Deciding to pursue a criminal justice degree can be a smart move if you’re aiming for law enforcement jobs. Majoring in criminal justice (CJ) helps you get familiar with the criminal justice system, and with the right concentrations, you’ll be better prepared for the specific roles you want. With a CJ degree, you can aim for forensic, investigative, or criminology careers,  or any of the million roles that fall within criminal justice career paths. 

The possibilities for criminal justice majors are broad and promising. In this article, we’ll show you what you can do with a criminal justice degree, specifically in law enforcement. Get ready to explore the diverse and fulfilling law enforcement careers that this degree can help you land!

jobs with criminal justice degree, law enforcement jobs

Law Enforcement is one of the most commonly known areas of criminal justice, and is popular among graduates with a criminal justice degree.

The main responsibilities of law enforcement officers are: 

  • Investigating and preventing crimes
  • apprehending suspects
  • working with the judicial system to ensure that criminals are prosecuted

There are 3 broad categories within law enforcement jobs:

Uniformed Officers: 

Uniformed officers help keep neighborhoods safe by patrolling communities and responding to calls for assistance. They may also investigate minor crimes.


You’ve probably seen investigators as the protagonists in movies or shows based on crime or law & order. Investigators are professionals who gather information and evidence by investigating crime scenes, conducting interrogations to solve crimes and prosecute the perpetrators.

Support Personnel: 

Support Personnel are law enforcement and criminal justice professionals who work behind the scenes to analyze evidence and find clues. Some support personnel roles may require a background or concentration in forensic science or related fields. 

Most law enforcement jobs fall within these broad types, and a criminal justice degree with the right majors and concentrations can prepare you for the roles you want. 

Related: Criminology vs. Criminal Justice vs. Criminalistics: Explained

The full list of law enforcement jobs that a criminal justice degree can help you get would take ages to scroll through, even on your biggest screen. So to simplify things, we’ve identified 7 broad roles that majors in criminal justice are suited for. These careers branch out into many diverse, super-specific jobs, thus covering most of the law enforcement landscape. 

Let’s take a look at each role, arranged in descending order of their median annual salaries as of 2022.

Role Median Annual Salary (2022)Typical Entry-level Education
Police and Detectives$69,160High-school diploma or equivalent
Customs and Border Protection Officers$65,790Associate’s degree
Criminalists/Forensic Science Technicians$63,740Bachelor’s degree
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists$59,860Bachelor’s degree
Private Detectives and Investigators$52,120High school diploma or equivalent
Paralegals and Legal Assistants$59,200Associate’s degree
Correctional Officers and Bailiffs$49,610High school diploma or equivalent

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, O*NET 

Note: Salaries and educational requirements for law enforcement careers may vary by state, agency, and job role. 

Detective jobs with criminal justice degree, solving crime

Police Officers and Detectives

Median Annual Salary: $69,160

Typical Entry-level Education: High-school diploma or equivalent

What they do: 
Police officers and detectives are responsible for enforcing laws, investigating crimes, and ensuring public safety. While a high school diploma typically suffices for entry, some agencies may prefer candidates with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. There are several types of police and detectives, from profilers to fish and game wardens, each playing their role to uphold the law. 

A degree in criminal justice that includes courses on policing, police science, crime scene investigation, and criminal justice administration can better prepare you to be a confident police officer or detective.

Customs and Border Protection Officers

Median Annual Salary: $65,790

Typical Entry-level Education: Associate’s degree

What they do: 
Customs and border protection officers play a crucial role in securing the nation’s borders. They inspect and monitor goods, vehicles, and individuals entering or leaving the country. An associate’s degree is typically required for this field, though this may vary in some instances.

A criminal justice degree with courses related to border protection, law enforcement, and homeland security can help you secure this role. 

Related: Homeland Security Degrees & Careers

Forensic Science Technicians

Median Annual Salary: $63,740

Typical Entry-level Education: Bachelor’s degree

What they do: 
Forensic science technicians, also known as criminalists, analyze evidence to aid in criminal investigations. They work in laboratories, utilizing scientific methods to examine materials. A bachelor’s degree is typically necessary for entry into this field.

For forensic careers, you will need criminal justice education that specifically includes instruction in forensic science, forensic investigation, criminalistics, or related areas. 

Probation Officers 

Median Annual Salary: $59,860

Typical Entry-level Education: Bachelor’s degree

What they do:
Probation officers work with individuals on probation or parole, helping them reintegrate into society. They assess progress, provide support, and ensure compliance. A bachelor’s degree is commonly required, though this may vary. Probation officers usually work exclusively with either adults or children (the latter referred to as juvenile probation officers). 

