UPDATED April 21, 2021
Pop culture is obsessed with crime fighters. Comic book superheroes, brainy British sleuths, tech-savvy forensic teams, and assorted other crusaders for justice all work tirelessly to protect the innocent and ensnare the guilty. While many of these shows are fictional, there’s no questioning their influence.
If you’re interested in being a part of the exciting world of criminal justice, you may want to consider a degree in the field. The University of Arizona Global Campus (UAGC) offers a Bachelor of Arts in Social and Criminal Justice and a Master of Science in Criminal Justice that can prepare you for professional careers in the criminal justice field.
What Is Criminal Justice?
Criminal justice, in a nutshell, is the pursuit and provision of justice in criminal cases. The discipline and its applications, however, constitute a much wider array of career fields and practices (beyond what you see on TV police procedurals).
Although pop culture may have initially sparked your interest in criminal justice, you may find it even more appealing when you read these five reasons why you should pursue a degree in social and criminal justice.
1. Criminal Justice is a Multifaceted Discipline
A social and criminal justice program touches on many different elements, all involving the study of people, explains Dr. Shari Schwartz, the Program Chair for the BA in Social and Criminal Justice and the Master of Science in Criminal Justice programs in the College of Liberal Arts at UAGC.
“We’re looking at sociology concepts, psychology concepts, and the psychology of legal decision-making.”
Social and criminal justice are scientific disciplines, and a bachelor’s degree will expose you to areas of life that transcend the traditional image of courtrooms and crime labs. As a student and later a graduate, your ability to function on a multidisciplinary level will help you grow at a much faster rate, and thus develop more promising career opportunities.
“In many ways, it makes you more versatile as you’re able to analyze and critically evaluate different issues,” Dr. Schwartz says. “The way you master research and data analysis will make you look differently at the world around you.
“Even things that might not have to do with criminal justice – your courses will show how to apply the principles in other areas, and that can have a profound impact on your life.”
2. Your Skillset Will Grow Far Beyond Crime-fighting
When you choose a degree, you want courses that won’t leave you feeling siloed into one industry or job. A social and criminal justice program will develop a set of transferable soft and hard skills that you can apply in the field of law enforcement and beyond, with a curriculum that touches on:
- Data Analysis: Social and criminal justice students are tasked with looking at large sets of data, breaking down usable information, and making a convincing case.
- Research Methods: This course challenges you to examine types of data, measurement scales, hypotheses, sampling, probability, and varied research designs for research in the social sciences and related disciplines.
- Psychology of Criminal Behavior: For her program, Dr. Schwartz asks students to examine real-world psychology records, prepared by social workers and other experts, so that they can analyze the criminal mindset.
Social and criminal justice students are also exposed to essential communication and presentation tools and techniques, such as preparing their work on PowerPoint and writing documents in American Psychological Association (APA) style.
Another benefit of the multidisciplinary approach is that it gives you a chance to explore many different topics and discover new areas of interest. Such exploration can be valuable when refining your personal goals and career paths.
3. A Versatile Skillset Creates Versatile Career Opportunities
Because the program combines elements of psychology, political science, literature, and sociology, you emerge ready to take on a variety of different career opportunities.
Here are some examples of the fields and jobs you would be qualified to pursue with your Bachelor of Arts in Social and Criminal Justice*:
- Local Police
- State Police
- Federal Marshal
- Highway Patrol Officer
- Immigration Officer
- Border Patrol
- Criminal Investigator
- Homeland Security and Terrorism Prevention Agent
- Probation Officer
- Sheriff's Deputy
- Private Security Manager
If you are pursuing a Master of Science in Criminal Justice**, here are some examples you would be qualified for:
- Correctional Officer Supervisor
Additionally, the University of Arizona Global Campus MS program offers a specialization in Forensic Science† that will give you a taste for forensics and help you decide if it’s a discipline you want to pursue professionally.
