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Career Options for Criminal Justice Students Tips for Finding the Right Fit in Criminal Justice Careers

Criminal justice degrees can be used to advance in a criminal justice career or to enter an entirely new field; police officers looking to become detectives, high school graduates interested in crime scene investigation, and individuals looking for careers that serve and protect society can all benefit from degrees in criminal justice. For students who do not have a set goal or plan for their degree, meeting with a counselor and exploring job options throughout their college career is vital. Students can use the wide range of degree types and concentrations available to find the right fit in criminal justice careers, be it criminal investigation or victim advocacy. Criminal justice degrees can also open the doors to many non-traditional and unexpected careers in both the public and private sectors. Here, you can learn about the different careers available in the field of criminal justice and the types of degrees needed for them.

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Concentrations Available for Criminal Justice Majors

Crimes are committed in infinite ways. As a result, criminal justice programs offer a variety of concentrations, so graduates will have the skills needed to tackle different injustices. This is the case with degree emphasis such as cybercrimes and national security. The wide range of concentrations available help make criminal justice accessible to students regardless of their interests. Individuals passionate about STEM fields can pursue a concentration in cybercrimes or forensics. Someone interested in communications or sociology may thrive with an administration or human services concentration. Students interested in global or domestic politics can use those interests for a national security concentration.

  • Computer Science and Cybercrimes

    Students studying criminal justice with concentrations in computer science will learn techniques specific to investigating cybercrime. Programs also often teach students how to investigate traditional crimes with digital methods. In addition to their criminal justice courses, students in cybercrime programs will need to take multiple computer science and technology courses.

  • Forensics

    A criminal justice degree program with a concentration in forensics typically includes courses which introduce students to the legwork of crime investigation. Students study research techniques, investigative methods, and the protocols for preserving and interacting with crime scenes. Programs with an emphasis in forensics generally include science and technology courses.

  • Human Services

    Programs with concentrations in human services introduce students to the social issues associated with crime and teach them the techniques available for preventing recidivism, rehabilitating criminals, and protecting victims. Students often prepare for careers working closely with communities and individuals affected by crime. Programs may include sociology and psychology courses.

  • Management & Administration

    Students in programs with concentrations in administration and management study the structure of the criminal justice system in America as well as the theories behind various aspects of crime. Students may learn leadership techniques and study the philosophies behind rehabilitation techniques and the potential social or economic causes of crime.

  • National Security

    Criminal justice programs with concentrations in national or homeland security teach students about investigating and preventing crimes against America and its citizens. Students study dangers such as weapons of mass destruction and international or domestic terrorism. Courses in these programs may include international politics and foreign language or culture studies.

Mean Annual Salary by Concentration

Source: BLS.gov

What Can You Do with a Criminal Justice Degree?

As with many industries, the more prestigious the criminal justice career the more education it requires. Careers with managerial components often require master’s degrees and many lucrative jobs may require doctorates. Additionally, careers with the federal government may require more education than those at the state level or in the private sector. Luckily, criminal justice careers are available in a wide range of disciplines no matter the degree level; plenty are available for individuals who decide graduate studies are not for them. In some cases, experience can even be accepted in lieu of a degree, meaning that someone with significant experience in the field may be able to advance without earning a higher degree and that someone without extensive experience may be able to use a degree to further their criminal justice career. Continue reading to explore the wide range of options available to graduates of criminal justice programs, ranging from bachelor’s to doctorate degrees.

Bachelor’s Degrees in Criminal Justice

As previously discussed, bachelor’s degree programs often allow for concentrations which help prepare students for specific subfields of criminal justice while simultaneously introducing students to the broader field of criminal justice. Bachelor’s programs in criminal justice, allow students to learn about the criminal justice system as a whole, explore options, and find a focus or passion. Extensive lab work, projects, and even internships further help students build the skills necessary for entering criminal justice fields. Some well-known criminal justice careers, such as police officer, do not necessarily require a bachelor’s degree, but a degree may be valuable or even necessary for advancement.

