What Can You Do With a Criminal Justice Degree?

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Criminal justice degrees tend to attract individuals who enjoy helping others and who want to make a difference in their local communities. The criminal justice field encompasses dozens of rewarding job opportunities in areas like crime prevention, victim advocacy, corrections/rehabilitation, and investigative work.

Potential careers for graduates with a criminal justice degree depend on degree specialization and type. For example, learners focusing on forensics may find jobs as forensic scientists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forensic science technicians earn a median salary of $59,150 per year, with a 14% projected job growth rate from 2018-2028.

This guide covers some of the top criminal justice careers, including potential salaries, projected job growth, and common duties.

Click below to easily navigate this guide:

Top 10 Jobs for Criminal Justice Majors

Job Median Annual Salary
Lawyer $122,960
Homeland Security $77,000
Homicide Detective $74,380
Forensic Accountant $71,560
Forensic Psychologist $69,510
Criminal Investigator $67,170
DEA Agent $66,450
Secret Service Agent $65,000
FBI Agent $64,060
Forensic Science Technician $59,150
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics , PayScale
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Jobs You Can Get With a Degree in Criminal Justice

One of the most appealing aspects of working in criminal justice is the diversity of career options available. Criminal justice examines concepts in areas including criminology, psychology, and sociology. This interdisciplinary nature leads to careers in a variety of settings. 

Graduates may pursue employment with government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and law firms. They may also work privately and independently. Take a look at a few popular careers below.

  • Bounty Hunter

    Bounty hunters work independently to apprehend criminals and fugitives. These professionals typically pursue individuals who skipped bail or avoided required court hearings. Most bounty hunters find work through bail bond agencies, but some work with local law enforcement agencies.

    Those interested in becoming bounty hunters must demonstrate a combination of education, experience, and skill. Many bounty hunters begin their careers in law enforcement, gaining the experience and skills necessary to pursue and apprehend criminals. Bounty hunters don’t need a specific level of education, though many earn degrees related to criminal justice to begin their careers.

    Successful bounty hunters must exhibit research and investigatory skills, understand how to negotiate with individuals, and know how to protect themselves from potentially dangerous criminals. According to BLS projections, private detectives and investigators — including bounty hunters — can expect above-average job growth from 2018-2028.

    Education: None required, bachelor’s in criminal justice recommended

    Average Annual Salary: $51,200*

    (*Based on available data)

    Read more about BOUNTY HUNTERS

  • Conservation Officer

    Sometimes known as fish and game wardens, conservation officers work to protect natural resources, including wildlife, at the local, state, and federal levels. Many conservation officers begin their careers as s, then transition into conservation officers.

    Conservation officers work to ensure that fishermen and hunters comply with state and federal laws. Responsibilities include checking licenses, inspecting equipment, analyzing the methods of catching game, and determining whether methods and equipment comply with regulations. Some officers also educate the general public, monitor campgrounds and parks, and work with other law enforcement professionals to prosecute criminals.

    The BLS reports that fish and game wardens earn a median wage of $57,500 per year, though some of the top earners make over $109,620. The profession is projected to grow 5% between 2018-2028.

    Education: Associate degreerequired, bachelor’s in criminal justice recommended

    Average Annual Salary: $41,280*

    (*Based on available data)

    Read more about CONSERVATION OFFICERS

  • Corrections Officer

    Corrections officers, including bailiffs and jailers, work for local, state, and federal governments to oversee arrested individuals and those serving jail time. Corrections officers must hold a high school diploma and complete a training academy. Some work environments, such as federal prisons, require bachelor’s degrees related to criminal justice or counseling, plus multiple years of work experience.

    Because they work closely with criminals, corrections officers should possess strong decision-making and interpersonal skills. Corrections officers should also demonstrate restraint and self-discipline. While BLS projections show a decline in job growth, facilities with retiring corrections officers always need new employees.

    Education: High school diploma required, bachelor’s in criminal justice recommended

    Average Annual Salary: $39,890

    Read more about CORRECTIONS OFFICERS

  • Crime Lab Analyst

    Crime lab analysts analyze crime scenes, collect samples for analysis, and process samples to determine information. Their findings help police and investigators determine witnesses, make arrests, and testify against criminals in court.

    Crime lab analysts use toxicology, DNA analysis, blood analysis, fingerprinting, and other forensic methods to gather information. They need at least a bachelor’s degree, but some employers, including those at the federal level, prefer candidates with graduate degrees related to forensics.

