Careers for a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminal Justice

gavel on deskThe criminal justice system in the United States holds many esteemed occupations as the main objective behind these jobs are to keep society safe. Specific characteristics come into play for pursuing and maintaining an occupation within the criminal justice system, such as confidence, assertiveness, critical thinking skills, and respect for the law.

If this sounds like you, then earning a bachelor’s degree in Criminal Justice is the first step to obtaining entry-level positions within the field. However, some students within this field tend to pursue more than a bachelor’s degree, as most of the specializations require additional certificates or a graduate degree.

Depending on how you want to interact with crime, there are two routes you can go with a career in criminal justice: law enforcement or legal services. Law enforcement entails the practice of criminal justice, such as policing, forensic psychology and criminology. In contrast, legal services deal with the way legal advice is offered to individuals and businesses, typically in the form of a legal representative or a public official in the courts.

Most criminal justice jobs are found within government at the local, state and federal level, as well as within private companies. Since there are a vast amount of occupations associated with a degree in criminal justice, you can be sure that you’ll always have a variety of jobs to choose from, particularly if you continue to augment your expertise. The following careers recommend or require applicants with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice:

Federal Corrections Officer

A particularly hands on occupation, both physically and mentally, correctional officers work directly with inmates in the penal system, formally known as the corrections and rehabilitation component of the criminal justice system. Charged with maintaining security, Federal corrections officers conduct cell searches, restrain inmates and provide overall supervision of inmate activities with the intent to prevent assaults, insurgences, and escapes.

Although it’s possible to obtain a position as a corrections officer without a bachelor’s degree at the local and state level, the Federal Bureau of Prisons makes it a hiring requirement. Entry-level positions will also include on-the-job training in order to understand the legal limitations and boundaries associated with their responsibilities. During their first year of employment, federal corrections officers are required to complete 200 hours of formal training, as well as staying abreast of changes and developments featured in annual in-service trainings.

In order to prepare potential employees for the work that lies ahead, federal prisons offer the majority of internships available for correctional officers. The Federal Bureau of Prisons also operates a Pathways Internship Program that helps students explore their career options and professional development opportunities. This is a valuable resource as it helps students find positions after graduation.

The best courses for students interested in becoming a corrections officer are criminology, criminal behavior, and corrections and rehabilitation.

Probation Officer

As another facet of rehabilitation offered through the penal system, probation officers provide oversight for individuals who were convinced of a crime, but received probation instead of incarceration. A probation officer’s main responsibilities are developing and implementing rehabilitation plans that are structured with home and work visits, counseling referrals, as well as overseeing drug tests and electronic monitoring to prevent the offender from hurting themselves or others. For the most part, probation officers are either responsible for adults or juveniles, where both classes never coincide unless the officer is covering a very small or rural area.

Depending on where you reside, states have different requirements for probation officer training in which there are either state sponsored training certificate programs or on-the-job training prior to taking a certification exam. Professional development training is centered on improving one’s communication, reasoning and problem-solving skills.

Undergraduate students can benefit greatly from probation officer internships, where they are usually paired with low-level offenders as a means to ease into the role of a probation officer. Responsibilities include verifying offenders’ employment and residence information, assisting with background investigations, maintaining files and records, and working with agency databases.

Criminal justice students interested in becoming a probation officer should focus on courses that address the theories of crime prevention, criminal justice ethics, or juvenile delinquency.


Hired to understand the motivations and methods of criminal behavior, criminologists play an essential role in local, state and federal law enforcement agencies. Identifying these motivations and methods is critical for assisting law enforcement officials to assess potential criminal situations, based on trends, with the intention of predicting and preventing additional crime. A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is acceptable for entry-level positions, but many go on to obtain a master’s degree in criminology, sociology or psychology to advance their careers.
Students interested in becoming a criminologist have many internship opportunities available to them through local, state, and federal law enforcement, corrections, victim services, and rehabilitative agencies. On-campus and online programs also have connections to such entities.
The most applicable college courses for future criminologists are correctional philosophy, psychological factors of crime, and meta-analysis in criminal justice.

Criminal Profiler

Integral for conducting criminal investigations, criminal profilers assist law enforcement officers by conjuring psychological profiles of criminals to identify behavioral patterns. Criminal profilers step in during the follow up stages of a crime, where they examine crime scenes, interview witnesses and victims, and analyze crime scene evidence in order to help them conduct psychological assessments. Depending on what they come up, criminal profilers may even be asked to offer their expert testimony in a court case. Playing such a vital role in the analysis of a crime, criminal profilers are staffed at local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.

Most criminal profilers have a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field, such as psychology or behavioral science. Depending on which level of government a criminal profiler is involved in, basic behavioral science training seminars are offered through the Behaviors Science Unit (BSU) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

For students interested in becoming a criminal profiler, the FBI’s Behavior Science Unit provides full-time unpaid internship opportunities that are designed for undergraduate, graduate and post-graduate candidates.

The most helpful college courses for this occupation include sociology of deviance, psychological factors of crime, and crime, deviation and conformity.

Police Detective

Typically starting off as a patrol officer, with a few years of experience, police detectives become an un-uniformed officer to help law enforcement agencies collect evidence, conduct interviews of suspects, witnesses, and victims, and arrest suspects. Their responsibilities make them a centerpiece in court cases, where they are almost always called upon to testify to justify a prosecution’s case. District attorneys heavily rely on police detectives to validate the evidence they collect and the testimony they provide in court.

Although patrol officers will be required to take a written examination before becoming a police detective, a competitive advantage is placed on those who possess a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Furthermore, most law enforcement agencies are requiring applicants to have a bachelor’s degree in the field in order to qualify for consideration. Bachelor degree holders have the ability to obtain a higher salary, as well as increased opportunities for jobs and promotions.

Recommended courses for those interested in becoming a police detective are criminology and public policy, police administration, and criminal investigation.

Careers in criminal justice. (n.d.). Retrieved from