A college education isn’t exactly cheap, and with the rising levels of student loans, your goal may be to pick a course that guarantees you a job right out of college so you can pay off your student debt quickly. A criminal justice job will do just that. Granted, it may not sound like the best reason for choosing a career, but hey, you need to reap the fruits of your labor and feel it directly in your pocket, right?

So, what careers are in the criminal justice field? Which are the best paying ones? What are the pros and cons you need to be aware of?

This article takes a deep dive into the best careers for criminal justice majors.

Best Careers for Criminal Justice Majors

One of the most appealing things about a career in criminal justice is that it has real-world applications that you can use to make a tangible difference in your community. With so many career opportunities in the criminal justice field, there’s something for everyone.

Here are some of the best criminal justice careers and salaries that should be at the top of every prospective student’s list.

Law Enforcement

Currently, there are an estimated 686,000 full-time law enforcement officers employed in the US. According to data from the US Census Bureau, the American population is well over 329 million. If you do the math, that’s one police officer for every 479 people in the country. This means that there’s a steady need for law enforcement officers.

law enforcement

If you’re joining the police force straight out of the academy, you can expect to earn a salary that ranges anywhere between $38,000 and $49,000 depending on the state you’re in. However, once you gain some on-the-job experience, the average wages for police officers and sheriff’s deputies come in at about $64,000 per year.

You might be wondering what requirements for a criminal justice career you need to have to join law enforcement. While you don’t necessarily have to have a Bachelor’s degree to join the police academy, it will certainly give you an edge over those candidates who only have a high school diploma. It’s also a great secret weapon to have in your back pocket if you want to advance through the ranks quickly.

Moreover, college degree holders with criminal justice majors have a unique opportunity to work with federal law enforcement agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). So if the prospect of fighting high-level crime like terrorism, human trafficking, organized crime, public corruption, and cybercrime, sounds like a dream, then joining law enforcement is the best way to get your foot in the door.

Are there any age requirements for careers in criminal justice law enforcement? Yes, there are. The minimum age is 19 years old, although some states and specific departments require that candidates be at least 21.

Corrections / Probation Officer

It’s no secret that the corrections system is at a crossroads today. There are consistent reports in the media about the rising inmate populations in state and federal prisons. As a result, new prison facilities are being constructed, which means more job opportunities.

Becoming a correctional or probation officer is one of the different careers in criminal justice that you can pursue. Probation officers are responsible for conducting parole hearings, writing incident reports, and holding pre-release counseling sessions with convicts about to rejoin the free society.

The average salary for criminal justice careers among entry-level officers in this field is in the ballpark of $35,000/year. This number is significantly higher with more on-the-job experience.

corrections officer

Officers of State and Federal Courts

What are some careers in criminal justice college graduates can expect right out of school? Here are some of them.

  • Bailiff
  • Court clerk
  • Court manager
  • Court operations specialist
  • Courtroom assistant
  • Criminal law supervisor
  • Family law mediator
  • Pretrial services officer
  • …the list goes on

The earning potential for each of these roles varies greatly by location and position. However, at a federal level, you can expect to earn anywhere between $38,000 and $100,000/year. Talk about a sweet gig! It’s one of the best careers with a criminal justice degree.

Forensics

forensics careers

One of the cool careers that you can get into is forensics. It is perfect for people who have a passion for criminal justice and science. Some of the top careers in this field that are worth exploring include:

  • Ballistics expert
  • Blood spatter analyst (think Dexter…)
  • Crime scene investigator
  • Criminologist
  • Digital forensic expert
  • DNA analyst
  • Fiber technologist
  • Forensic anthropologist
  • Forensic pathologist
  • Forensic psychologist
  • Homicide detective
  • … and so forth

Bear in mind that forensics training goes beyond majoring in criminal justice. It requires extensive course work in science-related modules like chemistry, physics, and biology. The science behind the crime is just as important as the police work so, if you’re prepared to do what it takes, you can easily earn upwards of $58,000/year. It ranks among the top-paying criminal justice careers in the country today.

Paralegal

Are you passionate about the law but don’t have the time, money, or patience to go to law school, sit for the bar exam and pass? Well, there’s another alternative. Criminal justice majors can pursue a career as a paralegal.

As a paralegal, you would be responsible for the preparation of legal correspondence, affidavits, contracts, real estate closures, wills, assisting your supervising attorney in preparing for trial, and accompanying them to depositions. It’s a high-pressure job, and those who thrive in such environments will love it. Paralegals can expect to earn around $50,000 per year on average, although this figure can go up to $77,000 per year with experience.

So, if you’re wondering, “What careers can I do with a criminal justice degree?” A paralegal is a pretty solid option.

