Is a Criminal Justice Degree Worth It or Worthless?

Since this blog has been in existence, I received countless emails and comments asking whether a criminal justice degree is a waste of time. The questions were usually similar, but came with slew of different meanings:

  • Is a criminal justice degree worthless?
  • Is a criminal justice degree really worthwhile?
  • Is a criminal justice degree a good degree? a bad degree?
  • Is a criminal justice degree a waste of time?
  • Should I take a criminal justice degree in college?

I even tackled a question on whether a criminal justice degree is good for law school candidacy – and probably the most common one: is a criminal justice degree program hard or easy? But, we’re here to find out if it’s worth it.

Is a Criminal Justice Degree Worthless or Worth It?

Answer: Yes, it’s worth it!

There seems to be a perception out there that those pursuing a criminal justice degree are spending their hard earned money on a degree that’s going to be worthless. The truth is that it’s a desirable degree when coupled with a quality program at a reputable college or university.

So why all the negativity out there? Simply put, many not so reputable schools, and especially those with deep advertising budgets, are giving the industry a bad name. The drive-thru effect of graduating students ill-equipped for the real world job market leaves much to be desired.

The reality is that most popular degree programs – not only criminal justice – fall under this presumption and the advent of online learning has its many critics.

Suggestion: Aim higher. Don’t just apply to the first school you saw on TV or in your search results – look deeper for the best fit. Even if your grades sucked in high school or college, aim higher and apply to at least several schools. And probably the biggest thing of all, pick a reputable school that is properly accredited. Yes, reputable online colleges and universities, like some of the ones listed in Best Criminal Justice Schools in America are just fine.

Just like when you were a kid, when you wanted that sweet cherry or extra sprinkles on top of your ice cream, the recruiters are looking for the best and often with “a cherry on top.” Who really wants a person with a questionable academic record, a shady character, or a total slacker-like attitude working in the criminal justice system; enforcing laws and protecting people, of all things? No one.

But is it worth it financially? Will I make big $$$?

It can be fairly lucrative when used in conjunction with your education, size of the organization you want to work for, and overall time on the job. For example, in terms of law enforcement job opportunities, like those of a police officer, a Sheriff’s deputy, a detective, or a FBI Special Agent, those applying in mid to large municipal, county, state or federal agencies are often required to have a college degree at the time of application.

These mid to large-size agencies usually pay much better than smaller ones and can pay significantly for each level of education above the standard requirement. There’s a big push for four-year college grads, so, those taking an Associate’s degree, may want to think about upgrading to a Bachelor program.

Keep in mind that entry level salaries may seem low, but they are ENTRY LEVEL. After you go through your probationary period, thus increasing your seniority, your salary should go up (oftentimes significantly) and advancement opportunities should become more available (keeping in line with the law enforcement example above). Small departments, like those located in villages and townships may require as little as a high school diploma or a GED, but you get pay that is commensurate with that minimum educational requirement.

It’s not uncommon to see law enforcement officers making high five-figure salaries when performing duties at larger agencies.

I’m not done, yet. Read on… You probably want to know if it’s good or bad for your purposes.

Is a Criminal Justice Degree Good or Bad?

Answer: It’s definitely bad if you are planning on becoming a Marine Biologist, or a Chemist, or a Pre-school Teacher… Or, you know, one of those people who is taking a degree just to have one, but has no TRUE intent of working in the field the degree mostly applies to.

If you are interested in working within the criminal justice system; for example, in correctional or law enforcement fields, then you picked the right degree, but be mindful that even when a college degree is a requirement in order to apply or obtain the job, you don’t have to take criminal justice – degrees in business, accounting, and law are very desirable, too (amongst others). My rule of thumb, if a degree has substance / real world application to the criminal justice system (even if just a little), and YOU LOVE that field, then I think you should pursue what you love. It’s much easier going to work when you like what you do rather than when you despise each day you clock out.

Also, USE YOUR COMMON SENSE: if the NSA needs a computer specialist, it probably wants someone with a computer programming or information technology (IT) educational background – OR – if the State Police wants to solve crimes through bullet trajectory analysis, lift latent prints, get a definite photo or video enhancement, or DNA test materials you should probably look closer into the field of Forensic Science; where, degrees like Physics, Chemistry, Digital Photography, and Biochemistry will play a huge role.

So, besides the common sense and my wholehearted optimism, a degree in criminal justice has its limitations… It’s for those that want to pursue one of the many careers in criminal justice. I covered the possible speed bumps in my What Jobs Can I Get with a Criminal Justice Degree article. Check it out.

Last one… for all the marbles.

Is a Criminal Justice Degree a Waste of Time?

Answer: No, especially if you have aspirations to work within the criminal justice field, have a good credit history and a clean criminal record.

You may find taking a criminal justice program imprudent:

  • if you have a criminal record that’s filled to the brim with domestic violence and felony convictions
  • if you have DUIs that are recent or repetitive. I covered law enforcement employment and DUIs already.
  • if your credit sucks (collections, judgements, bankruptcies). Still, those with recovering credit, showing significant improvement may still be considered.
  • if you’re nearing the national average cut off age of 36
  • if you have little interest in the field
  • if you only want a desk job / office job – other degrees are more suitable
  • if you don’t want to carry a fire arm

Saying that, a graduate degree in Criminal Justice or Criminology may be of some help for those interested in research and teaching opportunities; where restrictions on age, work environment and lethal accessories are a non-issue. Remember, that even if you get your shiny Master’s or a PhD degree, real-world experience is often preferred as an accompaniment to your education.

