Tips for Maximizing Your College Experience
Criminal justice education and career opportunities have been growing over the past decade. Most employers seek professionals with some level of formal post-secondary education on the subject, while students are realizing that criminal justice degree programs can prepare them for a wide variety of job titles and occupations. This guide features a comprehensive listing of resources specific to criminal justice students—from study help to resume building to career preparation.
Career Exploration for Criminal Justice Students
It's never too early to start preparing for a career, but a big hurdle can be figuring the best ways to do so. Because the field of criminal justice is so broad, employing people in law enforcement, prisons, the court system, and various social agencies, students have multiple ways to explore the profession and build experience while still in school. The chart below offers suggestions to help criminal justice students navigate this path.
|Short-term criminal justice internship opportunities are available from agencies on all levels of government, including federal positions with the FBI, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and the Department of Justice.||Offered through police departments, job shadow or ride-along programs allow students to join professionals in their daily work and experience first-hand what it's like to work in law enforcement and other criminal justice agencies.||Volunteers play a key role in a number of criminal justice fields, such as policing, corrections and the judiciary. Roles include administrative and clerical work, patrolling and neighborhood watch participation, and even writing citations.|
|A completed formal internship program is a key component to add to a resume, and can give criminal justice students an opportunity to explore various career paths.||While not essential to a resume, a job shadow or ride-along experience allows participants to see if the day-to-day work of a law enforcement officer—or another criminal justice professional—is right for them.||Provides excellent hands-on experience and networking benefits for those seeking careers in criminal justice, all while helping keep communities safe.|
|HOW TO LAND ONE|
|Check online for positions at the federal and state levels. For local opportunities, ask at the offices of your community's law enforcement agencies.||Contact your local police or sheriff's department, or speak with a school career counselor. There is usually a minimum age limit and requests are considered on an individual basis.||Find out about volunteer positions from your local police station or other criminal justice agencies. Most programs require some form of short-term training.|
|The NYPD Law Enforcement Explorers program, for those ages 14 to 20, emphasizes self-discipline and respect for authority as participants build leadership skills and gain experience through different activities.||The Joliet Illinois Police Department's Ride-Along Program is typical of many throughout the United States. A background check and release waiver are among the requirements.||City of Piedmont (California) - Police Volunteer Programs: Piedmont offers several volunteer opportunities through the police department, including neighborhood watch, police reserve, and a vacation home-check service.|
|Department of Homeland Security Pathways Programs: Programs leading to internships for high school through postgraduate students |
FBI Future Agents in Training: High school students receive hands-on training at the FBI's Washington Field Office
HSI Cadet Program: U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement offers this recruitment and outreach program aimed at students with disabilities Macon (Illinois) County State's Attorney's Office Internship Program: For high school, college and law students interested in the criminal justice system.
|City of Fresno, California Police Department Ride Along Program: Information and FAQs for ride along participants |
Indiana Department of Corrections - Benefits of Job Shadowing: Information and advice for making the most of a job shadowing experience
State of Connecticut Judicial Branch Job Shadow Program: Example of a job shadowing program in the judiciary field. Similar programs are available in other states.
|National Crime Prevention Council: Offers information on various ways to volunteer |
Vermont Department of Corrections - Volunteer Opportunities: Example of state program for volunteers in the corrections field; other states have similar programs.
Learn more about criminal justice careers
What misconceptions do students have about criminal justice education?
A lot of students think criminal justice just means being a police officer, when in fact there are a lot of different jobs available under the criminal justice heading. If a student wants to be a police officer, probations officer, corrections officer, attorney — we have paths for each of those.
Raimundo Socorro, PhD
Criminal Justice Student Clubs & Professional Organizations
Student clubs and professional organizations are great ways to connect and network with like-minded individuals, as well as to access to educational resources and career support services. Below is a sampling of criminal justice clubs and organizations to check out.
General Criminal Justice
Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS)
International association fostering professional and scholarly activities in a number of specific areas. Website also features an employment bulletin page.
American Society of Criminology (ASC)
International organization of professionals pursuing scholarly, scientific and professional knowledge concerning crime and delinquency.
