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High-Paying Careers That Require a Criminal Justice Degree

by Laura La Bella , studioD

Criminal justice students study crime, criminal behavior and social control mechanisms. They learn the origins of law, conflicts within the law and the consequences of breaking laws. They also delve into understanding the behavior of criminals and how the justice system works to monitor, control and respond to crime. A criminal justice major faces an exciting array of career options. Students can explore careers where they can help defend laws, shape the development of laws or provide guidance and understanding of criminal behavior.


A lawyer advises and represents individuals, businesses or government agencies on legal issues, contract negotiations or disputes. Lawyers and attorneys work in private practice or for local or federal governments. Within the criminal justice field, lawyers are found working as prosecutors and defense attorneys where they present cases against suspects or defend clients against charges brought against them. Lawyers must attend law school, where they study for three years to earn a juris doctorate. They must also pass their state’s bar exam in order to practice law. The educational requirements for law school do not outline an undergraduate degree in a particular area, but those interested in practicing criminal law find a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice to be especially useful. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a lawyer’s median average salary is $112,000, with the top 10 percent earning more than $166,000 annually. Salaries range based on the type of law practiced.

Judges and Magistrates

A judge mediates disputes between conflicted parties. They hear court cases and review the evidence presented by lawyers both prosecuting and defending their clients. They facilitate negotiations between parties, research legal issues, determine if evidence presented supports a charge or claim and decides if the case being presented is conducted according to the law. To become a judge, you must have a law degree, pass the state bar exam and have experience practicing law. Some judges are elected while others are appointed. According to the BLS, judges and magistrates earned an average annual salary of $119,000 in 2010.

Forensic Psychologist

A forensic psychologist examines the psychology of a case or defendant. They often act is an expert witness during trials. To become a forensic psychologist you must obtain a doctorate in psychology and earn a specialty certification in forensic psychology by the American Board of Professional Psychology. Because this career field includes the exploration of crime, a foundation in criminal justice is a strong undergraduate program of study for this profession. The BLS reports an average median pay for psychologists of $89,000. For clinical and counseling psychologists, salaries average about $66,000.

Criminologists and Sociologists

A criminologist studies abnormal social behavior and uses that knowledge to predict how criminals will behave. A sociologist studies society and social behavior, and helps to determine how social influences affect different individuals and groups. Both of these career fields benefit from a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, which establishes a foundation of knowledge in crime, criminal behavior, social control mechanisms, sociology and social systems. The BLS states that the median annual wage of a sociologist or criminologist was $72,360 in 2010.

About the Author

Laura La Bella has worked as a marketing communications writer and editor in the fields of advertising, development and higher education for more than 15 years. She has authored more than two dozen nonfiction books for young adults, covering biographies of socially relevant people, timely social issues and career paths.

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