What Can You Do With A Criminal Justice Degree?

Written By: James Holbrook

Published: 4/25/2022

The courts, corrections system, and law enforcement agencies all fall under the umbrella of the U.S. criminal justice system. This diverse field often attracts people who want to make a difference in their community. If you’re interested in pursuing a position within the criminal justice system, then obtaining a degree in the field is a useful first step toward that goal.

Many careers in criminal justice, such as those related to law, require a higher level of education. Your degree may allow you to specialize in a niche area of crime, move up in the ranks, or explore the science and research side of the field.

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Majoring in Criminal Justice: The Degree Level You Need for the Job You Want

An online degree in criminal justice may serve as a launchpad for graduates to later obtain more specialized education at a higher level. People who major in criminal justice may go on to pursue a range of certificate programs — such as those in law enforcement — or an advanced degree, such as a JD or a master’s. However, a bachelor's degree in criminal justice can also lead directly to a career in the field, such as a private detective or paralegal.

Some criminal justice jobs only need an associate’s degree or a bachelor's degree, while others require a master's degree. Below, we included some career options — from entry-level to senior — that you can qualify for with different criminal justice degrees, depending on the level that aligns with your ambitions. We also included salary and job outlook data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Can You Do With an Associate’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

Private Detectives
Median Annual Salary: $53,320
Job Outlook: 13%

Some criminal justice jobs only need an associate’s degree or a bachelor's degree, while others require a master's degree. Below, we included some career options — from entry-level to senior — that you can qualify for with different criminal justice degrees, depending on the level that aligns with your ambitions. We also included salary and job outlook data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Social and Human Services Assistants
Median Annual Salary: $35,960
Job Outlook: 17%

Victim advocates help others who are experiencing hardship, such as those who have been the victims of crime, live in difficult situations, or undergoing rehabilitation. Social and Human Services Assistants are victim advocates who tend to work for non-profit organizations, social service agencies, and the state/local government. There are approximately 59,100 job openings each year through 2030.

Police Officers
Median Annual Salary: $67,290
Job Outlook: 7%

Police officers work within communities to prevent and solve crimes. They are often assigned to patrol a specific area and may eventually be promoted to a detective position. This career path would allow you to interact with the community and ensure the safety of its citizens. Over the next decade, 67,100 job openings for police officers are projected each year.

Insurance Investigators
Median Annual Salary: $68, 270
Job Outlook: 3%

Insurance investigators look into claims that may be fraudulent. These claims could be made by individuals or larger corporations committing crimes on a broader scale. This field deals with a lot of data, testimonies, and in-person inspections. Unfortunately, the job outlook for this position is significantly lower than the U.S. average of 8%, with only 25,200 jobs projected to open annually through 2030.

Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Median Annual Salary: $52,920
Job Outlook: 12%

Paralegals work with lawyers to help their cases run smoothly. Most Paralegals do research, draft legal documents, and file documentation with the courts. This job fits those who like researching the law and supporting lawyers throughout their cases. Overall, approximately 43,000 jobs will become available on an annual basis through 2030.

If you already know that you're interested in becoming a paralegal, check out the best online associate degrees for paralegals.

What Can You Do With a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

Information Security Analysts
Median Annual Salary: $103,590
Job Outlook: 33%

Information security analysts — also known as cybersecurity investigators — can work in the criminal justice system as well as the private sector. This field requires an interest in technology and cyber security. Investigators that work with law enforcement or lawyers analyze technology to find flaws that can be fixed, evidence that can be used in the court system, and signs of fraud. In terms of the role's job outlook, there will be about 16,300 job openings each year through 2030.

Forensic Science Technicians
Median Annual Salary: $60,590
Job Outlook: 16%

Forensic science technicians analyze evidence and data that they help collect by visiting crime scenes and taking pictures. Then they perform chemical and microscopic tests in their lab. This field requires a sharp eye, good memory, and a general interest in science. Overall, there will be about 2,500 job openings each year through 2030.