National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA)
Represents governments on crime prevention and crime control issues, covering all facets of the criminal justice and juvenile justice communities.
American Correctional Association (ACA)
An association of corrections and other law enforcement professionals, the ACA sponsors accreditation of U.S. correctional institutions and facilities.
Correctional Peace Officers Foundation (CPOF)
Charitable organization that supports families of correctional officers who died in the line of duty. Sponsors scholarship program for members.
Represents over 80,000 publicly employed corrections officers, advocating for the profession through education of the public, media and elected officials.
Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP)
Organization dedicated to sharing experiences and methods of professionals in the field.
National Homeland Security Association (NHSA)
Sponsors the annual National Homeland Security Conference, a gathering of Homeland Security and emergency management professionals from major cities.
National Association of Fire Investigators (NAFI)
Organization of professionals who work in fire and explosion investigation. The NAFI sponsors various training programs, scholarships and symposiums.
National Fire Protection Association (NFPA)
A global nonprofit dedicated to fire prevention through research, training and education outreach.
Society of Fire Protection Engineers (SFPE)
Society of professionals practicing the field of fire protection engineering. Offers educational courses and webinars, technical symposia, and books and publications.
American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS)
National association committed to accuracy, precision and specificity in the forensic sciences. Sponsors newsletters, webinars and meetings, and publishes the Journal of Forensic Sciences.
National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME)
Members include physician medical examiners, medico-legal death investigators, and death investigation system administrators.
Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (FLEOA)
Represents over 25,000 federal law enforcement officers from more than 65 different agencies. Provides a variety of member services and sponsors a scholarship program.
National Association of Police Organizations (NAPO)
A coalition of police unions and associations representing more than 240,000 law enforcement officers. Advocates for the interests of officers through legislative advocacy, political action and education.
International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP)
Advances the law enforcement profession through advocacy, outreach and education, and sponsors a scholarship program.
Criminal Justice Scholarships & Financial Aid
More and more employers are expecting job candidates to have post-secondary education in the criminal justice field. This can be an expensive investment, but fortunately, dozens of scholarship opportunities are dedicated specifically to students majoring in law enforcement, forensic science and related criminal justice subjects.
For detailed information and a scholarship search tool, visit our guide on
Discover criminal justice scholarship and financial aid opportunities
Study Help for Criminal Justice Students
For specific careers in criminal justice, some certifications or examinations may be required by employers. Others may serve as resume-boosters, demonstrating expertise to potential employers. Either way, demonstrating knowledge in a specific criminal justice occupation or skill can prove invaluable to landing a new job or advancing one's career. The table below outlines various tests and certifications for different criminal justice careers, along with the resources to study for them.
|Specialization||Name of Test||Who Should Take It and When?||What's on the Test?||Study Resources|
|Police Officer||The National Police Officer Selection Test (POST)||This entry-level written test is required of police applicants in many jurisdictions.||The POST measures basic intelligence and skill levels in areas such as reading comprehension, spelling, reasoning, mathematics, and memory.||Stanard and Associates - Practice Test and Study GuideStanard and Associates - Study Guide 2009|
|Corrections Officer||The National Corrections Officer Selection Test (NCST)||Entry-level test for corrections officers used by many departments prior to hiring.||The NCST tests basic education, knowledge and skills in a variety of areas.||Stanard and Associates - NCST Product Information Brochure|
|Detective/ Investigator||The National Detective/|
Investigator Test (NDIT)
|Used by law enforcement agencies to help select officers for promotion to detectives or investigators.||Covers topics such as criminal investigations, major court cases, and investigative interviewing.||Stanard and Associates - NDIT Product Information BrochureStanard and Associates - NDIT Order Form|
|Specialization||Name of Test||Who Should Take It and When?||What's on the Test?||Study Resources|
|Fire Investigator||Certified Fire & Explosion Investigator (CFEI)||For those currently employed in the fire and explosion investigation field, but with minimum experience, who want to demonstrate their qualifications.||100 multiple choice questions randomly selected from pool of questions based on NFPA 921 guide.||National Association of Fire Investigators - NFPA 921 Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigators Order FormNAFI - CFEI Guidelines and Information Materials|
