Criminal justice continues to be a popular major due to the demand for police officers, probation officers, and crime prevention program administrators. Schools have responded to this demand by offering a broad range of options for students. From forensics to law enforcement, there are a variety of disciplines available. For individuals who are seeking to switch careers, a program that has weekend classes or an online component might offer the right level of flexibility. With so many programs to choose from, researching top criminal justice schools can be challenging, so it is important to evaluate your options fully.
What is Criminal Justice Education?
Criminal justice degrees typically explore the political, cultural, social, and economic aspects of crime and crime prevention. Ethics are emphasized within criminal justice education, and the focus is usually balanced between theory and effective application of theory to the criminal justice system. Students might specialize in law enforcement, corrections, criminology or forensic science depending on their particular career interests.
During your criminal justice program, you may take courses such as management of criminal justice agencies, theories of crime and delinquency, contemporary issues in criminal justice, counseling in criminal justice, and sociology of law. You will likely be required to develop an ability to comprehend, analyze, and resolve problems as they are related to the criminal justice system. Students might also have the opportunity to complete an internship that will expose them to the day-to-day work of their chosen specialty within the field.
What are Some of the Best Criminal Justice Schools?
Colleges with criminal justice majors typically offer programs at the two-year, four-year or graduate level. While most programs are campus based, part-time, online, and accelerated programs are also available. These programs can be particularly attractive for those who are looking to advance their careers in criminal justice and working individuals who are seeking to change their career. According to US News and World Report, the schools with the top five criminology programs are:
- University of Maryland – College Park
- University at Albany – SUNY
- University of Cincinnati
- University of Missouri – St. Louis
- Pennsylvania State University – University Park
In addition to these highly rated schools in the east and Midwest, there are also excellent programs across the nation. Although the specifics of each program vary, there is generally a core set of skills that students are expected to have learned by the end of their criminal justice education. Evaluating criminal justice schools really comes down to whether or not the individual program meets your needs. It is important to not only assess the curriculum and reputation of the school in terms of your career goals, but also to examine the time and financial commitment involved.
Criminal Justice Careers
Job growth in most criminal justice positions is expected to be slower than average in the coming decade. Openings in local departments tend to be the most prevalent, while those in state and federal agencies are typically more competitive, as they generally offer more opportunities for advancement. Individuals who are bilingual and have either a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or military experience will likely have the best prospects.
Although positions are competitive, criminal justice jobs generally have good pay and benefits, as well as long-term job security. In 2011, the median annual salary for various criminal justice careers were as follows:
- Security guards- $23,820
- Gaming surveillance officers- $30,410
- Correctional officers and jailers- $38,990
- Probation officers- $47,840
- Fish and game wardens- $50,070
- Forensic science technicians- $52,180
- Police and sheriff’s patrol officers- $54,230
- Detective and criminal investigators- $71,770
- First-line supervisors of police and detectives- $77,890
The growing population and the large number of current professionals that are projected to retire in the coming decade will likely mean that pursuing a career in criminal justice will prove rewarding, both financially and professionally. If you have the desire to help protect and serve your community, start by exploring top criminal justice schools today. Whether you prefer flexible course scheduling or a curriculum that encompasses hand-on training, it is possible to find a program that responds to your individual needs.