What Can You Do With a Criminal Justice Degree?
What can you do with a criminal justice degree? Potentially, quite a lot. In fact, the number of possible career paths only seems to be increasing as American society and global issues grow more complex.
Controlling crime through the enforcement of existing laws is just one aspect of this expansive field. Another major aspect relates to due process and the punishment of people found guilty of breaking those laws. But it doesn't end there. Today, criminal justice, as a broad field, also includes essential aspects like forensics, special investigations, security, and even social advocacy. As a result, opportunities are abundant for qualified people who want to dedicate their professional lives to ensuring public safety, protecting the rights and property of individuals or organizations, or contributing to the fairness and effectiveness of the justice system.
That's why an education in criminal justice can provide a lot of value. It can serve as a powerful foundation for pursuing a wide variety of graduate programs or as a complement to legal studies, which can lead to diverse careers in law. But it can also clear a path toward plenty of other exciting, meaningful, and good-paying opportunities.
So, what jobs can you get with a criminal justice degree? Check out these 37 possibilities:
Bringing criminals to justice starts with the work of law enforcement professionals. Whether at the local, state, or federal level, they have the special training to identify and track down wrongdoers, gather evidence of their misdeeds, and take them into custody. Many of them also play important roles in the general protection and welfare of our communities and institutions.
But a criminal justice education can help you open all kinds of doors in this sector, including administrative positions. So you don't necessarily have to be a front-line officer or special agent in order to contribute. However, if you do want to pursue a front-line role, just keep in mind that you may need to meet some additional requirements.
For example, in order to qualify for a law-enforcement training academy, you may need to earn a bachelor's degree, possess a clean criminal record, and be able to demonstrate good physical fitness. You might also be required to pass a drug screening as well as other various assessments. In addition, some federal agencies may require a few years of law-enforcement experience before applying.
1. Police Officer
Help enforce laws and protect communities at the state or municipal level. In 2018, the average salary was $65,400.1
2. FBI Agent
Investigate federal crimes and help bring perpetrators to justice as part of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Average pay is $62,813 per year.2
3. ATF Agent
Play an active role in preventing and investigating federal violations related to the illegal possession, manufacture, sale, transportation, or use of explosives and firearms as well as the unlawful trafficking of tobacco and alcohol products. In 2013, the base annual salary for agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives ranged from $33,829 to $42,948.3
4. DEA Agent
Help combat the illegal use and trafficking of controlled substances as an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration. The average salary is $76,856.2
5. Deputy U.S. Marshal
Assist in the capture of fugitives, the serving of federal arrest warrants, the transportation of prisoners, and the protection of court officers and witnesses. Starting salaries for deputies in the United States Marshal Service range from $38,511 to $48,708.4
6. Secret Service Agent
Investigate and help prevent financial fraud such as counterfeit money or help protect national leaders and their families. Agents in the United States Secret Service earn starting salaries ranging from $43,964 to $74,891.5
7. Wildlife Warden or Conservation Officer
Patrol forests, lakes, or other protected parks and natural outdoor areas to prevent illegal harm to wildlife. Average yearly pay was $59,260 in 2018.1
Did you know that about $70 billion is spent in America every year on correctional services? The U.S. simply has a huge prisoner population. In fact, it grew by about 360 percent from 1980 to 2008.6 And more than nine out of 10 of those inmates end up, at some point, being released.7
So maintaining America's system of incarceration, criminal rehabilitation, and post-prison supervision requires a lot of qualified professionals. That's why, if you're wondering what to do with a criminal justice degree, this sector can provide some compelling options.