Different Careers in Criminal Justice

Aside from the “mainstream” careers detailed in the previous section, there are lots of other options available for criminal justice majors looking for different paths in criminal justice. What careers can you get with a criminal justice degree? Here are the top five:

Teaching

Several teaching and training opportunities exist for criminal justice graduates. You only need to apply for state teaching credentials, and you can put your newly-acquired communication, psychology, and presentation skills to good use as a teacher or trainer.

criminal justice teacher

This isn’t just limited to teaching high school, middle school, or elementary school kids. Adult learning is on the rise, which brings with it untold opportunities to excel as an instructor or trainer in both the public and private sectors.

Private Security

Criminal justice majors study subjects like psychology, sociology, and criminology. These provide a solid foundation for people looking to join the private security line of work.

Private security officers do more than just man entrances and exits to a property. They are skilled at performing many of the same duties as law enforcement officers. These include investigating suspicious activities on a property or business premises, intercepting shoplifters, assisting in an emergency, making recommendations to beef-up security, and many more.

security guard

Social Services

As a criminal justice major, you’ll spend the better part of your academic life learning about the social forces that perpetuate crime in your community. It will give you invaluable insight into what causes people to get into crime and how they can avoid falling back into old habits once they serve their time behind bars.

Additionally, outside of law enforcement, it equips you with the necessary skills to work in different areas of public service as a:

  • Counselor for minors in juvenile detention centers
  • Family law mediator
  • Guidance counselor
  • Ombudsman
  • Recommending counselor for child custody disputes
  • Social worker
  • …Etc.

Human Resources

What careers can you have with a criminal justice degree? How about a job in human resources? Criminal justice majors have in-depth knowledge of state and federal laws. This makes them highly suitable for human resource roles since they can easily navigate through the complexities and legal liabilities surrounding labor and employment issues.

human resources job

They are also well-versed in the modern-day social challenges and ethical issues that may arise at work. Some of the duties you would perform in this role include:

  • Compliance with anti-discrimination laws
  • Compliance with the company’s collective bargaining agreements
  • Compliance with contract laws
  • Developing and updating company policies
  • Discipline
  • Enforcing the code of ethics
  • Promotions
  • Recruitment and hiring
  • Take a lead role in arbitration hearing and mediations
  • Termination

Compliance Manager

What career can you have with a criminal justice degree aside from the one detailed in previous sections? How does the title “compliance manager” sound?

Businesses all over the country run the risk of facing legal liability due to inadequate policies, cutting corners for monetary gain, ignorance of the recent changes in case and statutory law, and out-dated business practices. A compliance manager with a major in criminal justice has the required knowledge and expertise that may save the company a ton of money down the line in avoidable lawsuits and fines.

The duties of compliance manager include coming up with standard operating procedures, ensuring that the occupational safety and health guidelines meet state and federal standards, combing through contracts and other legal documents to identify potential risk areas, policy development, among others.

Best States for Criminal Justice Careers

Finding a well-paying job in criminal justice depends on your degree, the type of work you’re interested in, and the location. So, what are the best states for criminal justice careers?

The top 10 based on earning potential are listed below.

RankStateAverage annual mean wage
1Louisiana$96,000
2New Jersey$89,000
3Washington$82,000
4Pennsylvania$80,000
5California$79,000
6Florida$72,000
7Virginia$71,000
8New York$65,000
9Ohio$64,000
10North Carolina$54,000

Top Paying Criminal Justice Careers

Criminal justice careers with high salaries are in high demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics ranks the highest paid careers with a criminal justice degree as follows.

RankProfessionAverage annual mean wage
1Lawyers$74,000 to $163,000
2Detectives and Private Investigators$59,000 to $92,000
3Police Officers$38,000 to $64,000
4Federal Marshals$38,000 to $48,000
5Forensic Analysts$37,000 to $58,000
6Paralegals$36,000 to $58,000
7Probation Officers$35,000 to $60,000
8Correction Officers$29,000 to $51,000
9Victim Advocates$25,000 to $31,000
10Court Clerks$23,000 to $77,000

Pros and Cons of Criminal Justice Careers

Pursuing a degree is undoubtedly a foolproof way of getting into the field. Regardless of the different types of criminal justice careers available, they have their benefits and drawbacks.

These are outlined below:

Pros

  • It is a rewarding career choice with a high job-satisfaction index
  • Numerous and diverse career options available
  • Skills are transferable to other lines of work
  • Job security is guaranteed
  • High-paying jobs available with the option of overtime and differential pay
  • Many opportunities for promotions
  • No two days are the same, so there’s a minimal chance of getting bored
  • Lucrative retirement benefits

Cons

  • Front line officers face a high risk of injuries or death
  • They are high-pressure working environments with the possibility of working long hours
  • Some careers might require frequent travel
  • The early retirement age may not be ideal for some individuals
  • Requires a substantial financial commitment

Despite the pros and cons of criminal justice careers, no two people have the same experiences. If it’s something you’re passionate about, then nothing should get in the way of you going after your dream.

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