Spurred by the desire to serve the public in a time of national crisis, or simply inspired by the portrayals of lawyers and crime scene investigators on television, more and more students are choosing to pursue law and criminal justice majors at college.
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What Do Law & Criminal Justice Majors Study?
There are many avenues of study available to aspiring law and criminal justice professionals, depending on their interests and abilities. Online degrees have become increasingly common as young and transitioning professionals seek to enhance their resumes without committing all their time and resources to a full-time, traditional degree program.
College Majors for Law School
Bachelor's degrees are required for law school candidates. Although undergraduate majors exist that are specifically pre-law, they are not required by law schools, which encourage applications from students with all kinds of backgrounds. That said, most college students who wish to go into law school choose liberal arts degrees that will enhance their critical writing, speaking, and analytical skills. Other popular pre-law college degrees include political science, history, English, philosophy and economics.
Those students who move on to formal law schools can expect three or more years of rigorous training in topics like torts, civil procedure, contracts and criminal law. As fewer lawyers enter general practice in order to pursue more marketable specialties, many law programs offer advanced studies or concentrations in areas like business law, intellectual property law and contract law.
Criminal Justice Majors
Meanwhile, most criminal justice majors concentrate on critical areas including law enforcement, corrections, the judicial process, juvenile law, and criminal behavior. Depending on their selected career track, criminal justice majors can also develop their scientific and investigative skills through internships and laboratory courses.
Jobs You Can Get With a Law or Criminal Justice Degree
Corrections Officer. Most prisons in America don't look like what you see on TV. The best corrections officers use strong interpersonal communication skills -- not sheer muscle -- to keep inmates on their best behavior. Besides keeping order, most corrections officers actually spend the bulk of their time writing detailed reports about prisoner conduct.
Corporate Security Specialist. Not interested in the public sector? Corporate security specialists analyze threats to businesses and respond with countermeasures that would make even James Bond envious. With identity theft and corporate espionage affecting the lives of millions, strong businesses rely on experienced professionals to protect company secrets and customer information.
Intellectual Property Attorney. As technology and the Internet change the way we view and protect intellectual property, intellectual property attorneys find themselves tackling issues and situations that have never been considered before. Some record companies sue users for sharing songs electronically; some artists and bands give their music away online without charge. Attorneys who work in this shifting paradigm may help pave the way for a new concept of intellectual property, and new legislation to match.
Why Should You Consider a College Major in Law & Criminal Justice?
Law enforcement agencies and related organizations, which used to supply their own in-house training, now require job candidates to successfully complete an associate's or bachelor's degree program. Even in those situations where an employer does not require a degree in law or criminal justice, a college education will help job seekers to land the best positions. Online degrees are available in these and related fields.
Meanwhile, as a response to constant innovation in the corporate sector, many large businesses hire law and criminal justice majors for hybrid positions that combine legal knowledge with other business skills. Law school graduates, as well as law and criminal justice majors, enjoy the opportunity to blend their training with personal strengths in a variety of challenging corporate positions.
What Kinds of Candidates Make the Best Law & Criminal Justice Majors?
Prospective law and criminal justice majors should steel themselves to encounter stress on the job far more often than students entering other professions. In fact, many schools combine their law and criminal justice degree programs with opportunities to participate in relaxation and exercise programs. Not only does good health help a student perform better in school, but many of the positions in this sector require candidates to maintain a solid physical condition.
More importantly, many colleges and potential employers recommend that students who intend to pursue careers in criminal justice follow these guidelines before and during their classroom education:
- Avoid recreational drug use, as many potential employers screen for drug use up to three years in the past.
- Avoid people or situations that could cause you to challenge law enforcement officers or even commit a crime.
- Check with the Criminal Records division of your State Police to ensure the accuracy of your records.
- Maintain a clean driving record, or attend remedial courses to compensate for any past mistakes.
- Maintain a positive credit report and check your report for errors frequently.
Employers in this sector, especially law enforcement agencies, scrutinize their applicants far more than companies in other areas. Prospective lawyers should follow the same advice, since poor personal conduct can prevent a law student from successfully passing the bar in his or her state.