A degree in criminal justice can put you on the fast track to a rewarding and exciting career. As you consider the various available degrees that can prepare you for a criminal justice career, it’s worthwhile to consider what you want to do once you graduate.
Two-year programs: Criminal Justice Admissions Process. If you’re looking to work as a security guard, forensic technician, or paralegal, you will benefit from training at the two-year associate degree level. To get into criminal justice school, you will normally need a high school diploma or GED. From there, all you will likely need to do is enroll and declare a criminal justice major. Be aware that there are sometimes waiting lists for popular programs. Keep in mind that some employers may prefer candidates with a higher degree, depending on your field.
Four-year programs: Criminal Justice Admissions Process. The process of getting into a college criminal justice program is generally about getting into the school itself. As you likely know, certain colleges are more competitive than others; for that reason, it is important to take the application process seriously. The aim of the game is to present credentials that impress.
Although a stellar high school or community college GPA helps with getting into criminal justice school, it’s not the only factor that matters in your college application. You will most likely be required to take the SAT or ACT, write an admission essay (in which you can certainly describe your interest in criminal justice, if the topic allows for it), and submit letters of recommendation.
Another element that can add weight to your application is evidence of extracurricular involvement. If you can, seek out opportunities that demonstrate leadership ability, community mindedness, and responsibility. All of these are traits that will attest to your readiness to be a criminal justice major.
Graduate programs. The first step in preparing your application for a graduate criminal justice or criminology program is to complete an undergraduate program in a related discipline. Graduate programs are very discipline-specific, and a solid track record in the field will serve to bolster your credentials. (This is especially important if you intend to apply for a doctoral degree.)
Having the right academic background is also useful in another way: it assists you in obtaining well-written and comprehensive letters of recommendation that speak to your potential as a graduate student in criminal justice or criminology. Give your letter writers plenty of time to complete the letter. There’s nothing more nerve-racking than being close to a graduate application deadline and unsure of whether you’ll have your letters in time.
Depending upon the program, you will likely need to take the GRE or the LSAT. Develop a study plan and stick to it. Your scores count, especially if you have set your sights on competitive target schools.
When it comes time to write your statement of purpose, be specific in explaining what you wish to study as a graduate criminal justice major. A large part of the candidate-review process is centered on determining the “fit” between the interests of a student and the strengths of a program. Whatever you do, don’t leave your statement to the last minute. You’ll want to have time to present it to trusted professors or other readers who can provide constructive feedback. Personal statements follow a very specific form.
Once your application is in the mail, it can take a while to hear back. Have patience and try not to think too much about it!
Career training and certification. As a result of the 2007 Preparedness Directorate issued by the federal government, $1.6 billion in grant money is available to fund various training programs related to homeland security. Thus, numerous opportunities will continue to exist for criminal justice professionals who want or need to enhance their skills. If you already work in the field, check with your employer to see if there are programs in your area.