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Those interested in pursuing careers in law enforcement, corrections, homeland security, or private and corporate security may find that these positions are in high demand and have no shortage of candidates waiting to fill them. Many of the competitors that one may face for such jobs could include people with military or security backgrounds. How can one who hasn’t had experience in either of these fields hope to compete? An associate’s degree in criminal justice may be a good place to start.

Associate's degree programs are typically 1- or 2-year community college programs that lay the groundwork for a more advanced education in criminal justice. Entry to such programs typically only requires a high school diploma or another educational equivalent. Most programs are offered as an Associates of Arts program, meaning that their core curriculum must be supplemented with liberal arts courses. The classes included as part of a core curriculum for criminal justice tend to be as follows:

  • Psychology
  • Criminology
  • Law and legal/political theory

The general education courses required in conjunction with these classes can be anything from math and social studies to foreign languages and creative or technical writing. The reason for requiring coursework from such wide range of academic disciplines is to help the students in these programs to be more diversified and better able to relate and work with people in many different fields. Skills such as interpersonal relations and analytical thinking also tend to be very helpful when working in the criminal justice industry.

Flexible Scheduling and Opportunities for Advanced Degrees

When preparing programs in criminal justice, collegiate departments may offer some degree of flexibility to students. That’s because, in some cases, students may be working while also going to school. Thus, while some courses may require in-class instruction and supervision, more and more colleges and universities are creating associate’s degree programs that are offered either completely or partially online. This allows students to complete their schoolwork in the time that they have to do it, while also gaining valuable work experience.

Speaking of experience, employers these days seem to be placing an even greater emphasis on it, especially in criminal justice. Colleges have taken notice, so they are including more and more practical application elements to their programs. This involves real-world work done by students in order to both apply the lessons learned from instruction and gain valuable experience and insight into the work that they will one day be doing. Practical experience courses may even be included as part of an online curriculum.

Once a student has completed his or her associate’s degree program, he or she may be able to find a job in a related field. However, in order to achieve the advancement opportunities that he or she may hope for, a bachelor’s and, in some cases, master’s degree may be required. Yet that’s one of the benefits that comes with first earning an associate’s degree in criminal justice. One can earn his or her associate’s degree, put a halt to his or her studies in order to gain experience through work, and then resume his or her path towards an advanced degree at a later date. In most cases, associate’s degree credits are transferrable from one university to the next, ensuring that one doesn’t have to repeat any of the work that he or she has already done. This often holds true even when transferring course credit from community colleges to four-year universities.

Associate’s Degree Program Costs

One really can’t put a price on the value of an education, yet that still doesn’t make handling the financial requirements of an associate’s degree program any easier. However, there are a number of ways that one may able to obtain financial assistance to help afford his or her studies. A few of these include:

  • Asking an employer to reimburse the cost of an education.
  • Taking out a bank loan specifically for educational purposes.
  • Pursuing financial aid opportunities through government and privately-funded programs.

Career Outlook

The job outlook for careers in criminal justice has been very strong in recent years. Age-old threats such as national and corporate security or the proliferation of drugs and firearms, combined with new problems such as domestic and international terrorism, immigration issues, and cyber-crime, may be seen as a sign that professionals with criminal justice backgrounds will always be sought after. Indeed, it seems that federal and state law enforcement agencies, as well as private security firms are always on the lookout for new employees.

Entry-level positions for criminal justice careers may net a salary between $27,000-$40,000 per year depending upon the particular line of work. Most of those who go on to hold management- or executive-level positions inside of the field of criminal justice usually had to start out working these very jobs. Yet that’s not to say one can’t merit a higher starting level pay. Depending upon one’s educational background, he or she could realistically push for a higher initial salary. This is but one of the many areas where having an associate’s degree in criminal justice may prove to be beneficial.

The criminal justice industry can offer a lot in terms of excitement, rewards, and financial stability and success. Yet for one to even hope to find a foothold within this field, he or she may need strong scholastic credentials. The path to earning them begins with an associate’s degree in criminal justice.