criminal justice career options

Criminal Justice Career Overview

Pursuing a degree in the criminal justice field can provide solid, lucrative and rewarding opportunities in a wide range of career paths. Graduates from criminal justice degree programs from criminal justice colleges can find work in both the public and private sectors or go on to graduate school, allowing the greatest degree of flexibility when deciding on the right career.

What is Criminal Justice?
List of Criminal Justice Degree Jobs
Is Criminal Justice a Good Major?
The GMercyU Difference

What is Criminal Justice?

Criminal Justice is the system in which criminals are identified by their crimes, detained, judged and punished. The main components of the criminal justice system include law enforcement, the court system, and corrections facilities. Each one of these parts work together in order to form the criminal justice system to ensure that laws are upheld and criminals are fairly judged and sentenced for their crimes.

List of Criminal Justice Degree Jobs

After graduating from criminal justice schools with an accredited criminal justice degree program, many students who choose a criminal justice major move directly into positions in law enforcement, corrections and other areas of the criminal justice job market. Other students go on to graduate school or law school. Here are some of the most popular career paths for graduates of criminal justice bachelor's degree programs.

 1. Police Officer

  • Education Requirement: Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 7% increase
  • Employment Locations: Local, State, and Federal Governments
  • Average Salary: $55,010

Police officers work to enforce laws on a local, state, or federal level while protecting the lives of citizens. Some of their responsibilities include patrolling areas to ensure welfare and safety, responding to calls regarding crime, complaints and suspicious activity, incident reporting, issuing citations, and making arrests.  

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2. Correctional Officer

  • Education Requirement: Bachelor’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 4% increase
  • Employment Locations: Local, State, and Federal Jails, Prisons or Holding Cells
  • Average Salary: $40,530

Correctional officers supervise those being legally held in jails, prisons, and holding cells with an overall duty to maintain order. It is a very physically demanding job with a heightened risk of injury. Some of their responsibilities include; checking inmates and visitors for weapons and drugs, monitoring activities of inmates, and inspecting facilities to ensure they meet the maximum sanitary, security, and safety measures.

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3. Private Investigator

  • Education Requirement: Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or Master’s Degrees
  • Expected Job Growth: 11% increase
  • Employment Locations: Private Detective Firms, Police Departments, Private Businesses, Organizations, or Individual Clients
  • Average Salary: $50,700

Private Investigators aid in cases on the local, state, and federal level and are a crucial member in investigating legal, financial, and criminal cases, as well as locating missing persons. PI’s typically work for private citizens, attorneys, and businesses. Some of their responsibilities include; researching, interviewing and conducting/monitoring surveillance.

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4. Criminal Profiler

  • Education Requirement: Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 4%
  • Employment Locations: Local, State, and Federal Governments  
  • Average Salary: $54,000

Criminal Profilers are special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who provide investigators with a psychological or physical description of a suspect through intensive analyzation. Through this they are also able to determine a suspects motives by visualizing the crime and its events from start to finish.

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5. Crime Prevention Specialist

  • Education Requirement: Associate’s or Bachelor's Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 4% increase
  • Employment Locations: Local Communities
  • Average Salary: 52,000


Crime Prevention Specialists work closely with communities to help them determine strategies and ways to prevent crime in that given area. Their responsibility includes making recommendations on ways communities can be better prepared for crime as well as ways to ensure or implement more reliable security, such as as neighborhood watch.  

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Criminal Justice degree career options - Forensic Scientist

6. Crime Scene Investigator

  • Education Requirement: Bachelor’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 19% increase
  • Employment Locations: Offices, Labs, Crime Scenes
  • Average Salary: $56,320

The Crime Scene Investigator works at crime scenes and analyzes every aspect of it, finding and collecting evidence such as DNA and fingerprints. They also assist the Criminal Profiler in determining why and how exactly the crime happened.

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7. Drug Enforcement Administration Agent

  • Education Requirement: Bachelor’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 7% increase
  • Employment Locations: State, Local, and National Law Enforcement Agencies
  • Average Salary: $77,210

Drug Enforcement Administration Agents (DEAs) play a huge role in the war on drugs by enforcing laws on controlled substances and preventing the distribution of illegal narcotics. DEAs conduct investigations within the United States primarily, but they do conduct international investigations and work closely with Border Patrol and Customs Enforcement agents if the United States is affected.

