What Can I Do With A Degree In Criminal Justice?

"I’ve always been fascinated by cop shows and stuff in that ilk, so I have been thinking about majoring in criminal justice. I’m not altogether sure how it all works, though. What can I do with that degree when I’ve earned it? Can I become a cop? What other jobs are there in the criminal justice field? Thanks!"

asked by Matt from New York, NY

Criminal justice is the practical application of criminology. Criminology is the theoretical study of crime, and is a branch of sociology. Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably, including in discussions about education and careers. A good first step for you would probably be to look into the differences between them and decide whether you are more interested in criminal justice or criminology (there is obviously a huge overlap between them). I’m guessing you want to pursue criminal justice though since you’re interested in becoming a cop.

A criminal justice degree, unlike a criminology degree, will put you in a position to actually enforce law in practice, rather than just pass on your knowledge. That’s another thing you can do with criminal justice. Some students will go on to get a master’s degree and then teach in a higher education position. As a professor, you can sometimes earn a pretty good salary, though you will not be out there in the field enforcing the law. Criminology is a suitable study course for a future professor as well.

Generally, if you graduate with a criminal justice degree, you will be working in the public sector. You may be in the field enforcing law, or you might be working in the corrections system or the courts system. Some field jobs that are available to criminal justice graduates include police officer, detective, investigator, and police dispatcher. Others which may interest you may include forensic examiner, ballistics expert, or bloodstain analyst. You may want to actually pursue a scientific degree if you are interested in entering one of these specialty roles. Talk to your advisor to learn more.

Jobs in the courts system you might be able to take after earning a criminal justice degree include bailiff, prosecutor, clerk, jury consultant, advocate, paralegal, defense attorney, or legal secretary.

You may need to pursue a higher degree to get into some of these roles, while others require law school. You can also look into corrections careers like correctional or probation officer or forensic psychologist.

So as you can see, there are many options available to you, but some require higher degrees, and others may even require other majors. That is why it is important to sit down with an advisor in the criminal justice program and ask about the specific job role you are interested in. You also might consider asking yourself whether you even need a degree.

Some jobs in criminal justice are open to high school graduates at the entry level, and then you can work your way up the ladder. Police officer is a great example!

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