When selecting a specific criminal justice program, there are many important aspects that you should take into consideration before you make your final decision. You need to make sure the program you choose best fits you. Most importantly, you should focus on programs that will provide the necessary preparation and training for your future career goals. The following considerations will help you during your selection process.
When choosing an academic program you should first find out where the program is located. Is it close by and an easy commute, or will you have to relocate? Then take a look at the expenses and how long the program will take. State colleges and universities are typically less expensive than their private counterparts. If possible, it’s better to work and take longer to graduate than to rely too much on student loans, which are rapidly becoming a national debt crises.
Also, consider class size (smaller class sizes create a more favorable learning environment). And most importantly, decide whether the degree you’re thinking about earning is compatible with your professional interests and aspirations.
Curriculum & Coursework
Does the program you’re interested in provide a comprehensive core curriculum that includes courses in law enforcement, corrections, criminal law, courts, criminal justice ethics, criminology, research and juvenile justice?
During your academic program, your first classes should build a solid foundation that demonstrates how the different components of criminal justice work together in a broader framework. Then, later on, you should start taking more specialized coursework. If you’re interested in a policing vocation, this specialized coursework might include criminal investigation, crisis intervention and community policing.
You should also consider earning a minor in another discipline to enhance your professional opportunities. For example, a minor in Spanish could be useful if you’re planning to work in a Hispanic community or one in chemistry if you’re interested in forensics.
Fact: The information being disseminated by an academic program is no better than the faculty who are delivering it. Find out what academic degrees are held by the program’s faculty. All of the faculty members should possess graduate and/or terminal degrees from accredited and reputable institutions. More specifically, the faculty’s degrees should be in an area or subject that’s related to the topic they’re teaching. Due to the fact that the criminal justice field is interdisciplinary, faculty holding degrees in topics such as law, philosophy, religion, economics, psychology, public health or history should have demonstrated published research and/or professional experience closely related to criminal justice.
Faculty trained in ways that offer different points of view can be a good thing. They can provide students with a challenging and diverse preparation for a complex professional field. But just because someone holds a masters or doctoral degree doesn’t always mean that person is an enlightened or effective teacher. Knowing something and teaching something doesn’t necessarily amount to the same thing. In the end, teaching is both an art and a science.
Faculty with Professional Experience
Sometimes there can be disjunction between learning theories and hypothetical situations within a discipline, and applying knowledge to real-world challenges that a student may encounter while on the job can be very useful. Finding a program that employs faculty who have professional experience working in law enforcement, corrections, courts or other justice-related professions can provide students with practical knowledge that, more often than not, can’t be found in a purely academic program. By sharing their knowledge gained through personal expertise and skill, faculty can disclose more nuanced truths about the field.
It should be noted that “war stories” alone aren’t only inadequate, but can be destructive in teaching students a distorted view of criminal justice that’s not based on what scientific research demonstrates to be true.
Student Placement & Advancement
Many programs offer internships for academic credit that afford students the opportunity to observe and work with criminal justice professionals in local, state and federal agencies. Find out if your potential program has a history of tendering internships in the specialization or agency where you wish to become employed.
Also, find out how many students complete the program and graduate. Of those who do, find out how many go on to find employment in the criminal justice field. More specifically, find the number of students who are hired in positions with law enforcement agencies, courts, correctional institutions or in openings in the specializations in which the program offers training. You should also consider how many students interested in advanced study go on to pursue, and finish, graduate-level degrees.
Dr. Nicole Prior teaches on the faculty of East Tennessee State Universality’s Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology.
Dr. Michael C. Braswell is Professor Emeritus at the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at East Tennessee State University. His areas of expertise include ethics, corrections and peacemaking. Braswell has published several books, including Justice, Crime and Ethics; Correctional Counseling and Rehabilitation; and Crime Scene Investigation. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.