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Have you ever felt the drive to protect and serve your community? Does helping people who have made mistakes get back on track appeal to you? If so, a career in criminal justice might be right for you.

Vista College offers students the opportunity to earn their Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice in a hands-on learning environment. Much like other associates’ degrees, an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Criminal Justice is a two-year undergraduate program. Other associates’ degrees, however, are often sought before transferring to a four-year university, but the Criminal Justice AAS is designed to prepare you to enter the workforce immediately upon graduation.

The Criminal Justice AAS is a fast and cost-effective ticket to a rewarding career. Small class sizes and instructors with real-world experience ensure you’ll receive an excellent education, and our integrated relationships with local employers provide you the connections you need to secure a job in today’s marketplace.

Career Opportunities in Criminal Justice

Take a look at just some of the exciting opportunities that await you with an associate’s degree in criminal justice:

Police Officer

If you’ve got a strong sense of civic duty and a desire to protect the public, you might be the perfect candidate to become a police officer. This is the frontline of the criminal justice system and offers you the unique chance to serve your community in person, every day. Officers may be employed by the city, county, or state, and they can find positions in everything from administrative work to investigation and street patrols.

Each day is different in this line of work. Your daily tasks could include any combination of the following:

  • Patrolling the neighborhood
  • Responding to accidents
  • Investigating reports of crime
  • Collecting evidence
  • Apprehending suspects
  • Directing traffic
  • Testifying in court
  • Serving warrants and subpoenas for the legal system

Every community around the country needs a police force. This fact is a testament to the field’s strong industry growth, excellent job security, and plenty of opportunities for advancement.

In addition to earning their degree, police officers complete additional basic training in law, medicine, firearms, and equipment skills. This training is completed at one of many police academies. Most police forces invest considerably in further training throughout your employment, in everything from cultural awareness to new technologies.

The average salary of a police officer is $59,560, although entry-level salaries will of course be lower. The best-paid police officers will earn close to six figures.

Police Officers standing in front of police car.

Corrections Officer

As a corrections officer, you will work within our nation’s jails and prisons. You will supervise and assist not only convicted criminals, but also those who have been arrested and are awaiting trial. Daily duties include patrols and inspections of everything from individual cells, to courtyards and hallways, to prisoner health and property. Care is needed 24 hours a day in these facilities, and as a result there are many shifts available. Many officers even prefer the option of non-traditional working hours.

Corrections officers earn an average annual salary of $53,360, and they often receive considerable on-the-job training to bolster their self-defense and firearms skills. These perks will keep you highly employable in this and related fields. There is often room for advancement within the corrections system. Many officers become corrections sergeants, where they supervise and direct other officers, or move on to administrative positions like prison wardens.

Make no mistake: working with the incarcerated can be stressful at times. In maximum-security prisons, there may be a certain level of danger as well. Demand for corrections officers is expected to increase steadily over the coming decade, in large part because some officers decide to leave the field and pursue other opportunities. But those who stick with it pride themselves in providing a much-needed public service, assisting in the rehabilitation of those who have made mistakes.

Probation Officer

Probation officers work with and monitor released criminal offenders, as well as those who have been convicted of minor offenses that don’t necessitate prison time. They help these individuals to find jobs, overcome addictions, stay on the right side of the law, and successfully navigate society in general.

They’re also responsible for writing progress reports and keeping supervisors informed of the status of each case. Probation officers typically handle a number of cases simultaneously, and they will split their time between the office and various home and work visits.

Probation can be a stressful field, with frequent deadlines and occasional travel to high-crime areas. Most officers take great pride in their work and in the service they provide to society – and to the offenders. As a probation officer, you will play a pivotal role in the lives of reformed criminals. In many instances, you will become a sort of honorary family member. You wouldn’t only be a supervisor, you’d be a mentor as well.

The average annual salary for a probation officer is $53,360 and promotion opportunities are often available, typically to positions such as a senior probation officer or chief probation officer. These positions offer individuals a higher level of administrative responsibility while still focusing primarily on the assistance and rehabilitation of fellow community members.

Campus Security Officer

Colleges and universities all across the nation strive to provide students with a safe and comforting environment. Though not sworn peace officers, members of the campus security team perform many of the same public safety functions.

As a campus security officer, you will:

  • Perform regular patrols both on foot and in vehicles
  • Monitor surveillance systems
  • Investigate disturbances
  • Provide coordination and security during academic and sporting events
  • Enforce traffic and parking regulations

Since campus security officers often respond to emergency situations, a basic amount of first aid knowledge is incredibly helpful. In addition to a criminal justice degree, requirements for some positions may include CPR and AED certifications, which are relatively straightforward to obtain.

A campus security officer can expect to earn an average of $29,780 annually, which is a considerable step above the national average for other security positions. This field is expected to see high growth in the coming decade.