    Successful crime lab analysts should demonstrate strong analytical and creative skills to determine which evidence to collect and analyze. The BLS does not show any job growth projections for crime lab analysts, but agencies always require skilled analysts to assist with law enforcement.

    Education: Bachelor’s degree related to forensic science or criminal justice required, master’s in forensic science recommended

    Average Annual Salary: $56,000*

    (*Based on available data)

    Read more about CRIME LAB ANALYSTS

  • Crime Scene Investigator

    Crime scene investigators (CSIs) analyze crime scenes, collect important evidence, and use their skills and experience to track and apprehend criminals. Many CSIs work on teams within their agencies, though CSIs may also work independently.

    CSIs typically need a bachelor’s degree in forensic science or a related field, including biology, chemistry, or criminal justice. They must also complete comprehensive training programs, learning techniques for documenting evidence, professing fingerprints, analyzing blood spatter, and working at death scenes. After getting hired, CSIs receive on-the-job training to complete their education.

    The BLS groups these professionals with forensic science technicians, who earn a median annual salary of $59,150, though the top earners make more than $97,350. Projections show a 14% job growth rate for all forensic science technicians between 2018-2028.

    Education: Bachelor’s in forensic science required

    Average Annual Salary: $49,660

    Read more about CRIME SCENE INVESTIGATORS

  • Criminal Investigator

    Criminal investigators work to solve crimes, sometimes spending weeks or months on the same case. These professionals work closely with other law enforcement professionals to collect and analyze evidence, interview witnesses, and make arrests. These roles require lots of interpersonal interactions, so criminal investigators must demonstrate excellent communication skills and empathy. Other required skills include leadership and decision-making.

    Criminal investigators may spend their days responding to emergencies, analyzing crime scenes, collecting evidence, determining people of interest, obtaining various warrants, interviewing witnesses, making arrests, or testifying in court. To handle these tasks, criminal investigators must combine experience and education. Most criminal investigators hold experience as s.

    BLS projections show an average job growth rate for criminal investigators between 2018-2028.

    Education: High school diploma required, bachelor’s in criminal justice or criminology recommended

    Average Annual Salary: $67,170

    Read more about CRIMINAL INVESTIGATORS

  • DEA Agent

    Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents work for the federal government to control and prevent the import and sale of illicit drugs. This rewarding career pays agents an average annual salary of $66,450 plus government benefits. Candidates must hold college degrees.

    After earning a degree, DEA recruits complete 4-6 months of training, learning the gun handling, investigatory, interpersonal, and decision-making skills required for the position. Agents who complete training then select career specializations. Specializations significantly impact day-to-day tasks, work environments, job growth potential, and potential salaries.

    The opportunity to work in unique environments, use different skills daily, and protect U.S. citizens attracts prospective DEA agents. However, this rewarding career sees low job turnover rates, meaning securing a position requires experience and education.

    Education: Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field required

    Average Annual Salary: $66,450*

    (*Based on available data)

    Read more about DEA AGENTS

  • FBI Agent

    FBI agents work for the U.S. government to protect people from domestic threats. Tasks performed by FBI agents depend on background and specialization. For example, some professionals work as accountants, while others surveil suspects. However, most FBI agents gather evidence, secure warrants, and make arrests.

    FBI agents often work well over 40 hours per week, though they receive solid salaries and generous government benefits. FBI agents need a bachelor’s degree and professional experience, though a master’s degree may reduce experience requirements. They must also complete a 20-week training in Quantico, Virginia.

    Education: Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field required

    Average Annual Salary: $64,060*

    (*Based on available data)

    Read more about FBI AGENTS

  • Forensic Accountant

    Forensic accountants work in law enforcement, but their day-to-day tasks resemble those of other accountants and auditors. They use accounting skills to detect criminal activity, often leading to prosecution. Daily tasks include gathering financial data; compiling evidence; and checking for compliance with local, state, and federal laws.

    To succeed as forensic accountants, individuals must demonstrate strong analytical, problem-solving, and data-gathering skills. Like other types of accountants, forensic accountants must complete at least a bachelor’s degree, though some high-level government agencies prefer candidates with master’s degrees in forensic accounting or related fields.

    The BLS reports that accountants earn a median annual wage of $71,550. Salary potential varies by agency, location, and experience. Those with master’s degrees in accounting usually earn the highest wages.

