Careers You Can Do with a Criminal Justice Degree (And What They Earn!)


So, you’ve graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice… What now? Well, I’m about to delve into that very topic, so jump on in, the water’s great, as long as you do solemnly swear to uphold the law and tell the truth.

Careers you can do with a criminal justice degree include:

  • Police Officer- $62,960
  • Fish and Game Warden- $58,570
  • Crime Scene Investigator (CSI)- $94,880
  • Parole Officer- $51,410

We are not going into careers that need extra degrees. For example, a forensic science technician or a blood spatter analyst will need a degree in a science like Biology or Chemistry. The jobs I’m going to talk about only need the Criminal Justice degree.

Police Officer- $62,960

First thing’s first, a police officer seems like the most obvious choice of career if you have a degree from the department of Criminal Justice. Of course, you can also enlist in the police force and go to their police academy without going to college first, but I always say, the more education you have, the better off you will be. So it’s not a bad idea at all to enlist in the police force after graduating college.

While many police departments around the country only require a high school diploma or a GED (General Education Development certificate earned if you did not receive a high school diploma) for acceptance to a police academy.

However, there are many departments that do require at least an associate’s or a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, or at least some college course work.

Although the criminal justice degree is not always required (or any college required), having the degree will help you in your goals to become a police officer. It looks good on paper, and if you can remember and apply what you learned, you will perform a step above the other cadets.

In order to become a police officer, there are a certain number of criteria you need to meet. Although each different police department has the right to create and require their own list of criteria, the ones below are the most common ones.

These are what you should expect to complete if you intend on becoming a police officer.

  • Accumulate the education and/or experience needed to become a police officer.
  • Apply for an open police officer position.
  • Be interviewed for the position.
  • Complete a physical examination.
  • Take and pass a drug test.
  • Take and pass a polygraph exam.
  • Undergo a background investigation.
  • Be conditionally hired.
  • Complete several weeks of required police academy training.
  • Be hired as a full-time peace officer.
  • Continue being trained on the job once hired.

Information in the above list provided courtesy of criminaljusticedegreeschools.com.

Once you get hired, you will continue to be trained by your senior officers and continued physical examination tests.

The physical fitness examination is usually the toughest part of becoming a police officer. The regimen is typically as follows:

  • Complete a mile and a half run in 15:54 or less (for men, if you want to be competitive, you should aim for finishing in around 9:44, and women should aim for around 12:30).
  • You need to be able to complete 25 continuous push-ups using proper form. Proper form means the arms are close to the body, the core is engaged, and the chest briefly touches the floor at the bottom of each rep.
  • Get as many sit-ups as possible in a minute. The requirement for sit-ups varies from police department to police department, but just train to get as many as possible. If you are healthy and strong, you will pass this segment.
  • Verticle Jump- the height requirements for the verticle jump also vary from police department to police department. For example, the Houston Police Department requires a vertile jump of 16.5 inches above your height.
  • Be able to pull the trigger of a firearm with both your left and your right hand.

You need to be able to complete each and every one of these requirements, and there are no exceptions. If you can do 100 push-ups in a minute (which, if you can, you’re a total beast), but can’t jump high enough, then you’re out. There are no “three strikes” in this game.

You also need to have adequate eyesight and hearing. Multilingual applicants are given higher preference. And, perhaps one of the most important requirements., you need to have people skills.

You’ll be working with the local community and you need to be able to establish rapport with your patrol. People need to trust you.

There is actually a new movement in the police force called “community policing. It’s a system where police officers are assigned to specific areas and get to know the community in their patrols well.

The ties and bonds that are formed help foster trust and support both the police department and the community.

Once you are a police officer, you will need to complete a certain amount of time (specified by your department, although the common amount of time is one year) as a “rookie.”

During this time, you will gather real life experience, undergo additional training, shadow a senior officer, and become more familiar with the job.

After you have completed your “rookie” time, you can begin to work towards more specialized jobs as a police officer. These include SWAT team, detective, and mounted officer.

Becoming a police officer is admirable, and fantastic use of a criminal justice degree. There are few things more honorable than serving your country and your community.

However, there are some cons attached to becoming a police officer. Police officers go through a lot of stress day to day. Relationships can suffer if not properly taken care of, and you migh feel like you are floundering in the work you have to do every day.

Police officers also have the highest rate of illness and injury relating to their career. It’s dangerous work, but it can be very rewarding.

The job market for police officers is predicted to rise 7% up through the year 2026. They make an average annual salary of $62,960.

Fish and Game Warden- $58,570

For those who like to be outside and catch people breaking the law, then the career of a fish and game warden if for them. Most fish and game wardens find ample employment in states with a lot of national parks, national forests, multiple (or large) natural areas, mountains, rivers, or busy parks.

Places like Colorado, Idaho, Texas, New York, Georgia, California, and North Carolina are the best. If for some reason you want to be a fish and game warden in a metropolitan area, look in places like Virginia Beach, Virginia; Atlanta, Georgia; and Baltimore, Maryland.

