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4 Suggested Degrees to Have When Applying for a Career in Law Enforcement

Dana E. Brede

 

Choosing the right criminology degree programs for yourself is one of the most important decisions that you will ever make. More than ever before, today’s students have more options when it comes to choosing educational routes. From local police officers, detectives, highway patrol officers, sheriffs, deputy sheriffs, criminal investigators, and detectives, to fish and game wardens and federal law enforcement agents—there are countless options and opportunities for someone considering a criminology career in law enforcement. As a criminology graduate program faculty, I have had numerous students who are both currently working in law enforcement AND students who are working hard to achieve a career in law enforcement. This post is for the latter… students seeking a career in law enforcement who are, perhaps, on the fence about what direction to take their academic or educational path.

It can be overwhelming to select the right degree program and areas of concentration to match future goals and aspirations. Once you have zeroed in on your career goals you can then explore the general areas you would like to pursue and study. My advice is to invest the time in exploring your options. When I was an undergrad, I changed my major at least four times…YIKES, I know, I know…but when I found the field that I was passionate about—everything fell into place.

While many job requirements within the field of law enforcement include the need for education or academic background, they also rely on physical and mental characteristics - the right educational background has the potential to propel an applicant to the next phase in the selection process. Knowledge and expertise in certain subject areas has its advantages. Below is a list of 4 of the top degree suggestions that I have for someone seeking a career in law enforcement:

  1. Criminology—Students who pursue a degree in criminology learn about criminal psychology and the sociological nature of crime as well as other critical aspects to understanding and articulating crime. Graduates from criminology programs enter into the workforce with substantial knowledge in political science, forensics, psychology, constitutional law, history, and statistics. Regis University’s Master Degree in Criminology program, for example, takes it a step further by offering three distinct areas of focus to target more specific career tracks:

    Leadership Degree Focus – explores aspects of conflict resolution, governance, and organization for leadership roles.
    Human Behavior Degree Focus – examines the circumstances and psychology that drive criminal behaviors.
    Cybercrime / Terrorism Degree Focus – explores the predictions and prevention technology crimes and acts of terrorism.

  2. Criminal Justice—Criminal justice is more specific to the study of the jail/prison system, and the roles and responsibilities of police officers and justice. It is essentially the exploration of governmental institutions that strive to uphold social control, mitigate crime and hold violators of laws accountable. Students of criminal justice learn about criminal investigations, criminal justice reform, criminal profiling, the judicial process and constitutional law. Graduates of criminal justice programs enter the workforce with strong judgment and analytical skills.
     
  3. Psychology—Psychology is one of the most popular degrees among college graduates because it prepares students for a wide range of different professions and opportunities. Graduates of psychology programs enter the workforce with strong abilities in understanding human behavior, analyzing and synthesizing data, and articulating complex information—all of which are valuable to potential employers in multiple fields. I wouldn’t call a degree in psychology a “one-size-fits-all degree” but it can be very versatile…especially if you are a student that isn’t 100% certain about your long term career goals.
     
  4. Computer Science/Information Technology—A degree in CS and IT prepares students to plan, design, and optimize computer software and hardware systems for use in both commercial and government environments. It is designed for students who have a solid background in mathematics and an interest in the theory, practice, art, and science of computer programming. ***NOTE***If combatting cyber-crime (a growing field) is something that interests you, a degree in computer science and IT is very advantageous. I have it under good authority (via a conversation with an agent of a “lettered” agency), that knowledge of CS and IT is a very valuable asset when coupled as a minor with a major in criminology or criminal justice.

In general, these four different disciplines are all valuable (in their own right) in terms of gaining employment within the law enforcement field. To be a viable candidate, some knowledge and education of each will require some familiarity and awareness of the others. My best advice for students seeking a position in law enforcement is to diversify, diversify…DIVERSIFY

The value and weight of the academic component in hiring requirements will vary and will be unique to each law enforcement agency that you are applying to. I can say that most federal agencies will require both college degrees (some only accepting graduates with a Master’s degree) and at least three years of full-time professional experience. Moreover, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, education requirements for law enforcement agents range from a high school diploma to a college degree. That being said, it is not unusual for most police departments to require candidates to have at least 60 post-secondary education credits. In addition to educational requirements, there is often a required agency training academy before completing a period of on-the-job training. On average, candidates must be U.S. citizens, at least 21 years old, and able to meet rigorous physical and personal qualifications.

I can certainly attest to the extensive and, for lack of a better word, intimidating process that is often synonymous with seeking a job in one of the myriad of positions within law enforcement. Rest assured that with the right knowledge, preparation and information, a career in law enforcement is possible. Ultimately, you are the only one who can make the decision about what degree or academic track you would like to pursue.

If you would like to discuss what you can do with an online Master of Science in Criminology from Regis University call us at 877-820-0581 to speak to an admissions counselor.

For more information and/or suggestions for future blog post topics please contact Affiliate Professor Dana Brede at dbrede@regis.edu.

Work Cited

Keller, T. (January 2014) The differences between criminal justice and criminology: which degree is right for you? Concordia University-St. Paul. Retrieved from http://online.csp.edu/blog/criminal-justice-online/the-differences-between-criminal-justice-and-criminology

Major in Computer Science. University of Maryland University College. Retrieved from http://www.umuc.edu/academic-programs/bachelors-degrees/computer-science-major.cfm

N.A. (2014) Learn from Past Criminal Behavior. Prevent Future Crime. Regis University. Retrieved from
http://criminology.regis.edu/criminology-programs/ms-criminology

N.A. (2014). Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-2015 Edition. Police and Detectives. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved from http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm

N.A. (2014) Learn from Past Criminal Behavior. Prevent Future Crime. Regis University. Retrieved from
http://criminology.regis.edu/criminology-programs/ms-criminology

Keller, T. (January 2014) The differences between criminal justice and criminology: which degree is right for you? Concordia University-St. Paul. Retrieved from http://online.csp.edu/blog/criminal-justice-online/the-differences-between-criminal-justice-and-criminology

Major in Computer Science. University of Maryland University College. Retrieved from http://www.umuc.edu/academic-programs/bachelors-degrees/computer-science-major.cfm