Throughout our review process we were able to collect information about careers for criminal justice graduates. This is our report of the most valuable findings. For more basic career data about salaries, responsibilities, and job descriptions, we recommend visiting the Bureau of Labor Statistics and browsing their Occupational Outlook Handbook.
The most common careers reported by criminal justice majors
PayScale ran multiple surveys between 2008-2010 to determine what were the most popular careers for each major in criminal justice. The surveys collected responses from employees of all experience levels, from recent graduates to those deep into their career. Only those possessing at most a bachelor's degree were included.
Six most common careers reported by criminal justice majors
- Police Officer
- Paralegal / Legal assistant / Legal secretary
- Probation officer / correctional treatment specialist
- Detective or criminal investigator
- Security officer / security manager
- Loss prevention manager / Loss prevention agent
These careers were always at the top for each year's survey, with little variation. The top three (police officer, paralegal, probation officer/correctional treatment specialist) were always in the top three every year, with police officer staying at #1 throughout.
We emphasize this data because it helps understand where most people end up working after they graduate. PayScale's data is not inclusive of every career, and according to our research, there are many more than you may have realized.
Limitations of PayScale's study
These careers were the most common, but only represent a small fraction of the types of jobs out there for criminal justice graduates. PayScale mentioned that for its surveys, it is not unlikely that the most common careers represent less than one percent (1%) of the total respondents for the respective major.
Other career examples provided by professors
In our department questionnaire we asked professors to recommend unique career paths other than the obvious police officer track.
- Game warden, child support services – Professor Joe Morris (Northwestern State University)
- Victim advocacy, fire marshal – Professor Gaylene Armstrong (Sam Houston State University)
- Transportation security, computer forensics – Professor Jordan (Colorado Christian University)
- Corrections, insurance investigation, white collar crime investigation for banks – Professor Galardi (Peru State College)
Four lesser known careers for criminal justice graduates
We wanted to create a list of careers relevant to recent graduates that did not require significant expertise outside of a bachelor's degree. This meant glamorous jobs like FBI agents were left out, as were rarer careers like criminal profiling. On the other side of the spectrum were jobs requiring far less than bachelor's degree to apply, like bailiff work. Those jobs where a graduate would be overqualified were excluded from the results.
Then we supplemented our research with two more sources: (1) Rasmussen College collaborated with Burning-Glass.com to discover nearly 300,000 job postings between 2012-2013 mentioning a criminal justice degree as a qualification or requirement. (2) A series of job recommendations from the Criminal Justice Department at Kennesaw University.
- Entry: “Associate Investigator” / “Surveillance Investigator”
- Example of an old job posting: Surveillance Investigator
- 1-5 years: “Litigation Investigator” / “Background Investigator” / “Fraud Investigator”
- Example of an old job posting: Fraud Investigator Specialist
- Entry: “Intelligence Associate”
- Example of an old job posting: Criminal Intelligence Analyst
- Entry: “Research Coordinator”
- Example of an old job posting: Research Assistant
- 1-5 years: “Research Manager”
- Example of an old job posting: Senior Study Manager
- Entry: “Community Coordinator” / “Case Manager”
- Example of an old job posting: Targeted Case Manager
- 1-5 years: “Juvenile Court Case Manager”
- Example of an old job posting: Juvenile Court Case Manager
Clarifications for those interested in law enforcement
Police Officer: 99% of police departments do not require a bachelor's degree to apply, but it will help make you more competitive and potentially can set you up for a later promotion. This same study reports 48% of police officers surveyed had a bachelor's, and the majority of them enrolled in a bachelor's received at least one promotion.
Federal agent: This is a very difficult career to obtain. ASU invited alumni who became federal agents to discuss the challenges of becoming one. They explained that it's a very competitive career niche and that agencies look for extremely nuanced and specific skills; simply possessing a criminal justice degree will guarantee you nothing.
Forensics / CSI: Beware: these are glorified careers because of the CSI effect. Forensic analyst/CSI positions require experience and specialization (biology/chemist backgrounds) and are not for entry-level candidates. Without some formal scientific background or experience, expect only an assistant job in the beginning.
Clarifications for those pursuing a legal career
Paralegal: In this article, the past president of the International Paralegal Management Association and editor-in-chief of KNOW magazine answered questions about paralegal education requirements. They explain one can become a paralegal with just a criminal justice degree (or any bachelor's degree, really). Also, a certification or associate degree in paralegal studies is not necessary either.
Law school: This is just a correlation, but statistics reveal criminal justice majors have lower law school admission percentages and lower LSAT scores than other majors. Here's data from multiple years: 2013 (LSAT), 2008 (LSAT), 2001 (admission statistics), 1998 (admission statistics).