Entry-Level Criminal Justice Jobs: The Value of a Bachelor’s Degree

6 min read

Earning your bachelor’s degree in criminal justice can be an invaluable way to position yourself for a wide range of exciting and challenging entry-level criminal justice jobs.

Of course, not all entry-level criminal justice jobs require a bachelor’s degree — but some of the best ones do (for example, FBI agents). Many large and mid-sized police departments now require officers to hold a bachelor’s degree, and most federal agencies hiring for law enforcement jobs also require a four-year degree.

If you’re already a working law enforcement or criminal justice professional, your degree will give you an edge when you are competing for promotional opportunities. In fact, many law enforcement agencies and criminal justice organizations offer pay boosts for employees who earn their bachelor’s or master’s degree.

Let’s take a closer look at a selection of some of the most sought-after entry-level and higher-level criminal justice jobs.

10 Criminal Justice Jobs & Salaries

Most of the jobs listed here either require a bachelor’s degree or offer exceptions for “other qualifying experience.” For those that do not specifically require a four-year degree, it is generally preferred and will certainly give you a competitive advantage.

Further, many of the agencies and organizations hiring for these jobs also put a premium on “criminal justice or law enforcement experience” — something that many top criminal justice bachelor’s degree programs offer in the form of real-world field placement opportunities as part of your education. (Sources: Some of the data below is provided by this criminal justice careers chart listing criminal justice agencies, jobs, educational requirements and average salaries.)

CIA Analyst – CIA analysts are skilled subject-matter experts who study and evaluate information from all available sources — classified and unclassified — and then analyze it to provide timely and objective assessments, according to the CIA website. Starting salary range: $54,308 – $80,505.

Computer Forensics Investigator – Tracking or recovering electronic evidence that criminals may have tried to conceal or destroy will require advanced computer science forensic skills as well as a bachelor’s degree. Digital forensics technicians are needed by governments, accounting firms, law firms, banks, software development companies and more. Average salary: $68,000.

U.S. MarshalYour duties as a federal marshal may include transporting prisoners, conducting fugitive manhunts, providing security to judges and jurors and participating in tactical operations, asset forfeiture and witness security. Recent data from FederalPay.org lists the average salary at $85,174.

FBI Agent – Defending the country from terrorism and enforcing federal laws will require you to have a four-year degree[MOU1]  followed by rigorous training. Agents are responsible for investigating bank robberies, terrorism, cybercrime, public corruption, espionage, organized crime, drug trafficking and much more. Recent data from Glassdoor.com lists the average base pay at $131,612; range $72,000 – $163,000. Agents can also earn significant overtime pay.

Emergency Management Director – Professionals in this field need a bachelor’s degree plus specialized training in emergency management to aid in the response to and recovery from both natural and manmade disasters. Salaries for emergency management professionals can range from $67,330 to $104,850 depending on the area of specialty.

Paralegal – Often considered the backbone of various organizations ranging from courthouse or corporate settings to busy law offices, paralegals perform a wide range of duties including research, document management and organization, witness preparation and even accompanying counsel during trials. Median salary: $50,410 (or higher depending on responsibilities and geographic location).

Crime Laboratory Analyst — As a crime lab analyst, you’ll help solve crimes by using toxicology, DNA and trace evidence, blood and hair samples, weapons involved in the crime, fingerprints and other evidence collected at the crime scene. Recent salary data from PayScale: average $53,372; range $42,000 – $80,000.

Information Security Analyst – Upper-level information security officers protect an organization’s IT programs from internal and external threats, for example ensuring systems are secure from the threat of viruses, spyware, malware, bots, etc. Average salary: $93,250.

DEA Agent – Your primary mission as a Drug Enforcement Administration agent is to interrupt the flow of drug trafficking; duties often include surveillance, undercover work and potentially dangerous situations. Bachelor’s degree required; Glassdoor.com lists salaries for DEA special agents as ranging from $43,000 – $200,000.

Police Officer — A bachelor’s degree is not required for all police officer jobs, but many departments give preference to candidates with a degree or with criminal justice education and training. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists the mean annual wage for police officers at $62,960 per year, but pay levels increase when you work overtime, earn an advanced degree, climb the ranks or work for larger organizations.

The Value of Earning Your Degree in Criminal Justice

A bachelor’s degree in criminal justice will equip you with a deep understanding of criminal justice theory and processes, as well as practical skills sought after by a range of employers. In addition to boosting your marketability in your job search, the criminal justice knowledge and expertise gained through your degree program will help you thrive on the job and better position yourself for future promotional opportunities.

Additional insight into how focused undergraduate education connects to career opportunities in criminal justice, law enforcement and related fields can be found by utilizing ordinary online investigative (aka, search engine) skills. For example, a quick search of the term “payscale.com criminal justice bachelor’s degree” reveals pages that list jobs and salaries ranging from $53,000 to $100,000 and above.

When it comes to evaluating your options for earning a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related discipline, you’ll want to consider such important differentiators as:

  • The quality and academic reputation of the institution
  • The criminal justice experience and expertise of the faculty members
  • The college or university’s regional and national accreditations
  • Field placement opportunities that enable you to gain practical experience while earning your degree   

In addition, you’ll also want to weigh the benefits of on-campus vs. online options for earning your criminal justice bachelor’s degree. It is important to understand that:

  • The ability to earn your degree on your own schedule in a flexible online format can be essential when it comes to balancing the demands of work and family life.
  • Top-quality online programs are just as academically rigorous as their on-campus counterparts.
  • Most important, online and on-campus degrees are equal in the eyes of leading employers.

The University of Cincinnati Online takes great pride in having created a widely respected School of Criminal Justice with on-campus and online options for motivated students seeking to expand their education and advance their career.

To learn more about the top-ranked online criminal justice bachelor’s degree and master’s degree programs offered by the University of Cincinnati, contact us today to start a conversation.

University of Cincinnati ranked Best Online Criminal Justice Master’s Degree Program 

birds eye view of students working at a round table with laptops and study materials
Need additional student resources?
Already an online student? UC Online has additional tips and tricks to ensure you are on the path to success. Check out our Student Resources section for what you need to maximize your learning.

Sign up for updates from UC Online