Whether you hope to be the BAU’s newest Spencer or give Olivia Benson a run for her money, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can come in many forms. From law enforcement and corrections to paralegals and forensic science technicians, you’ll have no shortage of potential career paths after completing a criminal justice program. However, there are some things you should know before taking the first steps towards criminal justice as your career path.

You’ll have to put in plenty of work.

Before you can do much more than dream of your career in the criminal justice field, you’ll need to get a bachelor’s degree in criminology or a related field. To do so, you might consider college admission consulting as a way to start on the right footwell before you complete your criminal justice degree. After all, from a bachelor’s or associate degree to a master’s degree or Ph.D., the school, program, and coursework you choose will be crucial in determining your future role in the criminal justice system. Of course, you want them to set you up for success!

There are countless career paths available.

The field of criminal justice is wide-reaching, and criminal justice professionals include far more than police officers or detectives. In addition to these more commonly thought of roles, you might use your criminal justice studies to fuel your work as a probation or corrections officer, investigator, criminal psychologist, secret service or homeland security agent, attorney, paralegal, or even a counselor or advocate. Your criminal justice degree and working knowledge of criminology will be an undeniable asset in any of these fields.

Learning won’t stop after graduation.

With the time, money, and effort we put into a degree, we might like to dream that our studies end with a diploma. However, in criminal justice or any career path, you’ll find there’s a lot to learn post-grad, too. Many departments within civil and criminal law alike require employees to undergo in-house training in addition to their field of study. So, naturally, you’ll find yourself facing experiential education as well once you enter your new role. And, over time, you’ll have to continue learning and implementing new knowledge. The court system and other basic principles may remain the same or similar, but the world of criminal justice is ever-changing. You’ll want to be sure you’re aware of changing laws, new precedents, and current events that may impact your work.

It’s not always like your favorite TV shows.

As much as we may want to work under Leroy Jethro Gibbs, the truth of the matter is your criminal justice career won’t be a mirror image of your crime series of choice. Experts agree that films and TV shows depicting the criminal justice system don’t always prioritize accuracy. This makes sense, of course—they’re meant to be dramatizations. However, because these mediums so often inspire future private investigators or forensic psychologists, it’s important to note that a real-life crime scene or courtroom won’t follow the same guidelines as your fictional favorites.

With the United States, in particular, focused on criminal justice reform, it’s a crucial moment for new faces to enter the criminal justice field. Advocacy, empathy, and, of course, criminology are all vital elements in learners and soon-to-be criminal justice professionals. If you’re considering a criminal justice degree program, ensure you’re aware of the reality of such a job. Then, consider which of the variety of careers within the field of criminal justice may be a good fit for you. Whether law school or the corrections system is poised to be your next step, genuine compassion and a sense of justice and equity will serve you well.