Is a Criminal Justice Degree Useful?

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File:US Navy 091029-N-7498L-066 Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Denise Darling received the certificate of recognition for completing her bachelors degree in Criminal Justice with emphasis in cyber crime.jpg

Information Systems Technician 2nd Class Denise Darling is honored with a Certificate of Recognition for completing a Bachelor criminal justice degree with a specialization in cyber crime.

Some online discussion boards reveal that some people consider a criminal justice degree to be a “waste of time,” a “cake walk” or too generic, meaning graduates will have difficulty finding employment once they are finished. Although we at CJSI may seem biased, we objectively disagree.

Any degree you choose to complete—whether it is in criminal justice, law, sociology, computer science, law enforcement, engineering, pre-med or public administration—is only a waste of time if you allow it to be. In other words, it will be as beneficial as you choose to make it…but more on that later.

Let’s look at some specific examples where completion of a criminal justice degree leads to a fulfilling career:

Success Stories

  • The Criminal Justice Success Stories section of the St. John’s University in Queens, New York website describes Lewis Rice who graduated from the school in 1974. From there he embarked on a 26-year career with the DEA and now he is vice president of Global Security and Trademark Protection where he leads a global team of security agents charged with protecting Estée Lauder’s product line and personnel.
  • Dr. John W. Bizzack is the Commissioner of the Department of Criminal Justice Training (DOCJT) in Kentucky. Before this, he spent 25 years in law enforcement, where he rose to the rank of Captain, and he was also at one time the Director of the Council on Leadership and Criminal Justice Policy. His educational background consists of a criminal justice degree, a business administration degree and a PhD in Administration and Management (specializing in criminal justice administration).
  • Joseph J. Esposito, is the New York Police Department’s Chief of Department and he began his career with the NYPD in 1968. His educational background includes a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice.
  • A. T. Smith is the Deputy Director of the United States Secret Service. He completed a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice as well as two Master of Science degrees (one in Criminal Justice and one in Management).

 

Job Listings

After doing a quick Google search, here are just a few examples of job listings that count a criminal justice degree as meeting the educational requirement:

  • Criminalist (Level I)—Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation
  • Deputy Sheriff—York County Pennsylvania
  • Classification Specialist, Investigative Technician I, and Probation and Parole Officer—State of Alabama

 

Laura Jerpi, in her South Source article “Realistic Criminal Justice Careers—Conquering the CSI Effect” (May 2011), adds that there are various jobs open to criminal justice grads. “Denny Powers, interim chair for Criminal Justice at South University, says that some of the most common entry-level criminal justice careers include city police officer, juvenile correctional officer, corrections officer, deputy sheriff, probation agent at the state and federal level, border patrol agent, game warden, state police officer, and law enforcement positions in all branches of the armed services,” wrote Jerpi.

And Philip Carlan, in his abstract for his research paper “Do Officers Value Their Degrees?” (Law and Order, December 2006), specifically described how law enforcement officers found a criminal justice degree to be valuable: “The criminal justice degreed officers from this study overwhelmingly concluded that the criminal justice degree enhanced their abilities to engage in police administration activities,” wrote Carlan. “They believed that the advanced educational experience promoted skills related to communication, human relations, administration, and critical thinking.”

Tips to Make YOUR Criminal Justice Degree Useful

As was mentioned before, no matter how good the criminal justice degree program is (it’s best to look for an accredited program, led by instructors with experience in the field), it is up to you whether the educational experience is valuable.

  • Ideally the program will have an internship or co-op option. If not, create your own relevant volunteer experience by asking your instructors or employers in your community.
  • If the program is “too easy,” make it more challenging. This may mean digging deeper on an assignment or asking if you can act as a research assistant for a professor.
  • Take elective courses or concentrations that are directly related to your career goals. For example, if you would like to be a police officer, opt for a law enforcement or criminal investigation concentration. If you would like to be an FBI agent, minor in a second language, accounting, computer science or another key skill area valued by the Bureau.
  • Be realistic. After graduating with a criminal justice degree, you cannot immediately become a Special Agent, Detective or Commissioner. Earn your chops and find out if your “dream job” is offering internships (which may be offered while you are still completing your degree).

If you have completed a criminal justice degree, we would love to hear your two cents on whether the program served you well.

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