When someone tells you they have a degree in criminal justice, you might naturally assume they’re working or plan to work as a police officer.
But that’s a pretty big assumption.
The truth is that a criminal justice degree can prepare you for a variety of jobs within the legal system, from a paralegal to a park ranger and everything in between.
We did a little research to give you a better idea of the career paths that a criminal justice degree could offer you. We used real-time job analysis software to analyze nearly 20,000 job postings that required a criminal justice degree over the past year.1
The data helped us identify the 10 most popular criminal justice careers. Keep reading to discover the variety of opportunities available to criminal justice degree holders, along with a brief overview of the position and its earning potential.2
A breakdown of criminal justice degree jobs
1. Security Guard
- Duties: Security guards are responsible for the monitoring and maintaining of a facility’s security. Additionally, they are tasked with writing reports of daily activities or irregularities and working with public safety officials in the event of an emergency.
- Why it made the list: If a building houses something valuable, odds are you’ll find at least a few security guards patrolling the area. While many security guard positions don’t require a degree, criminal justice degree holders should be able to flourish in these roles and work their way toward higher level managerial security positions.
- 2014 median salary: $24,410
2. Park naturalist
- Duties: Park naturalists provide visitors services like explaining regulations, answering questions and providing information about the park. They also perform emergency duties to protect human life, government property and natural features of the park.
- Why it made the list: Parks across the country need staff to help keep people safe when visiting, and criminal justice graduates are well-suited for the job. Their knowledge of patrol procedures, investigation and maintaining public safety makes this a natural fit.
- 2014 median salary: $61,860
3. Private detective or investigator
- Duties: Private detectives and investigators conduct investigative research on subjects (often involving fraud or legal misrepresentations.) They must document the information they’ve gathered and report on their findings to private individuals or businesses.
- Why it made the list: Private investigators and detectives serve an important role in legal proceedings by bringing to light information that would be otherwise overlooked. Criminal justice graduates are well-versed in investigative techniques as well as criminal and privacy law, which makes them an ideal fit for this line of work.
- 2014 median salary: $44,570
4. Probation officer
- Duties: Probation officers work with offenders to ensure they’re meeting the terms specified in their probation or parole agreements. This means they’re responsible for administering drug tests, interviewing and reporting on the progress of offenders and also assisting them in finding help for any mental health or substance abuse issues.
- Why it made the list: Part correctional officer, part social worker; this position requires a strong knowledge of the legal system and how to interact with offenders.
- 2014 median salary: $49,060
5. Correctional officer
- Duties: Correctional officers work in prisons or jails and are responsible for monitoring inmates for dangerous activities, inspecting cells for contraband, weapons or security issues and maintaining the overall security of the facility.
- Why it made the list: It may not be the most glamorous occupation, but jails and prisons need well-trained corrections officers to ensure both inmate and public safety are maintained.
- 2014 median salary: $39,780
6. Police patrol officer
- Duties: Police patrol officers are tasked with patrolling assigned areas, enforcement of local laws and ordinances, traffic regulation and crowd control for large events.
- Why it made the list: This entry-level position is likely what you think of when someone says they’re earning their criminal justice degree.
- 2014 median salary: $56,810
7. Security manager
- Duties: Security managers are responsible for not only maintaining the security of people, places or things but also the management of lower-level security personnel. This includes training new security officers and assuming a hands-on role in the planning and implementation of security standards, policies and procedures.
- Why it made the list: The next step in a private security career, security managers need a strong understanding of criminal behavior and identifying security issues—which aligns very well with what is learned in a criminal justice degree program.
- 2014 median salary: $105,0603
8. Corrections officer supervisor
- Duties: Supervisors of corrections officers, like typical corrections officers, are tasked with the monitoring of inmates and maintaining order within a correctional facility. Additionally, they use their leadership and experience to direct the work of other correctional officers.
- Why it made the list: The next step up from corrections officers, this position lends itself perfectly to those with a formal education in criminal justice.
- 2014 median salary: $57,970
9. Mental health counselor
- Duties: Mental health counselors work in a variety of roles within the criminal justice system. Some may work with juveniles or offenders in diversionary programs. Others will work in correctional facilities as counselors who work to rehabilitate inmates and prepare them for life after incarceration.
- Why it made the list: Mental health counselors play an important role in the rehabilitation of offenders and the prevention of criminal behavior. Counselors with a background in criminal justice and an advanced degree in psychology are a great match for this profession.
- 2014 median salary: $40,850
10. First-line police supervisor
- Duties: The primary responsibility of first-line law enforcement supervisors is the coordination and supervision of subordinate officers during criminal investigations.
- Why it made the list: These positions typically require multiple years of law enforcement experience and a solid educational background in criminal justice.
- 2014 median salary: $80,930
Take the next step
Now that you know earning a criminal justice degree isn’t a dead-end. The knowledge and hands-on training you’ll receive from a reputable program will prepare you for a variety of criminal justice careers.
To get a taste of what you’ll be learning and how it will equip you for your dream criminal justice job, check out these 5 Can’t-Miss Criminal Justice Courses.
1 Burning-Glass.com (analysis of 19,179 online job postings, Feb. 16, 2015 – Feb. 15, 2016)
2 Salary info came from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Data represents national, averaged earnings for the occupations listed and includes workers at all levels of education and experience. This data does not represent starting salaries and employment conditions in your area may vary.
3 Salary info for security managers reflects the DOL’s data for occupations under the “Managers, all other” category. Median salary & wage information for security specific management positions may vary.
Rasmussen College does not offer programs to prepare students for every occupation profiled in this article; please see www.rasmussen.edu/degrees for a list of the programs we offer. Rasmussen College is a regionally accredited private college and Public Benefit Corporation.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published in July 2013. It has since been updated to include information relevant to 2016.
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