Careers in criminal justice have seemingly endless possibilities: They can involve working directly with the public, focusing on the cutting edge of forensic science, or conducting criminal investigations. Find out about the different paths available and what you need to do to get started.

Criminal Justice

Criminal justice is a broad, interconnected system of institutions and practices designed to maintain social order and uphold the rules of law in the United States. The system is built upon three fundamental pillars: the legislative, the legal and the correctional. One major subset of criminal justice occupations fall under "protective services," which is a term that describes careers that cover areas such as law enforcement, corrections, firefighting and more. According to employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, more than 3.25 million people worked in protective services nationally in 2013.

Court-focused legal careers traditionally exist outside of protective services, but include numerous criminal justice-related positions including legal assistants, court reporters, lawyers and justices. Nationally, more than 1 million individuals were employed in legal occupations in 2013.

According to employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the criminal justice jobs projected to see the largest job gains between 2012 and 2022 include:

  • Information security analysts: 36.5% projected growth
  • Substance abuse counselors: 31.4% projected growth
  • Legal assistants: 16.7% projected growth
  • Security guards: 12.1% projected growth
  • Private investigators: 11.2% projected growth


Criminal justice degrees

The study of criminal justice traditionally revolves around the roles, activities and public policies of the infrastructure — legal, legislative and correctional systems — that handle the prosecution, punishing and imprisonment of criminal offenders.

Because of its inherent diversity and broad scope, criminal justice offers prospective students several educational paths to potential careers in the space. Some of the degree options include the following:

  • Associate. Traditionally designed to be completed in approximately two years, an associate degree in criminal justice could pave the way to an entry-level position in the industry.
  • Bachelor's. Designed to provide a foundational understanding of the criminal justice system, bachelor's degree programs blend theoretical and applied research methods in an both online and classroom-based settings.
  • Master's. An advanced program of study, master's degree programs in criminal justice expand upon the foundations of the field, moving into specialized areas such as the legal system, forensics and more.

We have a varied selection of online schools for law with many program offerings at different degree levels to possibly help start your path to a legal career.

In applying psychological principles within the workings of the justice system, learn what the specific roles of forensic psychologists can entail in terms of responsibilities, salary info and career outlook.

After a fire, arson investigators step in to determine whether the blaze was set on purpose, and if so, who might be responsible. This criminal justice career is a great blend of fire science and investigative work. Find out if it might be right for you.


Should you pursue a career in criminal justice?

With so many career possibilities, it could be difficult to narrow down your options. Matching your skill set to potential criminal justice occupations is a first step you could take to making a decision. Below are 10 common skills and abilities — from the Bureau of Labor Statistics — that are commonly shared by individuals working in criminal justice occupations:

  1. Active Listening
  2. Persuasion
  3. Coordination
  4. Speaking
  5. Critical thinking
  6. Decision making
  7. Social perceptiveness
  8. Service orientation
  9. Time management
  10. Reading comprehension

If you are skilled in several of these areas, then you could be a good fit for a potential future in criminal justice.


Criminal justice careers offer a range of possibilities for individuals looking to influence the judicial and legislative branches of government--whether behind the scenes or on the frontlines.


1. Occupational Employment Network, O*Net OnLine, http://www.onetonline.org/
2. Occupational Employment and Wages 2013, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/tables.htm
3. "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/