What Can I Do with a Criminal Justice Degree?

The criminal justice field encompasses a wide range of industries and careers that can be exciting, rewarding, and lucrative. While some entry-level positions in the field may only require a high school diploma, others will call for some level of college education to be completed.

Before you enroll in any training or degree program, it’s crucial to have a good idea of which area of the criminal justice field interests you the most and how far up the professional ladder you’d like to climb. In other words, you need to know what you want to do before you can know what you need to learn.

Below you’ll find helpful information on a variety of jobs available in the criminal justice field and the levels of education and types of degrees you’ll need to qualify for them. So, if a career in criminal justice sounds good to you, keep reading to learn more about what you can do with a criminal justice degree.

What Jobs Can You Get with a Criminal Justice Degree?

There are numerous occupations that fall under the umbrella criminal justice. Positions are available in agencies and departments throughout all levels of government, as well as all sectors of the economy. These careers require specialized knowledge and skills and offer plenty of room for professional growth and advancement. Below is a survey of some of the most common occupations in criminal justice, from those that will have you in the field dealing directly with criminals, to ones that will put you in a crime lab collecting data and analyzing forensic evidence. Let’s breakdown the options so you can decide what’s right for you.

Law Enforcement

Law enforcement may be primarily about policing, but the field is much broader than that. Law enforcement involves people and public agencies on all levels of government enforcing laws, maintaining public order and safety, and responding to natural and man-made emergencies. Law enforcement jobs are highly stressful and require a great degree of professional skill, but they can also be highly rewarding.

  • Police Officer
  • FBI Agent
  • ATF Agent
  • DEA Agent
  • Deputy U.S. Marshal
  • Secret Service Agent
  • Wildfire Warden

Corrections

Homeland Security

Forensics and Investigation

Private Security

Judiciary Services

Social Justice Services

In Depth: Top Jobs with Criminal Justice Degrees

The descriptions below will give you a good idea of what some of the most popular jobs in criminal justice are all about, including whether or not you’ll need a college degree to qualify for them. We’ve listed these descriptions according to the level of education required, from least to most advanced. Salary and job growth figures are taken from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and growth rate figures are projected for 2016-2026.

Police Patrol Officer

Job Description

Police patrol officers perform general law enforcement duties for local departments and state agencies. Patrol officers wear uniforms and have regular patrols during which they watch for signs of illegal activities, conduct searches, and apprehend criminal suspects. They also respond to emergency and non-emergency calls within their communities.

Minimum Education Required

High school diploma or (in some cases) college coursework or associate or bachelor’s degree. Academy training additionally required by most departments.

State License Required?

No, although a state license to carry a firearm may be required.

Professional Certifications

None.

Median Salary:

$61,380
(includes sheriff’s patrol officers)

Est. Growth Rate:

7%
(includes police detectives)

Criminal Investigators & Special Agents

Private Detective or Investigator

First-Line Police Supervisor

Correctional Officer

Probation and Parole Officers

Postsecondary Criminal Justice & Law Enforcement Teachers

Where Can You Earn a Criminal Justice Degree?

Criminal justice programs are offered at all degree levels: associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral. A criminal justice associate degree provides students with a foundational overview of the criminal justice system in preparation of entry-level positions in law enforcement (patrol and corrections officers, for example). Associate degree programs are usually two-years in length and are typically offered by community and vocational colleges.

Bachelor degree programs in criminal justice expand on the topics covered in associate degree programs. A bachelor’s degree is often a prerequisite for parole and probations officer jobs, as well as most federal law enforcement positions. Graduate degree programs (master’s and doctoral) prepare graduates for supervisorial and administrative positions with criminal justice agencies, as well as postsecondary academic positions in research and teaching. Both bachelor’s and graduate criminal justice degrees are available at an ever-growing number of college and university campuses, both public and private, throughout the U.S.

Can You Earn a Degree in Criminal Justice Online?

Absolutely. Online criminal justice degree programs are plentiful, and like those available on college campuses, high-quality online criminal justice programs from fully-accredited schools are available at all degree levels. Online programs often feature both full and part-time study options to accommodate working professionals. Programs that offer accelerated curriculums are also popular online and can be completed in less time than standard programs, allowing students to graduate earlier and get a head start on their professional careers.  

Visit our online criminal justice degree page to learn more about distance learning opportunities for criminal justice students.

Regardless of the specific area of the criminal justice world you’re thinking about entering, there are a number of important core qualities and skills you will need in order to succeed. Some you’ll learn in your degree program and on-the-job, while others you’ll need to develop on your own. You don’t have to wait until you get to school to start working on them, however.  Here is our list of the top ten professional skills and personal qualities most commonly sought by employers when filling their criminal justice jobs:

Critical thinking

Decisions in the field come quick and can result in life-changing consequences. Criminal justice professionals must develop finely-honed cognitive skills to address high-pressure situations with the right in-the-moment choices. Critical thinking qualities include solid inductive and deductive reasoning, environmental perceptiveness and social awareness, and plain-old good judgment.

Personal and professional ethics

Physical fitness

Leadership

Empathy

Active listening

Teamwork

Computer competence

Conflict resolution

Written communication

How Much Can I Make with a Criminal Justice Degree?

Median Criminal Justice Salaries by Occupation

Law Enforcement (Police and Detectives)

$63,380

Correctional Officers and Jailers (Federal)

$44,400

Immigration Officer (Department of Homeland Security)

$62,899

Forensic Science Technicians

$58,230

Private Detectives and Investigators

$50,090