So you want to fight crime, but you would feel a little silly walking around your city in tights and a cape. Maybe you have always been fascinated by forensic science. Or dreamed of wearing a police uniform. Or loved the idea of working for the federal government in the Department of Homeland Security. So you’ve decided to pursue a criminal justice degree—but what exactly does that mean?
The first step in pursuing a criminal justice degree is research. Ask yourself these questions:
- What kind of work environment do I want?
- Do I see myself in an office? In a courtroom? Out in the field?
- Do I want to work on the local, state or federal level?
- Am I more interested in law enforcement or the court system?
- How much education do I want to pursue? Am I looking to get an associates degree—or do I want to work towards a master’s degree?
- What is my desired salary?
Criminal justice degrees range from a Masters in Public Administration to an Associates Degree. If you are having a hard time figuring out what kind of degree to pursue, try to figure out what kind of career you would like to have. For example, if you are looking to become an FBI agent, you will need a four-year degree from an accredited university. A master’s degree is not required. However, having an advanced degree could give you an edge over the competition. The mandatory requirements to become an FBI agent reach far beyond a criminal justice degree: you must be between the ages of 23 and 37 when appointed to your position as an agent with at least three years of work experience. You also must be a U.S citizen.
However, not all criminal justice careers require extensive background checks and masters degrees. For example, if you wanted to become a bailiff, you might not even need a criminal justice degree – some states only require you have a G.E.D.
Clearly the criminal justice field is wide ranging with a large variety of degree requirements. But how do varying degree programs translate into earnings? The average salary of a bailiff is $32,000. However, the starting salary of an FBI agent is $51,000.
But what about the most common career associated with a criminal justice degree – police officer? State and federal police positions require a bachelor’s degree. Specific education requirements vary from state to state. The median salary of a police officer is approximately $46,000.
Earning a criminal justice degree can lead to a wide variety of careers and open a lot of doors. It is important to ask yourself what kind of opportunities you would like and what kind of doors you would like opened to you. A criminal justice degree doesn’t limit your opportunities—it expands them. You can clearly do a lot with a criminal justice degree. However, it’s up to you to decide what kind of career your want.
Jessica Reedy is a journalism student currently working as an intern for National Public Radio in Washington, D.C.