If you are considering your future career path, chances are you have a pretty good idea about what field you are interested in. And if you’ve been drawn to the field of criminal justice, it’s crucial for you to be sure that you are ready to make this commitment.
Since this is a serious choice that will impact your whole life, there are some basic questions you need to ask yourself about your emotional and psychological readiness to take on the demands of coursework, about creating a realistic schedule that will work with online learning, about where your financing will be coming from and if you have the temperament that is suited for the work you want to do.
Beginning at the Beginning
Life is hectic and costly, so it’s important to have certain plans in place before starting to work on your criminal justice certificate or degree. If you are planning to balance either a full or part time job while you are in the program or if you have family responsibilities like caring for children or an elderly parent, have you thought about how you will manage to schedule your time to include all your demands? Have you investigated how to pay for the program? Both of these are critical areas that should be settled (or on the way) before you begin classes so your mind will be free to concentrate on your coursework without these kinds of real-life distractions.
Another important question to answer – especially if you are an older student who is changing careers – is if you are willing to start at the bottom and work your way up. There are very few criminal justice jobs in which you will be able to skip steps or move up the ladder with lightning speed; you have to be willing to learn your field with all the grunt work it takes. This may be a challenge to you if you are used to either middle-management or working autonomously.
Requirements and Limitations
Are you comfortable carrying a firearm? If you aren’t, then your choice of criminal justice jobs will be somewhat limited. For example, paralegals and many crime scene investigators are not usually required to carry a firearm, but if you want to work in one of the law enforcement agencies like the the local police or the FBI, you will need to carry and be willing to use a gun. So make sure the field/fields of criminal justice that seriously interest you fall in line with your feelings about guns.
Age does matter. If you are in your mid-30’s, some agencies rule you out automatically. FBI agents and policemen fall into this category because both require you to be physically fit enough to pass the rigorous training at their academies. There are also stringent medical, hearing and vision tests for police officers, deputies, Highway Patrol and sheriffs, so if you have a disadvantage or disability in these areas, make sure you get the information you need ahead of time.
Temperament and Personality
While there are niches in criminal justice for nearly all types of people (for example, a forensic accountant is going to be very different from a DEA agent), it’s a good idea to evaluate your own personality in regards to your field of interest. It may sound trifling, but think of it this way: If you are a naturally outgoing and gregarious person, and you are interested in doing undercover work, your personality and the requirements of the job will probably be in conflict.
If you are interested in a job in corrections where you will be working directly with offenders, you should a good communicator and psychologically oriented. But if you want to be a crime scene investigator, you should have an inquisitive and analytical mind, and the ability to work alone or on a team.
To be a paralegal or a court reporter, you should always display professionalism in appearance and the ability to do exacting detail-oriented work; you need good organizational skills and to be comfortable following directions and meeting your deadlines. This is very different than the personality best suited to law enforcement jobs such as a state trooper or a police officer which require you to be a good communicator, a vigilant observer and able to remain calm under stressful situations.
There are many practical and personal angles to think about before starting your courses at The Paralegal Institute, but the best piece of advice for anyone considering making the commitment to a program that will lead to a new career is also the simplest: know yourself.