What Can You Do with a Criminal Justice Degree?


woman working in criminal justice field

Crime is one of the fastest growing genres in television. It’s also one of the fastest growing career sectors. If hours of watching “Forensic Files” has you thinking about getting off the couch and earning a degree in criminal justice, now is a great time to take the leap.

With an abundance of career options available for men and women in both the private sector and at the local, state and federal levels, a criminal justice degree is quite versatile. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, roughly 3 million workers were employed in the criminal justice field as of 2016.

“Right now is an excellent time to be improving your credentials and marketing your abilities in the criminal justice field,” said Dr. Todd Wuestewald, PACS assistant professor of criminal justice. “A lot of agencies are in a hiring mode after a long period of hiring freezes.”

In addition to traditional law enforcement occupations, such as corrections officers and investigators, there are a number of growing fields in the criminal justice sector.

Wuestewald said the areas of homeland security and cybersecurity are two rapidly growing areas.

“Right now is an excellent time to be improving your credentials and marketing your abilities in the criminal justice field. A lot of agencies are in a hiring mode after a long period of hiring freezes.”

With the new presidential administration, homeland security and border protection personnel are expected to be in demand.

“That whole area is in a growth phase,” Wuestewald said. “It’s a constantly evolving field.”

Cybersecurity is another hot field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in information security are projected to grow 37 percent by 2022.

“Technology has created a lot of challenges in criminal justice,” Wuestewald said. “That’s a big field right now when you consider issues like industrial espionage and cyber hacking.”

Other growing areas in the criminal justice field are nontraditional professions such as victim advocacy, crime prevention, mediation, counseling and court liaison personnel.

Wuestewald said the current trend is to move away from incarceration and toward rehabilitation and restorative justice, which seeks to restore victims, offenders and communities in the aftermath of crime. He said that’s why the OU program offers graduate certificates in Restorative Justice and Corrections Management.

Missy Heinze, PACS director of recruitment and admitted “Forensic Files” junkie, said she often gets calls from potential criminal justice students wanting to know if they can get a specific job, such as forensics, with a certain degree.

“I let them know that a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice is a great foundational degree, but the degree alone isn’t going to land them a job in forensics,” Heinze said. “I think it’s important if they don’t know what they’re getting into that they do some research and seek out someone who works in a job they are interested in pursuing. Additionally, our students can utilize OU Career Services, and we have our own liaison, Debbie Boles, there to assist.”

Whether you end up with a bachelor’s or master’s degree in criminal justice, the job opportunities are far and wide.

And, there’s no better place to obtain a degree than the OU College of Professional and Continuing Studies. U.S. News and World Report recently ranked the PACS Master’s in Criminal Justice program #5 in the nation for Best Online Criminal Justice Programs (and Criminology). OU’s online undergraduate programs were ranked #3.

“Students recognize the quality of the faculty we have,” Wuestewald said. “When they look at the value we offer, we can’t be beat.”

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Tami Althoff

Tami Althoff holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She is a reporter with more than 20 years’ experience working for newspapers, including The Oklahoman. She has covered everything from breaking news to local music and art. She loves sports, especially OU football and basketball games, where she often embarrasses her children by yelling too loudly.