Best Degrees for Law Enforcement Careers

When looking at career prospects, you’ll find few industries offer the wide range of opportunities that law enforcement does. Whether you choose to serve the local community as a police or probation officer or prefer a more globe-trotting lifestyle as a diplomat or intelligence agent, there’s a law enforcement option for everyone.

There are generally three categories of positions within law enforcement careers – uniformed officers, investigators, and support personnel. Most fields within law enforcement are experiencing steady growth – from 5% for police and detective roles to 12% for paralegals and legal assistant positions between now and 2028. These are generally well-paid positions: The 2017 annual mean wage for law enforcement professionals in California is $100,090. As with many vocations, additional training or education can translate into a more robust paycheck.

Women, in particular, may find a bright future in law enforcement since the lack of representation in the field has caused many agencies and organizations to aggressively pursue female candidates. (To get an idea of the disparity, women account for less than 15% of local police officers, about 14% of the country’s federal law enforcement positions and just 3% of police chiefs.) The industry’s desire for gender balance in law enforcement careers could present real opportunity for women.

So, to get your piece of the law enforcement pie, what kind of degree should you pursue? If you’re already in the field, what’s going to help with career advancement in law enforcement? National University, San Diego’s largest, private, nonprofit university, features a number of undergraduate and graduate programs, both online and on-site, to help you achieve your goals, in whichever category interests you. Let’s take a look. 

Undergraduate Degrees Lay the Foundation

While it’s not impossible to snag a law enforcement job without a college degree — only 30.2% of the country’s police officers hold a four-year degree — more education does improve job prospects. With that in mind, which are the best degrees for law enforcement at an undergraduate level?

Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration: Earn a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration degree and choose from a wide array of career paths within all three sectors of law enforcement. Armed with a versatile criminal justice degree, you’re ready for positions in local, state, and federal levels — from airline security representative to corrections officer and from animal treatment investigator to police officer. Online or on campus, you’ll learn about criminology, forensic science, court systems, criminal law, and more. According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for the Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice jobs in Los Angeles, CA is $62,080 a year. However, salaries vary widely according to specific jobs, specializations, years of experience and location.

Bachelor of Public Administration: Another undergraduate degree that provides a range of career options within law enforcement is the bachelor of public administration. You’ll learn about managing government and nonprofits, from accounting and budgeting to operations and resource management. Whether you learn on campus or online, you may choose to pursue positions in prison or corrections management. Though salary varies according to job role and location, according to Payscale.com, the average salary for a holder of this bachelor’s degree is $63,000 per year.

Paralegal Studies: If your interest lies in the legal aspects of law enforcement, you may want to consider paralegal studies. Paralegals are a critical part of any legal team. An Associate of Science in Paralegal Studies introduces you to the legal system and legal research. You’ll find a more comprehensive curriculum in the Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies program. You’ll hone your investigative skills, dig into the major areas of the law, draft legal documents, and help prepare for trials. Due to the hands-on, practical curriculum, at National, both paralegal programs are offered on campus (Los Angeles and Woodland Hills campuses and at College of the Canyons). National University’s paralegal programs are approved by the American Bar Association. In terms of salary, paralegals and legal assistants earned a median annual salary of $50,940 in 2018.

Bachelor of Arts in Pre-Law Studies: Another option within the legal realm is the Bachelor of Arts in Pre-Law Studies. The classes in this program help you develop the critical thinking, verbal, and analytical skills needed to tackle law school. The focus is on building written and presentation capabilities for success in law school, business or government. This program is available both online and on campus.

Bachelor of Science in Homeland Security and Emergency Management: Can you keep a cool head in dangerous situations? You may want to think about a Bachelor of Science in Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Offered online and on campus, this program prepares you for law enforcement, government, or private sector positions. Its curriculum focuses on giving you thorough knowledge about the issues and practices of security and disaster preparedness and responsiveness. The program’s tactical approach to threat assessment and crisis response makes it a practical choice for those already in law enforcement, the military, or government. Salaries can vary dramatically, depending on the specific job role.

Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity: If you like to work behind the scenes and are into technology, your law enforcement career may start with a Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity degree. The program emphasizes fundamental security skills, basic information technology management concepts, and ethical issues associated with cybersecurity. You could also choose concentrations in computer network defense or digital forensics. Once you complete your degree, you can pursue positions such as a security analyst or forensics expert within a law enforcement agency. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a security analyst in 2018 was $98,350.

Graduate Degrees Help Build a Career That Lasts

Climbing the career ladder in law enforcement, as in many professions, sometimes requires education or training beyond a bachelor’s degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates an almost 18% bump in salary for employees with a master’s degree versus a bachelor’s degree in some cases, although it does note that in certain professions, the difference is not substantial.  If you’ve decided to further your studies to advance your law enforcement career, which programs are best?

Master of Criminal Justice: Devote 12 months to earning a Master of Criminal Justice degree and prepare yourself for a wide array of career possibilities, such as local, state, and federal law enforcement management; correctional administration; security administration; criminal justice research; and teaching. Positions you may pursue also include criminal profiler, federal marshal, and fraud investigator.

According to US News & World Report, a master’s can also fast-track your existing law enforcement career. For example, it could position you for a promotion or give you a leg up in landing an especially competitive job, like a federal agent.

