As a criminal justice major, you might imagine a future where you spend all your free time hunting down bad guys, arresting them and bringing them to justice. Though many students who study criminal justice do work as police officers and for sheriff departments, others spend more time at a desk, working with potential clients and setting their own schedule. Some of the criminal justice jobs available to you require additional education or experience, but there are jobs you can start right out of college as well.

Police Officer

Police officers are the face of the criminal justice system, and they play important roles in maintaining law and order. Their precise roles may vary depending on their exact roles within a police department, but tasks could include patrolling roads, responding to reports of criminal activity, making arrests, and issuing citations, for example.

Many students enter a criminal justice program because they want to work in law enforcement. Though a college degree is not always required for entry-level employment, it is often preferred. In addition, most cities require that police officers go through a long application process and attend and graduate from an affiliated police training academy. Though you may not need a degree to attend the academy, your degree may help you when it comes to working your way up the job ladder. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary for police officers and detectives is $65,170 a year.  Demand for these criminal justice professionals remains steady, too; the BLS reports jobs are growing as fast as average and projects approximately 37,500 new positions will need to be filled by 2028.

Prosecutor or Defense Attorney

Do you have a penchant for justice? Are you good at analyzing facts and then developing a compelling argument? Then, you may have what it takes to become a prosecutor or defense attorney. These criminal justice professionals work to uphold justice on behalf of their clients. While prosecutors seek to hold criminals accountable for their offenses, defense attorneys argue on behalf of a client’s innocence. Both roles are critical for the success of the criminal justice system.

Students interested in studying law and attending law school often think that they need to graduate from a pre-law program, but law schools often look for students who are well rounded and have experience in multiple fields. Some of the more popular majors for law school students include history, political science and criminal justice. Studying criminal justice enables you to learn why criminals commit offenses, how the justice system in American operates, and the roles of lawyers and judges in that system. After graduating law school and passing the bar in your state, you might work as a prosecutor or a defense attorney. The position of an attorney is one of the highest paying in the field of criminal justice. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these professionals earn nearly $123,000 per year on average.

Private Investigator

Do you prefer working on your own without anyone telling you what to do or when to work? If so, then working as a private investigator might appeal to you. Also known as a PI, a private investigator is someone who performs background checks, tracks people’s movements and behaviors, and gathers evidence.

To excel in this position, you need experience using new computers, cameras, and recorders, and you must have a PI license. The requirements for obtaining a license vary between states, but you often need to show that you have a high school diploma or equivalent and successfully pass a criminal background check. Private investigators are fairly well-paid, too. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), these criminal justice professionals earn a median annual wage of just over $50,500.

Probation/Parole Officer

Becoming a criminal justice major can also prepare you for working as a probation officer or a parole officer. A probation officer works with those convicted of crimes who received probation in lieu of jail time, and parole officers work with criminals who were released with conditions after serving a period of time in jail. Both types of officers are responsible for ensuring that criminals live at the addresses they registered with the court, that they have jobs, and that they are leading law-abiding lives. Judges may also require that convicts attend counseling sessions or complete a drug treatment program as part of their release.

To become a probation/parole officer, you’ll need to enroll in a bachelor’s degree program with a major in criminal justice or closely related field. Probation and parole officers make just shy of $55,000 annually, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Correctional Officer or Bailiff

Another important position within the criminal justice system is that of a correctional officer or bailiff. These professionals are tasked with supervising the accused as well as convicted criminals in both the courtroom and correctional facilities such as jails and prisons. Correctional officers and bailiffs may be responsible for transporting criminals from the jail to the courthouse, supervising visitation and recreation, conducting routine inspections of jail cells, and more. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that bailiffs and correctional officers make a mean annual wage of between $45,000 and $48,000, depending on their role.

If you’re interested in working as a bailiff or correctional officer, you’ll need a minimum of a high school diploma or equivalent, and you may also need to attend a special training program or academy. A major in criminal justice may increase your chances for employment and set you up for future promotions and other career advancements.

Forensic Science Technician

One of the more captivating careers in criminal justice is that of a forensic science technician. If you have the desire to solve crimes and are willing to take a hands-on approach to criminal justice, then this career path may be the ideal one for you. Forensic science technicians work in laboratories and alongside detectives on crime scene investigations. They may gather and/or analyze crime scene evidence in order to solve crimes and convict criminals. In order to work in the exciting field of forensic science, you’ll need more than just a high school diploma, though. In order to become employed as a forensic science technician, you must hold a bachelor’s degree in forensic science. Some employers may accept a credential in a related field like biology or chemistry, for instance. You will be well-compensated for your efforts, however. The BLS reports the median annual wage for forensic science technicians to be nearly $60,000, and there is the potential to earn up to $97,000 with some experience in the field.

Frequently-Asked Questions About Majoring in Criminal Justice

If you’re thinking about pursuing a criminal justice degree, you’d be wise to spend some time thinking about the specifics of such an endeavor, including the sacrifices you’ll have to make as well as the rewards you stand to earn. To help you make this important decision, we’ve listed some frequently-asked questions and answers about criminal justice majors below. Keep in mind that the information provided here is general and may not apply to your specific degree program, should you choose one.

Q: How long does it take to earn a degree in criminal justice?

A: A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice typically takes four years to complete, but it is possible to graduate sooner. Some colleges and universities offer accelerated degree programs that allow you to earn your criminal justice credentials in just three years or less.

Q: Can I complete my criminal justice degree program online?

A: Yes. An increasing number of colleges and universities across the country are offering their bachelor’s in criminal justice programs online. These flexible offerings allow you to fulfill your degree requirements from the comfort of your home and at your own pace. Online programs in criminal justice are popular options for working adults as well as nontraditional students.

Q: What will I earn with a criminal justice degree?

A: Your pay can vary widely depending on several factors such as the exact type of degree you earn, the role you play in the criminal justice system, your employer, and years of experience in the field. Starting out, you can expect to make at least $25,000, but there is the potential to make up to six figures, depending on which career path you take after graduation.

Q: What professional organizations exist in criminal justice?

A: No matter what career path you choose in the field of criminal justice, it’s beneficial to join a professional organization. Doing so can connect you to colleagues and provide opportunities for professional development and networking. There are dozens upon dozens of different organizations and associations available, so you’ll have plenty of options. We’ve listed some of the more popular criminal justice professional organizations below for your reference:

American Correctional Association

American Academy of Forensic Science

Justice Research and Statistics Association

American Society of Criminology

American Probation and Parole Association

National Criminal Justice Association

Criminal justice programs give you a unique understanding of the criminal justice system and the roles that different people play in that system. As a criminal justice major, you may leave school and work as a police or correctional officer, private investigator, or forensic science technician. Alternatively, you may gain more education and work as a prosecutor or defense attorney.

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