Degrees Needed for a Criminology and Criminal Justice Career

There are a lot of criminal justice jobs that don't require you to earn a degree out there.  The benefits of a college education for criminology or criminal justice careers can't be understated, though.  From developing important critical thinking skills to honing your writing skills, you have a lot to gain by getting a degree to prepare you for your chosen field better. But what degrees should you get for criminal justice, law enforcement or criminology jobs?

A lot of aspiring criminal justice professionals seize on the obvious choices, earning their bachelor's in criminal justice or getting a 4-year degree in criminology. It may surprise you to know, then, that there are many other degree programs available that can prepare you just as well or better and maybe more in tune with your specific interests and skills. In no particular order, here are the best degrees you can earn to help you land the perfect criminology career for you.

Criminology

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The study of criminology is the study of crime and its causes and effects. A subset of sociology, criminology explores why crime may exist in any given environment. Researchers look at any number of causes, including genetics, environment, race, gender, and socio-economic status. 

Criminology research provides a great deal of useful data to help set legislative and social policies and inform communities and law enforcement agencies how to better respond to the overall problem of crime.

Criminology majors are most likely to find work in the public sector, and the degree is best suited for careers involving research and policy development and advocacy, though many people with criminology degrees find jobs in traditional fields like law enforcement and corrections.

Criminal Justice

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Criminal justice degrees focus on the criminal justice system, in particular, the functions of law enforcement and corrections.  As opposed to degrees in criminology which explore the cause of crime, criminal justice programs are focused primarily on the response to it. 

A degree in criminal justice provides important foundational knowledge of the various components of the processes of arrest, prosecution, and punishment.  In the United States, it also hammers home the importance of the role of the constitution in limiting what criminal justice professionals can and cannot do under the law.

A criminal justice degree will best prepare you for a job as a police officer, correctional officer, or probation, and community control officer.  It can also provide a foundation for advancing your education through law school for even better-paying career opportunities.

Psychology

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All jobs related to crime and criminal justice are, at their core, about people.  What better way to get insight into how people think and behave than going right to the source through studying psychology? 

A degree in psychology will better prepare you to understand and respond to the people you may be called to deal with on a daily basis and, possibly, help them work through their problems so they can break free of the cycle of crime and recidivism.  Psychology degrees also allow you to understand better people's basic needs and desires, which can come in handy when trying to figure out how to deal with difficult people.

Psychology degrees are an excellent choice for aspiring police officers, correctional officers, and especially probation and community control officers.  An advanced degree in psychology can get you on the path toward becoming a forensic psychologist. Combined with investigative experience, a degree in psychology - especially a master's degree or doctorate - can help you work your way toward a job as a criminal profiler.

Sociology

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Sociology is the parent discipline of criminology and, as such, provides valuable information into how societies are structured and how people behave within them. By understanding how people act in a society, you can better understand and plan for how they may respond to certain situations or policies.

A degree in sociology will leave you well suited for nearly any entry-level criminology career, but can also help you find jobs in research institutions or think tanks. Public sector policy-making jobs, such as legislative aides, are also career possibilities.

Political Science

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Political science is the study of government and political systems.  It also studies how people react to, develop, choose, and elect government leaders and forms of government. 

As former U.S. Speaker of the House Tip O'Neil once said, "All politics is local." Ultimately, the work of any criminal justice professional, particularly police officers and policymakers, is about serving the local community. Political science provides foundational knowledge to help you do just that.

If you have any designs to move up the chain and work in management, a political science degree can help you navigate the local or state legislative process and help you better obtain and allocate resources for your department. By combining elements of sociology and criminal justice, a political science degree can provide a well-rounded knowledge base for an aspiring police officer or prepare you for a chance at law school.

Accounting

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With so much money changing hands electronically, the field of forensic accounting is increasing in necessity and popularity. An accounting degree can give you an edge in this growing field of investigations of financial crimes. Accounting is one of the five career tracks the FBI employs.

As far as criminal justice careers go, a degree in accounting will particularly benefit you if you're interested in working as an IRS agent, FBI agent or Secret Service agent.

Computer Science

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More and more crimes are occurring online, and most white-collar crimes involve some form of electronic transactions.  Like accounting, a degree in computer science can put you on track to becoming an FBI agent.

Moreover, a computer science degree will give you the knowledge and experience you need to become a digital forensics expert, which is a highly marketable and growing field.  In the digital age, computer science degrees are great for aspiring investigators.

Tips for Choosing a Major

When deciding what you want to earn a degree in, its extremely important line up your individual strengths and interests with careers that are complimentary to them. Do your research to find out what types of careers may interest you, and what sort of education you'll need to be successful.

Don't let yourself get caught in a degree program only to learn there are no or very few jobs in that area. Also, choose degrees that can provide diversity in career options so that if you decide your original job choice isn't for you, you ca easily transition into a deferent path without the need to start all over again.

By making a good choice when deciding your major, you'l; be in a better position to find success not only in fin ding a job, but in moving your way up the chain and into a long and rewarding criminal justice or criminology career.