Best degrees for criminal justice

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For many people, going to college is an exciting part of their lives. On the downside though, choosing a subject to major in can be somewhat overwhelming. In fact, with so many different majors, some people find the choosing of one downright daunting. Thankfully, when it comes to criminal justice degrees, there are 10 great areas of study to major in. With a bachelor’s degree in any of the following areas of study, a person will be well on his or her way to a satisfying and rewarding career.

Criminal Justice Degree

Understanding Criminal Justice

Before taking a look at 10 of the most useful bachelor’s-level criminal justice majors, it is first important to understand what criminal justice is all about.

Criminal justice degree programs aim to teach students about a wide variety of topics that are related to the criminal justice system. Criminal justice in and of itself is the study of laws and how they correlate with criminal behavior. There are a large assortment of people who work in the criminal justice field, including police officers, substance abuser counselors, lawyers and many more.

Students who are pursuing a criminal justice degree will find much comfort in knowing that such a degree can be earned at traditional college campuses as well as via the Internet. For students who are already working professionals, taking courses online can be of the utmost value; this also holds true to those students who have children.

No matter the way a student goes about getting a criminal justice degree, it is important that he or she first determine the major that will be of the most benefit. For example, if the student wants to become a probation officer, he or she will of course need to complete the appropriate criminal justice degree program that leads to a career in this profession.

Types of Bachelor-Level Criminal Justice Degree Majors

1. Paralegal
For those interested in assisting lawyers and judges with criminal and civil proceedings, it will be best to earn a degree in paralegal studies. With this type of degree, as surprising as it may be, a person can many times make as much money as an actual lawyer. To earn a degree to become a paralegal, a person will need to take part in four years of study, with the most of their coursework focusing on paralegal studies.

2. Law
If interested in becoming an attorney, a person will need at least a bachelor’s-level degree in law. After earning such a degree, if a student prefers, it will be of great benefit to go ahead and earn a master’s degree. The exact topics that are studied while earning a law degree will be determined by the type of lawyer that a student wants to become. For example, if the person wants to become a criminal lawyer, he or she will of course study criminal law. For those interested in becoming an adoption lawyer, family law will be studied.

3. Corrections
There is a high percentage rate of employment growth for those entering into the field of corrections. With a bachelor’s-level degree in corrections, a person can enter into many lines of work, including that of a correctional or probational officer. If a person prefers, he or she may even become a parole officer. It is important to keep in mind that a corrections degree will most of the time land a person working with people who have been charged and/or convicted of criminal offenses.

4. Psychology
Psychology is often a sub-field of criminal justice that is overlooked. Those who major in this field of study can enter into the profession of a substance abuse counselor and much more. Criminal justice students who major in psychology need to remember that in addition to a degree, they will more than likely need appropriate licensure to carry out their duties; however, the exact type of licensure will be determined by the line of work a person wants to enter into.

5. Research Methods
Another useful bachelor-level criminal justice degree is one that majors in research methods. With this type of degree, a person can find employment through an assortment of entities, including both private and public institutions. To be successful with this degree, a person will need to be good at carrying out a wide range of research methods as well as have a passion for crunching numbers.

6. Rehabilitation
Majoring in rehabilitation is much like majoring in psychology. People who earn a criminal justice degree with a major in rehabilitation help to stop crime at its source by working with the people who commit criminal offenses. The overall goal of people who earn this type of degree is to determine why criminal offenders act the way they do; therefore, followed then by carrying out rehab methods to ensure the offenders stop their criminal behaviors.

7. Social Work
One of the more popular majors found in criminal justice is social work. It is important to remember that if a person wants to become a social worker, a social work degree program will need to be completed. After graduating from such a program, if a person wants to work on a clinical-level, he or she will have to pursue a master’s degree in social work. Social workers spend their time working with a wide range of people, including the elderly, criminal offenders, people adopting children, children in foster care and more.

8. Criminology
Some people view criminology and criminal justice as the same thing; this is a false assumption to have. While criminology is a sub-field of criminal justice, the two in fact are not the same. People who major in criminology study the different social factors that affect why and how crimes take place. Those who desire to become a forensic psychologist will definitely benefit from majoring in criminology.

9. Information Technology
Another sub-field of criminal justice that is often overlooked is that of information technology. People who have experience in criminal justice as well as a bachelor’s-level degree in information technology will find a wide range employment opportunities.

10. Law Enforcement
A large number of people who earn a criminal justice degree choose to major in law enforcement. With this major, a person will be well on his or her way to becoming a police officer, a game warden and much more. It is important to note that in addition to this type of degree, a person will most likely have to complete academy training to land a job as a law enforcement officer.

