A StraighterLine conversation with Dr. Alexis J. Miller, Ph.D. in Criminal Justice
Dr. Miller teaches criminal justice online and in the traditional classroom. When it comes to the education of students of criminal justice, she’s been on the front line for years.
If you are wondering how to get started with a career in criminal justice, these tips will help you prepare yourself to successfully earn a degree in criminal justice and get started with your career.
1 - Know Yourself
The criminal justice field is not for the timid or reactionary. It’s an intense career that requires a special kind of person. If you can’t deal with the sight of blood, a job on the police force probably is not a good fit. If you get easily flustered or are quick to temper, you may also want to consider another field. After all, you will be dealing with people who might swear at you, insult you, and call you some pretty nasty names – as a police officer you need to be able to maintain your self-control at all times, in all kinds of difficult circumstances.
2 - If You Have a Felony, Forget About It
While it may be fascinating to better understand a system you’ve been a part of, when it comes time to get a job, your prospects will be limited. Before you pour your tuition dollars and time into pursuing a criminal justice degree, you might want to look at alternatives.
3 - Be Honest
You cannot lie your way out of past experimentation or mistakes. As you pursue a career in criminal justice, be upfront about your history. Drug charges are a big issue. A single DUI offense or a one-time marijuana possession may have the potential to be overlooked at the local level, but will never be overlooked by the FBI. Be honest about your past personal history.
4 - Statistics, Statistics, Statistics (Again!)
Statistics aren’t just for the classroom. They have important real world applications. When you’re out in the field, you will be enforcing laws based upon policy taken from academic studies. And as you move up the ladder into supervisory roles, you’ll need to be able to record data, implement protocols based on statistics, and recommend good policy when it comes to public safety.
Taking an online statistics class for college credit can be a helpful refresher for a working adult. And if you choose to go back to school to upgrade to a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice, you will be taking a statistics course – and be expected to understand how to use it in practice.
5 - If You Are an Adult Learner, Don’t Wait to Earn Your Degree
Many careers in criminal justice come with an expiration date. For example, if you are interested in any type of criminal justice job with a federal law agency – once you hit age 35 you will be out of luck. As an adult learner, frequently with a job, family and other responsibilities, the flexibility of online college courses makes getting your degree easier.
6 - Consider a Career in Corrections
Students of criminal justice often hope for a career in the federal government, such as the FBI. The truth is, these and other non-federal police jobs can be extremely difficult to obtain. While it’s great to have goals, some other viable and well-paying career paths are often overlooked. A career in corrections provides just that – a pathway to use your criminal justice degree and be well compensated in the process.
Since there’s a lot of career shuffling in corrections (including an admittedly high turnover rate), there is opportunity to move up the ladder quickly. You may even be eligible to become a warden in about 10 years, particularly if you have earned your Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice. Given that wardens can make around $100k, there’s a good financial incentive drive to earn your degree.
More Than a Job
Criminal Justice is a career that rewards educational achievement. It takes a special kind of person to become a police or parole officer or to work in corrections. Before you enter the field, take a good hard look at yourself and assess if your personality is a good match for the job. Committing to a career in criminal justice is far more than just taking a job – it’s taking on, and being absorbed by, a culture. If this culture appeals to you, aim high academically and you will find success.