What Can You Do With a Criminal Justice Degree?

Woman police officer standing beside police vehicle

Criminal justice is a broad field with many possibilities available for you to pursue after graduation. Many criminal justice graduates go on to pursue careers in law enforcement, while others opt for the legal field. Criminal justice degree programs also instill transferrable skills in students such as critical thinking, communication, global awareness and ethical servant leadership. These transferrable skills are valued in every industry and occupation, making criminal justice degrees a smart option for any motivated student. There is a wide range of law enforcement professions available to graduates with criminal justice degrees.

Police Officer

Aspiring police officers are typically individuals who feel passionate about protecting their communities. Some police officers work as patrol officers. They are assigned a specific geographic area to patrol, looking for violations such as suspected drunken driving. They also respond to calls for help submitted by 911 dispatchers. Other officers are crime investigators who interview victims and witnesses in an attempt to identify the suspect.

Police officers are often required to testify in court. This means that effective communication skills are essential for this job. In addition, aspiring police officers should be prepared to work night shifts when necessary. One of the benefits of becoming a police officer is that there is often room for advancement. Cops generally start out as patrol officers, with the ability to work their way up to higher-level positions.

Parole Officer

Parole officers, also called probation officers, work with convicted offenders who have been released back into society. Individuals on parole or probation have a strict set of requirements they must meet in order to remain out of jail. It is the primary responsibility of the parole officer to ensure those offenders continue meeting the conditions of parole or probation. Parole officers can also serve as an important resource for offenders as they learn to rebuild their lives outside of jail and become productive members of society.

Parole officers are sometimes called upon to work overtime, as many of them have a challengingly large caseload. Their work environment is varied. Parole officers often meet with offenders at the office. However, home visits and employment checks are other important duties of the job.

FBI Agent

FBI agents are federal law enforcement officers who are assigned to one of 56 Field Offices located around the country. FBI agents are charged with investigating violations of federal laws, ranging from money laundering to cybercrime and everything in between.1

There are strict requirements to become an FBI agent. All FBI agent candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree. They must also have at least two years of full-time work experience in a relevant field. For example, a police officer may apply to become an FBI agent. However, if you earn a Master of Science in Criminal Justice, you will only need one year of work experience before applying.


An undergraduate or graduate degree in criminal justice often serves as a springboard for pursuing a law degree (J.D.). If you want to become a lawyer, you will need to earn at least a bachelor’s degree and complete law school. Then you will need to pass the Bar Exam administered by the American Bar Association. At that point, you will be a fully qualified lawyer and you may choose to pursue employment in an existing law firm or establish your own practice.

Lawyers often focus their practice on one or two areas. For example, some lawyers prefer to handle family law cases, while others prefer personal injury lawsuits. Specializing in one or two types of legal cases allows lawyers to develop a deeper understanding of those areas.


If the study of law appeals to you, but you are not quite sure that you want to go to law school to become a lawyer, you might consider a career as a paralegal. Paralegals handle the legal work behind the scenes. They cannot legally argue cases in court or sign legal documents, but they handle the research and prep work for legal cases.

In addition, the job outlook for paralegals looks favorable. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has predicted that the job growth rate for paralegals from 2018 through 2028 is 12 percent.2 This rate is considered much higher than average. It represents an anticipated 39,000 jobs added to the economy.


FBI Jobs, Application and Eligibility Process, in March 2020.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook HandbookParalegals and Legal Assistants, in March 2020.

The College of Humanities and Social Sciences offers a Bachelor of Science in Justice Studies degree program for individuals who are interested in both civil and criminal law. To enhance your career qualifications, you may wish to earn a Master of Science in Criminal Justice with an Emphasis in Law Enforcement. Alternatively, GCU offers a Master of Science in Criminal Justice with an Emphasis in Legal Studies, which explores modern legal issues. To learn more about these programs, visit our website or click on the Request Info button on this page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.