Criminal Justice – Bachelor’s Degree Program Requirements

These requirements are from an excerpt from the University Academic Catalog, which outlines the requirements for a student to earn the distinction of being a Castleton University graduate. The complete catalog is available online.

in the BA.CRJ program, students will be able to:

  1. Define and explain the meaning of “justice,” describe the types of justice our society is supposed to provide, and discuss instances in which the criminal justice system specifically, has acted unjustly, and recommend reforms and policy changes to correct these injustices.
  2. Define and explain the difference between the criminal justice system and process. Students will also identify and explain the sources and purpose of various government methods of gathering data about crime, and evaluate the strengths and shortcomings of each data source.
  3. Identify and describe the agencies that make up the criminal justice system, explaining the functions of each, and identifying and describing the roles/responsibilities of the criminal justice personnel who work in those agencies.
  4. Name the specific stages of the criminal justice process, from arrest to appeal, determine the amount of proof required at each stage, identify who must offer that proof, and explain what happens at each particular stage of the process.
  5. Identify and describe the various sources of law in U.S. society, explain the differences between criminal and civil law, and identify and explain U.S. Constitutional Amendments most relevant to the criminal justice process. Students will also identify, discuss, and evaluate how specific landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions have shaped and influenced the operation of the U.S. criminal justice process.
  6. Name and summarize the theories/justifications for criminal punishment and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each theory. Students will describe how our government imposes punishment on convicted offenders, explain the differences between institutional and community correctional practices and programs, and compare and contrast the strengths and weaknesses of each approach.
  7. Explain the meaning and difference between organization and management, describe how various criminal justice agencies are organized and managed, and explain who serves as the chief managers of specific criminal justice agencies. Additionally, students will explain how a criminal justice organization influences the behavior of its personnel, as well as analyzing how a criminal justice organization influences and is influenced by the environment in which it operates.
  8. Name and explain the various normative theories of ethics, demonstrate why a commitment to ethics is important in the criminal justice field, and then apply that knowledge of ethics to evaluate and resolve dilemmas often faced by criminal justice professionals.
  9. Identify and explain how government agencies use crime data to identify patterns of crime and victimization; they will also identify, summarize, and evaluate various theories of crime causation, and determine how well these theories can be adapted to develop programs/strategies to prevent or reduce crime.

Ranking the High Paying Criminal Justice Jobs

We researched some of the highest paying criminal justice careers. The salaries listed below are based on the most recent figures published by reputable sources like the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) and PayScale – a global salary and compensation data gathering organization. Our findings are listed below. Here you will find some of the highest paying criminal justice jobs available.

#1 – Attorney or Lawyer

Median Annual Salary: $120,910

While on the search for the highest paying criminal justice jobs, we found that attorneys and lawyers had the most favorable earnings potential. Even starting out in this career pays well. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports the average pay for attorneys and lawyers in May 2018 was $120,910 or $58.13 per hour. Since the majority of lawyers work in private and corporate legal offices, earnings potential varies.

How many years of experience impacts earnings the most. A lawyer fresh out of law school might earn $60,000 the first year, while a newly appointed partner will earn six figures and have access to lucrative bonuses. Also, attorneys who own and run their own firm have the potential to earn much more than the median pay listed by BLS. For example, the highest ten percent of lawyers earned $208,000 per year. However, expect to work long hours, especially when first starting out in the industry. But this is certainly one of the best criminal justice jobs for the money.

#2 – Judge and Hearing Officers

Median Annual Salary: $117,190

Judges, magistrates, and hearing officers are among the high paying criminal justice jobs on our list. In fact, the job titles earn a #2 spot. As of May 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported judges and hearing officers earned a median pay of $117,190. The pay is likely in accordance with job responsibilities, as judges and hearing officers oversee legal processes in court. According to BLS, administrative law judges earned $99,850 per year, while magistrate judges earned $133,920. Industry impacts pay for judges and magistrates. In fact, the top industry (state government, excluding education and hospitals) paid judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates $151,900 annually.

To become a judge, you will need a law degree and work experience as a lawyer. In addition to graduating law school, judges must pass a highly competitive examination issued by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Additional certification or licensing may be required by the state in which you reside. Judges can earn high wages. By gaining experience as an attorney, you can set yourself on course for high earnings potential.

#3 – Intelligence Analyst

Median Annual Salary: $113,920

High paying criminal justice jobs span a wide range of industries and job responsibilities. A career as an intelligence analyst, also referred to as operations research analysts, falls under the category of jobs for individuals with a degree in criminal justice. Most intelligence analysts work for the federal government. According to BLS, the federal government is the highest paying industry for operations and intelligence analysts.