Should you take criminal justice in college?

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

80 comments… add one
  • Kelsey L.

    What do you mean by “if you’re nearing the national average cut off age of 36”? Does that mean that you have to retire from Law Enforcement at a certain age?

    • Radek M. Gadek

      That’s right. Many law enforcement positions have an age limit (from around 35-37, and in some cases, to 40 years of age) due to mandatory retirement age requirements.

    • chris

      No. What he means is that you cannot apply to be a police officer if you are over the age of 36. It just means that you are too old to enter the academy.

      • Barb.

        Tell then why are they pushing seniors to get the degree in cj?

        • Brad

          Colleges will push anyone to get a degree in anything they can make money off of. (It’s that simple!) If you want to be a police officer at the local, county, state, tribal, transportation (i.e. airport and railroad), educational (i.e. college & university police) or federal level, you have to get through police academy by a certain cut-off age limit.

          If you are someone who has been through the academy, and decide to go from one dept. to another at age 39 or 44, you can do so as you’ve already been through the academy.

          If you go from a local police dept. to a state or federal one, they’ll more than likely require you to go through their own academy, but it all depends on the needs and requirements set forth by a particular agency. Some police officers retire from all different ranks and departments and go on to work part-time for smaller ones like Amtrak police or campus police for a local community college or state university. Even a smaller town police dept. too.

          Again, the rules all vary from place-to-place, but it’s pretty well safe to say, cops never fully retire. They end-up getting into private detective and security work, start their own security companies, provide security consulting to businesses, and other things like that to not only make them extra side money to complement their pensions, but to keep them active and their minds busy.

    • Johnny Law

      They’re referring to federal law enforcement. In general, you can’t work for the feds past the age of 36. They’re only talking about the feds. I spent 5 years working in law enforcement and I never was required to have a degree. It isn’t a requirement in most cases.

  • Kathleen Tan

    Hi Radek,

    Great site! I appreciate this site and have gotten valuable info in the few minutes that I have been reading your blogs.

    My son wants to pursue Criminal Justice as his major. He got a 3.4 GPA at Westchester Community but unfortunately due to limited slots for transfer student, he didn’t get in the CJ major program. However, he was admitted in the Psychology major and I advised him to take that and have a minor in CJ. We looked at other SUNY schools that have CJ programs and here is my question: Is it really important to major in CJ? Which is better: a minor in CJ at UAlbany or a major in CJ in different SUNY school, like Plattsburgh? His dream is to work with the FBI. And I advised him, that the FBI usually look for candidates with JD/ Masters degree under their belts anyway. Therefore, after college, he will have to work, then go back to school for his JD. And I know Albany also has a good JD program so the transition won’t be too difficult.

    What do you think? Most appreciate your input.


    • Radek M. Gadek

      I have an article on FBI Special Agents under the “Careers” section at the top. And, it’s not really important to major in CJ (considering his aspirations).

      As for the FBI, you’re right Master degree holders or JD and MBA grads are desired, but are not the only ones getting in. If I was aiming this high, I would stick with U Albany (or better). It’s a great institution and it has some well ranked programs.

  • Scott M


    Hi, first off I love the site, as I have been reading way too many open opinions on google about obtaining an MA in Criminal Justice. I have just graduated from Kansas State University with a BS in Criminology and have just been accepted in to Arizona State University for the Online Criminal Justice Masters program. I’m extremely excited to start in the fall of 2012. However, I do have some concerns.

    I want to work federal at some point in my life, as I know that jumping straight in to federal can be some what of a hurdle. So my plan is to gain my Masters and work at my new job (Armored Car Service, Dunbar Armored). I’m hoping with the Masters and my experience as an armed courier will be sufficient in opening doors, even if it is with a local law enforcement agency.

    However, my biggest concern is with my past. I have a clean record, although I have had my high school and college experience with marijuana, often times as an everyday thing. I’m very concerned that this will disqualify me right off the bat, even with a BS and an MA in Criminal Justice. I am a very clean cut person and am very smart, however, and think that this is just a small obstacle that I can hopefully over come with blunt honesty.

    If you could tell me your thoughts that would be great.


    • Radek M. Gadek

      Hey Scott,

      One thing you didn’t mention is the time interval between now and when you last used drugs. I just don’t know how old you are. However, given what you have said, even with prolonged prior use you can apply for law enforcement positions. Most LE agencies have specific requirements on “how long ago” is acceptable, what type of drugs were used, how often, and if you plan on using or associate with persons that use.

      There are many people who have “experimented” with drugs that seized to do so years prior to applying for a law enforcement position and were able to obtain a job. The caveat: you’ll have to be honest on your application – and if you advance – you must be honest during the panel interview. Take into consideration that certain departments polygraph, as do most Federal agencies.

      * This is a general representation. Law Enforcement Agencies may have varying views. Hence, some are more OR less lenient. Although prior drug use can be considered a hindrance, for example, factors like your career experience, education, character, and financial history can play a more positive role.

      As for Arizona State University, congrats! It’s worth it… But, if you’re still not feeling at ease, remember that there are other great degrees which you can consider and fall back on. It’s not that easy to fall back on a criminal justice degree if you have to end up working outside the criminal justice system.

