Criminal law

Criminal Justice Careers: How Much Schooling Do You Really Need?

You want that job in criminal justice. What you might not know is that it doesn’t require as much schooling as you’ve been told. Most agencies do want you to have some college degree, but the degree, and level of training, really depend on what area you’re interested in. If you want to be a police officer, for example, the skills and education are very different from what you would need as a forensic scientist.

criminal justice careers

The Degree
A bachelor’s degree is usually a bare minimum for most criminal justice positions. However, some law enforcement and criminology careers don’t require any degree. Instead, you can get by with vocational schooling and “on-the-job” training. Some jobs only require a GED or high school diploma. For example, dispatchers, correctional officers, and even some police officers only need a basic level of education.

Other jobs, like a crime scene investigator, will require that you be both scientifically inclined and that you have a degree in forensic science. Probation and community control officers also often require a bachelor’s degree. Academic professions, like college professors, forensic psychologists, and criminologists need a master’s or a doctorate.

The Skills
College is good for one thing: book knowledge. You’ll get all the academic education you need from college, but you won’t get any real-world experience. In criminal justice, experience counts. Report writing, for example, is a critical part of any criminal justice job. You absolutely must understand how to communicate ideas thoroughly and effectively.

College courses in English composition can make a huge difference in your writing and communication skills. So can freelance technical writing.

College courses in debate can also allow you to hone skills that you otherwise might not be able to practice in the field. Debate is something that will benefit you when dealing with people within your chain of command and with the general public.

When you’ve mastered debate, take on interpersonal communications classes in college. This will really help you deal with all sorts of personality types – it can even mean the difference between success and failure at your job, getting into the agency you want to, and dealing with the public and solving criminal cases.

Speaking to people in a way that makes them feel heard and validated is important – even if they are later proved to be wrong. That sense of “psychological visibility” helps you to solve problems, and that’s the essential nature of every criminal justice job in existence.

Test-taking is also a really great skill to have. Why? Because tests are a routine part of the hiring and promotion process in most criminal justice careers. Perfecting this in college might earn you a higher paycheck.

Taking The Initiative
Even if your chosen career doesn’t require a college-level education, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take college courses. Police, for example, can benefit from college-level interpersonal communications classes. It will help you when dealing with suspects, the general public, and it might even make it easier to get a promotion. The better you’re able to communicate with others, the easier your life will be.