What Jobs Can You Get With a Criminal Justice Degree?

Radek, I’m wondering what jobs can I get with a criminal justice degree? Specifically, Associate’s or Bachelor’s criminal justice degree jobs.

What Can You Do with a Criminal Justice Degree?

There are quite a few jobs available for those with a criminal justice degree. Careers in criminal justice, ranging from local Police Officers to Sheriff’s Deputies to State Police Officers to FBI Special Agents and DEA Special Agents can be obtained with the help of a criminal justice degree.

There are also great opportunities in the correction system, like jails and prisons.

For the sake of this article, “criminal justice field” encompasses sub-fields, like: law enforcement, courts, and corrections. Also, check out this resource with a slew of Criminal Justice Careers.

If you think that criminal justice is the only degree that will get you hired, you might be surprised to find it’s not. Many people are not aware that law enforcement agencies – small, medium, and large – look for a diverse workforce. Can you imagine working somewhere where everyone has only one type of a degree? How innovative and diverse would that be? Right?

Some popular majors sought after in the law enforcement community are: Criminal Justice, Business, Finance, Law (law school graduates), Accounting, Sociology, Forensic Science, Information Technology and Engineering… and that’s just scratching the surface.

A degree in criminal justice will less likely secure a position outside of law enforcement and corrections (sub-fields of the criminal justice field). When compared with law enforcement jobs, one would have to pursue graduate studies in Criminal Justice / Criminology in order to pursue these rarer opportunities:

  • Research Assistant
  • Teacher
  • College Instructor (minimum of a Master’s degree)
  • Professor (PhD preferred)

If you’re looking for Forensic, CSI, and medical careers in the criminal justice system you should check out the Criminal Justice Careers page, but be forewarned that a CJ degree will not be the path to salvation when looking for work in these sub-fields.

I hope you’ve noticed that I mentioned the compatibility of a criminal justice degree with law enforcement so much throughout this blog post, as opposed to the whole criminal justice field. The reason is that a graduate with a criminal justice degree will only have a limited potential of obtaining work after graduation; that’s usually in Law Enforcement and Corrections, with limited opportunities across academia and other criminal justice career paths. Unless you have graduate coursework under your belt, the marketability of this degree outside of the criminal justice field is nearly nonexistent.

Bonus: A Criminal Justice Degree May Not Be Needed At All! — I know that got your attention… And, don’t forget to share your thoughts below.

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

33 comments… add one
  • tae

    i was having doubts with really what can you do with a criminal justice degree.. no more doubts.. thx

  • Roger

    Well, now you have me pausing and thinking. I’m basically wondering if it is risky to go ahead and plan on getting a master in criminal justice (now that you’ve said opportunities are very slim outside of the field). What if I have trouble somehow finding a job at a law enforcement agency, knowing that there is very little chance in another industry? It would be interesting to hear your piece of advise. I already hold a Bachelor degree in mass communication with a minor in journalism. So maybe, it wouldn’t be that bad to go for a master in CJ.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      My stance still stands. I think it’s a great degree for those interested to work in the field. It’s not as versatile as a Business degree, for example. Thus, allowing fewer opportunities for hire outside of the field.
      You seem to have a strong foundation (Bachelor’s), so pursuing a Master’s degree in criminal justice can be a viable option and would make you a stronger candidate. Regardless, it’s still worth considering all the pros and cons before you delve in.

  • barbra

    Hey I have a bachelor’s in Agriculture and am almost done with my criminal justice degree. I was wondering if you have any job suggestions for me since I am out of my depth.

    • Billbo

      Having a degree in agriculture and criminal justice degree could get you a great job for the state or federal government working in the wildlife department

  • Jason

    Good article. That definitely makes sense that the diversity of the workforce would suffer if everyone had the same degree, but I hadn’t thought of it quite like that before. I’ve recently been researching careers in criminology and it can sometimes get complicated with all the different degree programs out there! Thanks for putting together so much helpful info here on your blog.