    • K

      I am in the MACJ program at ASU about to graduate this month. It is an excellent program and it is getting national recognition. I can tell you certain agencies do not exclude candidates because of past marijuana usage. However, you may be limiting your federal career opportunities. Three letter agencies do not overlook such details. Many state/county agencies in AZ have a three year rule (last use has to be more than three years ago). Hope this helps!

  • Former Officer

    Hello, I am a former Probation & Parole Officer who obtained an undergraduate and graduate degree in Criminal Justice – and I AM SO GLAD I MADE THE DECISION. Crime was here before me, it’s here now, and it will exist when I am six feet under; therefore, the job market is plentiful. What many people don’t tell you is the bigger picture—–RETIREMENT. If you choose a career in Law Enforcement you do not have to work no more than 25 years and guess what, your retirement is at a higher percentage because law enforcement officers are considered “high risk” jobs which earn approximately up to 5% as opposed to the 2.5% (of your base salary) which most careers earn. CO’s, PO’s, firefighters, etc retire with over a half million dollars compared to teachers, nurses, etc with maybe $150,000.00-$300,000.00. This does not include other investments, ie. money markets, CDs, Roth Iras, etc.

  • Tonya M.

    Hello, I am currently 43 years old and have an Associates and Bachelors degrees both in criminal justice and am working on my Masters. Unfortunately, I am passed the appropriate age for law enforcement careers. I was a correctional officer for 3yrs and then took a position as a correctional counselor. In order to utilize my education, am I confined to the prison system?


    • Richard

      Criminology degrees in my experience are totally worthless. It’s been 2 years since i graduated cum laude from ASU with my Bachelors degree in Criminal Justice and I’ve had nothing but rejection after rejection from even the most basic of entry level jobs, a lot of which don’t even require a degree. I’m stuck in a drab, unskilled $32,000 a year job with a massive student load to pay off which at this point is impossible.

      Since I graduated I’ve applied to the prison systems in Arizona many times. I even counted 13 times with MCSO in their CO division and I was rejected every single time even after posting amazing run times for a 40 yr old guy in the physical tests (12 minutes to run 1.5 miles). Having a degree made no difference. I have no criminal record, not even a speeding ticket and my work references are more than competent detailing my good work ethic and attitude.

      • Dominique

        You may want to get a masters in counseling or social work if your bachelors in CJ isn’t yielding th results. I have a BS in CJ but am a LPC and make decent money.

  • Knickerbocker

    Completing a quality Criminal Justice degree is always beneficial. If nothing else, after serving in law enforcement for several years, it can be the educational foundation to move into other specialized areas, the federal system, or to pursue graduate level work or a law degree.

  • brenda :)

    hi, my name’s brenda and im going to be a senior in high school this year. ive been looking around for options on what i want to major in and i began thinking about criminal justice. this website is really helping me out and the advice that you are giving is great! thanks for all this great information!

  • John

    Hi Radek
    I’m 42 years old and after reading your article should I be concerned after I finish school in two years

    • Radek Gadek

      What were your plans after your graduate? What degree will you have (including level)?

  • Batman

    In Massachusetts mostly all the cities employ police officers through the Civil Service exams. Mass. law gives veterans absolute preference on these exams. A non vet with a 4 year degree in CJ gets a 100 on the test, a veteran with a passing score of 70 and no degree will get hired before the non-vet with the 100.

    The Civil Service list would have to be completely exhausted of veterans for the non-vet to get a chance to get hired. By that time a new test is given and more vets, minorities, and women will also be on the list making it highly improbable for a white non-vet to get a police job for a number of years. Also the civil service requirements for police is only a high school diploma. You would be out of your mind to major in CJ if your a non-vet in Mass.

    Better off getting some other type of degree other than CJ and just keep taking the Civil service exam in hopes that you get called.

    • Radek Gadek

      Thanks for weighting in. In many agencies, small and large, this is a fairly common practice. The influx of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans is changing the landscape of law enforcement, just like it did after the Gulf War. Still, there are those that do well and are accepted with a 4-year degree and great test scores (no military experience). Law enforcement agencies are looking for well educated individuals to work in diverse environments and bring skills and ideas to the table. I recently spoke with several recruiters around the country and they are seeing an influx of military vets applying, but are still taking college grads with no military background into the next stages of hiring and the academy. Each locality may be different and may see smaller or larger flow of applications from military vets.

      As for Batman’s recommendation of a degree, it all depends on your interests and aspirations. The blog post above explains, with the help of a few linked articles, about potentially taking other degrees that do very well in the criminal justice / law enforcement fields.

  • Carlos

    Hello, thanks for the input. I’m 37 yrs old father of three and I’m getting my A.S. in CJ in six months, however I’m facing a financial crisis so I have to apply for Bankruptcy. Should I continued or give up? since a bad credit individual is not hireable?

    • Radek Gadek

      Given your age and a looming bankruptcy I would rethink any plans you may have in continuing your education past an Associate’s degree level in Criminal Justice. I would heavily consider other degrees if you plan on pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in the future. Saying that, I would have no shame in applying, and if asked, make it clear how you got into the financial mess and what you’re trying to do to remedy it. There are circumstances that may waive perceptions towards the more positive spectrum. I wish you all the best.

