It's important to determine an area of sub-specialty within the field of criminal justice. This important step in the degree decision-making process is particularly relevant when you consider a master degree. More than any other degree level, a master degree is intended to provide specialty training in a certain focus area so that you can enhance your career opportunities after graduation. And, relevant to the field of criminal justice, is that while some sub-specialties require a master degree, others do not. Paralegals, for example, generally will be spending valuable work time obtaining a master in the field (employment obtainable with a certification and/or bachelor degree). Criminologists, on the other hand, most often need a PhD to practice successfully (which means a master will be essential on your educational road). Interview professionals, research online and on land programs, look for job/career descriptions that interest you. And, of course, find out if your area of interest either requires a master degree in criminal justice, or would prove more lucrative if you did obtain the master degree.
While a master degree in criminal justice can certainly enhance your career and earning potential, there are a few potential drawbacks to consider:
Every field has its own lexicon, or vocabulary, that is relevant to its study and practice. Criminal justice is no different. When you begin a degree program in criminal justice; specifically if you have no prior background in the field, it can be very overwhelming to hear and be expected to quickly learn all of these terms and implement them.
If you are interested in studying criminal justice that you do some quick and easy research to familiarize yourself with the language used, so that you will not be completely in the dark when you begin classes. This can be particularly important if you are earning your degree online, where less availability to field-related language and conversations will exist.
Juvenile Justice is an ever growing area of study for criminal justice majors. While juvenile justice studies can lead to a rewarding career on some levels, the difficulties and sometimes heart-wrenching realities of this kind of work cannot be ignored. If you are interested in working with youth in the criminal justice system, it is recommended that you review the website for The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. This will provide you more information on preventative measures and employment opportunities in this area of work with juveniles. Additionally, speak with employees who work on the "after effects" end of the crime infiltrating juveniles in cities around the country. Preventative work is quite different than working with teens who are already in the system.
In terms of jobs and degree offerings for women in criminal justice, the opportunities are numerous. If you are interested in the field, you can break in -with the right degree and/or experience-in any of the previously described specialty areas.
If you are interested in the study of women and criminal justice behaviors and/or patterns, the research is more sparse. Women are less reported and researched in terms of criminal patterns and/or behaviors, so this means two things: the existing literature on women/criminal behaviors is limited AND the field is wide open for you budding professors and researchers out there. The Texas Woman's University's "Women and Criminal Justice" website offers statistical pattern data, domestic violence victim/perpetrator information, international data, women in law and so on. This page is not only comprehensive, but, again, a good depiction of some of the data you could expect to study if you chose to focus your higher degree in the area of women in criminal justice. The most important element of this site is that it offers countless links to other, more detailed, information.
One of the important issues to consider in criminal justice (specifically if you are interested in the corrections, criminal, forensic or homeland security components) is the amount of "reality" you are able to consume in a given day. Many jobs that sound glamorous on paper can also be quite painful to experience at times. For instance, if you are not used to seeing death, crime beset upon vulnerable populations and unexplainable traumas, it may be difficult for you to practice this kind of work. While it is easy in theory to say that we want to "save the world" or "make a difference," this kind of vast change in society is not possible in the way that we may think it is prior to working in the field.
That being said, however, work in the area of criminal justice can also be rewarding. It can be a good feeling to know that you are trying -as an individual-to right some of society's wrongs. But it cannot be emphasized enough that one's ability to leave work at work, to have a physical/spiritual/relational outlet through which to make meaning of these difficult circumstances, or at least to let them go, is essential to any success in the field.
It's a good idea to interview people already in the field, but also keep an open mind to what they have to say about their experiences. It is easy to put that idealistic veneer on one's ability to listen. If you are able to take in the realities of what criminal justice professionals have to say and to recognize your ability to grapple with these issues in a way that keeps you healthy, then the field may very well be a great one for you to consider!
|Jennifer Mathes, Ph.D.|