    Education: Bachelor’s degree in accounting required, master’s degree recommended

    Average Annual Salary: $71,560

    Read more about FORENSIC ACCOUNTANTS

  • Forensic Psychologist

    Like other types of psychologists, forensic psychologists examine individuals to determine thought processes and motivations. These professionals use their skills to conduct interviews with witnesses and criminals to help solve crimes and rehabilitate convicted criminals.

    Many forensic psychologists assist in criminal investigations. They often testify in court to offer recommendations, including determining whether convicted criminals should move to mental health facilities. Some forensic psychologists focus on specific crimes or criminals, such as child abuse cases.

    All licensed psychologists must earn at least a doctoral degree and complete 1,000 hours of supervised experience. The path to this career is long, but forensic psychologists earn high wages, and BLS projections show above-average job growth for psychologists through 2018-2028.

    Education: Doctoral degree in psychology required

    Average Annual Salary: $69,510

    Read more about FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGISTS

  • Forensic Science Technician

    Forensic science technicians work at crime scenes to ensure the safe, effective collection of evidence. Later, forensic science technicians work with other law enforcement professionals to connect pieces of evidence to persons of interest. They may run chemical tests, analyze DNA from blood or fluids, and determine ballistics based on weapons found. Forensic science technicians work at every government level, and some find positions outside of law enforcement in hospitals or coroners’ offices.

    Many forensic science technicians complete bachelor’s degrees, though sufficient experience can cover education requirements. Most government agencies and laboratories provide on-the-job training. According to the BLS, forensic science technicians earn a median salary of $59,150, with those working at the state level earning a median of $60,830 per year.

    Education: Associate degree in required, bachelor’s in forensic science recommended

    Median Annual Salary: $59,150

    Read more about FORENSIC SCIENCE TECHNICIANS

  • Homeland Security Professional

    A broad field encompassing a variety of careers, homeland security professionals work to protect the U.S. and its citizens. Homeland security professionals may work with the FBI, the Secret Service, the CIA, the TSA, and Border Patrol, among other agencies. Day-to-day tasks vary by agency, but all homeland security professionals need strong leadership, communication, and problem-solving skills.

    Homeland security careers require a combination of education and experience. Many criminal justice and homeland security programs mandate internships to ensure that graduates earn some experience before applying for homeland security jobs. Students’ internships may impact potential career paths.

    Various factors influence potential pay, though PayScale reports an average salary of $77,000 for homeland security professionals. Factors impacting pay include location, education, experience, government level, government agency, and specialization.

    Education: Bachelor’s in criminal justice, homeland security, or a related field

    Average Annual Salary: $77,000

    Read more about HOMELAND SECURITY CAREERS

  • Homicide Detective

    An essential part of most law enforcement agencies, homicide detectives investigate deaths caused by criminal activity. Daily tasks include analyzing crime scenes for evidence, finding and interviewing witnesses, and arresting suspects. Because homicides occur at all times of the day, homicide detectives often work odd hours, sometimes working well beyond 40 hours per week.

    To become homicide detectives, candidates must hold associate or bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice and experience as a police officer. Homicide detectives must possess investigation, problem-solving, and interviewing skills.

    Education: High school diploma required, bachelor’s in criminal justice recommended

    Average Annual Salary: $74,380

    Read more about HOMICIDE DETECTIVES

  • K9 Officer

    K9 police officers receive specialized training to work closely with police dogs. Along with their police dogs, K9 officers patrol, search for missing persons, track down illicit drugs, and find explosive devices.

    To become K9 officers, individuals must first become police officers. After working as police officers for several years, prospective K9 officers either sign up for independent K9 training or apply for K9 positions. After earning positions and completing training, K9 officers then work to form connections with their police dog partners, taking the dogs home and caring for them.

    K9 officers earn highly variable salaries depending on experience, location, specialization, and level of government. Those working for federal agencies earn the highest wages.

    Education: High school diploma required, bachelor’s in criminal justice recommended

    Average Annual Salary: $54,000*

    (*Based on available data)

    Read more about K9 OFFICERS

  • Lawyer

    Lawyers advise citizens, companies, organizations, and governments on legal matters. After gaining experience, some lawyers choose to become politicians or judges. Lawyers’ tasks depend on their specialties. Areas of specialization include business law, criminal law, constitutional law, family law, and human rights. Successful lawyers should demonstrate excellent research, organization, and communication skills.

    Prospective lawyers must first earn bachelor’s degrees related to law or criminal justice before attending and completing law school. After graduating from law school, prospective lawyers must pass the multistate professional responsibility exam and the bar exam to earn licensure.

