Is a degree in Criminal Justice right for you? I had a notion in high school that it wouldn’t be so bad being a detective. What I really wanted was a degree in Marine Biology, however, it was frowned upon by the family. To make a long story short, I found myself taking a softball and academic scholarship to a local private college, which was never on my radar of places to get my higher education.
In a state of shock and anger towards my family, I sat in the counselor’s office trying to pick my freshman year courses. I remember her asking me what I wanted to major in. I remember asking her, what majors this college excelled at. She told me, Nursing, Aviation and Criminal Justice. My ears perked, and I asked if the Criminal Justice degree would lead to me becoming a detective, she said yes, I said great, and there you have it. I graduated with a B.A. and a double major in Criminal Justice and Political Science. I do not suggest you follow my lead and blindly choose the major.
My first suggestion to you is that if you are still in high school and are thinking about this degree, then check with your local police department. Most of them run scout programs that get you out into the community doing good will work on behalf of the department. If you are an adult going back to college for a second career, then I would suggest looking into a community-based SAR, (Search and Rescue) group. Most communities have them, just make sure you are in fairly good shape. You can also look into dispatcher jobs. Another good idea is to volunteer at the local Woman’s Crisis Center. There you will get first had training in dealing with traumatic events. Some centers even have Special Assault Response Teams. During college I found work as a loss prevention agent at a local department store. All of these jobs give you two things, experience and contacts.
When picking your college, don’t think that any old Criminal Justice program is fine. I understand that some people don’t get the luxury of getting to choose from different colleges to go to, however, if you do, find a college that is known for their Criminal Justice program. If they are known for their programs, then it will open doors down the road for good contacts and great internships. Don’t be afraid to ask about the backgrounds of the professors. If most of the professors have federal law enforcement backgrounds, chances are you will have better connections to get into the feds. My best advice is to find a department that has professors with both federal backgrounds and local police backgrounds, you never know when the feds will put a freeze on hiring, and the local contacts can come in handy.
Another piece of advice, don’t shy away from the local police departments. Most departments are looking for college grads now. Working as a police officer is a great starting point for moving into the feds, private investigation, teaching and consulting.
Do understand that working in the Criminal Justice field can be mentally and physically exhausting. If you do not handle the life style right, it will handle you. You have to be in good condition, and mentally strong. When I was going through the Police Academy I had a drill instructor tell my class this, “You think you guys have it so bad? You guys think you have a high pressure job? Is everyone telling you that your job choice has the highest divorce rate? Do you think your job has the highest suicide rate? Well let me tell you something, you’re wrong. Do you know who has the highest suicide rate? Dentists do. Now think about that while you run the next two miles double time!”