Dirty Harry, Training Day, Lethal Weapon, Serpico, or one of the other dozens of classic cop movies, the cinematic depiction of the badge and the blue uniform have drawn many to consider public service as a career.

Criminal Justice BadgeOf course, public service in the field of Criminal Justice and Law is much bigger than just being a police officer—even in the movies.

Think of the heroic lawyer Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, the classic novel adapted into a beloved film. Or even Henry Fonda’s performance in the jury proceedings in 12 Angry Men.

Criminal justice and law is all over Hollywood—probably because it can capture our imagination. But also because it touches on some of the most important and fundamental issues in our society: justice and equality.

These vital issues are what make the fields of criminal justice and law so appealing to many people, and why College Choice has compiled rankings such as the Best Online Law Schools.

What Do Criminal Justice Professionals Do?

What about forensic accountants? FBI agents? US Postal Inspectors? There are more careers than could possibly be explained here. But let’s start with the big two.

A police officer on the beat protects and serves a community, but their work is supported and enhanced by many others.

For example, detectives gather evidence to solve crimes. Protective service officers guard schools, banks, and ground transportation. Probation officers monitor and assist convicted criminals, in order to keep communities safe and help criminals turn their lives around.

The work of a lawyer is hard to sum up, since there are so many different kinds.

But in general, lawyers advise clients in legal matters and litigate cases, in a broad array of cases. Some lawyers eventually become judges, who issue rulings, instruct juries, and ensure trials follow the law.

Of course, lawyers and judges aren’t the only professions in the legal field. Trending jobs currently include legal nurse consultants, litigation support professionals, and paralegals.

How Much Money Can You Make If You Study Criminal Justice?

We’ll cover law enforcement first.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) states law enforcement careers will grow by 4 percent by 2024. The median pay for Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) is $29.62 per hour or $61,600 per year.

All law enforcement jobs combined have an average salary of $28.69 per hour and $59,680 a year. The vast majority—560,590—work at the local level (city, township, county).

States with the highest law enforcement earnings (yearly mean salary):

  • California: $96,660
  • New Jersey: $87,490
  • Alaska: $79,510
  • Washington state: $79,340
  • Washington, D.C.: $73,250

Criminal investigators, excluding private detectives, report a median income of $37.56 per hour and $78,120 per year. The highest pay, $103,620, can be found at the federal executive level.

Texas has the highest number of police detectives (16,900), followed by California (12,040). Texan detectives earn an average of $75,350, and in California they make $100,360.

Other law enforcement careers with median yearly income:

  • Security guards and gaming surveillance: $25,840
  • Parking enforcement officers: $37,950
  • Air Marshal: $45,371 (entry level)
  • Private investigators/detectives: $48,190
  • Fish and game wardens: $51,730
  • Transit and rail police: $66,610

Currently, women are under-represented in criminal justice. Approximately ten percent of LEOs are women. In all law enforcement fields, only one in four is female. Women fill 40 percent of civilian roles in criminal justice.

Next, we will cover legal careers.

The BLS projects a 5 percent growth (64,600 new job openings) in all legal careers up through 2024. The median salary for all law fields, including judges and attorneys, is $79,650.

The greatest number of legal jobs can be found in the District of Columbia, New York, and Delaware. And the most well-compensated lawyers are found in California, DC, and New York, with median salaries of over $140,000.

And taking into consideration cost of living, Texas, Delaware, and Virginia offer the best ratios of annual salary to cost-of-living.

Other traditional and popular choices in legal careers:

  • Legal Secretary: $28,000 to $65,000
  • Jury Consultant: $44,000 to $100,000 with a J.D. A PhD earns well over $100,000.
  • Court reporter: $51,320
  • Paralegal/Legal Assistant: $52,549
  • E-Discovery Professional: $57,000 to $131,000
  • Mediator: $59,770
  • Litigation Support Professional: $84,000
  • Judge: $109,940
  • Attorney: $118,160
  • Legal Nurse Consultants earn $65 to $200 per hour as independent advisers. The 50 percent who work in law firms receive $60 to $100 per hour. This is one of the fastest growing law-related professions.

What Kind of Criminal Justice/Law Degrees Are Available?

Many people in the criminal justice field find jobs after high school and/or police academy training. These academies are run by specific police departments and generally lead into employment with those departments.

To qualify, police departments usually require an Associate’s degree or similar program. Associate’s degrees are usually one to two year programs, which cover board topics relating to criminal justice in the United States.

Students completing these programs can pursue careers in fields such as security and gaming surveillance. These fields carry an average salary of around $32,000.

However, a growing number of LEOs need Bachelor’s degrees. Not only does having a degree mean you’re more likely to get a job with a higher salary—it also will make you better at your job. Ongoing studies suggest officers with higher education avoid unnecessary force.

