I Have My Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice - Now What?

A female lawyer going over legal documents with a client and the text I have my degree in criminal justice. Now what?

Having achieved one goal of entering into a law enforcement profession, many personnel in the field next look to advance their careers and their ability to make a positive impact in their respective communities. Earning a criminal justice degree is an achievement that often comes with additional benefits but brings up another question: I have my bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Now what?

A High Degree of Advancement Potential

Joseph Medina.Joseph Medina had been passed up for a promotion multiple times. Frustrated, he approached his sergeant who suggested he do something to better himself in order to stand out to his employers, the Boston School Police Department. He did just that by earning an online criminal justice associate degree to boost his resume.

Medina earned his associate degree in criminal justice last October and was recently promoted to citywide mobile sergeant. Now he's taking aim at a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

"I attribute my education with my promotion and have seen, firsthand, the continued career opportunities that are now attainable as a result of earning my degree," he said.

David Lemieux earned his police administration degree, an achievement he said came with a raise from his current employer, the Portland Police Department in Maine.

“Portland has an agency of approximately 150 police officers; I chose criminal justice in police operations to advance through the ranks as I gain experience,” he said. “One of the reasons why I chose Portland was because of the room for advancement."

Of course, earning a degree while working full time comes with its own difficulties, and Lemieux said he needed to find a program that meshed with his work schedule, which typically involves second- and third-shift hours. A traditional on campus schedule wasn’t an option if he wanted to sleep, so he turned to an online criminal justice program, which he said offered the best value in terms of time, flexibility and price.

“It was a little bit of a challenge figuring out how to plan my work, personal time and school work,” he said.

Lemieux said he forced himself to break his weekly work into manageable chunks in order to meet assignment deadlines.

“Every instructor had a vast array of knowledge; they got back to you within 24-48 hours on a question that you might have,” he said. “The instructors know that life happens and were able to work with you if an incident came up.”

Finding the Right Fit for the Future

For those not currently working in law enforcement and those seeking a new career path in the field, there's plenty of opportunity. Published data from the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting division shows there were nearly 1 million full-time law enforcement employees in 2016. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports nearly 3.4 million total jobs in protective service occupations and a 5% job growth rate among police officers and detectives through 2028.

Those who aren't already employed or who are considering the next step for their careers can use their criminal justice degrees to gain entree into a number of fields including, according to Criminal Justice Degree Schools, the following:

  • Law Enforcement – Municipal and state police officer, federal agent, U.S. marshal, fish-and-game warden or conservation official
    Corrections – Correctional officer or treatment specialist, probation officer, substance abuse and behavioral disorder counselor
  • Forensics – Blood spatter analyst, computer forensic investigator, crime lab analyst, crime scene investigator, forensic ballistics expert
  • Homeland Security – Air marshal, Border Patrol Agent, CIA analyst or officer, Customs officer, emergency management director, Secret Service agent, TSA screener
  • Private Security – Bodyguard, fraud investigator, information security analyst, private investigator, security guard
  • Legal Services – Paralegal, victim's advocate

Others may decide to continue their education and earn a master's degree to help them in a specialized field such as advanced counterterrorism or public safety administration.

“After taking a couple of months off, I am going to continue my education and pursue my master’s degree in criminal justice and police operation,” said Lemieux.

Criminal Justice Careers for Veterans

A career in criminal justice is a natural transition for many U.S. military veterans. Experience in the military can prepare you well for a role in a para-military organization such as law enforcement. But there are other options, too, including corrections, probation and more.

Some veterans worry their military service will work against them in a job search. In fact, the opposite is true. According to a 2017 Career Builder survey, 48% of employers pay more attention to a resume from a veteran. The survey also found that 40% of employers planned to recruit veterans in the next year and half said they had hired a veteran in the previous 12 months.

Some of the most highly-sought skills employers said they valued from veteran employees include:

  • Teamwork - 63%
  • Disciplined approach to work - 60%
  • Integrity - 59%
  • Performance under pressure - 52%
  • Leadership - 52%
  • Problem-solving skills - 52%

Mark Evenson, adjunct faculty at SNHU, was in the Army himself before becoming a police officer. He knows firsthand the benefits veterans bring to criminal justice careers. “It’s a natural transition,” he said, speaking of their maturity, diversified training, and willingness to take on responsibility.

Military veterans are accustomed to working within a strict hierarchy, taking orders, and helping each other as a team. Close work with colleagues from many backgrounds has often given them interpersonal skills and self-confidence. These skills can hold them in good stead when dealing with stressful or dangerous situations; and, Evenson said, “You could apply the same to other fields in criminal justice, (such as) corrections or probation officer.”

In addition to being required more often to work in criminal justice fields, veterans who have bachelor's degrees are employed more often than those with a high school diploma, according to BLS.

The Unofficial Benefits

David Lemieux.

Having achieved his goal of earning a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, Lemieux said he has a newfound confidence in his job duties.

“My affidavits have significantly improved,” said Lemieux. “This was because of the projects and milestones we had to complete in each course. My instructors were able to provide me the proper feedback of how to obtain references and put them in a (proper) format. (My criminal justice degree) has also provided me with the knowledge in constitutional law to conduct proper police community involvement.”

Similarly, Medina said there have been many practical benefits in addition to his promotion and obvious monetary gain.

"I feel that through my education I learned more about the other agencies that I interact with, such as the court system and the corrections system," he said. "I also learned a great deal about how a lot of the principles and tactics utilized in modern policing came to be."

Most important, said Medina, is the impact he's experienced at home.

"The promotion has enabled me to better provide for me and my son," he said, "and my earning of my degree has made my son realize the importance of education and has motivated him to want to go to college.”

Ryan O'Connor works in higher education marketing at Southern New Hampshire University. Follow him on Twitter @NHRyGuy or connect on LinkedIn.

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