Career Planning

Everything You (and Your Student) Should Know About Criminal Justice Career

Plenty of parents are confused and dismayed when their kids express an interest in pursuing a criminal justice degree. Many think: “Can’t you become a cop without going to college first?” and “Why should we take out student loans for such a worthless credential?”

However, criminal justice degrees are far from worthless. First, a career in criminal justice can be exceedingly rewarding, not just financially but in terms of lifelong satisfaction, as well. Plus, those involved in criminal justice are active in creating a better community for everyone, which is an important career feature for many students. Before you dismiss your student’s desire to pursue criminal justice, you should consider these facts below about their future career.

Criminal Justice Has Options

A criminal justice degree isn’t merely a path into the police service. Though some criminal justice majors do find their way into police uniforms, most others pursue other careers within the broad criminal justice field. Here are just a few of the diverse occupations your student can enter when armed with a criminal justice degree:

  • Criminal attorney
  • Private detective
  • Crime scene investigator
  • Document examiner
  • CIA or FBI agent
  • Policy advisor
  • U.S. Marshal
  • Fraud investigator
  • Paralegal
  • Judge
  • Court reporter
  • Victim’s advocate

Studying criminal justice at the university level will prepare your student for nearly any career within the wide-reaching criminal justice system. Because there are three distinct elements of criminal justice — law enforcement, courts and corrections — you can rest easy knowing that your student will have a wealth of opportunity even after they graduate with their degree.

What’s more, a bachelor’s degree is not the final level of education for those in criminal justice. Some criminal justice grads go on to earn law degrees, which allow them to practice as attorneys or judges. Other grads pursue a master’s in criminal justice online, which qualifies them for higher level positions within the criminal justice system, like police supervisor, district attorney and forensic examiner. As you can see, a criminal justice career does not begin and end with “cop” — but that does remain an option for those still interested.

Criminal Justice Pays Well

While you might say that your student’s satisfaction with a career is more important than anything, it isn’t surprising that you still have earning potential on your mind. Fortunately, because the field of criminal justice is so vast, there are plenty of opportunities for students to follow a career path that leads to high income.

Lawyers claim the quintessential high-salary career within criminal justice. Entry-level salaries for criminal lawyers are well above $50,000 — though pay does largely depend on region of practice and employer, so some attorneys do earn much more at the start of their careers. Prosecutors with a decade of experience can claim salaries upwards of $80,000 while private defense attorneys have median annual incomes of higher than $118,600. Further, lawyers can move into judge positions, which also pay notably well.

Admittedly, not all careers in criminal justice are lucrative. Many elements of criminal justice are concerned with doing good for the community, and those types of jobs rarely boast high paychecks. For instance, victims’ advocates earn a median salary of just over $30,800, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Though victims’ advocates provide a critical service in helping victims seek justice and return to normal life after a criminal trauma, the job simply doesn’t command a high salary. This is true of a handful of similar positions. Fortunately, many of these jobs are merely stepping stones to higher paying roles farther up the career ladder.

Criminal Justice Is Important

Finally, you should be proud to have a student interested in criminal justice, for without criminal justice, our nation would swiftly fall apart. The criminal justice system exists to ensure that order reigns in the civilization we have built; without diligent criminal justice professionals, the laws that bind us would slowly (then swiftly) degrade, creating dangerous chaos worse than the Wild West. By choosing to contribute to criminal justice, your student will have an important role in modern society, and that importance will surely breed lifelong career satisfaction.

The criminal justice system is far from perfect, but by pursuing studies in criminal justice and building a career in the field, your student could improve the system for everyone. You shouldn’t be concerned about your student’s career prospects in criminal justice; you should be thrilled to have such a thoughtful and well-intentioned person in your life.

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