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Criminal justice offers an interesting, versatile field of study that leads to an array of rewarding career possibilities. Whether students enroll in a criminal justice degree online or in a traditional, brick-and-mortar program, the curriculum emphasizes the same common features: the functions of the courts, law enforcement, causes and prevention of crime, the treatment of offenders and victims, and disparities in policing and the justice system.
This overview discusses how an online criminal justice degree prepares graduates for a variety of well-paying career opportunities in law enforcement and the legal system, social services and government, and the private industry.
What is Criminal Justice?
An online criminal justice degree covers various courses, including criminal law and corrections, research methods, and statistics. Several programs offer specializations in high-demand areas like homeland security, cybercrime, juvenile justice, and criminal investigation.
An online bachelor's in criminal justice serves as a catalyst for many entry-level careers and can provide students with a competitive edge over job applicants without a degree. Most law enforcement positions require at least an associate degree. Federal agencies, including the FBI and Secret Service, only hire graduates with a bachelor's degree or higher. In addition to employment in law enforcement and corrections, this versatile credential provides skills that easily transfer to nontraditional career paths. Criminal justice graduates can pursue careers in fields such as fraud investigation, mediation, forensics, substance abuse counseling, and gaming surveillance.
Degree holders can expect a stable employment outlook and above-average compensation. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 5% employment growth for all protective service occupations from 2016 through 2026. In 2017, protective service occupations earned a median annual wage of $39,550, which is slightly higher than all other jobs. The BLS also projects strong employment growth and high salaries for graduates pursuing criminal justice occupations like detective and criminal investigator, probation officer, and emergency management director. Graduates entering the job market with an online criminal justice bachelor's degree should find ample career possibilities that align with their career goals. This degree also provides a strong foundation for graduate studies in law school or criminal justice-related fields.
What Can I Do with an Online Criminal Justice Bachelor's Degree?
Program requirements for online criminal justice degrees differ by school and program, but they all share common features. A criminal justice degree provides its graduates with an understanding of the workings of the legal and judicial systems, criminal law, and crime prevention. This section discusses how the skills and knowledge gained in an online bachelor's in criminal justice apply to a variety of well-compensated and rewarding careers.
Skills and Knowledge Gained
The best online criminal justice programs deliver substantive knowledge about the judicial system, law, and ethics. These programs teach critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills, allowing students to choose specializations that directly relate to their professional goals. Online criminal justice degrees also encourage students to complete internships and capstone projects to hone their skills in preparation for their prospective careers.
For example, students pursuing careers in law enforcement and criminal investigation need to take courses in these subfields to build their analytical skills. They should also apply for internships at local police departments or complete residencies with federal agencies. Students interested in homeland security and emergency preparedness careers should choose electives that cover domestic and international terrorism, national security and intelligence, and emergency administration. Students can also find internships with government agencies like the DHS or FEMA, along with companies that deliver security and emergency management services.
The increasing demand for cybercrime specialists requires graduates with specialized skills in digital forensics and risk assessment management. Students interested in this career path should choose a program that offers a digital forensics concentration, acquire technological and computer skills, and look for internships in information security.
Many students who want to attend law school often major in criminal justice as undergraduates, taking courses in criminal law, the court system, and ethics. Pre-law students should keep in mind that law schools generally look for well-rounded applicants with high GPAs in all their liberal arts and science classes, regardless of their majors. Criminal justice majors seeking admittance to law school might consider a second major or minor in political science, government, or economics.
Careers and Salary Potential
An online bachelor's in criminal justice provides a pathway to steady employment opportunities across the U.S. in both the public and private sector. Degree holders find placements in well-paying positions that offer job security and career advancement. Many criminal justice majors accept jobs as police detectives, correctional officers, private investigators, and security guards. Other in-demand careers include paralegals, criminal justice teachers, substance abuse counselors, victim rights advocates, and digital forensic specialists. This section describes some of these career possibilities.
- Government: The majority of law enforcement professionals find employment with local, state, and federal government agencies. Many positions in federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, require a bachelor's degree or higher.
- Educational Services: Educators with at least a bachelor's teach at police academies and in certification programs. These trainers offer courses in topics like drug recognition and emergency readiness. Instructors also teach in non-law enforcement certification programs in areas such as victim advocacy and mediation.
Police and Detectives
Annual Median Salary : $62,960
While duties differ for each state and local law enforcement agency, police officers and detectives conduct surveillance and uncover evidence for criminal investigations.
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
Annual Median Salary : $51,410
These professionals coordinate the rehabilitation of individuals released on probation or parole, assisting offenders to fulfill the conditions of their release. They also connect their clients with services such as drug counseling and job placement.
Security Guards and Gaming Surveillance Officers
Annual Median Salary : $26,960
Working in a variety of settings, including shopping malls and casinos, these security professionals protect property against theft, monitor alarm and surveillance systems, respond to emergencies, and detain violators.
Annual Median Salary : $59,250
The se professionals investigate fraudulent activity and financial theft, often working in insurance and banking industries. They examine records and data, interview involved parties, resolve cases, and administer fraud prevention and detection plans.
Annual Median Salary : $67,162
Intelligence analysts work for government agencies or contractors, evaluating information about security threats and conducting research. Because they work with highly sensitive databases and maintain confidential intelligence records, some analysts must obtain a security clearance.
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