Getting a criminal justice degree isn’t just about learning how to catch bad guys. The field of criminal justice is more varied than you might think – a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice qualifies you to work as a customs agent, a drug enforcement agent or even a paralegal.
We wanted to know what getting a degree in criminal justice was like, so we spoke with an expert in the field: Don Schneidmiller, a Deputy Chief with the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office and an instructor at the University of Phoenix. Schneidmiller has his bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in educational leadership and is an expert on crimes against children, crisis/hostage negotiations, mediation, tactical operations, community policing and narcotics enforcement.
What is a typical day like for a criminal justice student?
There really is no typical day in the criminal justice degree program. Most of our students work full time so they are extremely busy. Many of them are a little stressed, very busy and extremely excited to be in a challenging academic environment.
What subjects are typically studied in the criminal justice program?
Our classes are designed to give you a broad understanding of the three corners of the criminal justice system: law enforcement, courts, and corrections. Some criminal justice degree classes combine all three; for example, you may end up taking a class that focuses on the current issues in corrections and restorative justice. We want students to have a solid foundation so that they can be successful in any one of the three areas with their criminal justice degree.
What surprises students most about the program?
How academically challenging it is – it’s tough. Getting a criminal justice degree is as academically challenging as an engineering or mathematics program. Many students are also surprised at what a diverse field criminal justice can be.
What classes would you suggest for someone interested in the criminal justice field?
Start off with an overview course. Taking some introductory courses will help you decide if getting a criminal justice degree is the right career choice for you.
How can prospective students know if a criminal justice degree is right for them?
Speak to as many people already in the field as you can. Pick their brains to find out more about their jobs. The knowledge you gain from people working in the criminal justice field is just as valuable as the knowledge you will gain in the classroom.
Can students still work while attending school?
Yes. A majority of students do so.
What are some typical career paths after getting a criminal justice degree?
Most students with a bachelor’s in criminal justice tend to become law enforcement officers, corrections officers, detention officers, or probation or surveillance officers.
What are some common traits of a great criminal justice program?
It should be academically challenging first and foremost. Do the instructors have a working body of knowledge in the system? You want faculty that have actually worked in the criminal justice field. Do they know about current events in the criminal justice system? Make sure that the curriculum is broad. You don’t want a program that just teaches you how to be a police or corrections officer, but one that will teach you about all aspects of the criminal justice system.
What advice do you have for people interested in a criminal justice program?
Get out and talk to people working in the profession. Talk to people in courts, police officers, and corrections officers. Get an idea of how diverse the system is. The criminal justice field is such a broad field; get out and learn about it.
Anything else you’d like prospective students to know?
It is critical that students know they’ll be held to an extremely high moral and ethical standard. They need to start holding themselves to that standard now.