Criminalist Salary: $59,926

Criminalists, sometimes called crime scene investigators, perform the scientific tests and analyses needed to solve crimes. Criminalists often specialize in DNA analysis, ballistics identification, or toxicology. They also frequently testify in court about their findings. The scientific and laboratory techniques taught in criminal justice programs help prepare individuals for success in this field.

Parole Officer Salary: $42,408

Parole officers work with convicted individuals who have been released from prison; officers help their clients readjust to and succeed in mainstream society while monitoring their activities for criminal behavior. A bachelor’s program in criminal justice provides the communication skills and legal knowledge needed to succeed as a parole officer.

Victim Advocate Salary: $34,790

Victim advocates perform a wide range of duties depending on their specialization; they may connect victims of crime to resources, provide counseling, and even attend court with their clients. Criminal justice program graduates can apply their knowledge of the justice system, legal rights, and social theories on crime to this career.

Source: PayScale

Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice

Individuals looking for career advancement or a deeper understanding of criminal justice may want to earn a master’s degree. Master’s programs often introduce students to the philosophical underpinnings of the criminal justice system, with courses exploring why crime is committed rather than how to fight it. Careers which require or benefit from master’s degrees often approach crime from this direction. They also may require the leadership and communication skills master’s programs often teach and foster. For more information on the types of criminal justice master’s programs available, here is our guide. To learn more about the careers available for those with master’s degrees in criminal justice, continue reading.

Forensic Psychologist Salary: $63,004

Forensic psychology is a broad field at the intersection of criminal justice and psychology. Criminal profilers, for example, use information from a crime to figure out what type of person the perpetrator may be. A graduate’s knowledge of the sociological causes of crime can be readily applied to this growing field.

Emergency Management Specialist Salary: $57,590

Emergency management specialists plan and coordinate responses to various emergencies which can threaten communities, regions, or businesses. Specialists may train emergency responders, assess resources, and modify plans in response to changing needs. Graduate criminal justice program courses on emergency response and the sociological theories of crime can be applied to this career.

Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) Officer Salary: $57,590

Immigrations and customs officers monitor the transportation of people and goods across America’s national borders. Agents may interview immigrants, authenticate documentation, and investigate smuggling or trafficking rings. Criminal justice master’s program graduates can apply their knowledge of homeland security, crime prevention techniques, and the federal justice system to this career.

Security Manager Salary: $64,774

Security managers may work for a security company or direct in-house security operations for a large corporation. Individuals progress and succeed in this career in this career by applying the leadership skills, knowledge of criminal behavior, and techniques for preventing crime that they acquired in master’s degree programs in criminal justice.

Source: PayScale

PhD in Criminal Justice

The next step after a master’s program is a doctorate. Careers which oversee entire departments or are tasked with deciding policies and protocols may require the expertise and knowledge that comes with earning a doctorate. Similar to master’s programs, PhD students often research the philosophical and sociological approaches to crime. Unlike a master’s program, these rigorous programs involve years-long research that culminates in a dissertation that is reviewed by experts in the field. PhD programs also give students the opportunity to work closely with leading experts in the field. Here are some examples of the prestigious careers that require the expertise and experience that comes with a PhD.

Chief of Police Salary: $72,253

A chief of police oversees a police department; they ensure that their police force is effective and ethical while also performing managerial tasks such as scheduling. PhD graduates can apply their in-depth knowledge of the structure and ethics of the criminal justice system as well as their leadership skills to this career.

FBI Agent Salary: $63,692

FBI agents perform hundreds of different tasks for the Federal Bureau of Investigation depending on their specialization. Agents may conduct surveillance, testify in court, perform research, file paperwork, and more. Criminal justice programs specializing homeland security and domestic terrorism can be used for a wide range of FBI careers.

