What Kind of Degree Should I Get If I Want to Become a Corrections Officer?

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If you aspire to work as a corrections officer, you have a number of different career preparation options available to you. Unlike many careers today, jobs in corrections are widely available to candidates without a college degree. However, going to school for a corrections officer isn’t unheard of. Certificate and certification programs, associate’s degree programs and bachelor’s degree programs all exist to help you achieve your goal of working in corrections. Which academic path is right for you depends on a number of factors, from where you want to work to whether you have an innate thirst for knowledge.

DegreeQuery.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Starting Out With Just a High School Diploma

If you decide not to go to college to become a corrections officer, you’re in good company. A high school diploma is all the education needed to acquire an entry-level correctional officer job in most employment settings, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The majority of correctional officers and jailers – 89 percent – report that a high school diploma or equivalent is their highest level of education.

One reason why a high school diploma is enough to get a job as a corrections officer is because all correctional systems require some form of job training, usually through a training academy. Whether you have no college experience or a four-year degree, you must complete this training.

Although a high school diploma is sufficient to meet education requirements, candidates for correctional officer jobs must meet other qualifications. These requirements may vary by state but may include legal citizenship, a valid driver’s license, medical and psychological evaluations and a background check.

Most corrections officers must meet a minimum age requirement which can range between 18 and 21, according to the BLS. States that require corrections officers to be older may also require work experience or college studies, even if a degree is not required.

Certificate and Certification Programs

The shortest post-secondary educational path to a career in corrections is a certificate or certification program. These programs of study typically take only one year to complete. Unlike full degrees, which usually require some amount of general education coursework in subjects not directly related to the career path, these programs have a narrower focus.

You might take classes in introductory studies in corrections, facility and equipment management, intake and release, supervising correctional facilities and special populations, communications and responding to incidents and emergencies. Training includes first aid, firearms training, defensive tactics, officer safety and physical fitness. Around nine percent of correctional officers and jailers have a post-secondary certificate as their highest level of education.

Unlike most college degree programs, progress toward a corrections certificate is measured in contact hours, which represent actual hours of instruction, rather than credit hours. Corrections certificate programs typically require around 420 contact hours.

Associate’s Degrees for Corrections Officers

If you want to go to college but aren’t ready to commit to a four-year degree program, an associate’s degree program is an option to consider. Associate’s degrees can usually be completed in two years if you study full-time.

Some of the courses you take in an associate’s program correspond to those in a certificate program, such as Introduction to Corrections, Correctional Institutions and Facilities and Fitness and Wellness. You may also take more extensive coursework both in corrections and criminal justice and outside of that discipline. Corrections coursework may include studies in Legal Issues in Corrections, Jails & Local Detention Facilities, Probation and Parole, Juvenile Justice and Criminology and Client Growth and Development. Students also take classes like College Composition, Introduction to Psychology, Principles of Sociology and American Politics that help them develop a more well-rounded knowledge base.

Aspiring corrections officers might choose a program with a title like Associate of Applied Arts in Corrections, Associate of Applied Science in Corrections Administration or Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice: Institutional Corrections.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Corrections, Criminal Justice and More

If you want to work for the federal government, you may need to invest more time into your education. To be considered for a corrections officer position in the Federal Bureau of Prisons, you need either a bachelor’s degree or a minimum of one to three years working full-time in a position that includes counseling, supervising or providing other forms of assistance. Many roles that include supervision and counseling services require a college education.

To earn a bachelor’s degree, you must usually complete four years of full-time study. The Federal Bureau of Prisons accepts a bachelor’s degree in any course of study. Many students choose a program in criminal justice. Certain schools choose an even more relevant program of study, like a Bachelor of Science in Corrections program. Expect to take classes like Correctional Administration, Applied Criminal Justice Ethics, Correctional Alternatives, Criminal Procedure, History of Corrections and Research Methods in Corrections, along with other core classes in corrections and criminal justice, to help you develop a more all-encompassing foundation. General education requirements in bachelor’s degree programs are also more rigorous, requiring coursework in mathematics, natural and physical sciences, social sciences and arts and humanities.

No matter what education you start with, you should expect to complete coursework in subjects such as security procedures, institutional policies, operations, regulations and self-defense as part of their academy training, according to the BLS.

Related Resources:

What Are the Daily Duties of a Corrections Officer?

What Is a Corrections Officer?

What Is a Typical Salary for a Corrections Officer?

What Salary Can You Expect With a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

What Classes Will I Take in a Criminal Justice Degree?

For Further Reading: 

Top 10 Graduate Degree Programs in Criminal Justice