I’m a rising high school senior facing the crisis everyone my age goes through: college applications! I’ve always known I’ve wanted to go to college and pursue higher education. I started out considering a psychology degree, but more recently I’ve realized that my interest is in criminal justice. Ideally, I would love to find a career path that is suited to my personality type: passionate, motivated, and with a heart for the marginalized.

Unfortunately, knowing what you want to study is only part of the battle. In today’s world, it is becoming increasingly more challenging to pay for your education and be certain that you will find employment after you graduate. I don’t know what jobs are available for someone with a criminal justice degree, and I’m afraid of student loan debt, especially if I later decide to go to grad school. 

Growing up the youngest of seven children, I was raised to understand the value of a dollar and to live frugally. My parents, teachers, and older siblings have advised me that “where there’s a will, there’s a way.” I’ve heard that there are alternatives to traditional college that can help me save money, and I’m willing to go a different route if it means graduating with no debt and a bright future in my chosen field. What are some of my options?

Today’s high school grads belong to a unique generation. Post-millennial, raised with technology at your fingertips, Generation Z is a distinct group that are determined to carve their own path no matter what it takes. 

Having seen your older siblings (literally, in your case) in the millennial age cohort graduate from college burdened with excessive debt, a fragmented sense of self, and uncertainty about the future, it makes sense that teenagers your age are viewing higher ed with a slightly more cautious eye.

It sounds as though you are choosing to attend college for all the right reasons. The pursuit of knowledge for its own sake is always a positive thing. So, too, is optimism for the future– something our world desperately needs right now. 

Unlike STEM programs, which are equally in demand right now, criminal justice degree programs emphasize practical application. Simply put, what you learn in the classroom will be directly applicable to the real world once you graduate and begin working in the field. Those who study criminal justice learn to view the world through a compassionate yet critical lens, making graduates appealing to employers.

So what jobs actually will be available for you after you put in the four years required to earn your degree? A criminal justice degree enables you to enter into any number of professions, from law enforcement to forensics. Some of the highest-paying careers associated with this degree right now are law enforcement officers, correctional facility officers, and probation officers.

However, you could also be a crime scene investigator. If you intend to study forensics, you must understand that certain jobs, such as blood spatter analyst, stand at the intersection of law and science, which means that you may need to go to grad school to specialize. 

If the possibility is intriguing to you, consider adding some hard science electives to your schedule, such as Biology 101 or Physics 101. That way, by the time graduation comes around, you’ll have a well-rounded education and be prepared for a more scientifically rigorous curriculum in grad school.

It is also entirely possible to find a criminal justice degree program that will enable you to graduate with less debt. There are numerous alternatives to traditional, four-year, on-campus bachelor’s degree programs, made possible by universities that have chosen to forego the outdated model of education. 

Private, faith-based institutions often provide online degree programs for a fraction of the cost you would pay on campus. An online criminal justice degree might be exactly what you’re looking for.

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