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8. Homicide Detective

  • Education Requirement: Associate's or Bachelor’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 4% increase
  • Employment Locations: Local, State, Federal
  • Average Salary: $79,620-$119,280

A Homicide Detective’s duty  is to identify murder suspects by collecting and examining evidence and clues left behind at crime scenes. These pieces of evidence or clue could include things like DNA and fingerprints.

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9. Jail Screener

  • Education Requirement: Associate’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 6% increase
  • Employment Locations: Local, State, and Federal Jails and Prisons
  • Average Salary: $41,000

Jail Screeners adjust and process inmates sentences by closely analyzing their behavior. Their analysis is extremely important because it determines if/how an inmate would handle being released back into society.

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10. Probation Officer

  • Education Requirement: Bachelor’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 18% increase
  • Employment Locations: State or Federal Government
  • Average Salary: $54,050

Probation Officers supervise convicted criminals who are sentenced to probation rather than prison. They keep continuous communication between them and the offender as well as the offenders family members to ensure they are meeting all of the terms of their probation.

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11. Narcotics Officer

  • Education Requirement: Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 4% increase
  • Employment Locations: Small Communities, Federal Government
  • Average Salary: $77,210

Narcotics Officers work to prevent the selling, distribution, and use of illegal drugs. This includes the investigations of drug trafficking as well as possession. Some of the duties and resources include surveillance, K9-units, wiretaps, and undercover work.

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12. Parole Officer

  • Education Requirement: Bachelor’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 4% increase
  • Employment Locations: County or State Parole Offices
  • Average Salary: $49,360

Parole Officers main duty is to supervise criminals who get released from prison to ensure they stay out of trouble and do not end up back in prison. They do this by helping them find housing and employment as well as anything that is necessary for their rehabilitation.

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13. State Trooper

  • Education Requirement: Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 5% increase
  • Employment Locations: Local and State Roads/Highways
  • Average Salary: $58,320

State Troopers work to enforce driving and safety laws on local and state roads. A few of their responsibilities include; monitoring roads and highways, issuing traffic citations and tickets and assisting in motorcycle and vehicular accidents.

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14. Youth Correctional Counselor

  • Education Requirement: Bachelor’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 4% increase
  • Employment Locations: State or National Government
  • Average Salary: $54,080

Youth Correctional Counselors work closely with juvenile law offenders in correctional facilities to help them transition into productive citizens. Their main responsibility is to counsel juvenile offenders individually and in groups in hopes of deterring them from committing further crimes in the future that could land them in incarceration.    

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15. National Security Agency Police Officer

  • Education Requirement: Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: Fluctuates based on Federal Budget
  • Employment Locations: National Security Agencies
  • Average Salary: $53,300

An NSA Police Officer’s main responsibility is to protect the property of the NSA. They patrol the grounds of NSA buildings with firearms, assist in counter terrorist operations, and administer weapons training to NSA employees.

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Criminal Justice degree career options - Lawyer

16. Criminal Justice Instructor

  • Education Requirement: Master’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 21% increase
  • Employment Locations: Criminal Justice Departments at Colleges or Universities
  • Average Salary: $64,460

Criminal Justice Instructors teach a variety of courses surrounding law enforcement and lead issues within law enforcement. Their duties include; delivering lectures and presentations, leading discussions, and grading tests and assignments while ensuring their students receive the utmost beneficial and relevant education on criminal justice.

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17. Fingerprint Technician

  • Education Requirement: Bachelor’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 27% increase
  • Employment Locations: Forensic Labs and Police Departments
  • Average Salary: $56,320

Fingerprint Technicians are a crucial member of an investigative team as they help to determine suspects based on findings of evidence. Some of their responsibilities include; collecting, examining and analyzing fingerprints left behind at crime scenes.  

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18. Deputy Sheriff

  • Education Requirement: Associate’s or Bachelor’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 4% increase
  • Employment Locations: Local, State, and Federal Governments
  • Average Salary: $60,270

The duty of a Deputy Sheriff is to ensure and enforce law and order. Some of their responsibilities include; making arrests, interviewing witnesses and victims, questioning suspects, collecting and filing evidence and testifying in court.