4. Social and Criminal Justice Careers Are In-demand
Everyone wants job security, and social and criminal justice graduates will benefit from a surging job market. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the agency that analyzes the country’s employment trends, many of the careers associated with a social and criminal justice degree are in-demand, including:
Police Officers and Detectives: According to the BLS, employment of police and detectives is projected to grow 5% – faster than average — through 2029. The agency says, “The need for public safety is expected to lead to new openings for officers, although demand may vary by geographic location.”
Probation Officers: Employment of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists is expected to grow 4% through the end of the decade, the BLS reports, adding that “job openings should remain plentiful because many people leave the occupation each year.”
It is possible to pursue a career in some areas of criminal justice without a college degree, but your career potential may be limited without higher education. A college degree and the skills and knowledge acquired through your studies will set you up for many additional criminal justice careers.
5. It Fuels Your Personal and Professional Passion
Your degree will always open doors, but a degree in social and criminal justice will give you the foundation needed to pursue your personal and professional passion. Dr. Schwartz points to her own story as evidence.
She entered school as a psychology major, but minored in criminal justice because she held a longtime interest in the legal system, particularly criminal behavior. As she pursued her doctoral in psychology, she was able to secure an internship with the Miami-Dade County Public Defender’s Office Capital Litigation Unit.
“Having that psychology knowledge, without the criminal justice knowledge, would not have been helpful to them,” she explains. “I needed that additional education.”
Selecting a degree based solely on future job prospects can leave a student disappointed or frustrated if they’re not passionate about the field they’re working in. Following your passion will lead you to a career path that makes you happy, resulting in a more fulfilling professional and personal life, Dr. Schwartz adds.
I Have a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice, Now What?
Dr. Schwartz says it’s not uncommon for students to ask what they should do with their criminal justice credentials.
“It’s really about, ‘Where do you want to be?’” she explains.
With your bachelor’s degree, you can take your education further and pursue a Master of Science in Criminal Justice. She also recommends students start their career track early – in undergraduate and graduate school — so they don’t have to ask that question after graduation.
She encourages criminal justice students of all ages and levels of experience to volunteer or look for internship opportunities. Local agencies especially, she says, often have opportunities for students and graduates to volunteer.
“You learn skills when you volunteer, it’s a line on your resume that proves your value and knowledge,” Dr. Schwartz says. “You can take what you’ve learned and work elsewhere.
“Try to think about where you have an interest in working and take advantage of these opportunities because you will gain the experience that you need to be hired. You’re already an insider!”
Looking Ahead at a Criminal Justice Career
You may not be a superhero, but a criminal justice degree can set you up to be a force of good in your community. If you’re interested in career flexibility, job security, and the opportunity to make a positive impact in your community, speak to an advisor about your bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice.
Certain degree programs may not be available in all states.
*Successful completion of the Bachelor of Arts in Social and Criminal Justice degree by itself does not lead to licensure or certification in any state, regardless of concentration or specialization. Further, the University of Arizona Global Campus does not guarantee that any professional organization will accept a graduate's application to sit for any exam for the purpose of professional certification. Students seeking licensure or certification in a particular profession are strongly encouraged to carefully research the requirements prior to enrollment. Requirements may vary by state. Further, a criminal record may prevent an applicant from obtaining licensure, certification, or employment in this field of study.
**Successful completion of this program by itself may not qualify a student for employment with a federal, state or local law enforcement agency. State and local police agencies require training and certification specified by the individual state’s Police Officer Standards and Training (P.O.S.T.) Board and are often provided post-hire at a police academy. Other federal, state and local agencies as well as private entities have individualized requirements. Prospective students are advised to contact individual agencies and states’ P.O.S.T. boards for additional information relating to these requirements. Students seeking licensure or certification in a particular profession are strongly encouraged to carefully research the requirements prior to enrollment. Requirements may vary by state. Further, a criminal record may prevent an applicant from obtaining licensure, certification, or employment in this field of study.
†The Master of Science in Criminal Justice, Forensic Science specialization is not intended to prepare students for direct employment as forensic investigators or analysts. The Forensic Science specialization is not a pathway to employment as a forensic scientist. In addition, the Forensic Science specialization is not intended to prepare students for professional examinations required as a function of employment in the capacity of forensic investigator or analyst.