What are the Job Placement Rates for a Criminal Justice Degree?

For the last several years, our criminal justice system and those who administer it have taken on a more visible role in American society. However, it is only recently that the requirements for careers in this field have become more stringent by moving away from anyone willing to take on the responsibility of managing criminals, to the need for a general education development (GED) degree or high school diploma, to possessing a bachelor’s degree or more.  The question now is does that degree increase an applicant’s chances for employment? The rate of job placement is apparent in a 2012 report (“Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment and Earnings: Not All College Degrees Are Created Equal”) by Georgetown University’s Center for Education, and the answer is yes. Recent graduates experienced a 7.6% unemployment rate, and graduates with some experience on their resume, experienced a 4.1% unemployment rate.

Requirements for Selected Careers

The review of a selection of careers in criminal justice offers a few clues. For instance, consider that the number of crime scene investigators needed is expected to grow 19% between 2010 and 2020, and in 2010, this field had a pay scale ranging from $32,900 to $82,990 (see www.criminaljustice.com/careers). This means the field will be wide open for several years and depending upon applicants’ qualifications, so will the salary range. Current employment requirements vary with small agencies requiring a GED or high school diploma while large agencies may not only require a bachelor’s degree in a field such as criminal justice, but college courses or degrees in such fields as biology or chemistry. If the goal is to obtain employment in a large department with high tech equipment and top salary potential, higher education–especially a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice–will be a key asset.

Correctional officer requirements and pay scales can vary by the type of agency; jails tend to have lower pay scales than state prisons, which in turn have lower pay scales than the federal prison system. Traditionally, jails and prisons have accepted a GED or high school diploma as sufficient education, however, some are now requiring a few college courses if not a full degree, and the federal system actually demands a bachelor’s degree. As time passes, applicants with criminal justice degrees will be viewed more and more favorably for employment than non-degreed applicants, and needless to say, at comparatively higher pay rates.

Federal Special Agents must meet even higher standards and their pay scale reflects it as their median salary was $68,619 in 2010 . To apply for this position, a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field is an absolute must, along with years of relevant professional experience. Those without a degree need not apply.


A college degree is not a guarantee of employment. What a college degree does do, and in this case a criminal justice degree in particular, is more open doors. This field has expanded in recent years and is now experiencing growth in its requirements for those interested in becoming civil servants or working in private industry. A criminal justice degree not only allows someone to learn the mechanics of the system, but helps one understand causes and results–while providing steady employment and higher salaries.