  • Melinda


    I have my bachelors in Criminal Justice and my masters in Administration of Justice and Security. I am finding it extremely hard to find a job in my field. I really want to do juvenile probation, but can’t seem to get the job. I volunteered for this position in undergraduate school and have been applying since I graduated in 2006! I am feeling like I picked the wrong field. I live in Richmond, Virginia. Should I move? I do not have any felonies. I experienced some financial problems a few years back that kind of brought my credit down, but I have been working on that. I am really feeling like this was the worst move for me career wise and I wasted close to a $100,000.

    Any advice?


    • Radek Gadek

      Melinda, I feel your pain. Right now, I feel this sentiment is prevalent in nearly all industries, not only criminal justice. Keep on applying and consider other places (cities, counties and even states) in your application efforts. Your financial situation can be a determinant, but it truthfully might not be at all (I don’t have all the information and different agencies evaluate financial problems differently).

      Keep your head up. And remember, you chose to pursue your education based on what you would like or love to do (I hope). Based on what you want to pursue, I don’t think it’s the degree as much as the “times” we’re living in.

    • Diana

      If you don’t mind moving to Canton, Georgia…my agency is always looking for good, honest, hardworking people. If your interested call and ask for Human Resources at the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office at 678-493-4200.

      • Angela

        I would love more information about this job opportunity. I’m planning moving to Georgia. And was a U.S. Navy Police officer. I work security now for game days at baseball basketball and football games. Also have Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice

  • Fady Louka

    I’m majoring in criminal justice and really do love this kind of stuff… My biggest fear is getting a bachelors degree and then just becoming a cop because that’s something I can do without college. I really wanna work for customs at an airport

  • Thomas

    Those with CJ degrees are often pushed to the back of the pack when applying to be an FBI agent. They want more specialized skills now days, such as computer science, accounting, and foreign language. My Special Agent spouse steered our own son away from a CJ degree for that reason. Major in computer science/minor in accounting is in high demand.

  • Jess

    Hi, Radek
    I have my Associates in Criminal Justice and am currently going to school for my bachelor’s. I have a small concern though. I have slight issues with my credit. It is less than perfect as a result of using them for textbooks and school expenses. I am planning to get a job to pay them off as soon as possible. Do I still have a chance to make it in the field? Other than that I have a clean record and no history of drug use. I’m just concerned.

  • kami

    currently getting a bachelors degree in criminal justice but i am 38 and past the age limit wondering if i am wasting my time i have never worked in this field before. Have a clean record and have worked for government agencies but just concerned that i will not find a job once i get my degree because of my age.

  • Adrian Silvis

    Hey there! This website was great because it gave me a lot of information I didn’t know. Right now I’m a senior in high school and I have always wanted to be a cop. I’m also interested in the military reserves so I can get my degree and have military experience under my belt. My biggest issue right now is finding a degree that I should get into. Criminal Justice has always been with me, but recently, a law enforcement officer told me that you don’t need a criminal justice degree to become a police officer! This opened so much more to me and I’m trying to find out which degree would be beneficial. My greatest goal is to be a part of a SWAT team. So what kind of a degree would be essential for that area?

    • Radek Gadek

      I mentioned some in this article. I also linked to another blog post that focuses just on what you’re looking for.

  • kim

    why would my credit history effect me being able to get a job in the criminal justice field??

    • Radek Gadek

      Hi Kim,

      Good question. In short, it’s to determine your level of reliability and trustworthiness. In long, it’s more than that. That is the topic of my next blog post coming out in mid-December 2012.

  • Brandon

    So here I am I class away from having my Bachelor’s Degree in CJ and you’re telling me b/c I’m over 40 I just wasted my time? Why? I am in as good of shape or better than many people younger than me. I am retiring from the military and want very much to serve in the CJ sector. I find it very hard to believe that my age should be such a hindrance.

    • Radek Gadek

      I know how you feel. There are many 40+ year olds that are in far better shape and better cognitive abilities than the 20 and 30-somethings. Unfortunately, most law enforcement agencies cut off their applicant pool at around 37. Still, given your military experience and the fact that you’re currently serving, there might be a way to get into certain departments.

      I think I gotta start a list of police departments and law enforcement agencies that have extended age limits. Some do, most don’t. That’s left for another day.

  • Ahmad

    Hi, Radek

    I’m an 18 year old guy and really interested in Criminal justice. Graduated last year of high school and im about to enroll in a community college in the winter semester. I’ll be doing that and getting everything done and get my associate degree in CJ then transfer to University of Michigan-Dearborn for my bachelors degree. I’ll also be going to the police academy while getting my bachelors.

    I want to become a police officer at first then step it up and work for Federal law enforcement agencies like Department of Homeland security, FBI agent etc. i wanted to know that i got into some trouble but this was my first time being arrested and getting charged with misdemeanor domestic violence this happened when i was 17 years old. The judge gave me counseling and the case will be dismissed in the next court date. Will this hurt my chance of getting into law enforcement careers?

    p.s never been in trouble and it was my first/last time doing so.
    also my driving record is clean.

    thank you.