National’s program blends theory with actual practice, giving you a solid background in case analysis and research that will allow you to come up with practical solutions. It’s offered both online and on campus.

Master of Forensic Sciences: If you watch CSI or any other popular law enforcement-oriented TV shows, you probably know that forensic science means applying scientific methods and processes to solving crimes. A Master of Forensic Sciences can propel you into this thrilling world, whether you’re already in the field and hoping to advance or a bachelor’s degree holder looking to specialize in forensics.

Our program gives you a solid background in death investigation, the components of human anatomy, and trauma analysis. You’ll take classes in forensic pathology, major case investigation, crime scene investigation, and profiling, with specialized courses in topics such as trace evidence, toxicology, DNA analysis, and fingerprint analysis. Choose from two areas of specialization, investigation, and criminalistics. The investigation specialization, which can be completed online, concentrates on forensic investigative techniques for the field. The criminalistics specialization centers on crime and forensic laboratory work and requires students to work in the laboratory at National’s Los Angeles campus.

Once completed, your degree could lead you to positions like crime scene investigator, crime laboratory analyst or forensic science technician.

Master of Public Administration: Position yourself for a leadership position with a Master of Public Administration degree. You’ll find out about the business aspects of managing government programs, offices, and employees at every level with classes that address topics including budgeting, financial management, research, and policy. The program also has an emphasis on honing critical thinking, research, and writing skills.

With a Master of Public Administration degree, you’ll enjoy a broad range of law enforcement career opportunities — from police chief to Federal Bureau of Investigation agent to U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer. According to Salary.com, the average salary range for a police chief in 2019 is between $101,421 and $113,938. Payscale.com estimates the average FBI agent salary at around $64,477. Graduate work and the right combination of experience may allow you to enter the U.S. Customs and Border Protection unit as a GS-7, earning you $57,519 per year.

You can earn your Master of Public Administration degree both online and on campus.

Master of Science in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance: Organizations, including law enforcement agencies, live and die by their computer systems. So a hack is not only disruptive but potentially dangerous and costly. That’s why a leading global advisory firm has predicted there’ll be 3.5 million cybersecurity job openings by 2021. With a Master of Science in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance from National University, you can take advantage of that demand.

This program’s core and elective classes prepare you for a future of ensuring the security and integrity of computing and information systems. You’ll choose a specialization in either Ethical Hacking and Pen Testing or Information Assurance and Security Policy. The National University program is recognized as a National Security Agency/Department of Homeland Security Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education. While this program is available both online and on campus, it requires an interview with the faculty advisor before enrollment.

With demand high, you can expect competitive salaries once you earn your master’s — from an average of $95,000 per year for a cybersecurity engineer to $115,00 per year for an information security engineer, according to Payscale.com.

Master of Science in Homeland Security and Emergency Management: Learn how to prepare for, respond to and recover from man-made and natural disasters with a Master of Science in Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Given the hurricanes, wildfires, and terrorist attacks the United States has experienced in the last two decades, this focus is more critical than ever. Offered both online and on campus, this program helps you build the skills needed to manage disasters, focusing on homeland security, terrorism, and emergency management. You’ll be set to integrate the tools, resources, organizational systems, and decision-making processes for successful implementation of safety and security plans.

With a master’s, you may find a position within the U.S. Homeland Security department ranging from an intelligence analyst (with salaries ranging up to $128,000) to border patrol agent (with salaries ranging up to $122,000) to a special agent (with salaries paying up to $155,000, according to Payscale.com).

Master of Science in Juvenile Justice: If you really want to make a difference in your community, consider a Master of Science in Juvenile Justice, where you’ll explore how to work with troubled or neglected young people and help them find the way to a better life. The program, offered on campus only, features theory integrated with practice and is designed to impart techniques, methods, and strategies for dealing with youth, their behavior problems, and the justice system.

Positions within juvenile justice include probation and correctional officers, as well as counselors, all working within correctional facilities, youth centers, and rehabilitation clinics. Counselors earn a median yearly salary of $44,630, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while probation officers and correctional treatment specialists earn a median yearly wage of $53,020.

National University Makes it Easy to Obtain a Degree for Your Law Enforcement Career

At National University, we want nothing to stand in your way of getting the degree you want. We offer programs at over 20 campuses across California and Nevada, with convenient online degree options that allow you to work at your own pace for most of our programs. Our rolling four-week classes offer flexibility for students who may not be able to commit to a more traditional schedule. You can get started on your program right away since we review and approve applications year-round.

We also believe finances should never be an impediment to your receiving a degree. If you’re an employee of a law enforcement agency with the goal of earning an associate, bachelor’s, or master’s degree or academic certification, you may be eligible for the Law Enforcement Scholarship. The scholarship covers up to $16,500 in tuition for approved coursework and up to $6,500 in tuition for approved coursework for dependents of qualified law enforcement agency employees. The scholarship’s funds are automatically awarded to qualifying students, so there’s no need to apply. There are also other financial aid opportunities available —all the more reason to get started on your degree today.

Is law enforcement the career for you? Visit National University’s professional studies page for more information about the degree programs best-suited for law enforcement careers.