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.