Criminology and Criminal Justice Careers and Salaries

Criminology and Criminal Justice Careers and Salaries

Today’s criminal justice system faces unique challenges that demand highly trained, dedicated professionals. In the area of criminal justice policy, there are exciting careers in community policing and enforcement, the treatment and rights of victims in the criminal justice process, and current issues and practices in homeland security and cybersecurity. These specializations offer many opportunities for rewarding, well-compensated careers that are in high demand. For example, job opportunities for private detectives and investigators are projected to grow by eight percent by 2029, while those for information security analysts will grow by 31 percent.1,2

Criminology is the study of crime from a sociological perspective, while criminal justice addresses the real-world aspects of crime and society’s response, from apprehending criminals to the court system.3 Many colleges and universities offer separate degree programs in these areas, though having a background in both fields puts you at a distinct advantage when pursuing your career goals.

Career Options and Salaries in Criminal Justice and Criminology

In criminal justice, careers centered around law enforcement include work as a police officer, FBI agent or private investigator. Careers within corrections and in the court system include those as bailiff, victim’s advocate, paralegal, jury consultant, court clerk and social worker. For social work, some employers prefer that candidates have a master’s degree.4,5 As of late September 2020, the average base salary for a social worker in the United States is $60,023.6

Professionals in criminology may be involved in collecting and analyzing evidence or exploring crime from a psychological perspective. These careers include forensic scientists, criminal psychologists and criminologists (who are often sociologists). Most of these positions require at least a master’s degree.7 The annual median salary for a criminologist, included in the category of sociologists, is $83,420.8

Salaries by Location

The median pay for professionals in the fields of criminal justice and criminology doesn’t tell the whole story. Compensation often varies by location. For example, while the average salary for a police officer is $54,581, the highest-paying cities include New York ($71,457), Philadelphia ($62,673) and Chicago ($62,473).9 Criminal investigator salaries average at $53,428, but there is a very wide range, depending on location. In Dallas, you can earn as much as $137,264 per year, but in Arkansas, the salary is 34 percent lower than the national average.10

The salary range between states is just as wide in the field of criminology. A forensic psychologist in North Carolina averages approximately $84,560 per year, while peers in New York earn $115,299.11 A criminologist or criminal justice researcher, in the field of sociology, averages $83,420 a year. In Texas, the annual salary is approximately $37,130, whereas in Pennsylvania, it’s $121,470.12

Salaries by Title and Degree Level

Just as your location affects your salary, your job title does, as well. Consider these average annual salaries for various positions you might pursue with a degree in criminal justice or criminology:13

  • Correctional officer: $33,636
  • Jury consultant: $44,000
  • Probation officer: $46,597
  • Police detective: $51,264
  • Clinical social worker: $62,328
  • Forensic scientist: $66,800
  • Criminology professor: $67,493
  • Lawyer: $70,833
  • Forensic psychologist: $86,191

Different specialties and positions require different levels of education, which accounts in part for these salary variations. With a bachelor’s degree, you may be hired as a police officer or detective, probation officer, correctional treatment specialist, bailiff or forensic science technician. These positions range in median salary from $45,300 to $65,170, but may require additional training or a license.14,15,16 With a master’s degree, you have greater earning potential, in positions such as a criminologist, forensic psychologist, clinical social worker or community college professor teaching criminology. Licensing may be required, and the salary for a candidate with a master’s degree in criminal justice ranges from $50,470 to $83,420.17,18,19

Does My Salary Depend on What I Study in School?

Because criminal justice and criminology encompass many disciplines—law enforcement, sociology, psychology, research, computer science (for cybersecurity) and the life sciences (in the case of forensics)—a well-rounded, rigorous academic curriculum that explores these different areas will make you a stronger candidate for higher-level positions and greater compensation.

Choose an institution and program that cover both theoretical and practical knowledge, as well as historical information, current practices and future trends. Read through the available concentrations and course descriptions to ensure that any program you’re considering best meets your needs and career aspirations.

Expand Your Career Options.

Kent State University’s Online Master’s degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice, with concentrations in Policing, Victimology, and Global Security, provides solid background and deep knowledge, training professionals to tackle the most challenging issues in today’s criminal justice system. Learn more and apply today.


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