    Education: Master’s or doctoral degree in law

    Annual Median Salary: $122,960

    Read more about LAWYERS

  • Paralegal

    Also known as legal assistants, paralegals work in law firms to support attorneys and lawyers. Daily tasks include helping attorneys prepare for trails, arranging meetings with clients, and assisting in case research. Paralegals assist in most law-related tasks, though they cannot defend clients in court.

    Paralegals typically need an associate degree from a community college, though some employers might accept paralegals with certificates and sufficient experience. Some employers prefer new paralegals to hold bachelor’s degrees, and paralegals with bachelor’s degrees earn the highest wages.

    According to the BLS, paralegals and legal assistants earn a median wage of $51,740 per year, with the top 10% of earners making over $82,500 annually.

    Education: Associate in paralegal studies required, bachelor’s in legal studies recommended

    Annual Median Salary: $51,740

    Read more about PARALEGALS

  • Park Ranger

    As employees of state and national parks, park rangers work to protect and manage parks, historical areas, and recreational sites. These professionals promote conservation methods to protect natural resources, including wildlife. They also educate visitors to maintain park quality. Most park rangers work at large national parks found across the country.

    Park rangers often work in remote areas and experience limited interaction with others. Rangers must maintain physical fitness, communicate rules and regulations to visitors, and understand the geography of their work area.

    To become park rangers, individuals must be U.S. citizens with an education in environmental studies, ecology, or a similar field. Most park rangers receive on-the-job training, though some complete internships while earning their degrees.

    Education: Bachelor’s in environmental studies or a similar field required

    Average Annual Salary: $39,450

    Read more about PARK RANGERS

  • Parole Officer

    Parole officers supervise offenders who have been released from prison and put on parole. Parole officers work to ensure their parolees do not violate their terms of parole. Parole officers visit parolees to check in and connect them with career, education, and rehabilitation opportunities.

    Parole officers need at least a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field. Federal parole officers often must hold master’s degrees. According to the BLS, local parole officers earn the highest median wages, at $57,920.

    Education: Bachelor’s in criminal justice or a similar field required

    Average Annual Salary: $42,570

    Read more about PAROLE OFFICERS

  • Police Officer

    Police officers work in law enforcement, helping to keep communities safe. They may respond to emergency calls, conduct traffic stops, patrol neighborhoods, keep records of incidents, and testify in court against suspects and criminals.

    Police officers must complete a high school diploma and training. Officers who earn bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice may make higher salaries and receive job promotions. Successful police officers possess strong decision-making and interpersonal skills. Police officers must understand when to demonstrate restraint in tense situations to protect all parties involved.

    Education: High school diploma required, bachelor’s in criminal justice optional

    Average Annual Salary: $52,050

    Read more about POLICE OFFICERS

  • Private Investigator

    Also known as private detectives, private investigators are self-employed individuals who work cases for clients and organizations. Many cases involve following suspects, gathering evidence and information, surveilling, and interviewing people. Private investigators may take on criminal and non-criminal cases, depending on the client. To succeed, private investigators need critical thinking and problem-solving skills, along with creativity, computer skills, and self-motivation.

    Private investigators need a license to practice. Licensure requirements vary by state, but all private investigators should consider earning bachelor’s degrees and gaining law enforcement experience. Potential clients often prefer private investigators with relevant backgrounds. Salaries vary widely depending on experience, though PayScale reports an average annual salary of $56,490.

    Education: High school diploma required, bachelor’s in criminal justice recommended

    Average Annual Salary: $56,490

    Read more about PRIVATE INVESTIGATORS

  • Probation Officer

    Similar to parole officers, probation officers work to rehabilitate and support offenders who were recently released from jail. Daily tasks include checking in on individuals in custody, on probation, or on parole; conducting interviews with those on probation; and issuing drug tests. Probation officers also interact with the friends and family of those on probation to ensure released offenders benefit from strong support systems.

    Empathy, communication, and social perceptiveness help probation officers succeed on a daily basis. These professionals must also demonstrate strong decision-making skills. While PayScale reports the average annual salary as $43,400, the BLS reports that the top 10% of probation officers and correctional treatment specialists earn more than $94,860 per year.

    Education: Bachelor’s in criminal justice required

    Average Annual Salary: $43,400

    Read more about PROBATION OFFICERS

  • Secret Service Agent

    The Secret Service plays an integral role in law enforcement by protecting important political figures and systems. Secret Service agents often protect specific individuals, though others address counterfeiting, money laundering, and other financial crimes.

