There are a lot of reasons why college might not be in the cards for you, but that doesn't mean you can't find a good job. While there are certainly the benefits of a college education in criminal justice and criminology careers, earning a degree may not be the best option at a particular point in time for some people. The great news is, there are several career options available within the field of criminology and criminal justice that don't require degrees.
Corrections or Detention Officer
Corrections officers work within the punishment phase of the criminal justice system and serve to execute court-ordered sentences of convicted criminals. In most states, a high school diploma is the only education you need to get your foot in the door.
Corrections officers work odd hours and shift work. They spend most of their time inside and behind locked doors, in highly secured areas. Corrections officers often earn at the lower end of the pay scale, usually between $20,000 and $35,000 to start. Working as a corrections officer can make for a career in its own right, or provide a suitable stepping stone toward a higher paying job in the criminal justice arena.
POST or Criminal Justice Standards certification and extensive academy training are typically required to work in the jail or prison system.
On paper, many departments across the United States still do not require their applicants to hold college degrees. Instead, there are minimum age and work experience requirements.
With the proper combination of past employment, prior military service, and high school performance, it is still possible to become a police officer without earning a degree, though the required academy training can be lengthy and grueling.
Police officers answer calls for service, investigate minor crimes, provide protection and law enforcement services, and investigate traffic crashes. They also patrol their communities and generally work to keep neighborhoods safe and prevent crime. Entry-level police officers can earn between $40,000 and $55,000 per year, with opportunities for advancement and promotion as they progress in their careers.
Detectives and Criminal Investigators
Criminal investigators are specially trained police officers who are called to investigate significant and major crimes. Generally, they handle complicated cases that patrol officers don't have the time, resources, or training to investigate thoroughly.
Police detectives and investigators can earn $135,000 or more, depending on where they work and their length of service. Most, however, earn around $80,000 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Detectives and criminal investigators are not typically entry-level careers. However, because many agencies still do not require degrees of their officers, it's possible to move up into a detective position in as few as two years.
Loss Prevention Specialist
Loss prevention workers serve to protect merchandise and prevent theft at retail stores across the country. Because retail theft is such a huge problem for retailers, companies hire loss prevention specialists to mitigate and eliminate the negative effects of theft, both by customers and employees.
Typically, loss prevention specialists earn just over minimum wage to start, and a high school diploma or GED is the only education required. Working in loss prevention can provide relevant work experience for higher-paying jobs in criminology and criminal justice. Loss prevention specialists can also aspire to move up the ranks into management and earn $50,000 or more.
Dispatchers are an indispensable component of law enforcement and first response systems within communities. They often serve as the first point of contact between the community and its officers.
Most often, applicants need only have a high school diploma or its equivalent to get hired, but past public contact work experience is a tremendous help. Dispatchers routinely deal with distressed, scared, angry, or upset citizens and officers. They serve as the lifeline, both to the citizen and the officer handling the call for service.
Working as a police dispatcher can at times be a highly stressful occupation. Dispatchers can earn between $22,000 and $54,000 per year.
U.S. Border Patrol Agents
Uniformed border patrol agents work to keep the United States borders safe by curbing illegal immigration, preventing illegal border crossings, and striving to keep dangerous drugs and weapons from entering the country.
Border patrol agents do not need a college degree but instead attend one of the most rigorous training academies in the United States. Like other police officer careers, an extensive background investigation is required, including a polygraph exam.
Border patrol agents must also be able to speak functional Spanish before they are released for patrol. Agents start around $55,000 and can earn up to $101,000.
Uniformed Secret Service Officer
Secret service special agents get all the glory, but the uniformed officers of the secret service work just as hard to protect the president, vice president, and foreign dignitaries.
Uniformed secret service officers maintain security at the White House, the vice president's residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory, and the United States Treasury Building.
Officers perform shift work and are stationed primarily in and around Washington, D.C., though they may be called upon to travel with the presidential security detail and to provide a uniformed presence on other secret service operations, such as warrant service. Uniformed secret service agents earn approximately $60,000 per year.
Considering a Degree Later in Your Career
Though college may not be immediately available or the right thing for you right now, there's nothing to say you can't consider earning either a degree in criminal justice or a bachelor's in criminology in the future.
In fact, after several years of relevant work experience, you may find that you are better able to excel academically and thus decide to go on and earn a master's degree. Regardless of where your path takes you, though, be sure to take advantage of all of the opportunities available within this exciting career field.