Realistic criminal justice careers and expectations can vary quite a bit in students. Some young people watch crime shows like CSI or NCIS on television and decide they want to pursue a career in criminal justice. However, these jobs are very often not portrayed accurately on television, contributing to something that has been called the “CSI effect.”
This CSI effect produces myths about certain careers, making them seem abundant when in reality they are not realistic criminal justice careers and can be difficult to attain. Stuart Henry, co-author of the book, “A Realistic Guide to Criminal Justice Careers for College Graduates,” says that crime and police television shows often inspire students to want to become CIA or FBI agents. However, students soon find that these agencies are very difficult to get into.
When crime scene investigation shows began to become popular on television, many criminal justice students shifted their focus toward the science of crime such as forensics and criminal profiling. However, jobs in forensics are often glorified for television and actually require a natural science degree, not just a criminal justice degree.
Realistic Criminal Justice Careers
Law enforcement remains the most popular and accessible form of employment for those with a criminal justice degree. Common entry-level criminal justice jobs include:
- police officer
- corrections officer
- deputy sheriff
- juvenile corrections officer
- probation agent
- game warden
- border patrol agent
- law enforcement positions in all of the armed services.
State, local and federal agencies need law enforcement officers, and there are also positions available in the private sector. Graduates can find a variety of careers in management, investigation and analysis within insurance companies and retail loss prevention.
Some criminal justice graduates choose to go to on law school or graduate school after receiving their criminal justice degrees. They may become attorneys, judges or researchers.
Avoiding the NCSI-CSI Effect
To avoid unrealistic expectations, students should start by doing their homework. Don’t rely on fictional TV shows as your only assessment of a possible career path; watch a documentary or arrange to interview someone who holds a job you’re considering pursuing. Find out how they these people got where they are, what their day-to-day work responsibilities are and how they really feel about the job. If possible, seek out an internship in the chosen field. Check the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) website for information about projected salaries and hiring trends for that career path. Realistic criminal justice careers are out there — you just have to be smart about your expectations and decision-making process.