Education Requirements for a Career in Criminal Justice

Forensic scientist examines evidence in the lab
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If you're considering going to college, then it's a safe bet you're also contemplating a career. Getting a post-secondary education is time-consuming and expensive, though. To make sure you get the best return on your investment, you'll want to know just how much college you need for your chosen career, and what degrees you should earn to get a job in criminal justice.

Education Requirements and Degrees for Criminal Justice Careers

Jobs in criminal justice run the gamut when it comes to education requirements. Depending on the job you're hoping to land, you'll find careers that require nothing more than a high school education all the way to jobs in which you need a Ph.D. You may be surprised to find that salary and earning potential is not necessarily commensurate with education level.

Criminal Justice Jobs That Only Require a High School Education

If you're not ready to go back to school or it's just not in the cards right now, you have several career options that require little more than a high school diploma or G.E.D. Those options include security guards, loss prevention specialists, police dispatchers, and corrections officers.

There are even still many police departments that do not require college degrees. Starting salary for these jobs can range in the mid $20,000's to $30,000 annually, with opportunities to move up, advance and earn even more.

Criminal Justice Jobs That Only Require an Associate's Degree

Over the past thirty years, the trend has been for agencies to give preference to job candidates with at least some college. For many law enforcement agencies, you may be required to have an associate's degree — or at least the requisite semester hours — in order to get hired.

Other careers that may require an associate's degree include juvenile justice officers and crime scene investigators. Salaries for these positions average in the low $30,000's annually.

Criminal Justice Jobs That Require a Bachelor's Degree

Some large and progressive police departments are now requiring their officers to hold a bachelor's degree. Forensic scientists need to have at least a bachelor's.

For aspiring special agents and pretty much any federal law enforcement job, you can be assured that at least a 4-year degree will be a prerequisite. Probation and community control careers also often require that you hold a bachelor's degree.

These jobs typically offer starting salaries of $40,000 and up to $70,000, depending on agency, location, and experience.

Criminal Justice Jobs That Require a Master's Degree

If your aspiration is to become an educator, researcher or advisor, the chances are you'll need to earn a master's degree. The types of jobs for which you want to have some graduate work under your belt include criminologists, criminal profilers, and college and university professors.

You can also boost your chances of getting hired in a federal law enforcement or special agent job by earning a master's degree.

Criminal Justice Jobs That Require a Doctorate or Ph.D.

Though a master's degree will make you well-qualified for most any criminology career, to be truly successful — and have real credibility — a Ph.D., MD or other doctorate is a must for some professions.

Career paths for which you'll want to earn a doctorate include forensic psychologists and some forensic science careers such as forensic anthropologists, odontologists and pathologists.

Forging a Path With the Right Degree for a Criminal Justice Career

Regardless of where you start, you can take control of where you end up on your career path. Many criminal justice jobs offer opportunities to earn a degree with reduced or no cost.

Also, hours associated with shift work can make it easier for you to find the time to go to school, which means you have a wonderful opportunity to not only get a great education but the experience you need to earn the job you really want.