethal accessories are a non-issue. Remember, that even if you get your shiny Master’s or a Ph.D. degree, real-world experience is also an important component as your education.