Fish and game wardens actually have a much more interesting job then their title can lead you to believe. They are in charge of making sure everybody follows the rules when it comes to hunting, fishing, and recreation.

This means watching out for poaching, trapping, and falconry. They also have to keep a close on the wildlife and keep track of any changes (like pollution) that might affect the natural population.

Besides those (slightly obvious) jobs and tasks, fish and game wardens collect evidence, investigate crimes related to their area, write reports, interview witnesses and suspects, make arrests, testify in court, and help local law enforcement in certain situations (like if a mountain lion wanders down into the city from the surrounding forest).

You need to be at least 18 (or 21, it varies in different states) to apply for a fish and game warden position. There is also a bachelor’s degree required in criminal justice. Alternatively, you could only earn an associate’s degree and pair it with actual law enforcement or wildlife experience.

In that case, the requirement for the bachelor’s degree would be waived. However, because it is a fairly competitive job, the four-year degree could help you get hired.

The requirements for applying for the position and getting hired as a fish and game warden vary from state to state (that tends to happen a lot, they just can’t keep straight with each other).

For the most part though, you’ll find that the job requirements and steps are as follows:

  • Acquire the education and/or experience necessary for the position in which you are interested.
  • Find and apply for an open fish and game warden position.
  • Submit to a background check and fingerprinting.
  • Pass a polygraph examination.
  • Be drug-tested.
  • Be interviewed for the position.
  • Get hired as a fish and game warden.
  • Receive training on the job once hired.

Information in the above list provided courtesy of criminaljusticedegreeschools.com

Once you do get hired as a fish and game warden, you will undergo more training at an academy for three to twelve months. The amount of time you continue study is dependent on the exact job you were hired for and the amount of previous experience you already have.

The training will take place at an academy set aside specifically for fish and game wardens. If you are going to work for the government as a fish and game warden, then you will have to complete a course that spans twenty weeks.

This course takes place at the Federal Law Enforcement Agency in Glynco, Georgia. However, the last two weeks will be spent studying and training in West Virginia.

As you train in the academy, you will learn about both wildlife law enforcement and criminal investigations. There are courses teaching how to identify different species of wildlife from sight and tracks as well as courses instructing how to handle, maintain, care for, and use a firearm.

After you complete your training, you will spend ten weeks shadowing and assisting a field training officer (FTO). This will allow you to gain real-world experience and become more familiar with the position in a relatively safe environment before you’re on your own.

If you want to be a game warden, then you need to be in excellent physical shape. There is no specified, listed, posted physical examination test, but you will need to be able to hike around.

You will also need good eyesight and good hearing. Most importantly (and perhaps most obvious), you need to familiarize yourself with the outdoors. It’s your office now, and you need to know how to get around it.

People skills are also advantageous when working as a fish and game warden. You will need to know the Fish and Wildlife Code back to front to back again. You should be singing the paragraphs on beetle infestations in your sleep.

Studying law enforcement policy and procedures would be extremely helpful, and having previous experience (either volunteer or paid) in the field of fish and wildlife will always help.

Unfortunately, the expected job growth for fish and game wardens is only 2% from 2014 to 2024. Everybody wants a job where they can be outside all day. The average salary could be anywhere from the high $54,000 area to the mid $58,000 area.

Crime Scene Investigator (CSI)- $94,880

Crime scene investigator is perhaps the most thought of position when you think of careers related to a degree in the criminal justice department. If you’re going to study criminal justice, you probably want to do the job you’ve seen your favorite British actors do on television, right?

The recommended degree for someone wanting to pursue a career as a crime scene investigator is a bachelor’s degree in the criminal justice department or a bachelor’s degree in a field of science, like Biology or Chemistry.

While you do not have to get a bachelor’s degree in any kind of science to apply for a job as a crime scene investigator, it might help you get ahead of the applying pack if you have that degree on your resume.

Crime scene investigators don’t actively investigate crime like detectives do. They are the ones in the funny jumpsuits and a perpetual squat hovering around the crime scene like hawks, picking up every little detail.

Photographing the scene, recreating it, drawing it, recording detailed information, gathering physical evidence, deciding which pieces of evidence are important enough to even be collected, and securing evidence for transportation to and examination within the crime lab are a few of the tasks crime scene investigators have on their plates.

Because crime scene investigators don’t actually do much of the examination of evidence within the crime labs, they don’t actually need that degree in a science like Biology or Chemistry that we were talking about before.

However, a lot of time, you need a basic knowledge of these sciences in order to make sure that you don’t damage any evidence, either by removing it from the scene or by placing it in the wrong container for transportation.

You can work as a crime scene investigator for the federal government or for local or state governments. As such, the requirement for each individual job in the corresponding government will change slightly. However, you can expect the steps to go pretty much like this:

  • Attend a degree program or gain experience in a related field. (Although for certain positions, prior experience or degree is not necessary. Check the application for the desired job to make sure.)
  • Apply for an open crime scene investigator job.
  • Undergo a background investigation and be fingerprinted.
  • Be interviewed.
  • Get hired as a crime scene investigator.
  • Receive on-the-job training once hired.