Prison Warden Salary: $80,558

A prison warden directs the operations of a federal or state prison. Wardens may hire employees, budget, and monitor welfare of inmates. A PhD in criminal justice helps graduates gain the thorough knowledge of the function, ethics, and philosophies of the criminal justice system that will help them succeed as prison wardens.

Source: PayScale

Unexpected Careers for Criminal Justice Majors

TV shows, movies, and books have popularized many criminal justice fields, such as crime scene investigation, offender profiling, and criminal psychology. However, these well-known careers are far from the only ones available to jobseekers with criminal justice degrees. Lesser known positions and industries are available in both the public and private sector.

While they may not be associated with Hollywood glamor, these careers still employ the investigative skills vital to criminal justice. Some of these opportunities still carry the same exciting components as their popular counterparts, including undercover work and national security concerns. Many of these unexpected careers are hiding in plain sight: retail industries, the United States Postal Service, national parks, and the Transportation Security Administration all need employees with the skills and knowledge gained through criminal justice programs. Continue reading to explore five of these unexpected—but still challenging and exciting in their own right—criminal justice careers.

Air Marshal Salary: $67,249

Air marshals are generally employed by the Transportation Security Administration as law enforcement officers and help protect the aviation industry from terrorism. Marshals often join flights to protect passengers and crew. A degree program’s lessons on homeland security and law enforcement principles or ethics are readily applied to this field.

Fraud Investigator Salary: $58,834

Fraud investigators typically work in fields like banking, finance, and insurance. They may investigate crimes through technological or traditional means, often verifying claims or financial transactions. Criminal justice programs teach students about investigative techniques and types of crimes; knowledge that lends itself to successful work as a fraud investigator.

Game Warden Salary: $46,314

Game wardens protect natural resources in dozens of different ways. They monitor fishing/hunting licenses and investigate illegal hunting, logging, vandalism, and more. They also testify in court cases and coordinate conservation efforts with local communities. Investigative and leadership skills from criminal justice programs can help a graduate excel in this career.

Loss Prevention Investigator Salary: $51,228

Loss prevention investigators may work for a large company or for a contractor. These investigators assess how a company can lose revenue (such as theft) and how to minimize that loss. Criminal justice graduates can apply their investigative skills to this career as well as any training in predicting and preventing crime.

United States Postal Inspector Salary: $62,069

Postal inspectors investigate and prevent crimes which involve or threaten the US postal service. This can include escorting important deliveries, preventing the distribution of controlled substances through the mail, and even combating the sexual exploitation of children. Graduates can apply their investigative skills and forensic experience to this career.

Source: PayScale

Professional Resources for Criminal Justice Majors

  • American Bar Association’s Criminal Justice Resources

    This website is a repository of research and information about criminal justice, with a specific emphasis on criminal law. ABA’s resources include summaries and descriptions of significant court cases and a thorough directory of other resources that can benefit individuals involved in criminal justice, even if they are not legal professionals.

  • American Society of Criminology

    This organization promotes the networking and collaboration of criminal justice professionals—especially those who conduct research—in order to facilitate the spread of knowledge and the advancement of criminal justice. ASC hosts annual conventions, publishes criminology focused journals, and even helps connect members with potential mentors.

  • Crime Solutions

    This government funded and run website functions as a clearinghouse for crime related programs. The information available here focuses primarily on the resources and methods available for identifying and addressing the causes of crime. For example, users can find lists and directories of the high school dropout prevention programs available across the country.

  • National Criminal Justice Reference Service

    The NCJRS is funded and administered by the United States Department of Justice. It is a vast collection of resources, with research and resources available in the fields of corrections, juvenile justice, crime prevention, drug abuse, and more. NCJRS also includes an extensive directory of research abstracts, including some from foreign sources.

  • National Institute of Justice

    The NIJ is an agency of the United States Department of Justice which conducts research into crime and justice. NIJ’s website gives users access to this research and information about how the NIJ’s findings are being applied. The majority of information available relates to forensics and the application of forensics to criminal justice.