Wildlife Conservation Officer

You might know them as fish and game wardens, but these peace officers are responsible for more than just protecting fish and other wildlife from illegal hunting. Their duties include the following:

  • Coordinating public education programs
  • Investigating environmental changes
  • Conducting search and rescue operations
  • Patrolling and surveilling assigned regions of wilderness or coastline.

Wildlife conservation officers will also write incident reports, and on occasion they may be called upon to testify in court. It’s the perfect career for those with a genuine love for physical activity, animals, and the great outdoors.

Wildlife conservation officers may be employed at the city, state, or federal level, and they enjoy an average annual salary of $53,260. Specific educational requirements vary a bit from state to state, as well as position to position, but an associate’s degree in criminal justice or other relevant field is sufficient for most opportunities.

In addition, some relevant real-world experience can go a long way toward increasing your appeal to employers. As certified peace officers, conservation officers must also undergo a basic training course in preparation for their employment.

Private Investigator or Private Detective

Private investigators frequently work closely with individuals, law offices, large corporations, and even the police on a wide variety of tasks. From criminal activity monitoring, to background checks, to fact-checking disability claims, no two days are ever the same as a PI.

Even though not every task involves dealing directly with criminals, you’ll find that this field rewards knowledge of the law, an understanding of how people think, and experience in surveillance and evidence collecting. This makes it a perfect fit for those with an associate’s degree in criminal justice.

The average annual salary for a private investigator is $52,880. Many choose to seek employment with agencies, giving them access to a number of opportunities for promotion into positions of higher responsibility. But some private investigators prefer to be self-employed. For these individuals, career advancement is less straightforward. However, many are able to specialize in a certain subfield – such as financial investigation or computer forensic investigation – after gaining some experience in the field. This will increase their rates accordingly.

Victim Advocate

Being the victim of a crime can be terrifying and confusing. In particular, those who have suffered from violent acts – such as assault, attempted homicide, spousal abuse, and child abuse – may have no idea which way to turn.

Victims may not be emotionally prepared to handle the complexities of the criminal justice system. With an educational background in law, superior organization and explanatory skills, and a kind ear or shoulder to cry on, you will be the ideal candidate to counsel and guide victims through the process.

As a victim advocate, it’s your duty to:

  • Help victims understand their legal rights
  • Assist them in following through with reporting the crime in full to law enforcement officials
  • Help them find legal representation

You will be present for emotionally difficult tasks, like questioning and filling out paperwork. If the case progresses to the court system, you will be there during testimony, lending their support.

Finally, once justice has been served, you may be needed to help the victim return to a functioning status in everyday life. You might help them find employment or relocate, for instance.

Most find victim advocacy to be an extremely rewarding career field, in which every day is a source of achievement and pride. Your work will have a direct and meaningful impact on the lives of others. Victim advocates, as with other social workers, can expect an average annual salary of $58,410, but many would say that this compensation pales in comparison to the reward that comes with doing their job.

Business lawyer working hard at office desk workplace with book and documents.

Paralegal or Legal Assistant

Paralegals, also known as legal assistants, play a crucial role in the criminal justice system. But it’s not only government agencies and law firms that employ paralegals. If private interests are more to your taste, work can be found within insurance agencies and even real estate offices.

From legal research, to fact checking, to drafting motions and other documents, these professionals assist attorneys at every step of the way. You’ll work closely with legal experts every day, and gain incredible experience that can be parlayed into promotion opportunities down the line.

A criminal justice degree is just one of many programs that prepare you for work as a paralegal. Do note, however, that you may need to complete an additional certification program in paralegal studies before some employers view you as a competitive candidate. These are short-term courses that provide an intense crash-course in the background knowledge and daily duties required of someone in this position. While not a prerequisite for employment, they will certainly give you a leg up, and they’re highly recommended if you intend to stay in the field long-term.

Paralegals can expect to enjoy an average annual wage of $51,840, and industry growth is predicted to be strong in the coming decade. This is an important and rewarding career option, and one that you can count on for the long haul.

Insurance Investigator

Insurance fraud is a daily occurrence, and it affects people all around the country – even the innocent. Phony claims cost insurers billions of dollars annually, and the insurance companies are forced to compensate by charging inflated premiums to cover their losses. These companies need individuals with a legal background to help them investigate claims, analyze data, and fact check – and a criminal justice AAS is all you need to get your foot in the door. As an insurance investigator, you’d be helping to uphold the law and protect the average citizen from bearing the impact of a few bad apples.

Insurance companies can also bring in serious money – especially when their earnings aren’t being undercut by fraud. Your job is crucial to their long-term success, and they’re often happy to share the profits generously. Insurance fraud investigators earn an average annual salary of $63,500. The future looks bright for the field of insurance investigation: demand is expected to increase in the coming decade, in large part due to growth and sweeping changes in the health insurance industry. And with a little experience under your belt, the opportunities for promotion and job growth are considerable.

Vista College’s Associates Degree in Criminal Justice

It’s a big world out there, and it’s full of opportunities. Where will your degree take you? Start your journey today with Vista College’s Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice.

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