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Why Study Criminal Justice?

Updated on August 30, 2013
Studying criminal justice brings job opportunities from practicing law to working in law enforcement
Studying criminal justice brings job opportunities from practicing law to working in law enforcement

Deciding on a college major is an important and difficult task. The degree you earn will inevitably shape your professional career for the remainder of your life. Before you declare a major, we suggest you research fields that interest you to find out what you can expect from your career later in life. There’s no rush to declare a major, either; the first two years of college typically comprise general education requirements. Many students take a few electives in different subject areas to find something they truly enjoy.

If you’re interested in learning more about criminal justice degrees and careers, you’ve come to the right place. Why study criminal justice? There are lots of reasons. The career provides an outlet for graduates to perform a variety of job functions that are financially rewarding and fulfilling. No matter what echelon of the discipline you may find yourself in, the criminal justice field as a whole has many perks and benefits.

Employment opportunities

A degree in criminal justice can prepare you for many different criminal justice jobs. Criminal justice professionals work in all facets of the justice system. Graduates who choose to go into law enforcement may find employment with police departments, government agencies or as independent contractors and private investigators. Others may choose to go into security and may work as security guards at various venues or focus on security policy studies and go on to work with private companies or the government to keep life and property secure from threats. Still other criminal justice professionals may work in corrections. Positions in this specialty may involve planning and designing correctional facilities and programs, working with offenders who are currently incarcerated or assisting in the rehabilitation of parolees who are re-entering society.

Criminal justice is an incredibly open field that allows workers to find their niche. It’s possible to hold diverse positions with just one degree.

Good pay

Some argue the pay law enforcement and corrections workers receive does not properly compensate these individuals for the risk inherent in the position. However, the level of pay attainable compared to the necessary education requirements is impressive in most markets. Law enforcement and corrections officers often are only required to have a high school diploma and agency training. At the federal level, a bachelor’s degree is required, and the increase in pay reflects this need for higher education. Workers in security policy studies who work for agencies such as TSA or the Department of Homeland Security are required to have some post-secondary education, such as a graduate certificate. The most accurate salary information, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, for some popular criminal justice careers is outlined below. These salaries reflect the median pay for workers as of 2010.

  • Police Officer: $55,010
  • Correctional Officer: $39,040
  • Probation Officer: $47,200
  • Security Guard: $24,380
  • Federal Agent: $63,000
  • Private Investigator: $42,870

Job satisfaction

It’s important to have a career that fulfills you. Criminal justice professionals can take pride in their work. It is a noble and honorable task to protect others from danger and bring perpetrators to justice. While the hours may be stressful and the job may be demanding, the sense of satisfaction you’ll have at the end of the day makes it worth it. In fact, a 2003 study conducted by the National Criminal Justice Reference Service found that corrections and patrol officers ranked above average on measures of job satisfaction in every aspect of their jobs except in promotions and policies and resources. Click here to view a PDF of the full study.

Retirement and pensions

The New York Times reported in December of 2011 that the majority of police officers become eligible to retire after 20 years. And, in a world where retirement anxieties are increasing, criminal justice careers provide stability. Social security is in need of reform and many companies no longer offer pensions. The best you can hope for is a 401(k) matching plan, but the majority of retirement planning is still on the individual. Criminal justice careers are one of the last strongholds where pension benefits are still offered.

While retirement after 20 years is not mandatory, it is not uncommon. However, the longer you work after eligibility, the more pension benefits you are eligible to receive. Many officers who do choose to retire are able to find other part-time careers in criminal justice. They way work as security guards, adjunct professors at junior colleges or consultants to supplement their retirement funds. Again, this just goes to show the flexibility and versatility of a criminal justice degree.


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