How to Get Started in Criminal Justice - Tips For Criminal Justice Students

A StraighterLine conversation with Dr. Alexis J. Miller, Ph.D. in Criminal Justice

By Beth Dumbauld

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.

We’ve assembled a list of her recommendations to help you get started on your path towards successfully earning a degree in criminal justice .

What Education Do You Need for a Career in Criminal Justice?

A career in criminal justice rewards those students who receive a high level of education. It’s a changing field - no longer blue collar. To become a detective or a chief of police, you will need a bachelor’s degree. No matter your career entry point, you will need to understand statistics to control crime. To understand statistics, you will need to take a statistics course , whether online or on-campus.

As you move along the criminal justice career path, you may even need to earn a master’s degree to obtain the position you aspire to, particularly in leadership.

Police Academy Training or an Associate Degree in Criminal Justice

You should consider police academy training if you are looking to be a part of a smaller police force or work in a small town. However, most training academies at the state and city level (50+ employees) require 60 college credit hours of education for an individual even to be considered for a police officer position. What this means is that you’ll be required to obtain college credit equivalent to an associate degree in order to just be able to apply for a job. An Associate Degree in Criminal Justice is often considered the minimum educational entry point for work in the criminal justice field, including those who are looking to become police officers.

Furthermore, to carry a firearm as a police officer, you need to be at least 21. If you are a recent high school graduate, even if you wanted to, you cannot become a police officer until you hit that age.

Be proactive; use those years after high school to get work experience and graduate from college. Getting a job will show future employers that you have the ability to show up on time each day and that you are reliable. Earning your college degree will give you the qualifications necessary to be considered for the criminal justice jobs you are interested in.

A Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice

Dr. Miller recommends that a student of criminal justice aim high academically… and perform even higher. A good GPA is good; a great GPA is even better. About 90% of students who graduate with a degree in criminal justice want to work in federal law enforcement. Expect most of your academic cohort across the nation to apply for the limited job openings that are available at the federal level. The competition is fierce. You won’t even be considered for a job within the FBI without your bachelor’s degree.

Even in state police or big city departments (50+ employees), it’s extremely competitive for open positions. Earning a bachelor’s degree can give you an edge over those who only have an associate degree. Performing well in your classes and earning a high GPA can help you to stand out from the pack.

Dr. Miller also offers up this insight: many police officers with an associate degree go back to earn their bachelor’s degree. There is a lot of perceived value and many benefits to having your bachelor’s degree. There is a strong case for forging ahead once you start college and pursuing your Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice from the get-go.

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