You can get a bachelor’s in criminal justice, or in a related field, such as:

  • Computer Forensics
  • Criminal Psychology
  • Emergency Management
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Law Enforcement
  • Public Administration
  • Sociology

Coursework in these degree programs will focus on criminal justice more broadly, as well as the student’s chosen subfield. Graduates are eligible for jobs with organizations such as the CIA or the FBI. FBI Special Agents earn entry-level salaries of around $43,000.

Once a student earns their bachelor’s, they are eligible to attend graduate school and earn a Law Degree (J.D. or Juris Doctorate). To do so, one must first pass the LSAT (Law School Admission Test). It’s similar to the SAT, but for law school students.

Then, you go to law school, get your J.D., and then study for the Bar, which is an extensive and famously difficult test for future lawyers. Even if you have your J.D., you can’t actually practice law until you’ve passed the Bar.

While in school, some J.D. candidates conduct mock trials while others publish research findings in law journals.

Much of your course work will be aimed at helping you pass the Bar, however, schools differ in terms of how much their curriculum is relevant to the test. This is a good thing to inquire about before you apply.

Median salaries for attorneys are $115,820 with the highest pay in the manufacturing industry (Regulatory or Environmental Law). The BLS anticipates a growth rate of 6 percent for the next seven years.

The site Salary.com highly recommends flexibility about location for the best chance of employment.

If you want to study law, however, you have options besides the J.D. For example, in some states an LL.M. (Master of Laws) is sufficient for taking the bar. It can also be used for other professional and academic opportunities.

You can also get a PhD in Law, which is different from a J.D. The J.D. is professionally focused, whereas a PhD in Law is aimed at academic study of legal issues.

What Criminal Justice Specialties Are Available?

If you’re interested in criminal justice and law, you don’t just have to be a police officer, lawyer, or one of the other occupations we’ve named above.

You can also become a Border Patrol officer, who help to enforce federal laws concerning when people or goods travel into the United States.

Border patrol agents are not necessarily required to have any specific degree, however it is generally recommended that applicants have either a bachelor’s degree or relevant experience in the field of criminal justice or homeland security.

The median salary for border patrol agents is around $60,000.

There are also other careers, such as becoming a correctional officer, which means you are responsible for overseeing individuals awaiting trial, sentencing, or who are serving out prison sentences.

All officers are required to have at least a high school diploma, and go through an academy, as well as on the job training before beginning their careers. The median wage for a correctional officer in 2016 was $42,820.

Here are a few other options in the criminal justice field:

  • ATF agent
  • Border patrol
  • Correctional Case Manager
  • Counter-terrorism
  • Crime scene technician
  • Customs agent
  • Gang investigator
  • Homeland Security
  • Parole officer
  • Prison guard

If you want to become a lawyer or paralegal, you’ll also want to look into the variety of specialties within the legal field.

For instance, Civil Rights Attorneys help people to fight against discrimination and harassment, especially centered around gender, race, or religion, among other identities.

To pursue this field, students need a Bachelor’s Degree and a Juris Doctorate, and should also have a resume that reflects interest and experience in civil rights. Similar to lawyers in other fields, Civil Rights Attorneys have a median wage of around $120,000.

Here are a few common legal specialties:

  • Bankruptcy
  • Civil Rights
  • Corporate
  • Criminal
  • Entertainment
  • Environmental
  • Immigration Law
  • Intellectual Property
  • Juvenile and Family
  • Tax Law

Legal Studies

Do you dream of fighting for justice? Do you wish to practice law in an area that you’re passionate about? From education law and health care law, to technology and business, lawyers serve in a variety industries across the board.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, lawyers, on average, make $118,160 per year. While this is a nice bit of cash, lawyers do put in many, many hours a week and sacrifice a lot for their careers. If you’re not looking to become a lawyer but are still interested in legal matters, paralegals are an especially in-demand career with excellent earning potential. In fact, paralegals in areas such as Washington, DC and Alaska can earn around $70,000 dollars a year!

Many people want to pursue a degree in law, but it can be difficult to narrow down where to go. That’s why College Choice has put together a helpful ranking of the Best Online Law Schools, as well as the Most Affordable Online Law Schools.

We’ve also published a list of the Best Online Paralegal Programs. Licensure and Practicum eligibility for practicing law is granted in the state in which the law degree was completed and qualifications may vary.

Criminal Justice

In today’s society, you can’t turn on the news without seeing a story regarding law enforcement. If these stories compel you to take action, and you’re interested in public safety and protecting your fellow citizens, a degree in Criminal Justice may be the perfect path for you to pursue.

From police officers and fraud investigators to jobs within Homeland Security, there are plenty of careers for those with a criminal justice degree to chase.  

According to Payscale.com, the average salaries for people in law enforcement vary widely based on the employer and the level of responsibility. An FBI Agent can make upwards of $60,000 while a Correctional Officer will probably make around $35,000 a year.

