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Great Criminal Justice and Criminolgy Careers That Don't Require a Degree

Not Going to College Doesn't Have to Mean Not Getting a Great Job

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It's an often under appreciated idea that, all things being equal, college just isn't for everyone. Though one should never disregard the benefits of a college education in criminal justice and criminology careers, it should also be acknowledged that earning a degree may not be the best option at a particular point in time for some people.  Fortunately, there are several career options available within the field of criminology and criminal justice that don't require degrees.

Corrections or Detention Officer

Corrections officer searching inmate
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Corrections officers work within the punishment phase of the criminal justice system and serve to execute court-ordered sentences of convicted criminals.  In most states, a high school diploma is the only education need to get your foot in the door.  However, POST or Criminal Justice Standards certification and extensive academy training is typically required to work in the jail or prison system.

Corrections officers work odd hours and shift work.  They spend most of their time inside and behind locked doors, in highly secured areas.  Corrections officers quite often earn at the lower end of the pay scale, usually between $20,000 and $35,000 to start.  Working as a corrections officer can make for a career in its own right, or provide a suitable stepping stone toward a higher paying job in the criminal justice arena.

Police Officer

Police Car Lights
Scott Davidson

On paper, many departments across the United States still do not require their applicants to hold college degrees.  Instead, there are minimum age and work experience requirements.  With the proper combination of past employment, prior military service and high school performance, it is still possible to become a police officer without earning a degree, though the required academy training can be lengthy and grueling.

Police officers answer calls for service, investigate minor crimes, provide protection and law enforcement services and investigate traffic crashes.  They also patrol their communities and generally work to keep neighborhoods safe and prevent crime.  Entry-level police officers can earn between $30,000 and $45,000 per year, with opportunities for advancement and promotion as they progress in their careers.

Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Crime Scene Tape
Tim Roufa

Criminal investigators are specially-trained police officers who are called to investigate significant and major crimes.  Generally, they handle complicated cases that patrol officers don't have the time, resources or training to follow through with a thorough investigation.  Police detectives and investigators can earn up to $97,000, depending on where they work their length of service.  Most, however, earn around $60,000 per year.

Detectives and criminal investigators are not typically entry-level careers.  However, because many agencies still do not require degrees of their officers, it is possible to move up and into a detective position in just as few as 2 years.

Loss Prevention Specialist

Loss prevention workers serve to protect merchandise and prevent theft at retail stores across the country.  Because retail theft is such a huge problem for retailers, companies hire loss prevention specialists to mitigate and eliminate the negative effects of theft, both by customers and employees.

Typically, loss prevention specialists earn just over minimum wage to start, and a high school diploma or GED is the only education required.  Working in loss prevention can provide relevant work experience for higher paying jobs in criminology and criminal justice.  Loss prevention specialists can also aspire to move up the ranks into management and earn up to $50,000 or more.

Police Dispatchers

Dispatchers are an indispensable component of the law enforcement and first response systems within communities.  Dispatchers are often the first point of contact and provide a vital connection between the community and the officer.  Most often, applicants need only have a high school diploma or it's equivalent to get hired, but past public contact work experience is a tremendous help.

Dispatchers routinely deal with distressed, scared, angry or upset citizens and officers. They serve as the lifeline, both to the citizen and the officer handling the call for service.  Working as a police dispatcher can at times be a highly stressful occupation.  Dispatchers can earn between $22,000 and $54,000 per year.

U.S. Border Patrol Agents

Border Patrol
Octavian Cosma

Uniformed border patrol agents work to keep the United States borders safe by curbing illegal immigration, preventing illegal border crossings and striving to keep dangerous drugs and weapons from entering the country.  

Border patrol agents do not need a college degree, but instead attend one of the most rigorous training academies in the United States.  Like other police officer careers, an extensive background investigation is required, including a polygraph exam.  Border patrol agents must also be able to speak functional Spanish before they are released for patrol.  Agents earn a median annual salary of about $44,000.

Uniformed Secret Service Officer

Secret Service Officer
Alex Proimos

Secret service special agents get all the glory, but the uniformed officers of the secret service work just as hard to protect the president, vice president and foreign dignitaries.  Uniformed secret service officers maintain security at the White House, the vice president's residence at the U.S. Naval Observatory, and at the United States Treasury Building.

Officers perform shift work and are stationed primarily in and around Washington, D.C., though they may be called upon to travel with the presidential security detail and to provide a uniformed presence on other secret service operations, such as warrant service, when required.  Uniformed secret service agents earn approximately $52,000 per year.

Considering a Degree Later in Your Career

Though college may not be immediately available or the right thing for you right now, there's nothing to say you can't consider earning either a degree in criminal justice or a bachelor's in criminology in the future.  In fact, after several years of relevant work experience, you may find that you are better able to excel academically and you may even decide to go on and earn a master's degree.  Regardless of where your path takes you, though, be sure to take advantage of all of the opportunities available within this exciting career field.
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