  • Kissie

    Hi, I found this site to be very interesting and informative. I have to ask, I just graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Criminal Justice Degree from Colorado Technical University Online this month and due to my schooling being online, I do not have any hands on experience so I do know I’ll have to do an intern. I’m not even sure where to start as far as getting a job. I also noticed that you mentioned something regarding credit on this site. What does credit have to do with the job? I thought I had everything figured out and have noticed after 4 1/2 years of school I don’t. I may just be nervous but if you’re able to give me some insight please feel free to do so. Thank you in advance.

  • Meka

    I will finish my BA in CJ at the end of 2012, but I am 37 now when i actually receive my BA in CJ I will be 38, is that too old to apply for Parole Officer in Houston Texas? Or can i apply before I turn 38 to be considered for employment? I have always wanted to be a parole officer.

  • Crim

    Mr. Radek Gadek,

    I have recently been accepted into George Mason University, and my selected major is Criminology. I will be about 20-25 minutes from the Washington D.C area where many internships for federal jobs will be available. My plan is to obtain my bachelors in Criminology and find a government job position after college. I have read around about how a degree in Criminology isn’t a smart choice, etc, etc.. but I am motivated and dedicated to achieving a job in Homeland Security or the FBI. I was wondering if these internships will give me a leg up on competition and if they would qualify as the “work experience” these federal jobs are asking for. I felt like pursuing these careers would give me a leg up since I will be located right next to Washington D.C, and I will have these internships available, but I want to make sure I won’t be wasting my time/money.

    Thank you!

    • Radek Gadek

      If my memory serves me right, George Mason University is a very good school. Kudos.

      Whether a degree in CJ or Criminology is a smart choice is dependent on many factors, including individual aspirations. Internships may or may not give you a leg up. It all depends on what you get out of the internship. It can be a looking-glass into the field or agency you want to work for. In all probability, you’ll be mingling around people who are hopefully working at that particular place full-time and perform duties that are of interest to you. Through that, I feel you should be able to acquire the necessary knowledge and make relationships that can give you that “leg up.” If a degree in Criminology is what you want to take on in college, I feel it’s a smart choice given the academic institution, your aspirations, and proximity to Washington DC.

      Good luck (:

  • Barb.

    I am very disappointed in the comments I have read on here. I believe there is a lot of deception going on so people will pay money to go to college for a degree they probably will never be able to use. I took my internship at a Juvenile Probation department where only one person even went to college they were grandfathered in tell this is is right when you have people spending hundreds of hard earned cash to get a degree then are pushed off the bus!
    And let me add those people in the office I worked in were not professional at all! Is this fair?

  • JC

    Alright Mr. Gadek,

    I’ve got a question for you which might ring similar to other’s asking. But I want to be as specific as possible. My brief history: Joined the Navy from 2000-2006, been able to use that Vet experience to get jobs here and there but then began & finished my Associate’s in CJ. During these classes I was able to attain security jobs but went no where quick. Continued with the Bachelor’s and asked San Antonio PD if I could apply and they said unfortunately because of that one arrest Misdemeanor Assault A Family Violence…NEVER. Does this mean that my Associates’ & Bachelor’s will be useless for Homeland Security opportunities?

    • Radek Gadek

      JC, sorry to hear that. Most PDs take assaults and domestics very seriously. In many agencies it is an automatic disqualifier.

  • Janice Grimes

    JG, a friend of mine told me about this blog and suggested I read it, so I did. It has a lot of useful information. My current employer decided that they would pay for my schooling, so I took them up on their offer. I have always wanted to be in criminal justice, but after reading these blogs I see that is an age limit. Meaning if you are 50 forget about getting a degree in criminal justice.

  • Mary

    Hey :)
    I recently just applied to a Associate’s Degree program at a local school. I’m 23, and I’m in love with forensic stuff, but due to where I live, (not many jobs for that area) I chose not to pursue that, but rather go into the CJ world. I served for Jury Duty a while back, and fell in love with the court systems, and fascinated with the law. Do you think entering Criminal Justice is a good way to get into the courts system, and also if I wanted to be a detective one day, do I have to become a police officer first?

    • Radek Gadek

      Yes and yes.

    • Brad

      (I know this comment is a year old now, but wanted to share my insight into it.) Being a detective for a municipal police dept. requires you to be a regular uniformed police officer first yes. In most departments out there today, you have to take a written exam and have an oral interview to determine which officer candidate will get the detective vacancy when it becomes available, or if a dept. needs to expand (usually due to case overload from higher crime rates, etc.)

      If you want to become a private detective, then no. (Each state has different requirements to get a private investigator/detective license usually by a series of written state exams to become licensed.) A lot of retired police officers get into this and private security-type work in the later years of their career.

      If you like the court system, and want to explore that realm, what type of degree or certificate(s) you’ll need (if any) are dependent on what career path you want. For instance, an attorney will pursue an undergraduate (Bachelor’s degree) in Law, then enroll in law school. After that, it’s on the pass the bar exam. A court reporter needs to be very proficient and fast and listening and typing x-amount of words per minute.

      A bailiff could be a retired Sheriff’s deputy (or an active one), or someone whose had a little education and/or experience in private security, law enforcement, or corrections. (It varies from county-to-county and state-to-state on this.)

      Sounds like a young person, such as the Mary (the original poster), needs to explore what avenue she wants to pursue in the court system as there are a lot of different types of jobs. Most civilian jobs require at the very least a civil-service test. (This can vary too…) Some courthouses use private, contract or in-house security officers to handle their physical security needs so as not to ‘tie-up’ regular deputies from regular duties in their jurisdictions (counties).

