What Can You Do With a Criminal Justice Degree?

Compiled and Written By CriminalJusticeDegreeSchools.com Staff


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.

Top 10 Jobs for Criminal Justice Majors

Median Annual Salary

Lawyer

$122,960
Median Annual Salary

Homeland Security

$77,000
Median Annual Salary

Homicide Detective

$74,380
Median Annual Salary

Forensic Accountant

$71,560
Median Annual Salary

Forensic Psychologist

$69,510
Median Annual Salary

Criminal Investigator

$67,170
Median Annual Salary

DEA Agent

$66,450
Median Annual Salary

Secret Service Agent

$65,000
Median Annual Salary

FBI Agent

$64,060
Median Annual Salary

Forensic Science Technician

$59,150

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale

Jobs You Can Get With a Degree in Criminal Justice

Criminal justice examines concepts in areas like criminology, psychology, and sociology. Due to the interdisciplinary nature of a criminal justice degree, graduates can work in a variety of fields and roles. We cover several common careers for graduates 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)

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 police officers, 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 degree required, bachelor's in criminal justice recommended

Average Annual Salary: $41,280*

(*Based on available data)

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

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)

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

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 police officers.

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

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)

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)

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

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

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

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

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

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)

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

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

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

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

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

Click here to see police officer salary by state

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

Click here to see private investigator salary by state

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

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)

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

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

Click here to see substance abuse counselor salary by state

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


Explore Other Criminal Justice Careers

Best States for Careers in Criminal Justice

Salaries vary by factors like education, experience, role, and location. Because many criminal justice careers revolve around solving crimes, areas with high populations tend to employ more criminal justice professionals. Alternatively, criminal justice careers focused on protecting state parks are most common in areas with smaller populations.

High-population states like California tend to offer some of the highest wages. However, California's cost of living is also relatively high. While the average detective in Utah does not earn as much as the average detective in California, according to the BLS, detectives in Utah may enjoy a higher quality of life.

The following tables outline the highest-paying states for popular criminal justice careers.

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 Median Wage for Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers; Private Detectives and Investigators; and Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors by State, 2019

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

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I do with a degree in criminal justice?
Individuals with degrees in criminal justice can find careers in law enforcement, psychology, forensics, environmental protection, and other fields. Most criminal justice careers focus on helping others.
Can you make good money with a degree in criminal justice?
Many criminal justice professionals earn good wages, though the highest-paying careers often require an advanced degree.
Is criminal justice a good career?
Criminal justice professionals enjoy rewarding careers helping others, solving crimes, and keeping areas safe. These professionals receive decent compensation and stable job growth in return for their work.

Additional Reading

SELECT A PROGRAM
CriminalJusticeDegreeSchools.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured programs and school search results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other information published on this site.