Information on the above list provided courtesy of criminaljusticedegreeschools.com

When you do get hired as a crime scene investigator, you will shadow a senior crime scene investigator to make sure you get acclimated and do the job properly. They will show you the ropes and teach you how to photograph the scene, process the death scene, process fingerprints, and analyze blood spatter.

There are always advances in science every year, including advances in forensic science. Make sure that once you are hired, you don’t slack off on your education. Stay up to date on the latest machines, processes, and discoveries.

You have to be able to communicate well, and you should know your way around a computer like it’s your messy room at night and you know exactly where to avoid the chair full of dirty laundry because all of your clean clothes are still in your laundry basket.

You need to be able to professionally handle seeing grisly crime scenes, like homicide and sexual assault. You need to be able to squat, stand, lift, and stretch without an issue. Usually, you’ll start out working for law enforcement as a police officer or detective before applying to the position of a crime scene investigator.

This will give you experience in the law enforcement field that would be beneficial in both applying for and working as a crime scene investigator.

You might end up carrying a firearm as a crime scene investigator, so you will need to know how to handle, maintain, and use a gun.

The outlook for a career as a crime scene investigator looks good! There is a predicted growth of 17% between 2016 and 2026. If you are going to work for the federal government, then you can expect your average salary to be around $94,800. If you work for state or local governments, then you can expect to make more around the $55,000 area.

Parole Officer- $51,410

Parole officers meet with, keep track of, and help ex convicts who have just been released from jail. The recently released parolees have been released from prison on parole, meaning they have to follow a set of rules. If they break their parole, then they have to go back to jail.

Besides making sure that the parolees do not break parole, parole officers have the important job of helping their clients reintegrate into society. Probation officers give them access to jobs, housing, and education. With the extra help, parolees can give up a life of crime and begin contributing to their communities and to their economy again.

If you choose to become a parole officer, then you will need to help your parolee to get into the right programs, like substance abuse or anger management meetings.

You will likely need to find them a “halfway house” as well, which is housing for ex-convicts to stay in until they get back on their feet.

In addition, you’ll need to attend parole hearings, schedule regular interviews, and report on the progress of your client. The courts want to know that the ex-convict is doing well and is okay back out into the world.

Be advised: as a parole officer, you will have multiple cases at once on your plate. You will be expected to keep track of every single one, and often times a parole officer will have as many as 100 cases.

Some cases aren’t very labor intensive, and you won’t have to spend a whole lot of time on certain clients. These clients are like parolees who have been released from small charges like shoplifting, drunk driving, or vandalism.

However, if you want to succeed and move up as a parole officer, you will need to spend time with each one of your clients and become someone they know and trust.

You may end up in dangerous situations, as you will be dealing with men and women who likely live in disadvantaged housing in places with a high rate of crimes. Your parolee might also become violent or aggressive if you have caught them breaking parole.

The steps to becoming a parole officer are actually pretty universal, although you will of course find slight differences from state to state. Regardless, you can expect to have to follow these steps:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field.
  2. If possible, complete an internship in corrections to gain experience and exposure to the conditions of the job.
  3. Apply for a parole officer job with a hiring agency.
  4. Complete at least one in-person interview.
  5. Submit to a background investigation.
  6. Take and pass a psychological exam.
  7. Take and pass a drug test.
  8. Be hired as a parole officer.
  9. Complete any certifications, including firearm certifications, required by the employer.
  10. Undergo on-the-job field training with a senior parole officer once hired.

Information on the above list provided courtesy of criminaljusticedegreeschools.com

After you are hired, you will need to shadow a senior officer in order to learn how to interact with parolees, how to keep detailed notes, how to administer tests, and how to schedule appointments.

In addition, you will need to have good “people skills,” including knowing how to communicate, listen, and empathize well. However, you also need to be firm and let your parolee know that you will not allow them to break parole. You will also need time management skills and organization skills.

Bilingual applicants, especially those who speak Spanish, are more likely to get hired, as they can communicate with a larger group of parolees.

There is an expected job growth rate of 6% for the career of a parole officer up through the year 2026. You’ll earn an average annual salary of around $51,410. This job allows you to make positive impacts in the life of others, and I think if you choose to become a parole officer, you won’t regret it.

Related Questions:

What is the best university to get a criminal justice degree from? The University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland is ranked number one in the country for graduates from the Criminal Justice Department.

Is a Criminal Justice Degree worth it? Attending college, even if it is only for a two year Associate’s degree in Criminal Justice, does have costs, and it is important to weigh the costs of the degree with the benefits the degree will give you. There are studies that show that police academies are hiring more people with degrees, and there is evidence that people will degrees earn a bigger salary, so a degree is definitely worth it.

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