To land jobs in this field, consider pursuing a criminal justice degree with courses on corrections, probation, legal studies, and related criminal justice topics. If you’re exploring criminal justice bachelor’s degree jobs, this is an area worth looking into. 

Paralegals and Legal Assistants

Median Annual Salary: $59,200

Typical Entry-level Education: Associate’s degree

What they do: 
Paralegals and legal assistants assist lawyers by conducting legal research, drafting documents, and organizing information. An associate’s degree is a common entry-level education requirement for this role.

Pursuing a criminal justice or legal studies program with classes on the legal and justice systems, criminal law, and related criminal justice topics can equip you with the right set of skills for this role. 

Related: How to Become a Paralegal? 

Private Detectives and Investigators

Median Annual Salary: $52,120

Typical Entry-level Education: High school diploma or equivalent

What they do: 
Private detectives and investigators conduct research, gather information, and solve cases for individuals or organizations. While a high school diploma is the minimum requirement, specific qualifications may vary. Though not a part of the governmental law enforcement system, a career as a private investigator can also lead to a fulfilling career in upholding the law. 

As with most investigative careers, a criminal justice degree with courses in criminology, criminalistics, police science, and crime scene investigation can better prepare you to become a successful private detective.

Correctional Officers and Bailiffs

Median Annual Salary: $49,610

Typical Entry-level Education: High school diploma or equivalent

What they do: 
Correctional officers and bailiffs maintain order and security within correctional facilities and courtrooms. A high school diploma is typically the minimum education requirement for this occupation. There are many law enforcement roles within the corrections system, and each may have different educational requirements. CJ majors could aim for roles as correctional counselors, pretrial officers, youth counselors, juvenile corrections officers, and more.

Majoring in criminal justice with a concentration in corrections and courses that include instruction on criminology, criminal law, the judicial system, and related criminal justice topics can prepare you for these jobs. 

Law enforcement is a diverse field. These seven broad career categories cover most of the unique pathways in the field that you could pursue after earning your criminal justice degree. That being said, law enforcement is also dynamic, so new careers are likely to emerge. Studying criminal justice and following developments in the field can help you stay up-to-date, which will help you find employment after graduation more easily.

The United States has a diverse array of law enforcement agencies, including federal, state, and local entities. These organizations commonly recruit criminal justice majors for multiple roles, so if you’re looking for careers to pursue, this is a good start. 

Here is a list of some of the key law enforcement agencies in the United States:

  • Municipal Police Departments
  • County Sheriff’s Offices
  • State Police Agencies (State Troopers)
    Here’s a useful link to help you find the official Highway Patrol/State Police Websites 

These agencies operate at various levels of government and have distinct responsibilities, jurisdictions, and areas of expertise. They work to enforce laws, investigate criminal activities, and ensure public safety across the United States. If you’re drawn towards law enforcement, this list can help you discover jobs at these agencies, that match your interests.

If you’re eyeing a dynamic career in law enforcement, a criminal justice degree can help significantly. Here are a few benefits that illustrate how a CJ degree could be a great first step towards a rewarding law enforcement career. 

Building a Solid Legal Foundation

Law enforcement takes more than just donning a uniform and patrolling the streets. It’s about upholding the law while respecting individual rights. A CJ degree equips you with a foundational understanding of legal procedures, criminal codes, and constitutional rights. This knowledge can help you make decisions that are not only effective, but also just.

Cultivating Critical Skills

In the fast-paced world of law enforcement, split-second decisions can quite literally be the difference between life and death. A CJ degree sharpens your critical thinking and decision-making abilities. You will have opportunities to learn to analyze complex situations, evaluate evidence, and respond effectively under pressure. 

Navigating Ethical Considerations

Law enforcement officers today have to tread a fine line between protecting the public and respecting individual rights. CJ degree programs delve into the ethical dilemmas inherent in the field. You will likely get exposure to scenarios where your integrity is tested, preparing you to make ethical choices that reflect the values of justice and fairness.

Elevating Your Career Prospects

With the competitive nature of law enforcement careers, having a criminal justice degree can give you an extra edge. Earning a degree in CJ shows your commitment and dedication to the field, signaling to potential employers that you’ve invested time in understanding the nuances of the justice system. 

Exposure to Diverse Perspectives

The field of law enforcement interacts with a mosaic of cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives. CJ degrees help introduce you to the diverse tapestry of society. By studying criminal behavior and justice through different lenses, you gain a deeper understanding of the complexities inherent in maintaining law and order in a multifaceted world.

