What is Criminal Justice?
There are many kinds of jobs available for those who pursue a degree in criminal justice. Many will complete their degree then head into their local police academy. Others might train in a federal law enforcement academy which prepares them for work in the FBI, CIA, DEA, or DHS, among other options.
In general, all criminal justice professionals work to investigate, prosecute, and even prevent crime. They may work in the corrections system, local police departments, or at the federal level. Some work in jobs that involve more scientific analysis of evidence and there are others who work on public policy as it pertains to criminal justice.
While most criminal justice majors apply their degrees in the public sector, others work for private concerns. There is strong demand for criminal justice majors as paralegals, private investigators, and independent consultants. A criminal justice degree also is a good foundation for law school.
Arizona has many terrific criminal justice degree programs. Since this is a very popular academic track for many students, we have dedicated a large amount of effort to ranking the best criminal justice degree programs in Arizona. Students should know that their criminal justice program is likely to follow the trends in criminality that plague their particular state. That's because the professors tend to have experience in the field, fighting crime in Arizona.
Criminal Justice Education in Arizona
A criminal justice professional is a person who works in the criminal justice system in some form or fashion. Typically, most people will first list police officers as members of this field. However, it also includes probation officers, parole officers, detectives, corrections workers, social workers, and even academic professionals. Thus, the field of criminal justice encompasses many individual career paths.
Criminal justice majors also take their careers into other, related fields. Some may build on their knowledge of criminal psychology and pursue work as forensic psychologists or work with other troubled individuals. Many majors focus on the law as part of their degree and then enroll in law school. Still others build on their knowledge of law and the criminal justice system and go to work for criminal attorneys as paralegals. Thus, a degree in criminal justice is a gateway to a myriad of opportunities that students can follow to great success.
Associate Degree in Criminal Justice (AS)
The best journeys all begin with a single step, and a career in criminal justice is no different. A two-year associate degree in criminal justice is one terrific first step towards a terrific career in CJ. With a two-year degree, graduates can land great first jobs on a police force, in a correctional facility, or as a paralegal for a criminal attorney, among other options.
This route is not only great from an academic angle but it's also a great value. Students should look for a two-year criminal justice degree that includes the focus areas they are most interested in. They can then apply that knowledge to their first jobs. Later, a two-year degree will be applicable toward a full four-year undergraduate degree in criminal justice. Students should also be aware that there are many terrific online associate degrees in criminal justice available.Learn more about an Associates in Criminal Justice
Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice (BS)
A bachelor's criminal justice degree is perhaps the best degree to have when starting a career in the field. In four years, students can explore the depth and breadth of the field while pursuing internships and part-time jobs in criminal justice, law, and corrections, among other options. Four-year undergraduate criminal justice programs in larger colleges and universities can offer specializations such as law, behavioral science, and forensics.
A bachelor's degree in criminal justice will open up more opportunities for graduates. Employers prefer to hire people who have completed full four-year degree programs in criminal justice. Even those who decide to work for law firms or other organizations will find that their bachelor's degree provides more opportunities and higher salaries than an associate degree. Furthermore, once they have a bachelor's degree, professionals can apply to master’s degree programs. Thus, a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science in criminal justice creates a solid foundation for long-term career success.Learn more about a Bachelors in Criminal Justice
Master's Degree in Criminal Justice (MS or MC)
A master’s degree in criminal justice can make an ordinary career extraordinary. For those who have pursued the scientific route to forensics, a master’s degree could help them become the head of their laboratory or maybe they will be able to expand their work to include expert testimony in court.
A graduate degree in criminal justice can lead to work as a criminal profiler, probation officer, criminologist, or a top position in public administration. The degree may also help criminal justice professionals turn to politics and perhaps win a local Sheriff's race, earn them an appointment as Police Chief, or even help them launch a consultancy in the criminal justice realm.
Another option for criminal justice professionals is a master of business administration. This may seem like an odd choice, but with a concentration or dual master’s degree in public administration they can go very far, indeed. Such professionals might be able to rise into the upper reaches of their state's law enforcement bureaucracy. An MBA could also help a criminal justice professional land a job in a federal law enforcement agency such as the FBI, DHS, DEA, or ATF.Learn more about a Masters in Criminal Justice
PhD Degree in Criminal Justice (PhD)
Those who pursue a PhD in criminal justice are most likely in pursuit of a career in academia. This degree will help them earn positions as a college or university professor with hopes of gaining tenure. A PhD in criminal justice can also help holders work as researchers for think tanks or universities.
