What Can You Do With a Degree in Criminal Justice?
Criminal justice is a stimulating subject to study. Those textbooks in the school bookstore have words like criminal, investigation, parole and prison in their titles—and you’ve watched enough Law and Order and CSI to know that criminal justice careers can be anything but boring. An education in criminal justice will leave you with a greater understanding about how our society works to handle our deepest and darkest criminals.
But after the reading, researching and training ends, what can you do with a degree in criminal justice? Could you really become the star of the police force or the forensic investigator who helps solve the case? Before committing to the field you’re so passionate about, you want to know what your career options will be after graduating.
Most criminal justice careers fall into three main categories: law enforcement, criminology or legal. No matter which track is right for you, there are plenty of exciting and rewarding career opportunities in each field.
Take a look at these career options for graduates with a degree in criminal justice.
Law enforcement careers
Several criminal justice careers fall under the umbrella of law enforcement. This includes police officers, detectives and even federal agents.
You’re familiar with law enforcement agents as the hardworking men and women who protect your community, respond to emergency calls, prevent crimes and apprehend criminals. But becoming a police officer isn’t your only law enforcement option. Criminal justice majors may also go on to work as fish and game wardens, DEA agents or other specialty agents.
Law enforcement job duties
Law enforcement professionals have the opportunity to serve their community at the local, state or federal level. “The daily activities of police and detectives vary with their occupational specialty, such as canine units and special weapons and tactics (SWAT),” reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Though there is no “typical” day in the life of a law enforcement officer, these are some of the job duties most officers can expect to encounter:
- Enforce laws & issue citations
- Keep detailed records that could be used in court testimony
- Respond to emergency calls
- Patrol designated areas & take note of suspicious activity
- Gather evidence at crime scenes
- Acquire warrants & arrest suspects
Law enforcement salaries & job outlook
Your salary as a law enforcement officer depends on your job title and the level at which you serve (local, state or federal). The median annual salary for police officers in 2015 was $60,270, according to the BLS.1 Meanwhile, the median annual salary for police detectives and criminal investigators was reported at $77,210.1
These figures vary since some positions require more education than others. Police must have a high school diploma, but many federal agencies and some police departments will require some postsecondary courses or a college degree.
The job outlook for law enforcement officers is expected to grow by 4 percent through 2024, according to the BLS. Experience in the field, the military or in investigative work can help your application stand out. Employers also value candidates who speak a second language. Once you’ve begun your career in law enforcement, there are plenty of opportunities for advancement based on exams and on-the-job performance.
Criminologists and forensic science technicians are another branch of the law enforcement category. They work to understand and address the details and patterns of crime. Criminologists are a type of sociologist dedicated to studying criminal behavior by examining the groups, cultures, organizations, social institutions and processes in society. Forensic science technicians collect and analyze evidence to help law enforcement investigate crimes. They tend to specialize in either crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis.
Criminology job duties
The job duties of criminology professions can vary widely depending on their specialty. Here are some of the job duties criminologists and forensic science technicians can expect to encounter:
- Study the causes & effects of crime in a population
- Gather information & research the lives of criminals
- Develop hypotheses on why people commit crimes
- Search for patterns to help other law enforcement professionals understand & prevent crimes
Forensic science technician (laboratory analysis)
- Use chemicals & lab equipment to analyze physical evidence
- Analyze the results of DNA & other tests to find links between suspects & the crime scene
- Investigate digital evidence for relevant information
- Reconstruct crime scenes
Forensic science technician (crime scene investigation)
- Properly collect evidence from crime scenes
- Record the crime scene & evidence through photographs or sketches
- Record observations of the crime scene
- Secure evidence to be transferred to the lab
Criminology salaries & job outlook
The median annual wage for forensic science technicians in 2015 was $56,320, according to the BLS. 1 The median salary for criminologists was reported at $73,760.2 The BLS forecasts a promising job outlook for forensic scientists, with a 27 percent increase expected through 2024. The job outlook is slower in the sociology field, with little to no change expected in coming years.
Jobs in criminology and forensic science typically require advanced degrees, with a master’s being the minimum requirement for criminologists. A bachelor’s degree is the standard for entry-level forensic technicians, as noted by the BLS. Positive outlooks are predicted for certain specialties, with reporting that “digital computer forensics and DNA specialties are expected to see the most growth.”
Careers on the legal side of criminal justice are typically centered on the courtroom. Defense and prosecuting attorneys, judges and paralegals all fall into this category. Where law enforcement officers seek to prevent crime and apprehend criminals and criminologists work to solve and understand crimes, the legal field is where suspects are tried and found innocent or guilty.
Legal job duties
As you can imagine, the job duties of a judge look quite different from those of a paralegal, but paralegal positions are much more prevalent. Here are some of the most common job duties for entry-level paralegals:
- Assist lawyers in preparing for trials
- Gather the facts of a case & conduct relevant research
- File legal documents with the court
- Assist lawyers during a trial by taking notes
- Scheduling meetings with clients, witnesses & lawyers
Legal salaries & job outlook
Most people are aware that the legal field as a whole offers exciting earning potential. Even paralegals and legal assistants earn an above average income. The BLS lists the median annual salary for paralegals in 2015 as $48,810, and the opportunities only increase from there. 1 The average attorney, judge or hearing officer pulls in annual salary of more than $100,000, according to the BLS.1
The BLS predicts that job prospects for paralegals will increase by eight percent through 2024, making the legal side of criminal justice a great option for entry-level applicants. Many paralegals enter the field by earning an associate degree before taking their certification exam.
Is a degree in criminal justice right for you?
So what can you do with a degree in criminal justice? It turns out there are plenty of options! Now that you’ve been introduced to careers you’d never even considered, you should have a better idea of where your interest lie.
A degree in criminal justice can lead you down a many different roads, and the program you choose will significantly impact your chosen path. Do your research before choosing a program and check out these 10 Facts You Didn’t Know About Rasmussen Justice Studies.
- The 10 Most Popular Jobs for Criminal Justice Degree Holders
- Order in the Court: A Visual Guide to Courthouse Jobs
- 5 Can't-Miss Criminal Justice Courses
1 Salary 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.
2 Data for criminologists reflects the BLS’s data for occupations under the “Sociologists” category. Median salary & job outlook information specific to criminologist 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.