Social Welfare & Justice

What can you do with a criminal justice degree? 5 Careers to pursue

Criminal Justice Degree Career Options

Criminal justice fascinates the public – it’s why we obsess over true crime podcasts and documentaries. While most citizens are happy to keep their distance by listening through headphones or watching TV screens, some envision themselves in uniform, stepping up to the plate to help protect and strengthen their communities.

Perhaps you can see yourself in some of these jobs — whether in the courthouse, on patrol or elsewhere. The good news is you have options. Criminal justice roles can involve enforcing laws, prosecuting criminals, punishing and rehabilitating offenders, and even assisting in court proceedings. No matter what aspect you’re interested in, there’s a place for you.

You may even have some of the skills that are essential for working in this sector. Whether you’re considering your professional path for the first time, you’re interested in pursuing a second career in criminal justice or you’re a military veteran seeking a criminal justice role, you could jumpstart your career with a degree.

But you’re curious about some specific professions you could pursue. So, what can you do with a criminal justice degree? Take a look at some of your career options.

What can you do with a criminal justice degree? 5 Potential professional paths

These roles are just a sampling of careers that could become available by obtaining a criminal justice degree.

1. Police officer

This is probably the first role that comes to mind when you think of criminal justice careers. Police officers are vital to keeping local communities safe, as they spend their shifts protecting citizens and their property. Their day-to-day duties typically include the following:

  • Responding to emergencies
  • Conducting traffic stops
  • Collecting and securing evidence from crime scenes
  • Obtaining warrants
  • Writing detailed reports
  • Observing and potentially arresting subjects
  • Testifying in court as needed

Police offers must be alert at all times during shifts. They need to be adept at leading and working with teams when handling emergencies. While the work can be both physically taxing and dangerous, many police officers find it extremely rewarding to protect their communities every day.

Some officers specialize in crimes and regulations concerning narcotics, transit or game and fishing. Others will work as part of a special unit like horseback, motorcycle or canine corps. If you’re looking for a career with ample opportunity for advancement, it’s worth noting that there’s a range of roles you could pursue within law enforcement, such as officer, sergeant, captain or even detective.

While a college degree is not required to work as a police officer in most places, it can help considerably as you seek some of those more advanced positions. If you’re interested in specializing, working at the federal level, or attaining a high-ranking role, you may want to consider earning a bachelor’s degree.

Regardless of whether you have a degree, you’ll need to complete training both on the job and in a formal academy before performing officer duties. Once they secure a job, police officers and detectives earn a median annual salary of $63,380, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Crime scene investigator

If you have any interest in crime shows, you may have wondered what it’s like to be a crime scene investigator (CSI). These professionals collect and analyze physical evidence found at the crime scene like hair, tissue or any bodily fluids. They also can preserve less-obvious evidence like tire marks, footprints or fingerprints.

After the samples are collected and analyzed, CSIs create detailed reports and are often called to testify during trials. Because cases can be so dependent on their records, CSIs must be meticulous in their work. An analytical mind is also key to understand complex test results and formulate logical theories. 

Most CSI positions require a bachelor’s degree either in criminal justice or a related field like forensic science or biology. The median annual salary for CSIs, which the BLS classifies as forensic science technicians, is $58,230.

3. Paralegal

If you’re interested in working behind the scenes in criminal justice, becoming a paralegal might be just the right fit for you. Paralegals support lawyers as they prepare for hearings, trials and corporate meetings.

Though these professionals’ exact duties depend on the firm and type of law it practices, they’re often responsible for the following:

  • Conducting legal research
  • Investigating and gathering facts on the case
  • Drafting documents
  • Summarizing reports
  • Accompanying lawyers to court on occasion

The best paralegals maintain composure and remain adaptable no matter how complicated the case. Law firms look for paralegals who can operate and learn new technology with ease. General knowledge of depositions, witness preparation, legal research and trials doesn’t hurt, either.

It’s possible to become a paralegal with an associate degree in paralegal studies, but many employers are interested in hiring candidates with a bachelor’s degree. If you pursue a bachelor’s degree in a field like criminal justice, you’ll also need a paralegal certificate to demonstrate the requisite knowledge and skills. Paralegals earn a median annual salary of $50,940.

4. Federal criminal investigator

These professionals do exactly what you would expect based on their job title — they investigate federal crimes. This involves gathering evidence, interviewing witnesses, arresting suspects and testifying in court.

Though duties remain generally consistent among criminal investigators, the exact nature of their work depends on which federal agency they work for. Investigators working for the FBI might work cases regarding human rights violations or organized crimes. Those employed by the IRS investigate tax fraud.

It takes intelligent individuals with good reasoning skills to work such complex crimes. Federal criminal investigators must also have a level of integrity given the sensitive or confidential nature of their cases.

Becoming a federal criminal investigator usually requires a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice followed by an intensive training course at a federal facility. Training involves learning about criminal case development, conducting interviews, writing case reports and serving warrants. It also includes physical fitness and firearm training. Federal criminal investigators earn a median annual wage of $86,940.

It’s important to note that many of the federal agencies require applicants to be under age 37 by the time they start the position. But there are sometimes exceptions.

5. Probation officer

As a probation officer, you could play an important role in rehabilitating those on probation and parole. They spend their days interviewing these individuals as well as their friends and family members to determine the best course of action. They might be involved in performing drug tests, offering counseling, setting up rehab programs and testifying in court regarding the offender’s background and progress.

Probation officers need strong communication skills to collaborate with lawyers, judges, offenders and treatment providers. As they interact with sometimes hostile individuals and wrestle with difficult circumstances, they must possess emotional stability to perform their duties.

If you can see yourself becoming a probation officer, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, social work or behavioral science depending on the exact jurisdiction in which you hope to work.  Some internship experience in the criminal justice field, such as in a courthouse, can boost your resume.

Completing training and a certification test is often required as well after you’ve accepted a job. And some probation officers may work as trainees for up to one year before they’re extended an official position. Probation officers often make median annual salary of $53,020 per year.

Take the first step toward a criminal justice career

You no longer have to wonder, “What can you do with a criminal justice degree?” It’s clear that there are many careers in this sector. Chances are there’s one that intrigues you. These jobs need passionate people like you to help protect all sorts of communities.

If you found a role on this list you’re interested in, it might be time to think about how you can move forward. Find out how you can take the necessary steps to qualify for these types of positions by visiting the University of Massachusetts Global Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice degree page.



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