This level of academic achievement can also help professionals work as consultants. Their expertise in the field is sure to be worth a lot of money to police departments and correctional facilities that wish to improve their operations. Many will still wish to work in the field and can pursue their work as criminal profilers, forensic experts, or even top-level detectives for a state or federal law enforcement agency. Some who achieve this level of academic achievement might also become prison wardens. Ultimately, a PhD or doctorate in criminal justice will help the degree holder rise to the very top of their field.
Top College Programs in Arizona for Criminal Justice
- Arizona State University
- Northern Arizona University
- Grand Canyon University
Become a Criminal Justice Professional in Arizona
If you wish to land a career as a criminal justice professional in Arizona, there are many things to consider. The first thing that needs to be decided is what sort of career you want. There are many options, and you can determine if you need a degree to achieve your goals or not. While we do recommend that all future criminal justice careerists earn a degree to help boost their job description and salary, everyone needs to make their own decisions.
You can start a career in criminal justice without a degree, and this might be a wise choice. For example, you can start work as a police officer or a corrections worker such as a prison guard without a college degree. These jobs can provide needed insights and experiences that may be invaluable later if you decide to earn a degree.
If you wish to take this route, you could possibly continue to work while you return to school for an associate degree in criminal justice. The online degree option might be ideal since many police officers and corrections workers work odd hours that could interfere with class schedules. However, your supervisor may help you schedule shifts so that you can attend traditional classroom classes.
After earning an associate degree, you'll want to earn a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. Four-year degrees from larger colleges and universities provide you with more opportunities to focus on the topics that you need to build a career on. If you want to pursue a law degree, you can find a criminal justice degree program that has coursework that will prepare you for law school. Others may want to pursue the biological or psychological aspects of crime and law enforcement and focus on those.
Your bachelor's degree might be able to help you land a law enforcement position with an Arizona state law enforcement agency under the umbrella of the Arizona Department of Public Safety. There also may be opportunities with the Arizona Department of Homeland Security, among many other state-level options.
Careers for Criminal Justice Graduates
- Cybersecurity Expert:
With the rise in cyber-crimes, there is an enhanced need for so-called ethical hackers to fight the bad guys. This field is growing by leaps and bounds and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that these jobs are expanding at terrific rates and that the median salaries are quite handsome. Read more about Becoming a Cybersecurity Specialist
- Police/Corrections/Probation/Parole Officer:
These law enforcement professionals work with people in the corrections system. Specifically, they help prisoners transition back to civilian life. To that end, they oversee their case load to ensure that they don't revert to using drugs, fraternizing with known bad influences, and that they complete any community service tasks, as mandated by the courts.
- Private Investigator:
This path can take many forms. Some private investigators work for retail stores and hunt down shoplifters. Others use their research tools and skills to help adoptees find their birth parents. There are also PIs who work to solve crimes, just like your favorite television sleuth. While all that is needed to work as a private investigator is a state license, the more experience, connections, and knowledge of criminal justice you have the better your career will be.
- Crime Scene Investigator/Technician:
This position involves science more than any other in the criminal justice and corrections system. You may be familiar with crime scene investigations from the recent spate of television shows that depict this career in a rather glamorous light. While those shows aren’t particularly realistic, this is a great career for those who enjoy working in a lab. Read more about Becoming a CSI
- Crime Prevention Specialist:
These professionals work to help stem the tide of crime before it rises, much less crests. They may work with at-risk youth to address the issues that create criminals. Others might work to educate potential victims so that they can protect them and deter criminals.
- ATF/DoD/DEA/FBI/CIA/NSA Agent:
Federal law enforcement agents address a large spectrum of criminal activity. As a federal agent, you might work to fight organized criminals launder money for Mexican cartels, hunt down interstate murderers, or outwit cyber-criminals who pose a threat to our fundamental infrastructure systems.
In a local police department, these law enforcement professionals are typically assigned to a division that specializes in particular sorts of crimes such as homicide, organized crime, vice, or cold cases, to name a few. Detectives outrank rank-and-file police officers and usually have a college degree.
- State Trooper/State Highway Patrol:
These law enforcement officers are typically seen cruising the highways of their state. They are the nemesis of those drivers who are in too much of a hurry. In fact, the bulk of a state highway patrol officer's work involves policing the state's highways. However, they also are involved in finding missing persons and otherwise providing needed investigatory support on the highways.
- Criminal Justice Professor:
This position requires a minimum of a master’s degree in criminal justice, but a Ph.D. or a doctorate will ensure the most success. Many criminal justice departments even prefer that their faculty have experience in the criminal justice system on top of their academic credentials.