There are a lot of resume tips out there, but one often overlooked component is the reference part. When applying for a criminal justice degree program, whether associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s or Ph.D.’s, picking the right references is extremely essential for success in the program.

You need to choose wisely in order to give your application some credibility and weight. Just like in any job application, you will only be asked to name referees at the end of your application. These references are important in your application. Most often, it’s as important as your academic history, professional history, and personal statement.

There are a number of reasons why references are important. For example, universities cannot interview every applicant except in some masters and Ph.D. programs. They, therefore, rely on the referees in order to get an overall picture of the applicant. They will use that impression which they get from your referees in order to make more informed decisions. This plays a crucial role on whether they accept you into a criminal justice program or not.

Who Do You Put as a Reference in Your Application Form?

When applying for the criminal justice programs or any other university or associate degree program, you need to include the names and contact details of at least two academic referees. Ideal people to include will be your lecturers and tutors who taught you in a previous course. These are the people who are in the position to comment on your academic capabilities. They are also deemed informed on your suitability for the criminal justice program that you are applying to join. This is especially true when you are applying for a masters or Ph.D. program.

A lot of people in criminal justice service generally continue their education after some stints in professional service. This creates a long gap between studies. Many admissions departments in universities are generally sympathetic to the said situation. They will, therefore, accept your employers as references or any other appropriate person that can competently comment on your academic abilities. You cannot choose a person friend or anyone else who might have a vested interest in you.

Former classmates or family members also cannot be counted as academic references when you’re applying for a degree program. Admissions into these programs at the masters or even Ph.D. level, character references might not carry much weight. It has to be about your academic ability.

Including a former employer as a reference

You need to think very carefully about the appropriateness if including your former employer as a reference. An employer’s reference will be most appropriate in case you are planning to study in the same field or discipline as your former employment or career. You cannot make a quantum leap, so to speak, and expect your college or university to accept a reference from an employer in a field that is completely unrelated to what you are planning to study.

For example, if you are a probation officer and haven’t studied for quite some time but now want to pursue further studies in criminal justice, then it would be very appropriate for your employer to write a reference for you. The same may not be true if you are moving from another field altogether such as nursing or banking and planning to pursue a criminal justice program.

The Do’s and Don’ts When Presenting Your Academic References

Submit all the required information on the application form including their name, title and contact details. The contact details should include their address, phone number, and email address. You must also include the capacity in which you are familiar with your references. This can be anyone from your previous employer, lecturer, departmental head, or tutor etc.

Before you list them in your application, approach your references and notify them of the same. You also need to assess whether they are likely to portray you in a positive light based on your past professional and personal relationships.

In some cases, you may be asked to provide your references alongside your applications. In such cases, you need to contact them directly and request them to provide the references in sealed envelopes. These should be addressed directly to the institution you are applying to or to you. There are also others who don’t require them.

In case your referees choose to email the references directly to the institution, they need to do it in their professional hosted email address such as and not through a free email service such as Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail.  It is not easy to verify the authenticity of emails coming from the free email services. You might as well have opened an email address and sent the reference yourself!

Do not delay your application because your references are not responding fast enough to your request for a recommendation. If one is not coming through, simply place a request to another.

Remember that you can always change your references later on even after you have submitted an application.