Career Paths for Your Criminal Justice Degree

UMass Lowell Criminal Justice Degree Student, Soleidi Aragones

What Jobs Can I Get with a Criminal Justice Degree?

The criminal justice field offers many career options in corrections, law and policing. Some criminal justice careers do not require a degree, but advancing your education can lead to jobs with higher pay. A Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice equips you for a broader range of advanced roles in the criminal justice system than a bachelor’s degree. However, with a Bachelor’s in Criminal Justice, you will develop skills that help you get jobs in many different criminal justice-related fields, including:

  1. Law Enforcement

  • Police officers enforce laws, patrol communities and respond to emergencies. This is a classic choice but typically requires a minimum of an associate degree for entry-level positions.
  • Detectives investigate crimes, gather evidence and solve cases. Detectives usually require experience as police officers and may need a bachelor’s degree for promotions.
  • Federal agents specialize in areas like cybercrime, narcotics, and national security, with agencies like the DEA or FBI. These roles are often competitive and require a bachelor’s degree.

2. Corrections

  • Correctional officers oversee inmates in jails or prisons, ensuring safety and security.
  • Probation officers monitor offenders released from prison or jail, helping them reintegrate into society. Probation or parole officers usually require a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or social work.
  • Crime scene investigators (CSI) collect and analyze evidence at crime scenes to support investigations. CSIs typically need a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field, like forensic science.
  • Private investigators (PI) investigate civil or criminal matters for individuals or businesses. PIs may need a license, which can vary by state, and often have experience in law enforcement.
  • Loss prevention officers protect businesses from theft and fraud.

4. Beyond Traditional Paths

  • Security consultants provide security assessments and solutions for businesses and organizations. Security consultants often have experience in law enforcement or the military and may hold certifications.
  • Social workers with a criminal justice focus help individuals and families involved in the criminal justice system, providing support and resources. Social workers typically need a master’s degree in social work, but a criminal justice background can be valuable.
  • Criminal justice instructors teach criminal justice courses at colleges or universities. Instructors typically require a master’s degree or Ph.D. in criminal justice.

Criminal Justice vs. Criminology

Unlike criminal justice, which focuses on laws and agencies such as the police, lawyers, courts and prisons, criminology studies crime and criminals. Criminology dives into the why behind the crime. You’ll explore sociological and psychological theories of criminal behavior, examining factors that contribute to crime and delinquency. A degree in criminal justice will prepare you to work on the front lines, whereas a degree in criminology concerns profiling and researching illegal activity. There is some overlap between the two fields. Criminal justice professionals’ benefit from understanding the root causes of crime, and criminological research informs criminal justice policies and practices.

In short, criminal justice asks “how” to deal with crime. Criminology asks “why” crime happens.

Is a Criminal Justice Degree Worth It?

A criminal justice degree is worth the investment in several ways, both professionally and personally. It will provide you with career opportunities and advancement, opening doors to a wide range of jobs in law enforcement, investigations, corrections and the legal system. This diversity allows you to find a role that aligns with your interests and skills. It will also position you for promotions and leadership roles.

You’ll gain transferrable job skills, including problem solving, research and communication skills, in addition to foundational knowledge of the legal system. The courses in a criminal justice curriculum will cover court systems, types of crimes and punishments and the rights of citizens and offenders. You’ll also delve into law enforcement, exploring topics like traffic enforcement, community policing and the use of force; as well as corrections, which focuses on focuses on the prison and jail systems, including incarceration, rehabilitation programs, and parole and probation processes.

If you’re passionate about justice and making a positive impact, a criminal justice career can be highly fulfilling personally. The criminal justice system is essential to a society where people feel safe and are treated fairly.  Your vast knowledge of the criminal justice system will help protect citizens and manage offenders in an impactful way. A criminal justice degree unlocks a diverse range of careers, from the action-packed world of law enforcement to the analytical realm of crime scene investigation.

Learn more about the on-campus and online Criminal Justice degree programs at UMass Lowell