College Major of the Month: Criminal Justice
A college major in criminal justice can lead to a number of career paths, from a police officer to a lawyer to a victim’s advocate. With all the career possibilities, we’re spotlighting criminal justice as this month’s My College Guide College Major of the Month.
What is criminal justice?
Criminal justice is a wide-ranging major and career field. A degree in criminal justice can prepare you for a career as a judge, law enforcement officer, lawyer, mediator, police detective, paralegal or legal assistant, probation officer/corrections specialist, security guard or victim’s advocate. You can also get your criminal justice degree online.
For all criminal justice jobs, you’ll need strong communication, critical thinking and decision making skills, as well as an ability to cope emotionally with difficult or upsetting circumstances.
What education and experience is required for criminal justice majors?
A bachelor’s degree is typically required for entry-level positions in criminal justice careers. You’ll take courses on the law, criminal procedures, ethics, theories on criminal behavior and other social sciences and humanities topics. Some fields may require additional education or training beyond a bachelor’s degree. For example, to become a police officer, you’ll need to go through a police agency’s training academy. To become a lawyer, you’ll need to attend graduate school and earn a Juris Doctor degree.
When choosing a university, consider the focus of the school’s curriculum and how it fits with your career aspirations. Some programs focus primarily on training for law enforcement careers, while other programs focus more broadly on the issues of justice. For example, Mount Mary University’s (WI) justice program focuses on a survivor’s perspective of justice.
How much money do criminal justice majors make?
The average starting salary for a criminal justice graduate with a bachelor’s degree is $34,800, according to the September 2013 National Association of Colleges and Employers Salary Survey. Salaries vary depending on your career path, specific job, employer and location. For example, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2012 median annual salary was:
- $46,990 for paralegals
- $48,190 for probation officers
- $56,980 for police officers and detectives
- $61,280 for mediators
- $113,530 for lawyers
How should I prepare in high school to major in criminal justice?
Take courses in social sciences and humanities (such as sociology and psychology), as well as government and political science in high school. In addition, some jobs (such as police officers) may require certain physical qualifications, so it’s important to begin an exercise routine to become or remain physically fit. It’s also important to follow the laws and stay drug free, since a felony or other conviction (even for something minor) could impact your career opportunities.
What college scholarships are available for criminal justice majors?
There are many local college scholarships for students seeking a criminal justice degree. For example, the Constitutional Officers’ Association of Georgia (COAG) offers three scholarships ranging from $500 to $1,500 for Georgia high school graduates, while the Indiana Sheriffs’ Association awards scholarships to Indiana students each year. National police and law associations may also offer scholarships. The U.S. government offers scholarships, too, such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Scholarship Program.