The vast majority of these highly specialized analysts work for the FBI, though some work in other parts of the federal government. BLS also reports the median annual wage for operations research and intelligence analysts is $113,920. The highest ten percent of earners made more than $136,250 per year. The role of an intelligence analyst is to examine evidence and ensure it is processed accordingly. Intelligence analysts work behind the scenes and take little credit for their analyzation efforts, but are critical in solving crimes. This role is one of the most lucrative criminal justice degree jobs.

#4 – FBI Specialist

Median Annual Salary: $100,000

FBI specialists or special agents are among the highest paying criminal justice careers. A step up from the FBI agent pay scale, FBA specialists are highly trained FBI agents that work on special operations or task forces. While it is difficult to narrow down the exact pay for FBI specialists due to the wide range of job details, the average annual salary hovers around $100,000. Of course, pay is contingent on experience. An FBI specialist with a decade of experience will earn more than an FBI specialist with five years of experience.

However, the six-figure base salary does not include bonuses and raises often issued by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Top specialists with seniority and years of experience can earn in excess of $137,000 per year. In addition to top earnings, FBI employees receive benefits and attractive retirement options, making this job one of the highest paying criminal justice careers on our list.

#5 – Private Investigator

Median Annual Salary: $89,200

Private investigator jobs are among high paying criminal justice careers for those who are educated and experienced. Private investigators, also known as private detectives, work in a variety of areas, depending on their case and assignment. Some PIs work for themselves, while others work for government agencies, finance and insurance companies, or investigative services. According to BLS, the top ten percent of private investigators earned close to $90,000 per year. Government agencies pay more than finance and insurance, but PIs working for themselves have the greatest earnings potential.

Private detectives and investigators often work long and irregular hours. We’ve all seen movies where the private detective sits in a car overnight, loading up on coffee while watching a house for movement. Surveillance of people usually takes place outside normal work hours. Private investigators may work weekends, nights, and holidays. For those who work for themselves, overtime pay is not an option.

#6 – FBI Agent

Median Annual Salary: $87,130

FBI agents work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation and are one of the highest paying criminal justice careers on our list. Due to the nature of their job, FBI agents are paid well. In fact, BLS reports the median annual wage for FBI agents or law enforcement officers working for the federal government is $87,130. The highest ten percent of FBI agents earned $106,090.

FBI agents are a group of elite law enforcement professionals. In fact, only a small number of the best officers and law enforcement professionals earn recruitment level. Even recruitment does not guarantee a job working as an FBI agent. The competition is fierce. And while the pay is high, the road to these earnings takes time. FBI agents must pass strict physical examinations and background tests. Also, a degree in criminal justice and law enforcement experience are necessary to even be admitted to an FBI training academy. However, once you’re in, you are promised a lucrative career in one of the best criminal justice jobs.

#7 – Forensic Psychologist

Median Annual Salary: $85,000

Among the high paying criminal justice jobs, forensic psychologists earn top dollar for their unique skills and advanced knowledge of human behavior. Job roles vary by industry and assignment. The job may entail a combination of clinical work and data analysis. Most individuals working as forensic psychologists have earned a doctoral degree in clinical psychology with a specialization in criminal justice. Common job responsibilities include interviewing suspects, counseling the incarcerated, and working with law enforcement, attorneys, and the court system to help prosecute criminals.

BLS reports the median annual wage for all psychologists is $79,010 as of May 2018. Forensic psychologists earn a slightly higher annual wage, likely due to their specialized skills. The top industry to be employed as a psychologist, according to BLS, is the government. Government psychologists earn an average median wage of $96,410. This role is one of the most lucrative criminal justice degree jobs available today.

#8 – Special Intelligence Analyst

Median Annual Salary: $83,610

When people think of criminal justice, they likely picture crime scenes from movies and popular television shows, such as Mindhunter. While Hollywood’s depiction of special intelligence analysts is relatively accurate, much of the job role has been romanticized. Ranking among the high paying criminal justice careers on our list is the special intelligence analyst, also referred to as the intelligence analyst. Most of these specialized analysts work for the FBI and other forms of government. Often their time is spent gathering and analyzing data, showing the agency where potential data breaches and security risks exist.

BLS reports management analysts earn an average annual pay of $83,610, though some of the top-ranking FBI analysts earn over $150,000 per year. Analysts usually receive a base salary and lucrative end-of-year bonuses. For self-employed analysts, pay comes directly from the client. Most analysts work more than the traditional forty hours per week and are often meeting tight deadlines.