      Before one decides to start working on a degree in CJ, they need to envision what they want to do with it and where they want to go with it. A good place to start is with ride-along’s (with real cops), internships, the explorers programs, and things like that. Being a street-beat cop, esp. in large metropolitan areas, can really age a person quick and tends to result in a high-stress environment resulting in a shorter life expectancy due to high blood pressure and the works.

      You see, police in larger cities tend to be more reactive, chasing call-after-call all through the day and night; whereas, police in smaller communities tend to be more ‘proactive’ and community service oriented. (Despite using the same tactics and procedures they learned in PTI, or police academy.)

      Wearing a 20-lb. duty-belt has a tendency of doing some damage to your spinal cord of years of wear too. Police work has both its ups and its downs. (That’s why it’s a good idea to learn what police do and go through in their daily work lives before getting in deep in a Criminal Justice degree.) The degree teaching you nothing about what it’s like in the ‘real world’ out there as police often tend to deal with the ‘not so nice’ elements of society if you catch my drift. (A word to the wise…)

      • Radek Gadek


        Thanks for replying. Some of the comments here are older than others, but your reply will be immortalized on the Inter Webs. Others, looking for depth in this topic, will be able to read this anytime.

        Thanks for stopping by.

  • Patches Sullivan

    I have an Associates of Science in Human Services, Corrections, and General Education. I am a military Veteran (never served in combat, but state side), a volunteer firefighter, Legion officer, etc. Though I am calendar 40, my mind and body is 20-30. Should there not be an outright test for that? Physical should be obvious. Why not have one of those “blind” as interviews, to meet the person personality wise, etc.? Of course we all know the background, etc….

  • Tina

    I’m currently working in the funeral industry and am about to continue my education (AAS Mortuary Science to BS Criminal Justice & Criminology.)

    The process will be long, as I’m doing it online one class at a time. My goals are to eventually transition from funeral directing to working as an investigator for the ME/coroner depending on where I end up.

    I have a felony (endangerment) pled down from an aggravated DUI (no license) and misdemeanor paraphernalia charges when I was 22. I did 4 months in county jail, got out early, was released from probation halfway through, paid all my fines, obtained my GED, followed by earning my associates degree with full Honors, 3.78 GPA, etc… Essentially went from troubled youth to responsible, respectable, contributing member of society.

    I’m planning to find a lawyer to help me get the felony set aside.

    If I am successful in that endeavor, do I have a chance of getting hired to work in a county position?

  • Darius

    I graduated with my associates degree in criminal justice in 2011 but I have no working experience so having a hard time finding a job and it is now 2013 I am 22 years old any advice

  • JCB

    I had thought about CJ many times but just didn’t pursue because of a few reasons. #1 I have a felony # 2 I can’t own a gun. Although you don’t necessarily need a gun a specific fields, but I’ve always wanted to be an investigator of some type and work my way or become a Licensed Private Investigator.

    I am, however working on getting Clemency from the Governor of Missouri which takes quite a while. In fact up to 24 months if he will even pardon me, which I think I will be. My felony was from 25 years ago and I have stayed out of trouble since. I’m going to pursue it anyway, but I’m also planning on getting a diploma in Logistics.

    So, anyway by the time I get pardoned I’ll possibly be 44. If I get hired somewhere I need to be a investigator for at least three years before I can be a private investigator according to things I’ve read. That may be wrong, I don’t know. So then I’ll be 47. Then I have to get my private investigator’s license. Not sure how long that will take. So if it all worked out according to my script I’d be at least 48 when I even started my career. By then I’d probably work maybe 12 years at the most possibly.

    I said all of that to say is it worth it for yourself? If you answer yes then go for it. Cause I am anyway. I waited many years to try for Clemency so they would know without a doubt I am a good law abiding citizen. And I am. I was just a stupid teenager at one time. But I am older and wiser now.

  • Peg

    I’m 39 years old. I already have my Bachelors in Psychology and have been working with the Department of Human services as a case worker and now a school based worker. I am near the end of completing my Bachelors for Criminal justice and am interested in Probation/Parole, prison case worker and or OIG for the department of human services.. am I too old to get into cleet.. is this a waste of time for me?

  • Ali

    Hello Radek,
    Great article you’ve got here. I am in the midst of deciding whether I should pursue a masters or not. My indecisiveness stems from the fear that I may be wasting my money and will not get a job afterwards. I finished a BA in CJS. I am currently working in a community residential facility that deals with federal offenders who are on parole. I have numbers of volunteer experiences relating to social justice and criminal justice. Having said that, I am seriously clueless on how to even start my statement of interest. I have a research interest in mind, but I don’t know if this is good enough as I have read elsewhere that a candidate’s interest my show uniqueness and not simply a replica of other research. What advise can you give to individuals who are thinking of applying for MA and in the process of building their research statement/statement of interest.

    Thanks in advance

  • Chelsea

    Is Criminal Justice a bad path to go if you wish to have a family?
    And what is the like hood of getting a good paying job after you get your degree?

  • Brad

    The problem with earning a CJ degree today (ex-Police Science now called Criminal Justice) at the Associate’s and Bachelor’s level is that in the past 15 years or so, there has been an influx in the amount of young people (in their 20’s) getting these degrees resulting in a lot of competition. If you want to be a street cop, probation or corrections officer, then an Associate level degree should more than suffice.

