Most of the internships offered by criminal justice agencies are unpaid, and to earn three credits, students must work at least 10 hours per week at the agency. So, why should students put all that time and effort into an unpaid position?
There are several direct advantages to spending your time working in a professional justice setting prior to graduating with your degree.
First, students who complete an internship have more to offer prospective employers than students who do not complete an internship. They have at least some experience to enter on their resumes. So, when you graduate, in addition to having your educational achievements to highlight (bachelor’s degree, minor, certificate program, GPA, etc.) you also will have some concrete experience to show that you have been able to apply some of that knowledge.
Gaining experience in a professional environment also enhances students’ understanding of workplace dynamics, the value of networking, administrative roles and structures, and leadership styles. Because interns write reflective papers that require them to consider these issues and more, they are better prepared to embark on entry-level positions.
Taking a variety of courses can be exhilarating and inspiring to college students, but the college experience also can create some feelings of confusion. You may have found certain aspects of policing intriguing while studying, but feel drawn to work with offenders in a probation or institutional correctional setting. One of the best ways to see if a field is a good fit for you is to serve as an intern in an agency that will allow you to shadow actual field professionals and to offer you progressively more responsible assignments as you show your competence. An internship can either confirm ideas about a career choice, or cause you to look at other options in the discipline. Since you have an option to take more than one internship, you may sample several alternatives.
Starting out on the career hunt can pose challenges, particularly in a competitive economy. There are ways students can subtly enhance their credentials, such as providing quality references, which can make their resumes stand out. Completing an internship with a criminal justice agency with administrators known in the criminal justice community might not get the student hired right away, but a strong reference might sway a prospective employer, providing a competitive edge in a tough job market.
Who Knows? Maybe a Job!
Even in a tough economy, there is turnover in employment. Some internship sponsors have partners with UCF’s criminal justice undergraduate program specifically because they are looking to recruit our majors. We have a few placement sites that routinely hire our graduates, and several others which have a history of contacting us as soon as they have job openings.