    Members of the Secret Service must meet strict requirements. They must first complete bachelor’s degrees, though the best candidates hold master’s degrees or higher. Next, individuals must gain experience in criminal justice, usually by working with other federal agencies. Finally, applicants must meet physical health requirements, including fitness and eyesight requirements. Once accepted, Secret Service agents undergo months of specialized training.

    Education: Bachelor’s degree in criminal justice required, master’s in criminal justice preferred

    Average Annual Salary: $65,000*

    (*Based on available data)

    Read more about SECRET SERVICE AGENTS

  • State Trooper

    State-level law enforcement professionals, state troopers primarily focus on traffic and motor vehicle laws, regulations, and safety. Sometimes known as highway patrol or state patrol, state troopers patrol highways, ticket individuals who break state and federal traffic laws, respond to crime scenes, file reports, and testify in court. State troopers also promote public safety through education and law enforcement.

    Many state troopers hold associate degrees, though some of the highest-paid professionals earn bachelor’s degrees. After completing their degrees, candidates can receive positions and complete training. After completing a state trooper training academy and securing positions, some professionals advance their careers and become senior troopers, captains, or sergeants.

    Education: High school diploma required, associate degree preferred

    Average Annual Salary: $54,490

    Read more about STATE TROOPERS

  • Substance Abuse Counselor

    Substance abuse counselors help individuals struggling with or recovering from alcohol or drug addiction. In many cases, their clients have committed crimes and must complete counseling by law. Substance abuse counselors work in various settings, including rehabilitation centers, hospitals, and private practices.

    Along with earning bachelor’s degrees related to counseling or psychology, individuals must earn state licensure and obtain industry certification. In part because of the ongoing opioid epidemic, the demand for substance abuse counselors continues to rise, with the BLS projecting an 68,500 new positions from 2018-2028.

    Education: Bachelor’s degree in counseling, psychology, or criminal justice required

    Average Annual Salary: $39,410

    Read more about SUBSTANCE ABUSE COUNSELORS

  • Victim Advocate

    Victim advocates assist victims of crimes by providing emotional support and offering actionable ways to help them return to normal life. Because some victims experience deep trauma, victim advocates must demonstrate excellent communication, counseling, and problem-solving skills.

    Victim advocates often work with criminal justice professionals to help victims receive justice. The day-to-day work of a victim advocate includes counseling, support, and assisting with legal services.

    Victim advocates need some experience, usually completed through training, internships, or field work. They do not need a specific degree, but a degree in the field may help these professionals advance their careers. This position does not require licensure or certification. The BLS projects above-average job growth for social and human service assistants, including victim advocates, from 2018-2028.

    Education: High school diploma required, associate or bachelor’s degree preferred

    Average Annual Salary: $35,510

    Read more about VICTIM ADVOCATES

Careers in criminal justice generally fall into three main branches: law enforcement, courts, and corrections/rehabilitation. Each of these branches features similarities and differences regarding job duties, salary expectations, required education/experience, and work conditions.

With so many options available, aspiring criminal justice professionals often find it difficult to decide which path to pursue. Use the tables below to compare key details across nine common criminal justice jobs.


  • Comparing Police Officers, K9 Officers, and State Troopers

    Police Officers K9 Officers State Troopers
    Key Job Duties Respond to emergency and nonemergency calls, patrol assigned areas, conduct traffic stops and issue citations, make arrests, write detailed reports, testify in court as needed Respond to emergency and nonemergency calls, issue citations and make arrests, patrol assigned areas, train and handle K9 dogs, write detailed reports, testify in court as needed Patrol assigned areas, enforce public safety on roadways, respond to vehicle accident scenes, conduct accident investigations, make arrests, write detailed reports, testify in court as needed
    Required Education Varies. At least a high school diploma and academy training. Many officers hold an associate or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field. Varies. At least a high school diploma and academy training. Many officers hold an associate or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field. Varies. Common requirements include a two- or four-year criminal justice degree. College requirements may be waived based on work experience.
    Required Work Experience Entry-level 1-2 years of policing experience 2+ years of policing experience
    Where They Work Throughout the local community, in a patrol car, occasional office-based work Throughout the local community, in a patrol car, occasional office-based work On highways and interstates, in a patrol car, occasional office-based work
    Salary $52,910 $54,000 $54,830
    Job Outlook +5% +5% +5%