    The best thing I’d say to do is get the Associate’s, then get hired in a stable job somewhere, doing something in the related field, then earn your Bachelor’s if you are opting for advancement further in it, like becoming a high-ranking officer rank like a Lieutenant or a Captain. It is essential that you have a strict career goal in mind before investing gobs of money into a degree in this arena.

    If you’d like to teach it at the college level, then you’d probably want to pursue a Master’s in it, perhaps even a PhD in Public Administration to go all the way. (I have yet to meet a police officer with a PhD in it, but did once meet a local cop with a Master’s in it.)

    On a personal level, if it were me, and knowing of the high influx of CJ grads in the past several decades, I’d probably push for a different degree in a similar area like Public Administration or Emergency Management for instance, just as two examples. But, I earned my Bachelor of Science in Business Management myself. (A degree that is much more flexible and marketable and highly sought by most employers looking for perspective managers and supervisors.)

    Just my two-cents worth for what it’s worth anyway…

    • Radek Gadek

      Brad, the influx of CJ graduates should have been a no-brainer, and therefore, included in the article. Thanks for bringing this to the forefront. Your wisdom on the worth of a Criminal Justice degree is much appreciated.

  • Chauncey Jenkins

    I’m 38 with a criminal justice degree that I’ve never used professionally – I work for a bank. I don’t really think that I have any options to use my degree at this point, so while a CJ degree may not be pointless, it definitely has an expiration date.

  • the truth

    A criminal justice degree is pointless because everything you need to know is taught to you in the police academy. Most departments only give you a few points for your degree anyway and so there is no benefit to even having one if you test well. A cj degree is just one of many ways banks and higher educational institutions use to take your money, they are glorified ponzi schemes.

  • Meli

    I’m 29. I have a bachelors in CJ. I graduated in 2009. I have not found a job yet. I have been a phlebotomist for 7 years now. I really would like to utilize my degree. I speak two other languages. I don’t know what to do anymore.

  • Karen

    Hi my name is Karen and I just started school at Berks Technical Institute (BTI) and I am going for a Criminal Associates Degree I hear some people say its a waste of time, that a lot of people cant find jobs with an CJ associates degree…. Can you tell me what kind of jobs i can get with an CJ associates degree?? please help

  • michelle

    I have a question? I have 11 years of law enforcement experience. When I apply for positions like district court clerks, judicial clerks, criminal assistant, or case manager even investigative positions I don’t qualify because I don’t have a criminal justice degree but I am in the process of trying to pursue a MBA. I am confused of whether I should have pursued a criminal justice degree instead of the MBA. I am wondering if I am not looking consistent to the employer since my undergrad is in Hotel Restaurant mmgt. I just sorted out jumped into criminal justice. I am overwhelmed with law enforcement I want a more administration position now. I am having difficulties in my classes. I don’t know if its because criminal justice is all I know or would it had been easier to take criminal justice because I know it. Can somebody please offer some advice.

  • Leigh

    Hello Radek,
    I’m 29 this year. I received my bachelors degree in Criminal Justice over one year ago. While attending the University I was working as an office assistant at a Probation Office. I now have my Officer’s Certification. I have been an officer for 1 year. But it is not what I expected. It can be very stressful and some of my friends without degrees are getting better pay. The more I work, the more I feel like it is not for me. I’ve been thinking about going back for my Masters. Not sure if it’s even worth it. I honestly feel lost. I’ve noticed I dedicate a lot of time into contacting victims and getting leads on restitution. I’m kind of an overachiever when it comes to solving problems. The only thing is, that is often overlooked in my position. I hear things like, “you’re working too hard” or “you’re making us look bad.” It is in my nature to give 100%. The problem is I feel it goes unnoticed and unappreciated.

  • L

    36 means its the cut off for federal jobs and its too late in life to be a cop but it still can happen with hard work just no federal law enforcement jobs

  • Michael

    Hello, my name is Michael and I am a junior in high school and I am very interested in going into Criminal Justice. I currently live in an area around Bloomington/Normal in Illinois and I have a GPA of 3.75. I would like to eventually go Federal in my career but I want to set up my best opportunity for Federal. I was looking at going to Western Illinois University because I enjoy the area and am familiar with it and while I find many benefits in going to Western, I would rather go to an University that can help me reach my goal, so would you suggest going to Western or Illinois State University? While I realize I will start off working for a police department out of college, I would like to know some tips on the the best way to achieve my goal. I was looking at FBI, DEA, or Homeland Security and I have a good past with no incidents with the law or any recreational use of any drugs. I believe I would be able to pass the polygraph with a good past, but I realize these are very high goals but I would like to know the best way to achieve this, do you have any tips for the best career path I could take?


    A curious student

  • Courtney

    I’m 23. I’ll be finishing up my BS in Criminal Justice sometime in the next year or so. My advice to anyone reading this comment would be to take a look at government agencies and what degrees they are looking for before you declare Criminal Justice as your major. My freshman year in college, I did a semester-long assessment and found out that Accounting was apparently the perfect fit for my skills, strengths, personality, etc. I tossed that information to the side thinking that if I majored in Accounting, I couldn’t work for the government. Wrong. If you’re looking to work for any type of CJ agency, do some research, look through their job postings, talk to professionals, etc. I had a state policeman tell me that if he could do it all over again, he would not have majored in Criminal Justice. It’s easy to take other majors and bring them to the CJ field but’s ten times as hard to take a CJ degree and try to break into another field. Unfortunately by the time I found out this information, I was too far along. BUT, the good thing is that if you’re in a situation like me, you still have the option for a graduate degree in whatever you’d like to pursue. But to all you young, fresh college students out there, PLEASE make an INFORMED decision. And if you really like a major or if you find out that there’s a major that you’re really good at, see what your options are before you choose it or toss it to the side.

