Anyone who enters a criminal justice program expects to take courses related to law enforcement, criminology, security, and intelligence. The foundation of knowledge gained in these courses is vital to a successful career in the criminal justice field, but many students don’t realize that courses outside of directly related subjects are vital to finding the best criminal justice jobs leading to successful and lucrative careers.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for law enforcement officers in the U.S. is just under $57,000 per year. However, detectives and investigators make nearly $20,000 more per year, and security analysts have the potential to earn well over six figures annually. In short, the wider the skills base, the greater the number of opportunities available, and the higher the earning potential.
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That’s why it’s important for criminal justice majors to augment their subject-specific studies with additional coursework in seemingly unrelated disciplines. With at least a rudimentary background in a few key areas, criminology students put themselves in an ideal position for career advancement and higher overall earnings. More specifically, students should add classes in the following areas to their schedules.
The importance of writing skills cannot be understated, no matter what career field you choose. When you write poorly, whether it’s reports, emails, memos, or even just text messages to colleagues, it can negatively affect your professional image and lead others to question your abilities and intelligence. This doesn’t mean that you need to become a wordsmith — after all, everyone makes the occasional typo — but you should be able to construct clean, grammatically correct, and coherent prose. Studies show that those with excellent writing skills earn more over the course of their careers and advance in their careers, regardless of the field, so make the effort to learn and practice the principles of good writing.
Law enforcement personnel must be effective communicators in general, as they have to interact with various constituencies within the course of their everyday work. Taking courses in public speaking gives criminal justice professionals the training they need to confidently speak in front of groups, as well as think on their feet. Law enforcement professionals who can speak to groups, on camera, or make presentations will have more opportunities — and more earning potential.
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Economics might seem like an unusual subject for criminal justice students, but understanding economic factors helps create a better understanding of communities — and allows for better overall management of budgets as one moves up the ladder.
Many times, those working in the criminal justice field (especially those who go on to work in policy-making or legal careers) have to make decisions that shape or influence economic policy. These positions tend to pay well, making the time spent in econ class well worth the effort.
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Working in law enforcement requires a keen understanding of the human mind and behavior. Psychology comes into play when conducting investigations and working with criminals and victims, but a background in human psychology is also beneficial in certain specialized areas, such as hostage negotiations and criminal profiling. However, even a patrol officer who can effectively connect with citizens in his or her everyday work thanks to an understanding of psychology will get attention — and the promotions and bigger paycheck that come with it.
[Is a psychology degree right for you? Here is an overview of what students study.]
Business courses are important to criminal justice students because they teach the research and analysis skills that allow law enforcement officers to make improvements and innovations to their agencies that improve how they deal with crime and criminals. Business classes teach data collection and interpretation skills, in addition to skills that can help agencies work more effectively with communities, such as marketing. Not to mention, business courses often cover financial principles, giving criminal justice students additional skills they can use for budgeting and controlling spending in a challenging economic climate. Business classes are also vital to those who wish to become financial investigators or network security analysts, which are some of the highest paying criminal justice jobs.
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Clearly, taking courses outside the realm of criminal justice and law enforcement subjects can have significant benefits to one’s career path and overall earning potential. While most criminal justice programs incorporate coursework from multiple disciplines (especially at the undergraduate level), don’t hesitate to fill your elective spots with courses from across the spectrum. You never know when something you learn in a business or psychology class could earn you a promotion or a raise.
An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer on topics including lifestyle, education, and business. She is the author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), and her work has appeared in Lewiston Auburn Magazine, Young Money, USA Today and a variety of online outlets. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.