  • Comparing Homicide Detectives, FBI Agents, and Crime Scene Investigators

    Homicide Detectives FBI Agents Crime Scene Investigators
    Key Job Duties Gather facts and collect evidence for criminal cases, conduct interviews, participate in arrests, prepare court papers like subpoenas and summons Work with local law enforcement, gather facts and collect evidence, perform surveillance, conduct interviews, participate in arrests, assist prosecutors in building a case Secure and examine crime scenes, collect and document evidence, conduct interviews, supervise and monitor forensic investigators, assist prosecutors in building a case
    Required Education Varies. At least a high school diploma and academy training. Many detectives hold an associate or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field. At least a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or other relevant field such as accounting, law, or computer science. Extensive training required. Varies. At least a high school diploma and academy training. Many CSIs hold an associate or bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field.
    Required Work Experience Several years policing experience 3+ years relevant experience Several years policing experience
    Where They Work In the field at crime scenes and other relevant locations; reports and other paperwork done in local, state, or federal offices In the field to conduct investigations and interviews, at an assigned field office in the U.S., in the courtroom as needed In the field at crime scenes and other relevant locations; reports and other paperwork done in local, state, or federal offices
    Salary $74,380 $66,170 $46,810
    Job Outlook +5% +5% +5%


  • Comparing Substance Abuse Counselors, Parole Officers, and Victim Advocates

    Substance Abuse Counselors Parole Officers Victim Advocates
    Key Job Duties Support and advise individuals suffering from drug addiction, evaluate clients, develop treatment goals and plans, work closely with clients and their families, refer clients to other resources as needed Work with individuals released from prison to help them re-enter society, monitor parolees, provide information and access to resources like job training, conduct scheduled visits with parolees and their families Support and assist victims of crimes, help victims develop exit plans, serve as case managers, run support groups, provide counseling services, write reports
    Required Education Varies. Many employers require a bachelor’s in criminal justice, counseling, or psychology. Most parole officers need an associate or bachelor’s in criminal justice or another relevant field such as sociology or psychology. Training required. Some employers require a bachelor’s or master’s in a relevant field plus on-the-job training.
    Required Work Experience Certification required for private practice, but no prior experience needed for entry-level positions No prior experience needed for entry-level positions Some employers may prefer or require relevant experience or prior fieldwork.
    Where They Work Varies. Counselors may work in mental health centers, prisons, probation/parole agencies, halfway houses, and residential treatment centers. In the office and out in the field, traveling to visit parolees at home and work In offices of a nonprofit or government entity, in the field as needed to assist victims, accompanying victims to court
    Salary $46,240 $54,290 $35,480
    Job Outlook +22% +3% +13%


Explore Other Criminal Justice Careers

Motivated criminal justice majors may select from dozens of other career options. Opportunities abound for graduates with secondary interests in areas like healthcare, conservation, youth services, forensic science, and anthropology.

Each career guide linked below covers common job duties, education requirements, and salary information.

How To Get a Job in Criminal Justice

Below, we explore a few universally applicable steps to securing a criminal justice career. The following sections cover the process of completing a criminal justice degree, gaining experience, and engaging in the job hunt.

It’s important to note that your experience may not mirror these steps exactly. With so many different types of criminal justice jobs available, the requirements to enter the field vary.

Get a Criminal Justice Degree

Education requirements vary across the criminal justice field. Applicants may pursue some entry-level opportunities with just a high school diploma, provided they successfully complete training. Other areas of criminal justice maintain more extensive requirements for entry-level applicants, such as a certificate, associate, or bachelor’s.

Education often impacts a criminal justice professional’s salary and promotions. Years of experience also play a significant role, but individuals with college degrees typically earn higher incomes and enjoy increased opportunities for advancement.


  • Criminal Justice Certificates

    Criminal justice certificates provide a quicker, more affordable alternative to degrees. Offered by both two- and four-year colleges, certificates typically comprise 4-5 core courses (12-15 credits). They typically take just a few months to complete, making them ideal for students seeking a less expensive, quick path to an entry-level criminal justice career.

    Certificate holders may find work as jailers, corrections officers, or bailiffs. The relatively small commitment that certificates require make them a great option for working adults looking to explore new opportunities.

    Some schools allow certificate graduates to “stack” credentials, meaning they can apply their certificate credits toward a future degree.