Law enforcement jobs are often accompanied by a series of challenges that require adept problem-solving and resilience. Here are some of the notable hurdles faced by law enforcement professionals and how a criminal justice degree can prepare you for these challenges:

Balancing Public Safety and Individual Rights

Striking the delicate balance between maintaining public safety and upholding individual rights is a complex task for law enforcement officers. A criminal justice degree program can provide an in-depth understanding of legal procedures, ethical considerations, and constitutional rights. Graduates are thus better equipped to make informed decisions that align with legal mandates while preserving the rights of individuals. This education fosters the ability to navigate intricate situations, maintaining trust within the community

Managing Stress and Mental Health

The high-pressure environment of law enforcement can lead to stress and mental health challenges. A CJ degree goes beyond theoretical knowledge by instilling critical thinking and interpersonal skills. Graduates are better prepared to manage stress through effective communication, empathy, and self-awareness. The curricula of CJ degree programs often include literature that helps students persevere even in the face of adversity, with recommended reading such as Emotional Survival for Law Enforcement, by Kevin. M. Gilmartin. This holistic approach contributes to maintaining graduates’ mental well-being and overall resilience.

Adapting to Technological Advances

Crime, as a broad concept, is evolving with technological advancements, demanding law enforcement to stay ahead. CJ degree programs often include coursework on modern investigative techniques and technology in law enforcement. Graduates possess the skills to adapt to new tools and methodologies, effectively addressing cybercrime and other tech-related challenges. This education empowers officers to leverage technology as a strategic advantage.

Community Relations and Trust

Building strong community relationships is crucial for effective law enforcement. Criminal justice degree programs emphasize community engagement and interpersonal skills. Graduates are adept at fostering transparent and collaborative interactions, enhancing community trust. By understanding the community’s needs and concerns, they can align their efforts and strategies to effectively address local challenges. In recent years, public confidence in police and law enforcement has hit new lows, as reported in the New York Times. With a CJ degree, you can aim to alter this and be the change people want to see.

Resource Constraints

Limited resources often present challenges in law enforcement operations. A criminal justice degree program can equip you with analytical and problem-solving skills. Criminal justice majors are often better prepared to optimize resource allocation, utilize innovative strategies, and advocate for necessary funding. This education empowers CJ majors to maximize the impact of available resources, enhancing their effectiveness in addressing complex issues as law enforcement officers.

By pursuing a criminal justice degree, aspiring law enforcement professionals can gain the knowledge and skills they need to confront such challenges head-on. CJ education helps prepare you for the profession’s demands and provides a comprehensive toolkit to excel in the dynamic law enforcement landscape. Armed with a CJ degree, you’re better positioned to uphold justice, engage with communities, and navigate the complexities of modern law enforcement.

Exploring Careers in Criminal Justice Beyond Law Enforcement

While law enforcement careers hold undeniable appeal, a criminal justice degree program can open doors to paths beyond the traditional beat. A CJ degree can lead to diverse opportunities, branching into realms like corrections, private investigation, consulting, education, and more. As you navigate this path, you may find that the transferable skills cultivated through your CJ education position you as a valuable asset across sectors. 

Studying criminal justice can open many doors after graduation, within and beyond law enforcement. Many CJ majors go on to build rewarding careers in law enforcement, across the alphabet soup of agencies that uphold the law and protect national safety. Beyond simply preparing you for careers in the field, criminal justice education can actually help you overcome challenges that law enforcement professionals commonly face. It can be quite difficult to navigate the landscape without a strong understanding of systems and processes–courts, corrections, prisons, rehabilitation, etc. To sum up in two quick questions:
Do you need a criminal justice degree to get law enforcement jobs? Not always.

But can getting one improve your chances of landing the law enforcement role you want? Almost certainly! 

As with every other academic decision, we recommend spending time researching the field and roles you’re interested in to identify the best path for you. By choosing the right college, program, and major, you can set yourself up for success and proudly serve the nation. 

What is a criminal justice degree, and how does it relate to law enforcement careers?

A criminal justice degree is a specialized educational program that focuses on studying crime, legal systems, and the intricacies of law enforcement. It provides foundational knowledge and skills that equip students to pursue a variety of roles within law enforcement.

Is relevant practical experience included in criminal justice degree programs for law enforcement?

Yes, many criminal justice programs incorporate practical components such as internships, ride-alongs, and simulated exercises. This can vary based on your chosen school and program. These experiences provide hands-on exposure to real-world law enforcement scenarios, bridging the gap between theory and practice.