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19. Customs Inspector

  • Education Requirement: Bachelor’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 4% increase
  • Employment Locations: United States Border Lines
  • Average Salary: $67,000

A Customs Inspector works with Homeland Security to to make sure that no people or items that cross the border pose any threat the United States. This includes monitoring people's behavior closely to rule out any smuggling of weapons or drugs. K9-units are often the partners of Customs Inspectors.   

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20. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Agent

  • Education Requirement: Bachelor’s Degree
  • Expected Job Growth: 7% increase
  • Employment Locations: Federal Government
  • Average Salary: $63,021

 
A Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agent works to protect the United States from espionage, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, and organized crime. Their responsibilities range from field work to research. Working as an FBI agent can be very dangerous and often requires traveling and unusual hours.

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Is Criminal Justice a Good Major?

In general, obtaining your bachelor's degree in criminal justice can provide you with a number of exciting career opportunities. Along with jobs in law enforcement, corrections, rehabilitative services, and other public service fields, your background in criminal justice can serve as the foundation for law school and a career as an attorney. Social workers, forensic scientists and professional educators also benefit from the skills and knowledge gained from a criminal justice degree. 

Pursuing a criminal justice career can be challenging. For example, law enforcement officers are often required to have a high degree of physical fitness and strength. Additionally, the stress involved in life-or-death decision making or providing rehabilitative services to juveniles or other people in need can result in emotional stress if you’re not prepared to take on these challenges. Empathy and fast, accurate reflexes also can be critical elements for success in this in-demand and varied field.

Criminal justice careers do offer significant benefits for those with the perseverance and determination needed to achieve success:

  • The ability to help others overcome obstacles and start over after a series of mistakes
  • Opportunities to move up through the ranks to positions of higher responsibility
  • In some professions, the ability to set your own hours and be your own boss
  • The chance to work with others in a team environment
  • Growing demand for professionals in the criminal justice field
  • Competitive salaries and opportunities for career advancement, especially for those with proven experience in their chosen profession

Considering the various criminal justice career options available to you can help you to make the right choices regarding your educational and employment goals. 

The GMercyU Difference

You can begin your journey to a rewarding career in the Criminal Justice field at Gwynedd Mercy University as a criminal justice major. We offer a 11 to 1 student-faculty ratio and routinely feature nationally-recognized guest speakers, allowing you to really benefit from your classroom experience. At Gwynedd Mercy University, we are committed to your success. We deliver the best possible combination of theoretical study and hands-on experience to ensure you are well-prepared for the career of your choice in the evolving criminal justice field.

Our criminal justice program requires 125 credit hours and incorporates a capstone project and internship to ensure you are well prepared to take on the challenges facing the modern criminal justice professional. Here, you will find the personalized attention you need to achieve your goals.

Additionally, we are affiliated with the Municipal Police Academy at the Montgomery County Public Safety Training Campus. Located in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, this police academy allows eligible students in their senior year to obtain on-the-job training and experience without interrupting their educational progress. Participation in this program is included as part of your tuition and offers an exceptional chance to learn more about the challenges and rewards of criminal justice careers in real-world scenarios.

Degree programs in criminal justice typically include coursework in the following areas:

  • Ethics and best practices 
  • Victimology
  • Administration in the law enforcement environment
  • Security management
  • Corrections and institutional management
  • Procedures and law
  • The U.S. and state court systems
  • Drug and alcohol-related crimes
  • Juvenile offenses and delinquent behavior
  • Forensic psychology and evidence collecting

These classes are intended to provide a complete foundation for future employment opportunities in law enforcement, corrections, public service and the legal fields. 

While some associate degree programs are available, most employers prefer applicants with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice. A background check may also be required for certain employment opportunities, especially in the corporate or public sectors of the job market.


Sources:
1http://www.bls.gov/ooh/legal/lawyers.htm
2http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm
3http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/probation-officers-and-correctional-treatment-specialists.htm
4http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/forensic-science-technicians.htm
5http://www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/private-detectives-and-investigators.htm 
6 Job growth between 2014-2026, according to information provided in the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Outlook Handbook.


Download a PDF document of Criminal Justice Career Options.