For those looking for total flexibility, College Choice has published a list of the Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Criminal Justice. Looking for an advanced degree in Criminal Justice? We’ve also ranked the Best Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Degrees.

If affordability is a top factor for you, we’ve put together a list of the Most Affordable Online Criminal Justice Degrees. College Choice also published a list of the Most Affordable Online Master’s in Criminal Justice Degrees.

Corrections

Whether you’re seeking a criminology or criminal justice degree, or if you’re looking to become a correctional officer, there are plenty of career options for you.

First responders, probation and parole officers, correctional officers, government officials, and criminal justice administrators usually all start out with degrees in criminal justice/corrections.

Correctional officers are responsible for overseeing individuals who have been arrested, while criminologists may specialize in a specific field, such as juvenile crime, murder/kidnapping, crime prevention, etc.

Graduates who have studied corrections and criminal justice can also expect to find jobs in law enforcement, including the FBI and CIA, as well as having research jobs and working in schools. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, positions in this field are projected to increase as much as 19 percent in the next few years.

Many Criminal Justice graduate programs concentrate in correctional policy and leadership. College Choice has published a ranking of the Most Affordable Online Master’s in Corrections Degrees.

Some of these programs include a focus on things like criminology theories, law and public policy, research analysis and methodology, psychology, ethics and liability, restorative justice, and more.

Emergency Management

When disaster strikes, where do you want to be? Fleeing the scene or flocking to the frontlines to help those in need? Are you interested in coming together to work with the local, state, or federal government, as well as hospitals, community centers, and nonprofit organizations?

If so, then a Master’s in Emergency Management may be the perfect fit for you!

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Emergency Management Directors can make upwards of $70,000 per year. The field is also projected to grow 6 percent from 2014 to 2024.

As natural disasters continue to pop up, emergency management directors will be needed to develop unique response plans to help protect people and property, and to limit the damage from these emergencies and disasters.

It’s a field that requires critical thinking and great communication/organizational skills.

If you’re looking for an advanced degree that’s both flexible and affordable, College Choice has published a ranking of the Most Affordable Online Master’s in Emergency Management Degrees.

Some programs offer specialization in disaster relief with a focus on humanitarianism, while others emphasis national security.

Public Safety

A great career field for those interested in the prevention of terrorism, human and natural disasters, and managing large-scale safety plans, public safety jobs are projected to continue to grow in the coming years.

In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs such as city and county managers and management relation specialists are projected to increase by 10 and 7 percent respectively.

According to govtech.com, cutting the costs of recovery, assessing risk and communicating the way people prefer to communicate will continue to be key elements of managing natural and manmade disasters.

The emergency management and public safety fields will be asking for individuals with more education– that’s where you come in! From active shooter scenarios and terror threats, to environmental tragedies and building for sustainability, there are plenty of areas in which the expertise of public safety officials are needed.

College Choice has published a ranking of the Most Affordable Online Master’s Degrees in Public Safety Management and Leadership. Graduates of these programs go on to become safety officers, operation managers, team leaders, administrative services managers, and more!

Homeland Security

Are you a problem solver and a natural-born protector? Do you want a job that will challenge you and keep you on your toes? A career where no two days are the same?

If you answered ‘yes’ to all of the above, a career in homeland security may be the perfect path for you! From crisis mitigation, analysis and investigations, there are plenty of options for those with a degree in homeland security.

With a homeland security degree, you can work in an industry that truly interests you. From corporate finance, interpreting key data and building strong systems, to working for nonprofits, on the front lines of emergency management, there’s an option for all.

Plus, according to the BLS, the need for people with this degree is projected to rise 18 percent in the next few years.

If you’re dream is to protect people and systems, don’t miss College Choice’s ranking of the Best Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Homeland Security.

If you’re looking for flexibility in pursuing a more advanced degree, we’ve published a list of the Best Online Master’s in Homeland Security Degrees, as well as the Best Online Doctorate’s in Homeland Security Degrees.

Cyber Crime

While this field of study didn’t even exist years ago, cyberattacks have now grown more frequent and vicious in recent years. With new technology popping up every day, more and more businesses and government agencies are storing important information in digital spaces.

While this is certainly more convenient, these methods of storage pose a risk for dangerous cyber hackers to get in and steal confidential information.

Now, everywhere, from the military to schools and hospitals, cyber crime experts are being hired to take the reigns on this still murky field.

According to the BLS, the demand for information security personnel is expected to rise another 18 percent in the next few years, and these folks have a median pay of over 92k annually.

Cyber security is certainly a lucrative option for those interested in designing and implementing secure networks, preventing digital break-ins, and doing damage control after a cyber attack.

Looking to fight cyber crime? Check out College Choice’s ranking of the Best Online Bachelor’s in Cyber Crime Degrees. Some of these programs emphasize cyber forensics and others network security; courses may include database management, mobile device forensics, and offensive network security.

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