    Learn More About Criminal Justice Certificates


  • Criminal Justice Associate Degrees

    An associate degree in criminal justice requires approximately 60-68 credits of coursework. Full-time students can graduate in two years, although many programs also allow for part-time or self-paced attendance. Undergraduate associate programs serve students of all ages who seek a more thorough education than a certificate.

    Associate programs require core courses focused on criminal justice concepts and general education courses focused on subjects like mathematics, English, and history. Students can often select a concentration to narrow their studies toward a specific career path, such as law enforcement, corrections, or forensics.

    Graduates may find work as police officers, legal assistants, or corrections officers.

    Learn More About Criminal Justice Associate Degrees


  • Criminal Justice Bachelor's Degrees

    One of the most popular criminal justice degree options, a bachelor’s requires approximately 120 credits of coursework and takes four years of full-time study to complete. In a bachelor’s program, students take a combination of general education courses, core criminal justice courses, and elective courses.

    In some programs, students may select a concentration based on their career goals, such as forensic investigation, law and justice, or homeland security. Graduates can pursue careers as police officers, forensic science technicians, and probation officers.

    This undergraduate degree increases career options for recent high school graduates and working adults alike.

    Learn More About Criminal Justice Bachelor’s Degrees


  • Criminal Justice Master's Degrees

    With a master’s degree, graduates can advance to leadership positions such as emergency management director, law enforcement instructor, or supervisor in corrections or policing. Mid-career professionals typically benefit the most from pursuing a master’s degree, as career advancement in the criminal justice field often requires advanced education and extensive field experience.

    Master’s programs comprise approximately 60 credits of coursework, including core courses and open electives designed to meet each individual’s interests and professional goals. Most master’s degrees in criminal justice require an interdisciplinary, field-based capstone. Students typically graduate in 2-3 years.

    Learn More About Criminal Justice Master’s Degrees


  • Criminal Justice Doctoral Degrees

    To earn a doctorate in criminal justice, students typically complete anywhere from 40-90 credits. Completion times vary, with graduation possible in as few as three years or as many as six years. Doctoral degree programs often attract mid-career professionals with experience in leadership positions.

    These versatile degrees provide students with the advanced skills needed to analyze criminal justice policies, practices, and concerns, like use of force and wrongful convictions. Doctoral programs typically require comprehensive examinations and dissertations. Graduates can pursue careers at the highest levels of criminal justice administration or in academic education and research.

    Learn More About Criminal Justice Ph.D.s


Gaining Experience

Many entry-level criminal justice jobs do not require candidates to demonstrate prior experience to apply. For beginning careers in policing and corrections, job candidates go through rigorous physical and course-based training programs to learn what they need to know. New police hires typically spend several months partnered with an experienced officer for additional on-the-job training.

Though employers may not explicitly require prior experience, motivated students aiming for a competitive resume can boost their qualifications by seeking out relevant opportunities in the years leading up to their criminal justice job hunt.

Many police departments welcome qualified civilian volunteers to increase departmental efficiency and improve public services. Similarly, local, state, and federal criminal justice agencies may offer a variety of internships for college students. Prospective criminal justice professionals benefit from any volunteer, internship, or employment experience that involves transferable skills like communication, independent decision-making, and conflict resolution.

The Criminal Justice Job Hunt

During and after college, criminal justice majors can pursue several different avenues in their job hunt. Students can take advantage of job fairs at school and in the local community, as well as internship opportunities, which may lead to employment after graduation. Criminal justice students and professionals can also join professional organizations, which often provide connections to job opportunities. 

The following job boards provide extensive resources for job seekers:

  • Indeed

    The world’s largest job website, Indeed attracts more than 250 million monthly users. Users can search for criminal justice jobs by keyword, company, job title, and location, and filter results by salary estimate, experience level, and date posted.

  • LinkedIn

    In the jobs section of the site, LinkedIn recommends listings based on user profiles. Professionals can also independently search for their next criminal justice career, access a resume builder, and view interview preparation resources.

  • GoLawEnforcement

    The largest job board exclusively for law enforcement careers, GoLawEnforcement sees 4,000-6,000 visitors each day. Users can search open jobs by state, with results including local, state, and federal agencies.

  • USAJOBS

    Criminal justice professionals can use the federal government’s official jobs site to apply for positions like criminal investigator, correctional officer, detective, and drug abuse treatment specialist. Optional search filters include salary, department/agency, location, and security clearance.

  • Career Growth Opportunities

    Like most fields, criminal justice professionals typically achieve career growth through years of experience and additional education or certification. Examples of upward mobility in criminal justice include promotions from police officer to detective, police chief to college professor, and probation officer to supervisor.

