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Considering Criminal Justice? Diversify Your Education

A criminal justice degree can mean many things for your career path. For some, heading straight into law enforcement is the after-graduation plan. For others, the journey is a bit more complicated. 

If you're interested in criminal justice or already have a criminal justice degree, you know there are many different careers and jobs associated with the large field of criminal justice and forensic science. So how do you find the job that's suited to you and what degree will you need to get there?

Well, to get started, we spoke with Mike Himmel, professor at Columbia College and coordinator of the POST and CJ certificates at the college. Himmel often consults with those in law enforcement and suggested figuring out what specialization you're interested in during or after a career. 

"Retirement after 20 years [in law enforcement] is usually not an option," Himmel said. 

After years in the field, Himmel suggested looking at higher positions such as chief opportunities, teaching or moving into the private sector. These students are "selecting graduate degrees in business or public administration."

And earning an MBA or a degree in public administration is often the deciding factor in who gets chief positions or teaching careers. More business-minded people or those with experience in administration tend to enter higher positions with more skills. They are also better suited to the job than someone who has only done field work throughout their career as they are more familiar with budgets, Human Resources and Public Relations work.

But computer science and nursing degrees are also on the rise. Degrees in computer science generally benefit those looking at the private sector or security work. Himmel added, "I've seen a couple [of students] seek a two-year degree in nursing, then fast track a 'forensic nurse' certification."

"With their law enforcement background and...nursing or forensic nursing advanced degrees and certifications, [they are] highly sought after [for] medical examiner and emergency room [positions]."

For those already working and looking toward a second career leg, business and public administration degrees tend to rank the highest. But if you're looking to pick up a second major or have a few more options in your law enforcement work, there are many other degrees to choose from. 

Law enforcement goes hand-in-hand with pre-law and public policy studies as well as sociology and social work. Understanding why humans behave the way they do and how to better solve problems can only help the more dangerous situations law enforcement officials face. Picking up a few psychology courses or studying anthropology, gender studies, cultural studies or peace studies will give you a broader understanding of the world and can be turned into second careers working with nonprofits or in social work. For those interested in work with the Fish and Wildlife Services, a degree in environmental studies could help you land your dream job. 

A criminal justice degree can take you in more directions than just law enforcement. Whether you're looking to get started in the field and pursue graduate work at a later date or if you want to get a double major to keep your options open, the criminal justice degree goes along with just about anything.

Degrees, Graduate Degrees, Career Change, Columbia College, Jobs

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