#9 – Criminologist

Median Annual Salary: $82,050

Criminologists are among the highest paying criminal justice careers on our list. Earning an average annual wage of $82,050, criminologists have the potential to make even more after a few years of experience. According to BLS, criminologists are considered sociologists. They study the anatomy of crime, focusing on its causes and effects. Similar to forensic psychologists, criminologists are also criminal profilers. Much of the job is spent analyzing crime scene materials, synthesizing information, and gathering data.

As stated above, experience impacts earnings. However, another factor that can improve the earnings of a criminologist is picking the right industry in which to work. State government, excluding education and hospitals, pay criminologists an average median wage of $92,040. That’s nearly 10K more than the average annual wage for all criminologists and sociologists. BLS also reports the next top paying industry for criminologists is research and development in social sciences and humanities, which also pays over $90,000 per year.

#10 – Financial Examiner

Median Annual Salary: $80,180

Similar to the role of intelligence analyst, financial examiners work behind the scenes of law enforcement and are among the high paying criminal justice careers on our list. These highly trained professionals excel at accounting, math, and other financial number processing systems. Their role is to assist law enforcement professionals and police in identifying and proving financial fraud, such as money laundering or embezzlement. They are employed by the federal government, state government, the insurance industry, or other agencies. However, the highest paying industry for financial examiners is the federal government. According to BLS, the federal government pays financial examiners a median annual wage of $122,010.

Other top-paying industries for financial examiners include securities, commodity contracts, and financial investments and management companies. Both industries pay higher than the median annual salary of $80,180 for all financial examiners.

#11 – Transit and Railroad Police

Median Annual Salary: $74,030

Transit and railroad police are among the highest paid law enforcement professionals. They earn a spot on our list of high paying criminal justice jobs due to the median annual salary recorded by BLS of $74,030. BLS also reports the highest ten percent of all police and detectives, including transit and railroad police, earned $106,090 as of May 2018. Earnings potential varies by location and job type, but increases with experience. This means a transit or railroad police officer will earn more as he or she becomes more experienced on the job.

The role of the transit or railroad police is to patrol transit facilities or railroad yards. They combat trespassing, help prevent theft and violence, and protect the public. Most of these specialized police officers hold degrees in criminal justice and have received law enforcement training. In certain geographical areas, knowledge of a foreign language, such as Spanish, is highly beneficial.

#12 – Police Officer

Median Annual Salary: $63,380

Police officers are listed among high paying criminal justice careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2018 median pay for police officers was $63,380. The highest ten percent of earners made $106,090. Police and sheriff’s patrol officers earned an average median pay of $61,380, slightly lower than the average median pay for all other police officers.

A career as a police officer is a lifetime commitment. Education required for the job includes a college degree and the completion of the police academy. Many community colleges or junior colleges, four-year institutions, and state universities offer law enforcement programs. Majoring in criminal justice and earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice will help you land a job as a police officer. Additional training includes the completion of rigorous physical and personal qualification standards.

#13 – Fire Investigator

Median Annual Salary: $62,510

According to BLS, fire investigators and inspectors are among the high paying criminal justice careers. As of May 2018, BLS reported the median annual wage for fire inspectors and investigators was $62,510. The highest ten percent earned more than $95,330, making the profession one of the highest paying for criminal justice careers.

Fire investigators are responsible for collecting and analyzing evidence from scenes of fires and explosions that cause fires. They typically reconstruct the scene of arsons or fires, collect evidence, and send their findings to laboratories for testing. Their job is to determine the cause and origin of fires. Since fire investigators study fire origins, it is important that they have experience working with fires. Most fire investigators are former firefighters. They have completed postsecondary educational programs, often acquiring a two- or four-year degree, and have conducted on-the-job training under a mentorship.

#14 – Criminal Justice Professor

Median Annual Salary: $61,900

Listed among high paying criminal justice careers is the criminal justice and law enforcement professor. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), postsecondary criminal justice and law enforcement instructors earned an average median salary, as of May 2018, of $61,900. However, wages vary greatly by institution type. Postsecondary instructors typically earn more working at colleges or universities than they do in community colleges or other types of schools. Again, BLS reports state colleges and universities pay their faculty members an average of $81,120 annually. Private colleges pay professors an average annual median wage of $78,540.

While the median annual salary for instructors teaching criminal justice may seem low in comparison to the overall average, pay by experience is a factor. The more experience a criminal justice professor holds, the higher the earnings. In fact, the highest ten percent of all postsecondary instructors, according to BLS, is $175,110. If you enjoy teaching, this is one of the best criminal justice jobs out there for the money.

