Technical School vs. Traditional School

Students have the option to attend either a technical school or a traditional school to earn degrees and certifications in criminal justice. The type of school you choose to attend will be heavily influenced by the criminal justice job you want to pursue. Technical schools offer shorter programs, prepare you for entry-level work, and award a certification or degree upon completion. Traditional schools offer longer programs, prepare you for entry to mid-level work, and award degrees. Here is an in-depth look at the differences between these types of schools.

Technical School Criminal Justice Programs

People decide to attend technical school to learn specific skills that they can take into the workplace. Unlike traditional schools, these students do not have to spend precious classroom time taking liberal arts classes. They enrolled in school to learn about criminal justice and that is what the majority of their classes will focus on.

These criminal justice programs initially focus on the fundamentals of law enforcement, corrections, and courtroom processes. Students learn about proper evidence procedures, criminology, the legal process, criminal law, and investigative techniques. Then, they will be able to take upper level classes geared directly for the criminal justice careers they want to pursue. Technical schools allow you to focus your studies on one specific area of criminal justice, whereas traditional schools offer a much broader knowledge base about criminal justice. Popular technical programs will focus specifically on:

  • Computer Forensics
  • Crime Scene Analysis
  • Cyber Security
  • Financial and Fraud Investigation
  • Corrections
  • Information Security
  • Law Enforcement and Policing
  • Criminal Psychology
  • Corrections

Technical schools award either a certificate or a degree for the successful completion of the program. After graduation, you will be eligible for a variety of entry level jobs in local, state, and federal agencies. Successful graduates have gone on to pursue criminal justice jobs as police officers, private investigators, security guard officers, correction officers, and private detectives.

Pros and Cons of Attending a Technical School

Technical schools allow students to gain knowledge about a specific profession in a short amount of time. Most programs can be completed within one or two years, with classes being offered during the day and throughout the evening. Traditional schools can take four years to complete. Because technical school programs are shorter, the cost is significantly less than a traditional school's cost. Plus, students are able to enter the workforce quicker and start earning an income.

Technical school will not work for every criminal justice job. If you know that you want to become a security guard, probation officer, or cyber security expert, these programs will provide you with the knowledge needed to begin your career. If you want to become a federal agent or the head of a prestigious crime lab, you will need to attend a traditional school. These jobs require you to have a broader understanding of criminal justice.

Before enrolling in a technical school, carefully read its policy about transferring credits. Should you decide at a later date to continue your education and earn a bachelor's degree, you want to ensure that your credits can be transferred.

Traditional School Criminal Justice Programs

Community colleges, universities, and four year colleges are considered traditional schools. These traditional schools offer associate's degrees, bachelor's degrees, or advanced degrees in criminal justice or criminology.

Students attending these programs receive a broader educational experience than those attending technical school. Liberal arts classes in English, Science, Math, and Social Sciences are required. Once these credits are completed, students focus on criminal justice classes which teach the fundamentals of criminal justice, including law enforcement, corrections, and legal proceedings. However, criminal justice electives will expose students to a much broader range of topics. Instead of focusing on just one specific area of criminal justice, students may study abnormal psychology, law enforcement techniques, evidence gathering, and analysis research.

Pros and Cons of Attending a Traditional School

A person who graduates from traditional school has a greater variety of criminal justice jobs to pick from, leading to greater earning potential, than the student who attends a technical school. Traditional school students have been exposed to a wider range of knowledge. They did not focus on just one aspect of criminal justice such as corrections, which can pigeon-hole their career opportunities. They fully understand the three main aspects of criminal justice and have enough knowledge to be able to successfully work in these areas. Students who earn a degree from a traditional school are eligible for federal agent jobs and mid-level opportunities in local and state law enforcement agencies.

Traditional school programs take longer to complete than technical school programs. Traditional students spend up to four years in school, based on the degree they are earning. These schools are also more expensive than technical schools. College tuition can exceed $30,000 a year. However, the cost can be well worth it depending upon the criminal justice jobs you want to pursue.

Last Updated: 04/29/2014