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What Can You Do With a Criminal Justice Degree?

Discover Your Career Options With a Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice


African American policewoman writing in notebook
Blend Images-Hill Street Studios/Matthew Palmer/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

With so many opportunities to learn about such a wide variety of subjects, it's easy to see how a new college student can quickly become overwhelmed when deciding on a program of study.   Among the most important factors, of course, is the potential for employment in a satisfying career after college.  For students interested in learning about crime and punishment, the question to ask is, "what can you do with a degree in criminal justice?"

The Difference Between Criminology and Criminal Justice

Before exploring career options, it is important to realize that criminology and criminal justice degree programs are not the same.  While the two are certainly related and do in fact overlap in some very important ways, they are separate concepts.  As such, your  career goals should determine your field of study.

In essence, criminology is the study of crime and its causes, costs and consequences.  Criminal justice is the the system in which crime is detected and dealt with.  If criminology is the theory, criminal justice is the  practical application.

Criminal Justice Degree Job Options

For people seeking degrees in criminal justice, there are a number of job options and career paths available.  Most of these jobs will be found in the public sector, either in law enforcement, the courts system or the corrections system.

Law Enforcement Careers

A criminal justice degree is a great way to lay the foundation for a successful career in law enforcement.  Such a degree can prepare graduates for work as:

Though many law enforcement careers may not require a college degree, it can still be very beneficial to earn one before starting a career.

In addition to police careers, criminal justice majors who are interested in other law enforcement work can look forward to finding careers in crime scene investigation and forensic science.  Some such careers include:

It's important to note that careers in forensics and crime scene investigation will often also require knowledge or experience in the natural sciences, such as biology and physics, in addition to a background in the criminal justice realm.  In theses cases, a minor in science and major in criminal justice, or vice versa, may be in order.

Careers in the Courts System

The court system is where the innocence or guilt of an individual is decided and where punishment is determined.  The court system offers a diverse field of jobs within criminal justice, all of which serve very important roles in ensuring the fairness and the safety of the legal system.

Some of the careers in the courts system that are available to criminal justice degree holders include:

Some of these careers, such as that of a prosecutor, defense attorney or jury consultant, will require advanced schooling, either in a graduate degree program or law school.  Other careers, such as that of a bailiff or a paralegal, will require additional training and certification, which may be available at a local law enforcement academy.

Careers in Corrections

The corrections system is where punishments that have been determined by the courts are carried out.  They can include the collection and processing of fines, incarceration or probation and parole.  Some of the corrections careers available to criminal justice majors include:

As in other career fields within criminal justice, some jobs in corrections may not require any college at all whereas others, such as forensic psychology, will require graduate level schooling.  In any case, earning a criminal justice degree can help those interested in working in corrections should they choose to promote and move up in their careers.

Job Outlook for Criminal Justice Careers

The job outlook for most jobs in criminology and criminal justice is promising, even in tougher economic times.  Because communities recognize the need for well-trained law enforcement and corrections professionals, many departments make it a point to keep officers on the streets and guarding the prisons.  The courts, too, receive a great deal of support from their communities and applicable legislative bodies, ensuring that jobs are available more often than not.

Tangible and Intangible Rewards

Careers in criminal justice offer a measure of stability not found in most other sectors.  They also often provide a competitive salary and generous retirement benefits.  These, of course, are just a few of the many benefits to earning a degree in criminal justice.  

Beyond the job security and the potential for a comfortable life after retirement, careers in criminal justice provide the intangible satisfaction of knowing that you're working to make a difference in the world around you.

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