8. Correctional Officer
Help oversee the activities of jail or prison inmates while enforcing order, inspecting facilities, and assisting with inmate rehabilitation. In 2018, the average yearly pay was $49,300.1
9. Probation Officer, Parole Officer, or Correctional Treatment Specialist
Assist, monitor, and evaluate people who've been convicted of criminal offenses by giving them resources and providing support while they're on probation, in jail, or on parole after being released. The average salary in 2018 was $58,790.1
10. Corrections Facilities Manager or Supervisor
Oversee correctional operations and supervise prison guards and other personnel. The average salary was $68,350 in 2018.1
From illegal immigration to terrorism to natural disasters, professionals in this sector deal with a lot of different issues directly related to keeping Americans safe and protecting our way of life. They are involved in many exciting roles that contribute to our country's national security. And their duties sometimes overlap with those in law enforcement. As a result, for some positions, you may need to pass a fitness test, clear a background check, or meet other requirements before being considered.
11. Border Patrol Agent
Help find and catch people, including potential terrorists, who try to cross the border into the U.S. illegally. The average salary is about $64,000.2
12. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer
Contribute to keeping criminals, terrorists, harmful pests, illegal drugs, counterfeit goods, unlawful weapons, and other contraband out of the U.S. while also collecting appropriate duties for legal imported goods. Salaries start at between $31,628 and $39,179.8
13. Deportation Officer
Help identify and arrest illegal aliens and assist in making sure they are removed from the U.S. by participating in appropriate investigations and legal proceedings. Salaries range from $43,812 to $66,688.9
14. Transportation Security Officer
Participate in the screening and monitoring of airline passengers and their luggage to help ensure that would-be terrorists don't make it onto airplanes or through controlled entries and exits in airports. Yearly pay ranges from $27,772 to $45,856.2
15. Federal Air Marshal
Work undercover as an airline passenger to identity and defeat any on-board threats to aircraft. The average salary is about $87,000.10
16. CIA Agent
Help gather, process, or analyze information from foreign locations related to America's national security as a member of the Central Intelligence Agency. Salaries vary between $74,872 and $136,771.11
Forensics and Investigation
Finding reliable evidence of criminal activity or other wrongdoing is crucial for ensuring that the right people are held accountable. But the truth can be difficult to uncover without the expertise of skilled investigators who know how to collect and examine useful clues that can help prove a person's guilt or innocence. And investigative skills are also useful for solving mysteries that may not have anything to do with crime. So in thinking about what to do with a criminal justice degree, this sector is definitely worth exploring.
17. Crime Scene Investigator
Carefully document and collect evidence like fingerprints, weapons, hair, and bodily fluids from the places where suspected crimes have taken place. The average salary is about $39,683.2
18. Digital Forensics Analyst
Gather computer data and examine it to find clues about electronic crimes related to offenses like identity theft or fraud or to assist in solving other crimes that aren't strictly computer-based but still involve digital data. Average yearly pay is about $68,484.2
Study why and how criminals behave the way they do, help create useful profiles that assist investigators, and provide insights that aid in crime prevention. Considered by many to be specialized sociologists, criminologists earned annual pay of $90,290, on average, in 2018.1
20. Forensic Artist
Make use of your drawing talents, if you have them, by sketching suspects based on witness descriptions, visually recreating crime scenes, or creating other visual aids that assist criminal investigations or help document legal proceedings. Yearly pay averages about $55,000.10
21. Detective or Criminal Investigator
Help solve and prevent crimes by conducting skilled investigations based on tips and trails of evidence. The average salary in 2018 was $85,020.1
22. Fire Investigator
Figure out the origins and causes of suspicious fires or explosions to determine if they were caused by arson or something else. In 2018, the average yearly pay was $64,140.1
23. Fraud Investigator
Look into financial and other white-collar crimes to find and analyze evidence using accounting-related techniques and other investigative procedures. Annual pay is about $54,679, on average.2
24. Postal Service Investigator
Get to the bottom of mail fraud and other crimes involving the postal service. The average salary was $100,620 in 2018.1
Find clues and uncover useful evidence for companies, individuals, or lawyers related to anything from personal issues to legal or financial matters. In 2018, private investigators earned $56,810, on average.1
26. Background Screening Analyst
Help organizations conduct personal, criminal, and financial background checks on potential new hires, trainees, or employees who need greater security clearance to advance in their roles. Average annual pay is about $46,000.2
People and property often need around-the-clock protection from violence, vandalism, or theft. From celebrities to high-profile executives to retail stores to office buildings to factories to large events, security plays a huge role in the lives of many successful individuals and organizations. So well-trained professionals in this field tend to be in consistently strong demand.
