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Career Spotlight: Criminal Justice

A career in Criminal Justice can be rewarding and exciting to be sure -- but the actual experience may be far from the jobs portrayed on television shows like CSI and major Hollywood films. While popular culture has given careers in Criminal Justice a neon glow and allure, the jobs themselves may not have the glamour of the big screen, but they do have the gratification of providing a highly specialized skill set to serve the criminal justice system, which may be very rewarding for job seekers. Criminal Justice careers have specific training and degree requirements, depending on area of specialization, such as law enforcement, forensics, or homeland security. Let's take a closer look at some of the careers available under the Criminal Justice umbrella, and what they entail.


Crime Scene Investigator


Crime Scene Investigation is a critical practice within the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and one of the FBI's most sought-after careers. Investigators undergo extensive training if accepted by the FBI, both as part of the screening process and part of the ramp up to working as an investigator. Once placed in a job, crime scene investigators follow strict protocols to search, investigate, and examine crime scenes, sometimes in very dangerous environments. To be considered for a job as a crime scene investigator with the FBI, applicants must be at least 27 years of age, be a U.S. citizen with a valid driver's license, and submit to extensive physical and psychological testing and background checks.

Degrees Required:

  • Bachelor's Degree from accredited college or university
  • Advanced degree or at least three years of work experience



Forensic Nurse

Forensic nursing is a specialized field of the nursing profession requiring highly attentive, calm, and observant professionals. Forensic nurses often work in emergency rooms and other emergency care environments, treating patients who are admitted after being involved in violent crimes that have caused bodily injury or, in some cases, death. The forensic nurse is responsible for both treating the patient with urgency and care while simultaneously gathering and recording any evidence that may be needed in a criminal investigation, such as body fluids, hair and skin samples, blood, shrapnel from gunfire, bullets, other physical evidence, and other behavioral evidence that the patient demonstrates.

Degrees Required:

  • Start with an Associate Degree in Nursing and then transfer to a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing, or begin with a Bachelor's Degree in Nursing
  • Registered Nurse diploma program may also be acceptable
  • Obtain licensure and certification

Earnings Potential:
$64,690/year (based on 2010 annual median salary data for registered nurses)

Law Enforcement Officer

Police officers, detectives, and other law enforcement officers work within local specialized law enforcement units to protect people, businesses, and property from crime and misconduct. Law enforcement officers collect evidence of crimes, provide security for public events, monitor and patrol highways and roads, and provide other critical services.


Degrees, Experience, and Training Required:

  • Bachelor's Degree may be required
  • Graduation from a training academy required
  • On-the-job training


Potential Earnings
$55,010 (based on 2010 annual median salary data)

Forensic Psychologist

One of the fastest growing careers in the field of psychology, forensic psychologists provide expert opinions for crime investigations through analysis of behavior and actions. They also evaluate criminal defendants to provide opinions about whether they are psychologically fit to stand trial or whether they might legally be considered insane for the purposes of sentencing.

Degrees Required:

  • Bachelor's Degree from accredited college or university
  • Master's or Doctorate Degree in clinical psychology
  • Master's Degree in Criminal Behavior (helpful but may not be required)
  • Certification in forensic psychology from the American Board of Forensic Psychology

Potential Earnings
$68,640/year (based on 2010 annual median salary for psychologists)

Crime Analyst

Crime analysts use statistical data to analyze crime trends according to a wide range of factors, such as geography, class, race, sex or gender, sexual orientation, major events, politics, and other factors. Crime analysts help law enforcement predict crime trends so that they can allocate law enforcement resources accordingly.

Degrees Required:

  • Bachelor's Degree from accredited college or university
  • Major in criminal justice, statistics, psychology, information systems, or public administration may be helpful


Crime Scene Technician

Crime scene technicians analyze data and evidence gathered from crime scene investigations, such as fingerprints, footprints, firearms, DNA from hair and skin samples, blood, and other physical evidence. Technicians use a variety of specialized equipment, often in a lab or crime investigation facility.

Degrees Required:

  • Associate or Bachelor's Degree in criminal justice
  • Licensure or certification required, depending on area of specialty and state of employment


Criminologists pull from sociology, psychology and other disciplines to study the nature, prevalence, reaction to, and causes of crime in various populations and in individuals. Their research aids criminal investigators and law enforcement agencies with predictive models for crime.

Degrees Required:

  • Bachelor's Degree (a major in sociology, psychology, or criminal justice is helpful)
  • Master's Degree in behavioral science
  • Doctorate Degree in criminology, psychology, or sociology is required to teach at the collegiate level
  • Licensure or certification may be required, depending on the state of practice

DEA Agent

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) employs agents specifically with the task of controlling drug activities in the U.S. and drug smuggling across its borders, along with other activities such as money laundering. Working alongside other agencies like the FBI and CIA, the DEA and its agents provide a critical and specialized form of law enforcement. To be considered for employment as a DEA agent, applicants must be a U.S. citizen between 21 and 36 years old, with regular vision, at least 20/200 vision without glasses or contacts, sharp hearing, and ability to lift at least 45 pounds. Applicants must submit to rigorous physical, psychological, and written evaluations and background checks. Visit the DEA website for more details.

Degrees Required:

  • Bachelor's Degree (with a major in criminal justice) may be required


Information Security Officer

Information security officers and others working in the infosec field provide necessary services to help businesses and government agencies maintain tightly secure data and information files. Careers in this area often entail assessing the level of security through ethical hacking practices and data recovery for security audits and other necessary regular checks on critical and confidential data.

Degrees Required:

  • Some certificate programs will suffice for entry-level infosec jobs
  • Higher level positions require a Bachelor's Degree (a major in criminal justice, computer science, or computer information systems is helpful)


Private Investigator

Private Investigators use various methods to find information about and for businesses, individuals, and organizations. Sometimes investigations are linked with criminal investigations, but often they are for personal or private business matters. PIs also may be hired to provide employment checks, background checks, and personal protective services for celebrities and public figures

Degrees Required:

  • A Bachelor's Degree may be required (a major in criminal justice is helpful)


Homeland Security Officer

Homeland security jobs with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security differ, but all require a full background check and drug screening. Applicants must be U.S. citizens.

Degrees Required:

  • Bachelor's or Master's Degree

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