  • Alexis Brennan

    I was wondering about a career in corrections. Would a degree in criminal justice help me achieve that goal? Also, what are your suggestions on becoming a corrections officer? Is it a good choice, is that career likely to lay off in the present/future, etc.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Corrections is a great track for those who possess a criminal justice degree. I am working on a killer article on correctional officers, debuting under the “careers” section soon. It will help with your questions and more.

      • brandon

        I am in process getting my AS in Criminal Justice, in state of Florida you need to have at least a Bachelors in Criminal Justice just to become a corrections officer.

        • Shawn bissonette

          Thats not true at all, i was a c/o and all i had was a high school diploma

      • Billbo

        I worked as a corrections officer and to be honest it was a very dangerous work environment. I would not recommend any female to pursue a job in corrections.

        • Annette

          Women play an important role in corrections. We have a different outlook and use our minds to influence inmates. While physically there are differences, I have seen some outstanding females excel and do well in corrections. As a corrections officer, I was able to get certain inmates to perform what I needed them to do without being menacing or physical, which is honestly not necessary to get inmates to do what is needed. It is about how you treat them and how you interact and not necessarily about being physical. It is a dangerous place to work however any female with tough skin and excellent communication should be encouraged to work in corrections. It is not a male field anymore and women do have qualities that do make effective differences in corrections. Corrections is not for everyone but women are needed in corrections, as officers.

          • Tambry

            You’re right. My mom was a C/O for, I think, 23 years before they forced her to medically retire. She loved her job and was good at it. And the inmates knew her and respected her. They knew that she was fair and friendly and fun, but you step over the line and she scared the daylights out of them. All she had to do was raise her voice to a shout and they knocked their shit off fast as could be. But they still loved having her. She has told me about times that she’s meet an inmate at a store after they’ve been released and they would walk up and say hi. She had one that helped her pick out the best baseball bat for my brother when he was younger.
            So to say a woman shouldn’t be a C/O is wrong. Yes it can be dangerous, but more often than not a female officer would work better for most inmates in the long run.

  • Steve Hamilton

    This is a very helpful article and very timely, too, for someone in my family. He’s been asking us for some guidance as to what to do with his life in the near future. Thanks for the info.

  • Kari Lehr

    Dear Radek:

    I am in serious need of advice! I just completed my bachelors in science major in CJ and am getting ready to start the university of Cincinnati’s master in CJ program. I really want to earn my masters for the additional knowledge I will gain into the cj field. I also want the extra competitive edge. My dilemma comes in because with a masters I can teach college, but yet I would have no outside experience itself in the field. I live in a small town with a medium sized town 30 miles away, but I can never find any opportunities that could further my job skills. I really want to be a probation officer but this town and half of my state is not even hiring! Should I go for my masters hoping that a po job will open? Or should I hang tight with just a bachelors? I wouldn’t mind moving, but my current house situation keeps me here (I am on HUD housing).

    • Radek Gadek

      I don’t want to give you wrong advice here, but the only one I can sort of push in front of you is to check in nearby towns, cities and counties… with the idea that you might have to move to obtain employment. I wish you all the best.

  • Amy

    That is just awesome..I am from rual pa and I graduated in 2008 with a bachelors in criminal justice, a minor in sociology while also having a associates degree in social science. I cannot find a job to save my life and I am up most nights, all night, posting my resume away..I cannot believe I wasted all that time and money for nothing…I cannot speak of the level of frustration..

    • Radek Gadek

      Amy, I get your drift. You might have to branch out to higher populated areas or start looking into County and State opportunities. As of July 2012, the economy is still down, and many departments won’t hire this year.




  • Kyesha

    Dear Radek,

    Im a senior in high school and im really interested in criminal justice, my goal is to work in the homicide department, so i was wondering, what should i major in to get me into this career???

  • Claudia R.

    Dear Radek,

    I am currently enrolled in my first year of college & I am a criminal justice major. I want to start off as a police officer and later on become a detective. I’m pursuing a Bachelors of Science degree but I’m starting to doubt if that’s really what I’m supposed to be doing. Any advice?

