police cruiser under cover of night

What Can I Do with a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

Search For Schools

Now more than ever, the primetime dramas we watch on television mirror the stories we read about and watch on the evening news. Troublesome times, we think, and we wonder when things will get better, when a critical sense of order will be restored. Those working in criminal justice know first-hand that change is best achieved through involvement and action.

Those seeking a more active role in this cause might look to an array of potential criminal justice careers, from law enforcement to corrections and beyond. Highly varied, this field offers options for people with very different skillsets to make a difference, and help enact change.

Why Choose a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice?

A comprehensive, reliable, and highly versatile degree such as a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice offers distinct advantages to those who earn it. Here are three primary reasons to consider the degree.


1) Access

  • More and more, entry-level positions demand college degrees. Once, a high school diploma often led directly to a career for those who chose to bypass college but that is rarely the case anymore. A recent Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce study confirms this: “Of the 11.6 million jobs created so far during the recovery, nearly 75 percent have gone to people with a bachelor’s degree or higher.”
  • A bachelor’s degree may also be more recession-proof. The same study showed that bachelor’s degree holders lost 66,000 jobs during the Great Recession, while people with some college or associate degrees lost 1.8 million jobs, and people with a high school education or less lost 5.6 million jobs.


2) Opportunity for Advancement

  • While on-the-job experience is often indispensable, police officers hoping to transition and advance to more decorated leadership positions are often required to possess a bachelor’s degree for consideration.
  • Those possessing a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice often earn coveted roles with more autonomy. A 2016 article published by Norwich University outlines the path from officer to detective: “After spending a few years as a patrol officer, the next stage might be to become a detective.” The article goes on to note that the ompetitiveness of the detective position means an exceptional record of services as well as a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice may be necessary for advancement.


3) Higher Pay

  • According to Payscale.com (2018), the average annual salary for a police lieutenant, a position that often requires a bachelor’s degree, is $78,555.
  • A recent USA Today article, college graduates earn as much as 55 percent more per year on average than their degreeless counterparts.
  • The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce study quoted earlier suggests that during the recent economic recovery, “workers with at least some postsecondary education have also captured the vast majority of the good jobs — jobs that pay more than $53,000 per year for full-time, full-year workers and come with benefits.”

What Specific Types of Bachelor’s Degrees in the Field Exist?

Students may pursue either a bachelor of arts (BA) or bachelor of science (BS) degree in criminal justice, and may often specialize in an area like homeland security, criminology, law enforcement, corrections, or cybercrime. Specialization typically involves completing a cluster of classes, in a particular specialty area in order to deepen one’s knowledge and prepare for a career or graduate degree in a related field.

What Roles and Jobs Require a Bachelor’s Degree?

A college degree is essential in today’s workplace – the criminal justice field is no exception. While certain opportunities may exist without one, the upside to having a degree cannot be overstated. Simply put, more opportunities exist, and they tend to have better pay and more job security. And if that’s not enough, consider some of the jobs a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice may provide access to:

  • Air Marshall
  • Corrections Officer
  • Crime Scene Investigator
  • DEA Agent
  • Detective
  • FBI Agent
  • ICE Agent
  • Probation Officer
  • Secret Service Agent

Finally, a bachelor’s degree will often enable a qualified candidate to advance to a more senior position for which they would not otherwise qualify.

Featured Careers and Outlook

Opportunities abound in the field of criminal justice (CJ). Following is a list of careers with a positive career outlook for which a CJ bachelor degree holder may qualify. Some of these careers may require additional experience or the completion of job-specific training.

Police/Law Enforcement Officer

An officer’s job is highly varied, though they are primarily responsible for patrolling a designated area, enforcing laws, and protecting both citizens and property in that area. Additionally, they are responsible for the issuing of traffic and parking citations, the investigation of crimes, and the administering of first aid. Officers are often required to testify in court for legal proceedings, and regularly respond to an array of dangerous emergency situations. These positions are highly versatile, and employment opportunities exist almost everywhere. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017) projects growth through 2026 at 7 percent, while estimating annual salary at $62,960. PayScale offers similar estimates for detectives and criminal investigators ($58,171 per year), while Police Lieutenants make nearly $77,925 according to PayScale.com (2018).

Crime Scene Investigator

Due to the rise in popularity of television shows such as CSI, competition for crime scene investigator jobs is at an all-time high. Related jobs offer detail-oriented and involved work for those seeking a hands-on work experience, and for those with science-related interests and backgrounds. CSIs are responsible for the location, retrieval, and preservation of evidence such as blood, hair, fingerprints, and DNA. They are highly trained in the process of analyzing this evidence, and are actively involved in investigating, working, and building criminal cases. According to PayScale, the median salary for a CSI in the United States is $43,860 per year, though the BLS’s estimate is much more promising: over $57,850 per year with growth through 2026 estimated at 17 percent growth, which is much faster than the national average.

ICE Agent

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Agents form the investigative branch of the Department of Homeland Security. Primarily, they are responsible for the enforcement of our nation’s immigration and customs laws. Agents operate nationally and internationally, and,
according to ice.gov “ICE’S mission is to protect America from the cross-border crime and illegal immigration that threaten national security and public safety. This mission is executed through the enforcement of more than 400 federal statutes and focuses on smart immigration enforcement, preventing terrorism and combating the illegal movement of people and goods.” As Federal Employees, ICE Agents, upon hiring, earn G-7 to G-9 level pay, or $35,854 to $57,015 annually.

Secret Service/Special Agent

While the protective roles of Secret Service and Special Agents are well-documented, these agents are additionally responsible for the investigation of a variety of complex crimes. According to chron.com, Secret Service and Special Agents, as federal employees, work on the established government General Pay Schedule. Salary is established by this schedule, and Secret Service Agents are primarily hired at the G-7 to G-9 level, with a starting salary estimated between $35,854 to $57,015 per year. According to PayScale, Special Agents earn an estimated $81,292 per year, and these positions almost exclusively require a bachelor’s degree for consideration.

Federal Air Marshall

In response to the September 11th attacks, the Federal Air Marshal program was rapidly expanded. Today, Federal Air Marshals operate as employees of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The TSA oversees our “nation’s transportation systems to ensure freedom of movement for people and commerce.” Federal Air Marshals are the eyes and ears in the sky, watching over passengers, cargo, and crew. They provide a necessary and unique form of aviation security on commercial flights. Simply Hired estimates an annual salary for Federal Air Marshals based in Washington, DC at $58,926, although compensation will depend on experience as well as location. For more, the TSA offers this engaging, inside look at the position.

Featured Criminal Justice Programs

Maryville University - Online BA in Criminal Justice
Arizona State University - Criminology and Criminal Justice (BS), Criminal Justice (MA)
Boston University - MS in Criminal Justice
Southern New Hampshire University - BS in Criminal Justice, MS in Criminal Justice