|Fire Inspector||Certified Fire Inspector I (CFI-I)||For professionals seeking primary-level certification.||Four-hour, open book test consisting of 110 multiple choice questions.||NPFA Fire Inspector I - Candidate HandbookNPFA Fire Inspector Test - Reference Materials List|
|Arson Investigator||International Association of Arson Investigators - Certified Fire Investigator (IAAI-CFI)||For currently employed professionals meeting specific education, training and experience requirements.||Maximum 150 multiple choice questions covering a variety of arson investigation practices and topics.||IAAI CFI - Policy and Procedures GuideIAAI CFI - Study Reference List|
|Specialization||Name of Test||Who Should Take It and When?||What's on the Test?||Study Resources|
|Various Forensic Science Professions||American Board of Criminalistics Certifications:-Comprehensive Criminalistics Examination (CCE)-Drug Analysis (DA)-Molecular Biology (MB)-Fire Debris Analysis (FD)-Hairs and Fibers (HF)-Paints and Polymers (PP)||For currently employed professionals. Tests to be taken when specific education, training and experience requirements are met per specific certification.||Most ABC examinations consist of 220 multiple choice questions, with 60 percent in general areas and 40 percent in the specialty. The CCE questions are drawn entirely from the areas of law, safety, ethics and all disciplines in a crime laboratory.||ABC - Detailed Certification RequirementsABC - Study Guides|
|Forensic Science Students||Forensic Science Assessment Test (FSAT)||For college seniors and graduate students in a forensic science program of study.||Similar to exams like the GRE, MCAT and ACS, this is a general knowledge test with questions on forensic methods, law, ethics and safety.||FSAT Test OverviewFSAT Study Guide|
Do you have one big piece of advice for people considering a career in criminal justice?
Get a formal education first. Studies show that the better educated officers are, the better and safer they are on the job, and they receive fewer complaints. It also helps them move up in their careers and continue into new paths. If it wasn't for my career in law enforcement, for example, I wouldn't have been able to earn my PhD and have a second career in education. The bottom line is, never stop going to school.
Raimundo Socorro, PhD
General Criminal Justice Study Resources
While working towards a degree in criminal justice, it's not uncommon for students to come across certain courses or exams where they could use a little extra help. Fortunately, there are plenty of study aides and resources available to students online.
Links to dozens of study guides related to criminology and criminal justice.
Provides flashcards and access to hundreds of criminal justice-related study sources.
Search "criminal justice" for a comprehensive index of flash card resources, or create flashcards of your own.
The Psychology of Criminal Justice
Free massive open online course (MOOC) offered through edX that explores the effectiveness of the law and justice system from a psychological perspective.
Lists criminal justice terms and corresponding definitions, curated by students, for students.
Tips to Landing a Criminal Justice Job After College
While some students pursue a degree or certificate program mid-career, for most, the task after graduation is to find a job that can serve as a starting point for a career. Below are some tips to help students stand out against a pool of applicants in the competitive field of criminal justice.
A resume is often the first point of contact with a potential employer, and it's crucial to make that first impression a good one.
Don't include everything you've ever done. Provide the basics — education, work experience, skills, career objectives — and then add a few additional unique interests or qualifications.
Include relevant volunteer and extracurricular experience
Highlight the things that matter: key volunteer and extracurricular activities that are specific to criminal justice, or examples of skills and talents that are useful in the field.
Tailor your resume
Customize the language and substance of your resume to emphasize how you're a good match for a particular employer. Using industry-specific language is a plus.
Watch your spelling and grammar:
Don't undermine your own efforts and experience by neglecting how you come across in writing. If this isn't your strong suit, enlist a reader to help.
Criminal Justice Resume Objectives Several tips for writing clear, concise criminal justice resumes.
Criminal Justice Resume Sample Helpful sample of basic resume for seeking an entry-level job.
Social media plays a part in practically every aspect of our lives, including work, and smart job seekers use it as another tool to promote themselves to employers. Here are a few tips for making it work:
Have a presence in lots of places
There are many popular social media sites, including LinkedIn, Facebook, Google + and Twitter. Some are more geared to the professional world than others, but all can be used to some degree.
