What to do with a degree in Criminal Justice: Interview with the FBI was originally published on College Recruiter.
If you’re studying or thinking about studying Criminal Justice, we are excited to have some great career advice for you, via FBI’s Recruitment and Selection Unit. They answered our questions about what is available for Criminal Justice students, and not surprisingly, your options go beyond what you see on TV. We asked about misconceptions around the field, career opportunities, what kinds of skills this degree will give you, where you might have to grow, and what makes a Criminal Justice degree worth it.
Q: What are some misconceptions about majoring in Criminal Justice?
A: (FBI’s Recruitment and Selection Unit) A lot of people have misconceptions about the criminal justice field, largely because much of what they know is based on the action-packed dramas in TV shows and movies, which highlight the more dramatic aspects of law enforcement and criminal justice careers.
But law enforcement and criminal investigation is not about lots of high-speed car chases and shootouts; investigating crimes is more likely to involve time spent seeking out and interviewing sources, piecing together evidence and connecting the dots, testifying in court, speaking to community members and even catching up on paperwork. (By the way, there’s no job titled “Profiler,” and investigators don’t get “psychic flashes” when walking around fresh crime scenes, like on some TV shows — investigating crimes is more about using logic and scientific reasoning to collect and evaluate evidence to solve problems.)
Q: What skills do Criminal Justice students graduate with, and what skills may they lack?
A: College graduates with Criminal Justice degrees typically learn about the U.S. courts and legal system, psychology and human behavior, social and economic factors that contribute to crime, the corrections system and more.
But some of the most important skills cited by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the nation’s premier law enforcement agency, cannot be taught in a classroom — they are competencies that must be cultivated and practiced over time, including collaboration, communication, flexibility/adaptability, initiative, leadership, organization/planning and problem solving/judgment. Perhaps that’s why, in addition to a bachelor’s degree, applicants to be FBI Special Agents need to have at least three years of work experience, where they will have opportunities to practice these skills and develop these critical competencies.
Q: How should Criminal Justice students and grads build those skills they’re lacking?
A: Real world experience through a job or internship while you’re in school is a great way to build some of these key skills. And while backgrounds in criminal justice and the STEM fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics are particularly sought after by law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, experience in almost any kind of career can lay the groundwork to help build the kinds of skills we’re talking about. Many people become FBI Special Agents after starting out in very different career fields, from science and teaching to the technology industry (as you can see in Fast Company’s recent coverage)
Other ways to build and demonstrate core competencies such as collaboration, leadership and initiative, while still in school, include opportunities to step into leadership roles, volunteer work, part-time jobs and similar work experiences in college or through extracurricular projects and career-related organizations.
Q: What are some examples of possible entry-level jobs for Criminal Justice majors?
A: With a Criminal Justice degree, you can be a law enforcement officer at a metropolitan police department or county sheriff’s office, a corrections or probation officer, work in state or federal courts, go into social services, teach, work in security for a major corporation and much more. Forensics is a growing field within Criminal Justice, and there are specializations in everything from ballistics and blood spatter analysis to crime scene investigation and DNA analysis.
If working for the federal government in a law enforcement or investigatory area is your goal, there are jobs in many federal agencies, from working for the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as a Federal Air Marshal to being a border patrol agent for Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Some people are even able to get entry-level jobs at the FBI itself — both at Headquarters and at the agency’s 56 Field Offices located across the United States, in positions that range from Electronics Technicians and Operational Support to Forensic Accountants and IT.
Q: What makes a Criminal Justice degree worth it?
A: There are many great careers available in law enforcement and criminal justice fields, along with a growing push for four-year college grads. But this is the kind of career that most people don’t go into unless they feel a strong attraction to work in the criminal justice field, and often a deep calling for a career in public service. While people don’t necessarily go into law enforcement to get rich, avoid defining “worth it” by the starting salary alone. If you love the field, go for it — and remember that entry-level salaries are, after all, entry level — they may seem low, but as your seniority builds, your pay will increase accordingly and opportunities for advancement will become available. Good people who are smart, hard-working, team-oriented and have leadership potential can advance and get ahead in any field, including criminal justice.
If you have aspirations to work in law enforcement, and a criminal justice degree allows you to get the job you love, feel good about and look forward to every day — then a Criminal Justice degree is definitely worth it! Just remember to follow your heart and your interests, because many other kinds of degrees can still contribute to an excellent background for law enforcement careers. And, especially if you are part of a large organization like the FBI, having a unique background you love can lead to interesting opportunities for specialization to make you a sought-after expert within your field.