#15 – Security Manager

Median Annual Salary: $60,700

Security managers working for government and state agencies are among the highest paying criminal justice careers on our list. Earning an average median salary of over $60,000, security managers oversee the security needs of buildings and property. While the role of security manager is needed in a variety of areas, such as casinos, jewelry stores, malls, and private celebrity detail, government and state agencies pay the best wages.

Since this is a management role, security managers often oversee teams of security guards. With this responsibility comes hiring and vetting guards, checking credentials, and organizing work schedules. The key role of a security manager is to ensure rules in the building or on the property are enforced. They are the person in charge of deterring criminal activity within the confines of their work place.

#16 – Corrections Manager

Median Annual Salary: $60,500

Essential roles of the criminal justice system are the correctional manager and officer. Among the highest paying criminal justice careers on our list is the corrections manager. This person is responsible for incarcerated individuals, corrections officers, and a part of the corrections building. Some corrections managers actually oversee and manage the entire corrections facility, while others manage wings or areas of the building. Corrections managers work in correctional facilities, such as detention centers, jails, and prisons. They are hired to ensure public safety and the safety of their team. Also, they ensure the safety of the prisoners themselves.

The median annual salary for corrections managers is $60,500 per year. The annual wage varies by location and experience. Seasoned corrections managers with ten or more years of experience earn close to $70,000 annually.

#17 – United States Postal Inspector

Median Annual Salary: $58,760

When you think of high paying criminal justice jobs, postal inspectors may not come to mind. But, United States postal inspectors earn an average median wage of $58,760. The inspector role is much different than the role of a postal service worker or carrier. Postal inspectors are actually federal law enforcement agents who enforce laws governed by the U.S. Postal Service. Their duties include investigating criminal matters that involve mail fraud and theft. They perform routine audits as needed and are sworn federal law enforcement officers who carry firearms and make arrests.

According to BLS, the median annual wage for this profession as of May 2018 is over $58,000. The top ten percent of earners working as postal inspectors made $62,520. Most postal inspectors work full time. Holidays and weekends may also be required. Since mail is delivered six days a week, inspectors are often needed on Saturdays.

#18 – Fish and Game Warden

Median Annual Salary: $57,710

Fish and game wardens made our list of high paying criminal justice jobs. This unique criminal justice career is designed to serve state and federal agencies as commissioned law enforcement professionals. Fish and game wardens are responsible for managing and protecting wildlife, as well as tracking and apprehending poachers.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary for fish and game wardens in 2018 was $57,710. The top ten percent of fish and game warden professionals earned $80,140. Education and experience impact earnings the most. Educated fish and game wardens earn the highest wages. Experience can also improve earnings. For example, fish and game wardens with one to three years of experience earn much less than colleagues with ten years of experience. If you enjoy the outdoors and wildlife, this career will be one of your top options among best criminal justice jobs for the money.

#19 – Probation Officer

Median Annual Salary: $53,020

According to BLS, probation officers are among the highest paying criminal justice careers. In May 2018, BLS reported the average annual wage for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists was $53,020. The highest paid ten percent of probation officers earned $94,770. Local and state government agencies employ the majority of probation officers and offer the highest earnings on average. Local government agencies pay $58,040 on average and state government agencies pay $50,120 on average.

Most probation officers work overtime hours. This leads to additional pay. Some of these workers are required to be on-call and must respond to law enforcement issues 24 hours a day. However, overtime pay and end-of-year bonuses keep employees happy. In some circumstances, probation officers may be required to travel, which will contribute to overtime and additional work hours. To qualify for employment as a probation officer, plan on having a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a closely related discipline.

#20 – Immigration or Customs Enforcement Agent

Median Annual Salary: $53,000

Immigration and customs enforcement agents, also referred to as customs officials, land a spot on our list of highest paying criminal justice careers. Customs agents are security officers that man the borders of the United States. Often working as border patrol agents or immigration officials, the job requires education in criminal justice. Border patrol agents are responsible for stopping criminals from leaving the country, as well as enforcing immigration laws. BLS reports an average median annual salary for immigration or customs enforcement agents as $53,000 per year.

Customs officials earn higher pay by experience. This means that step raises are likely as an employee gains more experience. For example, an immigration official or customs enforcement agent with five years of experience will earn less than a colleague with ten years of experience. Seasoned immigration and customs enforcement agents with 20 years of experience will earn on the high side of wages. These veterans earn over $60,000 per year.

CVO Staf

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