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What Can You Do With a Criminal Justice Degree?

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Did you know that retailers lose nearly $50 billion a year from shoplifting and employee theft? As a result, there's a growing demand for loss prevention specialists. That's just one of the many careers open to you with a degree in criminal justice, sometimes called criminology. With degree programs at every level and both full- and part-time opportunities available in this diverse field, you're bound to find job satisfaction in a position that's just right for you and your family.

Job Description

Many jobs are available in criminal justice, a social science field that looks at criminal behavior and crime control. Depending on your area of specialization, you may work in law enforcement, court administration, corrections or victims services. You may work directly with criminals and delinquents or behind the scenes, examining evidence. You'll have a variety of duties, depending on your education and the sub-field of criminal justice you choose.

Education Requirements

Are you eager to get to work? A two-year associate's degree in criminal justice opens the door to entry-level positions in law enforcement and criminal investigation. A bachelor's degree can increase your options and salary, and it may be required for advancement or leadership positions. With a master's degree, you can pursue a career in high-level management, criminal justice research or policy and practices. The highest level of education, culminating in a Ph.D., or doctorate, prepares you for a career in advanced public policy, research or post-secondary teaching.

To become a police officer, you'll need a minimum of a high school diploma or G.E.D., although some municipalities may require an associate's degree or even a bachelor's. You'll need to pass an entrance exam to be admitted to a police academy, which requires an average of 20 weeks to complete.

To become a paralegal, you should earn certification or a degree from an accredited program. In some cases, you may be able to find on-the-job training with no prior legal experience.

To become a lawyer, you must first earn a bachelor's degree and achieve an acceptable score on the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT). Although no specific major is stipulated for law school admissions, most successful candidates have bachelor's degrees in English, history, economics and political science. Earning a law degree takes three years of full-time study. Some schools offer part-time and evening/weekend options. Admission to top schools is very competitive.

About the Industry

With a degree in criminal justice, you can find opportunities with local, state and federal agencies as well as private companies. You may want to get a bachelor's degree to prepare for law school and a career as an attorney or judge. Police academies conduct their own training, but a degree might help you give an edge in the application process. Common career paths include positions as a detective, forensic technician, dispatcher, parole officer, bailiff or state trooper. Less well-known options include jobs as a crime victim service coordinator, document examiner, IRS criminal investigator or probate investigator. Teaching opportunities exist in college-level criminal justice programs as well as in police academies. Job experience and a master's degree may be required for these positions.

Years of Experience

There are many possible career paths with a criminal justice degree. One of them, the police patrol officer, has a median annual salary of $52,795. Median salary means that half the people in the occupation earn more, while half earn less. Based on geographic location and other factors, some typical salary ranges for police officers include:

  • Less than 1 year of experience: $50,499 to $52,534
  • 5 to 6 years of experience: $50,812 to $52,795
  • 10 to 14 years of experience: $51,490 to $53,644
  • 20+ years of experience: $52,168 to $54,564

Median salaries for other occupations under the umbrella of criminal justice include:

  • Court Reporter: $55,643
  • Lawyer: $91,173
  • Paralegal: $53,651
  • Parole Officer: $54,876

Job Growth Trend

Under criminal justice, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists a number of categories, including police and detectives, criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, legal occupations and protective service occupations. Job growth is expected to be average in most fields when compared to all other jobs.


Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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