27. Security Guard
Contribute directly to safeguarding buildings (and the people within them), as well as other types of property, from harm or illegal activity. Security guards earned $32,050, on average, in 2018.1
28. Loss Prevention Manager
Help companies, especially retail outlets, prevent financial losses caused by fraud, theft, or accidents by overseeing safety and security measures. The average salary is $44,993.2
29. Security Coordinator
Supervise and direct security staff and all activities that help protect a company's valuable assets, customers, employees, or other people or property. Yearly pay is about $60,000, on average.2
Protect very important people from becoming victims of crimes like kidnapping, violence, harassment, and robbery. Bodyguards earn salaries of about $69,306, on average.2
What can you do with a degree in criminal justice that applies more directly to the court system? Plenty. In fact, America's courts can't operate without the many kinds of different professionals who understand the nation's laws and how the judiciary works. The most prominent roles obviously belong to judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys. But the court system also relies on people in other compelling roles.
Help maintain order in courtrooms and escort jurors, defendants, witnesses, and various trial-related items between locations inside and outside of those courtrooms. Bailiffs earn about $33,700 per year, on average.2
32. Court Reporter
Attend legal proceedings such as trials, hearings, and depositions, transcribe all of the spoken dialogue that takes place, and include reporting on speakers' identities and their physical actions. In 2018, the average yearly pay was $62,390.1
33. Court Administrator
Help oversee a courthouse's financial budget, the maintenance of its facilities, and the management of its assigned court cases while supervising non-judicial staff and acting as a contact person for relevant organizations. The average salary is $56,000.2
Social Justice Services
America's traditional justice system, by itself, doesn't always adequately address important social challenges. As a result, many non-profit organizations exist across the country to provide alternative avenues for people to find support or seek solutions to problems that may otherwise slip between the cracks. Having an educational background in criminal justice can make you qualified to take on a variety of meaningful positions in this area.
34. Victims' Advocate
Provide assistance to crime victims and their families by helping them understand the criminal justice process, educating them on their legal rights, and putting them in touch with other useful resources. Yearly pay is about $32,000, on average.2
35. Child Support or Custody Investigator
Help track down deadbeat parents who legally owe child support, or investigate allegations of abuse or neglect by parents or guardians who have legal custody. Average annual pay is about $45,000.10
36. Discrimination Investigator
Help investigate allegations of employment, housing, or other forms of discrimination related to the violation of America's equal opportunity laws. The average salary is about $45,000.10
37. Restorative Justice Advocate
Assist in bringing criminal offenders and their victims together in a process outside the court system designed to generate a sense of healing, understanding, accountability, and closure. Yearly pay is about $46,000, on average.10
Find Out Where to Go Next
Answering the question, "What can you do with a criminal justice degree?" is obviously complex. That's because the possibilities are almost too extensive to list. But the options above should give you a good idea of the career potential generated by this type of education. So discover a criminal justice school where you can begin your own exciting journey by entering your zip code below!
1 Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on July 17, 2019.
2 PayScale, website last visited on August 21, 2015.
3 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, website last visited on August 21, 2015.
4 United States Marshal Service, website last visited on August 21, 2015.
5 United States Secret Service, website last visited on December 8, 2016.
6 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, website last visited on August 21, 2015.
7 The Council of State Governments Justice Center, NRRC Facts & Trends, website last visited on October 15, 2019.
8 U.S. Customs and Border Protection, website last visited on August 21, 2015.
9 U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, website last visited on August 21, 2015.
10 Indeed, website last visited on January 24, 2018.
11 Central Intelligence Agency, website last visited on January 7, 2020.