Find out who's popular on social media in the criminal justice field and follow them. A good tool to use for Twitter is Followerwonk.
Points for participation
Don't just stand by and watch. Use social media to reach out to criminal justice professionals and join conversations. The more active you are, the more you'll become known in your professional community.
Look for jobs
Social media sites are great for locating job opportunities—both formally and informally.
Sound like a professional
Remember your goal—to be a criminal justice professional—and act accordingly on all social media platforms.
SOCIAL MEDIA RESOURCES
Comprehensive Guide to Managing Social Profiles in College
Information and advice for maximizing social media presence and social networking in college.
Princeton University Career Services – Using Social Media to Network & Search
Helpful tips for job seekers to optimize their LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+ accounts for professional networking.
U.S. Department of Justice Social Media Directory
Index site for social media accounts associated with the Department of Justice.
Getting a good job starts in school, with students who make the most of their college experience having a better shot at moving into the profession after graduation. Use the following tips to make the most of your time in school.
Network, network, network
Surrounded by both seasoned professionals and fellow students with similar goals, a college program may be the single best networking environment for students seeking careers in criminal justice.
Work on your writing skills
People with excellent writing skills are hard to find. Since written communication is often the way into a job, it's worth it to develop your skills to set you apart from classmates.
Explore research opportunities
Professors at many colleges and universities dedicate a great deal of their time conducting independent research, and they need students to help. Connect with professors in the criminal justice department to find student research opportunities in your area of interest.
Choose classes wisely
While most criminal justice degree programs have a set of required courses that all students must take, there are also opportunities for elective courses. Weigh your options carefully, selecting courses that align with your future career interests and that can help build in-demand skills. Consider courses both within and outside of the criminal justice department that can round out your educational experience.
Indiana University Department of Criminal Justice - Tips for College Success
Tips for making the most of the criminal justice college experience.
John Jay College of Criminal Justice - Top 10 Tips for Academic Success
Advice for students pursuing a criminal justice degree or certificate program.
Criminal justice is a field intertwined with behavior, and students would do well to hold themselves to high standards. Here are some things to consider during your time as a student:
If you're considering a criminal justice career, it's crucial to maintain a clean criminal record. One run-in with the law while in college can stay on your record for years, making it challenging down the line when applying for criminal justice jobs. Many positions in the field require applicants to pass a drug test, so keep this in mind during your college years.
Stay physically fit
Becoming a law enforcement officer or firefighter will require passing a physical fitness test. Other jobs in the field may not have such rigorous physical requirements, but being in shape is one way to help manage job stress.
Pay attention to your mental health
Mental health is an important concern for anyone, but it's especially true for criminal justice professionals whose jobs are inherently stressful and may require psychological evaluations to get hired. Have strategies for dealing with stress, and know when you need to step back.
Get plenty of rest
Law enforcement officers tend to burn the candle at both ends, putting them at risk for burnout or making mistakes from working too hard. In the long run, sleep and downtime aren't optional, so make time for them.
SUPPORT FOR A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials (APCO) - ProCHRT Toolbox — Health and Wellness
Links to information and advice that apply to professionals throughout the criminal justice field.
Addiction Center - College Students and Drug Abuse
Provides the facts on substance use and abuse in college, and offers resources to help students with addiction or drug abuse issues.
Rutgers University – 101 Health & Wellness Tips for College Students
Advice for a healthy college lifestyle, with tips on diet, exercise, mental health and sleep.
Additional Criminal Justice Resources
Students pursuing careers in criminal justice come from all backgrounds, and with a variety of life experiences. Below are a few of our online resources for minority and special-interest students that can help those pursuing a criminal justice education.
Veterans Pursuing Criminal Justice Degrees
Information and advice aimed at veterans seeking careers in the criminal justice field.
Comprehensive guide for post-secondary students with disabilities, including information on legal rights, distance learning and financial aid.
Detailed guide to educational opportunities and resources for low-income students.
Resources and support for LGBTQ students, including information on scholarships, courses and curricula, and campus safety issues.
Student Mental Health Resources
Guide to mental health issues for college students including expert advice and links to resources for getting help.