    • Radek Gadek

      Sound advice, Courtney.

  • Brianna

    I’m currently a Junior and I have a big interest in the Criminal Justice field. The problem is I like the office work too, I envisioned myself as an FBI agent but I’m not good at being physically fit, what do you recommend? Any suggestions or answers to my dilemma? Please help.

  • Christina Allen

    i have my associates degree in social service/mental health. Right now I am in my first year of getting my B.S. In criminal justice. I also plan to move forward in the future to obtain my masters. I’m 32 years of age, in my 20’s I had a DUI that was on a deffered prosecution so it should no longer be on my record but my fingerprints are still of course in the system. Also in my 20’s I was charged with petty theft but not arrested and that fell off my record in one year. Recently I have filed for bankruptcy. My goal when I finish school is to become either a mitigation specialist or a criminal defense investagater. What is your opinion and guidance on my past and future career goals?

  • Caro

    Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what i want to become later and what i want to study. I’m highly interested in Criminal Justice and Criminolgy but there are some obstacles. I currently live in Belgium but it has always been my dream to move to New York and become a homocide detective. My parents think I’m crazy and most of my friends think so too. I also don’t have good eyes so i plan on having a laser treatment when i turn 18. I know that if i want to work with the NYPD then that i have to score 20/20 on the eyessight test. I would really apprieciate someones oppion on this. Is this even possible?


  • Andrea

    Hi Radek:

    I was reading all the comments and honestly I’m concerned now about pursuing a Master in Criminal Justice. I’m 36, i have a bachelor´s degree in law from my country in South America, of course my law degree here its senseless, but was validated and credited here as a US Bachelor in general, I was trying to pursue a master in CJ cause its my passion and would love to be in the future in the field working, but I was checking and reviewing with all the comments that everything related with Law Enforcement, CSI, FBI, Immigration, Homeland Security have age limits, and I don’t want to get this degree to be behind a desk with paperwork.

    Is there wide open chances that if I’m not a cop or younger I get a job in Law enforcement, cause like I saw on one of the comments, the Universities don’t mention that at all cause of course they just want to sell.

    Please help me

    • Radek Gadek

      You would be wise to look into other Master programs. At your age you would be hard pressed to find a law enforcement position, except in municipalities that have higher age limits, which is rare.

      One of the links in my blog post above leads to another article: What Jobs Can I Get with a Criminal Justice Degree. That should answer your questions.

      And, you nailed it! Colleges and universities will not tell you not to pursue a criminal justice degree.

      Good luck

  • Mark Weinstein

    Hi Radek,
    I know a young woman who received a Criminal Justice Grad Degree from Boston University approximately seven years ago. She has been working as a contractor in the juvenile justice diversion program on the west coast of Florida for almost six years. The position is ending and she has had a great deal of difficulty finding any position in criminal justice. Age:33 GPA at B.U. was approximately 3.85. Excellent evaluations and steady pay increases and promotions, yet as position comes to an end, she is unable to find anything in the criminal justice field. Is the gulf coast of Florida a poor environment for this particular work? Could it be that most of her experience post grad is in juvenile justice? ( She worked as a background investigator during and after her completion of her undergrad degree at George Mason.)
    I’m just wondering how difficult it is in this field, in the Tampa area, and at an age approaching 34.

  • Randy Castillo

    Hi Radek,
    Right now I am 29 years old. When I was about 26 years old I applied for LAPD. The main reason that I got rejected was when I was getting interviewed for my background I admitted to committing a felony when I was 23, even though I have a good record and have never been arrested. What are my chances of a career in law enforcement?

  • victoria

    I have a son with Criminal justice degree who wanted to get into law enforcement. I was wondering if he can do a MBA?

    • Radek Gadek

      An MBA is recommended. He most likely qualifies now with his bachelor’s in criminal justice. He can try applying now and take advantage of any paid schooling programs the department might have, or he can get it done and over with now.

  • Enny

    Hi Radek
    I need your advice please, I was looking into your website and I was reading a lot of information about criminal justice degree. Well let me explain my situation. I have a bachelor degree in law and master degree in law from Italy, is 100% equivalent here in USA and i should get the law school here that is 4 yrs and I can’t right now because I have 2 kids and I cant afford it. I’m thinking to take a criminal justice master degree this fall. I’m 35 years old do you think this master will help me to have a job with my degree here in USA? In law field i thought criminal justice is close to it. If not I have no idea what type of master can i get? I’m 35 years old. What is your advice? I’m really confused. Thank you for your time.

    • Radek Gadek

      Criminal Justice and Law are two very different degrees. I would discourage you from taking Criminal Justice if Law is something you would like to pursue. So right now, some of the better options are a Law degree (JD) which takes about 3 years full time OR a Master of Laws (LLM) degree which takes about 3 years, as well.

Leave a Comment