Choosing the right career path can be a daunting task and one that will significantly impact you and your family for years. Ideally, you want a career that is satisfying, secure, and that could pay very well. A career in criminal justice ticks all those boxes!

The field of criminal justice is wide, offering graduates with a criminal justice degree myriad career opportunities. You may think your only options with this degree are to become a lawyer or police officer, but that’s simply not the case.

Graduates with this degree can pursue careers in homeland security, criminal investigations, academia, public administration, law enforcement, and the legal field. I’ll talk more about specific positions in just a bit!

If you’re interested in in a rewarding career in criminal justice that offers job security and a great salary, it all starts with a criminal justice degree.

Types of Criminal Justice Degrees

A criminal justice degree is an interdisciplinary study, which means it combines law, sociology, psychology, public administration, and more. Graduates walk away with a complete understanding not only of how the criminal and judicial systems work but also how people and the societies they form work as well.

The criminal justice field is a lot like the healthcare field in that the specific career you aim to have will dictate the type of degree you need to obtain. Here are your criminal degree options:

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Associate Degree

If you’re looking to enter the workforce as quickly as possible, an associate degree may be your best bet. This degree requires only 60 credits and is usually completed in just two short years.

An associate degree in criminal justice will give students a basic understanding of law enforcement, constitutional law, and legal jurisprudence. Upon graduation, candidates may become a police officer, legal assistant, security guard, or insurance investigator.

Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice

The majority of career paths in the criminal justice field will require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. This program typically requires 120 credits and takes four years to complete. (Be sure to read to the end because I’ll share a secret that will help you shave time and money off your degree!)

Students in this program will take exciting courses like criminology, sociology of crime, and corrections issues. A bachelor’s degree will definitely expand your career opportunities and allow you to start earning a higher salary right out of the gate!

Master of Criminal Justice

If your ultimate career goal is to be in a position of leadership, then a master’s degree may be necessary. Once you have completed your bachelor’s degree, which you must do first, you can enroll in a master’s program that will typically take an additional 30 credits to complete.

Some of the exciting courses you may take in this program are Theories in Criminal Justice, Seminar in Criminology, and Applied Data Analysis in Criminal Justice.

Doctor of Jurisprudence

For those students who want to become lawyers, you will need to obtain your Doctor of jurisprudence (JD) degree. What we typically call ‘law school’ is an additional program that requires 90 credits and roughly three more years of school. Once you graduate, and pass that bar exam, you may begin practicing as a lawyer!

12 Jobs You Can Get with a Criminal Justice Degree

If your original question was, “I wonder what you can do with a criminal justice degree?” the answer is plenty! You already know about police and lawyers, but the following are just some of the other exciting career opportunities awaiting graduates with this degree:

  1. U.S. Marshal

If you are looking for a career that offers a LOT of excitement, then working as a U.S. Marshal may be the right career for you! Typical duties include transporting prisoners, providing security to judges and jurors, and even conducting fugitive manhunts.

  1. FBI Agent

If you like the idea of conducting very important criminal investigations, and okay, flashing a cool badge, you might want to consider a career within the FBI. Some of the crimes these professionals investigate are bank robberies, espionage, cybercrime, drug trafficking and much, much more. If you want to pursue this career, you’ll definitely need at least a bachelor’s degree.

  1. Private Detective

Did you grow up reading private eye books? Think you might like to take part in overnight stakeouts like you see on TV? Well, that’s not all these professionals do. Detectives can sometimes work in assisting law enforcement agencies, but usually, they are hired by private clients. They often perform background checks and uncover important information related to worker’s compensation cases and divorces.

  1. Crime Laboratory Analyst

Want to help solve crimes through science? These pros work in laboratories and use toxicology, DNA and trace evidence, fingerprints, and blood and hair samples collected at the scene to piece together crimes to determine who committed them. The cool thing about this career is, you are putting bad guys away not with firearms or brute force, but with microscopes and other high-tech forensic tools!

  1. Fish and Game Warden

Do you love the great outdoors and would like meaningful work? A career as a park ranger or fish and game warden means your days are spent protecting and preserving our nations forests, waterways and national parks to ensure wildlife and visitors are safe.

  1. Fire Investigator

While police investigators analyze crime scenes, fire investigators are needed to analyze scenes of a fire to determine what may have caused the fire. If arson is suspected, the property becomes a crime scene, and the fire investigator may work with local law enforcement to identify and arrest suspects.

  1. Secret Service Agent

You most likely already know that Secret Service agents are assigned to protect the president and other top government officials. But they are also often tasked with anti-counterfeiting activities.

  1. Computer Forensics Investigator

Have a knack for computers and technology? Want to use this knowledge to help put bad guys away? Computer forensic investigators use advanced computer science forensic skills to recover electronic evidence that criminals have tried to destroy.

  1. Intelligence Analyst

We are living in an era when our digital gadgets are collecting more and more sensitive data. Specialists are needed to gather all of this data and analyze it to develop intelligence that can then be used to stop security threats and solve crimes. These professionals typically work at the federal level for the FBI, though they can also be found at state and local levels.