Social Workers
Median Annual Salary: $51,760
Job Outlook: 12%

Social workers are an integral part of the criminal justice system. They can work in a variety of settings, such as child welfare, human service agencies, healthcare, and schools. This field could be a good fit for those interested in working directly with those in need, and it's experiencing above-average job growth, with about 78,300 job openings each year through 2030.

Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
Median Annual Salary: $47,660
Job Outlook: 23%

Although counselors usually have a bachelor’s degree in fields such as psychology or sociology, a degree in criminal justice could set you apart. These counselors can work in schools, rehabilitation centers, prisons, or private practices. Becoming a counselor has the potential to be rewarding for those who want to provide prevention and support services, and the field is growing, with 41,000 new jobs opening each year until the end of the decade.

You may already know the specific area of study that interests you in the criminal justice field. Check out our top-ranked online bachelor's degrees for forensic science, criminology, law enforcement, and homeland security.

What Can You Do With a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

Sociologists
Median Annual Salary: $86,110
Job Outlook: 5%

Sociologists work with data to understand the way individuals and groups of people interact, behave, and function on a global level. They prepare reports, analyze data, and research the potential impact of new laws and regulations. Often, sociologists may specialize in a specific area, such as education, health, poverty, and racial relations. Through 2030, the job outlook is lower than average, with about 300 annual job openings.

Anthropologists
Median Annual Salary: $79,270
Job Outlook: 7%

Forensic anthropologists use science to help law enforcement identify remains, determine cause of death, or conduct research to advance the criminal justice system’s ability to solve crimes. They may work closely with local departments after a large natural disaster or survey a crime scene to determine when a crime took place. After earning their master’s degree, prospective forensic anthropologists need to be certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropologists. Roughly 800 job openings are projected through 2030.

Survey Researchers
Median Annual Salary: $59,870
Job Outlook: 4%

Survey researchers often work with sociologists and other criminal justice experts to develop surveys and research methods. They analyze data they gather and synthesize the information into reports. Unlike sociologists and psychologists, however, survey researchers focus on the methodology of the surveys by evaluating them and working to improve their performance. Approximately 1,200 jobs are expected to open up each year through 2030.

For more options at this degree level, check out our hub for the best online master's degree programs.

What Criminal Justice Careers Require More Advanced Graduate Degrees?

Lawyers
Median Annual Salary: $126,930
Job Outlook: 9%

Lawyers work within the criminal justice system to file charges, represent individuals who are charged with a crime, and perform legal reviews. Lawyers can work publicly; for federal, state, and local governments; or in the private sector. Working as a lawyer requires a JD, or Juris Doctor, which is an advanced degree that typically takes 3 years to complete. After earning their degree, they take a state bar exam to receive their license. Each year through 2030, 46,000 job openings are expected to emerge in this field.

Psychologists
Median Annual Salary: $100,360
Job Outlook: 8%

Forensic psychologists work within the legal and criminal justice systems to assist judges, attorneys, and other specialists by providing insight on the psychological aspects of criminal cases and even testifying in court as expert witnesses. The most typical pathway to become a forensic psychologist include obtaining a doctoral degree in psychology as well as a license. Approximately 13,400 job openings are projected to emerge through 2030.

Is a Criminal Justice Degree Right for Me?

The field of criminal justice is diverse and complex, providing opportunities no matter your background or interests. Francis Bacon wrote, “If we do not maintain justice, justice will not maintain us.” Whether you’re interested in science, research, technology, or law, there is a career for you in this field. Some careers, such as forensic anthropologists and survey researchers, involve research and scientific experimentation. Social work and criminal psychology, however, allow individuals to work directly with victims and prevent crimes. Other careers, such as lawyers and police officers, are heavily involved in the criminal justice system and may involve collecting evidence. Those who are interested in law enforcement, public safety, improving U.S. communities, and learning about people should consider pursuing a degree in criminal justice.

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