    Thanks, hope to hear from you soon!

    • Radek Gadek

      If you have doubts, seriously think of what you would love to do. Reevaluate your options before it gets costly ($$$ + time).

  • Lexi

    Hi, guys!
    I’m currently a senior in high school, and am looking at being a social worker. The college I’m going to, doesn’t offer just a degree in SW. So, they said I should get major in Psychology, and minor in Criminal Justice. Is this a good idea, and will I be able to get a job in SW with this, or what?

    • Radek Gadek

      Sounds like pretty solid advice.

  • Julie

    Dear Radek,

    I got my Associates in Criminal Justice in 2010 but couldn’t work because shortly after delivered my 3rd child. She is now 2 and I’ve been looking for jobs in which to use my degree. However, everyone wants a bachelor’s degree and experience. I have neither and can’t get my foot in the door. Now this article is explaining that it is pretty much useless. My husband keeps pushing me to work but I can’t seem to find anything. I am more interested in the Forensic field. Can you guide me to the right path or should I just give up?

    Tired, Sad and Frustrated

    • Radek Gadek

      It’s far from worthless, but it is related to the criminal justice system. Any employment obtained with this degree outside of it is a rare catch. In those rare situations, other skills and experiences are probably considered over a degree.

      There are degrees that can span multiple industries, like Business and Accounting and there are those that work well within a certain “ecosystem.” Criminal Justice is a degree that works within such an ecosystem.

  • HM

    Keep in mind also that a CJ degree doesn’t always only concentrate on policing. Many people confuse this degree with Police Science topics and classes and don’t realize the scope of classes that some colleges provide. Some CJ degrees concentrate on criminology, forensic investigations, quite a lot of law – many people who are looking for a career in law, start with a CJ degree, there is usually also a lot of business and management classes (including business law), public admin, and quite a few psychology classes.

    Therefore, and while I agree the best chance for a job is in the CJ industry, a CJ degree can also be used in the fields of Compliance, investigations, management, paralegal or legal assistant, courts, police records, victims assistant jobs, and evidence labs.

    You will not get a job in the FBI generally unless you have had a few years working as a patrol officer first. If you wish to work in the FBI, your best bet is to try to get one of their internships. You should start looking into this/applying in your junior year as they take seniors.


    • Radek Gadek

      I agree. Thank you for your insight.

  • Skeng

    I think your assessments are a bit limited and to an extent furthers the misconception of the field. Criminal Justice, particularly as you move into graduate studies is largely comprised of social-psychology classes, statistics, research methods, and policy analysis within the triune system of justice. Hence, we are in essence researchers and program analyst who evaluate a variety topics relating to the justice system e.g. Public Health – Drug Abuse and Recidivism, PTSD – Justice Involved Veterans, Policy – Three Strikes law and Prison overcrowding, Do laws against Domestic Abuse Work? how? etc. Thus if one wants to pursue a lucrative career it would be in fields such as Program Analysis in DOJ or GAO or other fields requiring statistical analysis, written articulation and subject matter expertise in Criminal Justice programs or programs that intersect with justice and homeland security issues, which as I just showed is very broad.

  • Al

    Wow! After reading these comments I seriously have doubts as to whether or not the pursuit of a (CJ) A.A.S. Degree is worth the time. I am in my second and final year and this article has truly left me filled with hopelessness in regards to a gainful career. Thanks!

  • norah pelon

    I have a BS in criminal justice with a chemical dependency certificate. I have not found a job in the field of crime scene tech or forensics because in reality crime labs want strong biology or chemistry four year majors. You don’t have to even have a degree to work at the local police department or sheriff’s department. I just want to warn some people who get wrapped up in the fantasy of what these true crime and forensic shows.portray. Its highly specialized, competitive, corrupt and judgmental. I wish I realized this before all the time, work and money on loans.

  • jordan

    Wow I enrolled today now I want to un-enroll an think this out better criminal justice is veal degree I see…

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