  1. Court Administrator

Lawyers tend to get all the glory, but there are a lot of professionals who work in the legal field. Court administrators oversee the administrative needs of courthouses, managing everything from the budget to facilities to case management procedures.

  1. Investigative Reporter

Do you have a passion for uncovering the truth and a knack for writing? Combine both in this exciting career of investigative reporting. You never know, you may be one of those journalists who break a lot of important news!

  1. Forensic Psychologist  

Another cool professional that combines two different disciplines, forensic psychology combines criminal justice and a specialization in psychology to allow graduates to develop criminal profiles. Law enforcement agents can then use these profiles to identify suspects and solve crimes!

Benefits Of Pursuing a Criminal Justice Degree

Here are some of the top benefits of a career in criminal justice:

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Multiple Exciting Career Paths

As you just saw, your degree can launch you into numerous career paths. And that wasn’t even an exhaustive list of possible careers!

Helping Others 

There is something incredibly rewarding about getting to help others on a daily basis. If you are looking to make a living by giving back to your community or even your country, getting a degree in criminal justice will help you reach this goal.

Continuous Job Growth 

It is a sad reality that crime and criminals aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Because of this, there will ALWAYS be a need for professionals with a criminal justice degree.

There is a particular demand right now for professionals to work in the field of forensic science. In fact, the number of forensic technicians alone is expected to grow by 19% over the coming years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

The BLS also projects the demand for criminal lawyers to increase by 10% over the coming years. These trends are expected to continue, which means a lot of job opportunities for graduates with a criminal justice degree!

Opportunity for Personal Growth 

The criminal justice field presents the professionals working within it with a lot of challenges. This requires you to face fears, think on your feet, and solve problems. And all of this leads to personal growth and self-satisfaction.

A Steady Source of Income 

A criminal justice degree arms you with the skills and knowledge to have a career with a competitive salary. And remember, while most jobs will require candidates to have at least a bachelor’s degree, you always have the option of going back to school for your master’s to climb the career ladder and start earning more!

Here are just a handful of common criminal justice careers and their salaries, according to the BLS, to give you an idea of your potential earnings:

Probation Officers – Median average salary of $51,400 per year.

Private Investigators – The median annual salary is $50,700 per year.

Deputy US Marshall – Starting pay for newly hired deputies is $45,000 with plenty of room to grow.

DEA Special Agent – Median annual salary is $50,000 per year, with senior agents earning close to $100,000 a year.

Crime Analysts – Become an expert and earn up to $107,000 per year.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Can I earn a Criminal Justice degree online?

A: This is a great question, and the answer is yes, you absolutely can! can help you find online bachelor’s degree programs that are adult-friendly, meaning they are affordable and flexible!

Q: Are there any entrance exams to enroll in a Criminal Justice degree program?

A: Traditionally, colleges and universities did require high school graduates to submit their SAT or ACT scores. These scores are then used to find those students that the administration board feels will do well in school and actually finish the program.

These days, many online programs completely waive the need for adult students to submit these scores, and can help you find THOSE schools!

Q: Will I get promoted faster if I have a criminal justice degree?

A: If you’re interested in a career in criminal justice, you may be wondering what steps you can take to move your career along. While there are different factors that will come into play in how fast your career may advance, obtaining a criminal justice degree makes you a more likely candidate for promotion.

Q: What kind of skills do I need to be successful in the criminal justice field?

A: Criminal justice professionals work with a lot of different kinds of people, from colleagues to clients to criminals to everyday citizens. Because of this, it’s important to have solid interpersonal skills like listening, conflict resolution, and empathy.

It’s also important to have strong oral and writing skills, as there is a need to complete reports for things such as warrants and grant funding. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, there is the need for honesty, integrity, and strong ethics.

The Cost of Most College Degrees is Criminal!

Whoever said it was okay for people to earn their college degree, only to graduate with mounds of debt that will take YEARS to pay off, should be arrested and thrown in the slammer! It’s hard enough to pay off this debt as a single person, fresh out of college.

But when you are a working adult with a family to support, it’s next to impossible!

And that’s exactly why I started Because I’ve “been there and done that.” I finally figured out a way to “hack the college system” so that an adult student can earn their degree cheaper, faster, and easier than ever before!

Not only will help you save time and money toward your criminal justice degree, but our platform is 100% free for you to use. Simply sign up and use our Smartplan to find schools that offer:

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It only takes two minutes to sign up and get started on your journey toward earning your criminal justice degree and creating a brighter future for you and your family.

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About the Author
Grant founded with a purpose-driven mission: make college accessible and affordable for everyone. After graduating college with an overwhelming amount of debt, he was determined to change how students embark on their education. He's a frequent speaker and author in higher education, and has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg Businessweek, Business Insider, American Express, AOL, MSN, Thrive Global, Reader's Digest, Inside Higher Ed, Evolllution, EducationDive, and nearly 100 radio shows and podcasts.