Criminal Justice

Criminal justice studies can lead to a variety of careers, such as a position as a police detective or paralegal. Read on to learn more about criminal justice careers, including what kind of training you'll need, as well as how much you can earn, in the field.

Is Criminal Justice for Me?

Career Overview

Criminal justice professionals are responsible for enforcing laws and may be employed as criminologists, paralegals, police officers and private detectives. Although requirements can vary according to the position, a college degree in criminal justice is usually required to enter the field. For example, a bachelor's degree in criminal justice is the minimum requirement for working in some corrections and law enforcement positions. A master's degree in criminal justice can help you prepare for a career in professional research or supervisory positions; you'll need a Juris Doctor (J.D.) and a state license to practice as an attorney.

Other Requirements and Skills

In addition to educational requirements, police officers or detectives are typically required to pass a physical examination and background check. Strong communication and critical thinking skills are key to a career in criminal justice, along with analytical abilities and a desire to serve the community.

Employment and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job prospects for police and detectives were expected to grow by just 5% nationwide, or slower than average, between 2012 and 2022. While minimal to no change in employment was projected for correctional treatment and probation officers, an average growth in jobs (10%) was expected for lawyers during the same period. By comparison, prospects for legal assistants were projected to increase by a faster-than-average rate of 17% from 2012-2022.

As reported by the BLS in May 2013, the mean annual salary of detectives and criminal investigators was $79,030, while police and sheriff's patrol officers earned an average of $58,720 a year. The average yearly salary of a legal assistant or paralegal was $51,170, while lawyers enjoyed a mean annual income of $131,990. As of May 2013, corrections and probation officers earned an average annual wage of $52,910 (

How Can I Work in Criminal Justice?

Undergraduate Programs

Although not always required, college courses or associate's degree programs in criminal justice may help you prepare you for an entry-level job as a police officer; completion of a 2-year degree program in a relevant area can also qualify you for a position as a legal assistant or paralegal. To work as a corrections or probation officer, you'll most likely need a bachelor's degree in criminal justice administration or another related field of study. In addition to the required coursework, many programs require an internship with local organizations or law enforcement agencies, which can provide you with the chance to acquire some hands-on experiences in the field.

Areas of Specialization

Criminal justice programs can allow for specializations in deviant behavior, criminal law, investigative techniques and police administration. You might also pursue a number of more clearly defined topics, such as adjudication, criminology, juvenile delinquency and violent crime; studies in cultural anthropology and political science might also be part of the program.

Graduate Programs

A master's degree program in criminal justice may be required for some positions in corrections and probations. They can also provide you with the chance to conduct original research, which might be useful if you're considering a career as a criminologist or crime analyst. Culminating requirements for a master's degree program include a directed study or thesis. A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Criminal Justice may allow for a concentration in law and society, public policy or public service leadership, as well as lead to a career in research or academia.

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