Should one major in Criminal Justice to become a law enforcement officer (LEO)?

The simple answer is YES and NO. A Criminal Justice degree is NOT required for the job (what you need to know about the job will be taught during the academy). Some other degrees may be more beneficial to you depending on what you want to do in law enforcement. For example, if you eventually wish to work fraud-related cases, having a degree in

finance or accounting would likely be an excellent background for you. If you wish to eventually work with computers, or even work cyber crime investigations, having a degree in Computer Science/MIS/IT would likely be much better in providing you the appropriate computer-related background that would help with these positions. However, studying Criminal Justice can be of benefit to those who want to pursue law enforcement, as well as those who are seeking their degree and already work in the field.


So, why have a Criminal Justice degree in the first place?

Criminal Justice degrees best serve two types of people: (1) students who wish to work in law enforcement and really have no interest in studying anything else (some of my Criminal Justice students decided to switch majors after finding out the Business or some other career field wasn't for them), and (2) current LEOs who are seeking a degree to satisfy department demands for promotion (or their own sense of professional growth). For the first group, while many- if not most- departments will hire LEOs with any degree major (so long as they have the degree), there are some departments that give special hiring preference (ex: pay increases) for those that have degrees deemed "position related" (these would include Criminal Justice, Criminology, Law Enforcement, Administration of Justice, etc.). For the second group of already-working LEOs, many Criminal Justice programs will allow for Prior Learning Assessments, which is where a student may have their work experience evaluated by the college's academic management for transfer as credit (typically 25% of the total credit hours) into their degree program. In addition, some Criminal Justice programs also allow students to transfer in POST training certification as credit and waive certain intro-level courses.

Isn't it often said that a Criminal Justice degree can limit one's career if one is found unsuitable for work in LE?

Yes. I do not know of too many corporate businesses that are actively seeking Criminal Justice majors, but with that said, many jobs do look for individuals with a bachelor's degree (regardless of what the major is in). A Criminal Justice degree would certainly limit one from certain jobs in certain career fields, as the degree teaches about the criminal justice system, but it would not be accurate to say that the ONLY jobs one could get would be in the criminal justice system. While I agree with the advice for students who wish to be LEOs may want to major in a more general field to increase their marketability outside of LE, simply having a degree is also beneficial for a number of positions in the private sector, and if a degree in Criminal Justice is all one is interested in studying, there is likely not a good reason to major in something else unless also interested in another field (ex: Business, Mass Communications, Journalism, etc.).

In conclusion

A Criminal Justice degree, while not a substitution or waiver for police academy training, is an excellent educational field for those interested in various fields within the criminal justice system. It is a good fit for those who are interested in gaining entry into career positions in criminal justice, as well as those who already work within the criminal justice system. In addition, many Criminal Justice programs utilize instructors and professors who have real-world work experience in the criminal justice field, and are able to articulate matters discussed in the studies through their personal experiences. This can give new and exciting insight to students interested in learning more about the criminal justice system.

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