    Three high-level criminal justice jobs to consider include:

    Police Chief

    Police chiefs hold the highest rank in a police department. These professionals oversee departmental training, hiring, and policy creation; manage the department budget; and address the public and media as needed. They earn a median salary of $72,677. This career requires a college degree and at least five years of experience.


    Lawyer

    Lawyers advise and represent clients in courts and other legal matters. In the criminal justice field, lawyers may work as prosecutors or defense attorneys. They earn a median salary of $122,960. This career requires a Juris Doctor degree and successful completion of the state bar exam.


    Criminal Justice Professor

    Criminal justice professors teach college-level courses on corrections, law enforcement administration, and other criminal justice concepts. Most professors also engage in advanced research. They earn a median salary of $79,540. This career requires several years of field experience and at least a master’s degree.

    Best States for Careers in Criminal Justice

    Alongside factors like education, experience, and job title, one’s location can greatly impact salary and potential for upward mobility.

    Larger population densities tend to correlate with higher crime rates, so major cities and high-population states tend to offer both the largest number of job openings and the highest wages. However, cost of living is an important factor as well. While California-based detectives take home larger paychecks than detectives in Utah, detectives in Utah enjoy lower costs of living. 

    In addition to income considerations, location also determines what types of criminal justice careers become available. Someone looking to work as a fish and game warden, for example, may find more opportunities in nonmetropolitan areas like Western Wyoming or the Texas Hill Country.

    The following map and accompanying tables outline the highest-paying states for three popular criminal justice positions: police officer, private investigator, and substance abuse counselor.


    • Annual Mean Wage by State for Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers, 2019

      TOP-PAYING STATES ANNUAL MEAN WAGE EMPLOYMENT
      California $105,220 72,380
      Alaska $87,870 1,120
      New Jersey $86,840 21,840
      Washington $80,200 9,540
      Hawaii $78,720 2,500
      Source: BLS


    • Annual Mean Wage by State for Private Detectives and Investigators, 2019

      TOP-PAYING STATES ANNUAL MEAN WAGE EMPLOYMENT
      District of Columbia $69,790 150
      California $68,570 3,390
      Delaware $65,610 260
      Utah $64,440 130
      Nevada $64,200 340
      Source: BLS


    • Annual Mean Wage by State for Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors, 2019

      TOP-PAYING STATES ANNUAL MEAN WAGE EMPLOYMENT
      Utah $67,410 3,270
      Nevada $63,910 1,180
      Oregon $60,960 5,550
      Alaska $60,830 960
      New Jersey $60,120 10,130
      Source: BLS

    Annual Mean Wages by State

    State
    FL TX NM AZ AK CA NV UT CO OR WA ID HI OK MT WY ND SD NE KS MN IA MO AR LA MS AL GA SC IL WI MI IN OH TN KY NC WV VA PA NY ME VT NH RI CT NJ DE MA MD DC
    Source: BLS

    Frequently Asked Questions


    • What can I do with a degree in criminal justice?


      A criminal justice degree prepares graduates to pursue several entry-level positions in law enforcement, investigation, public safety, corrections, and social services. Each of these fields involves extensive work with the general public. Criminal justice professionals work to ensure the protection of life, security of property, and enactment of justice.


    • Can you make good money with a degree in criminal justice?


      Criminal justice jobs tend to offer generous salaries commensurate with education, experience, and/or level of risk. Compensation packages vary by location and employer, but many entry-level opportunities in criminal justice provide annual pay greater than $50,000. Salaries typically increase with additional years of experience.


    • Is criminal justice a good career?


      Criminal justice jobs come with unique difficulties and dangers. This field isn’t for everyone, but for the right person, the work can be extremely rewarding. Criminal justice professionals can make a marked difference in their communities, promoting public safety, rehabilitating offenders, and aiding victims of crime.


    • What are some entry-level criminal justice jobs?


      The most popular entry-level criminal justice job is policing. Typical minimum requirements for police officers include a high school diploma and academy training. Other entry-level careers in criminal justice include victim advocate, correctional officer, parole officer, private detective, and fish and game warden.


    • I have a bachelor's degree in criminal justice… now what?


      Seek out internships or entry-level opportunities in your area. Great places to look for criminal justice jobs include your local police department; county sheriff’s office; corrections system; nonprofits; and federal agencies like the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Department of Homeland Security.


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