Careers in Criminal Justice

Workers in the criminal justice field are deeply involved in developing and implementing the ways society handles crime, from prevention and detection, to detainment and punishment. Changes in the field have increased the interest and study of social justice, ways to prevent recidivism and the costs (both ethically and financially) of the current justice system. Careers in criminal justice cover a broad spectrum of opportunities and English majors can be found in a number of them.

Pathways Header Criminal Justice

Some professional areas of interest to English majors are:

  • Law enforcement, the officials who detect and detain criminals; 
  • Law, where officers of the court argue the prosecution and punishment of criminals; and 
  • Criminology, those who study criminal behaviors and activity to develop new ways to detect and prevent crime.  (Another area that we haven’t covered is criminalistics which covers the forensic scientists and technicians like crime scene detectives)

The criminal justice/law field may be a possible fit for you if you enjoy serving your community/country, helping others, have a strong sense for justice, strong analytical and research skills, and are willing to accept a certain level of risk with your job (especially for law enforcement positions). Keep in mind, nearly all of these positions require a lot of report writing. Your background as an English major can serve you well. Legal jobs also require a substantial amount of writing, research, and reading.

Click on the drop down boxes below for more information.

Law Enforcement

Law enforcement works to find criminals through detective work and scientific analysis. Often these efforts are localized to a particular area (a neighborhood or section of a city) or focused on specific types of crime (cyber-crime, sex crime, burglary, murder, etc.). In addition to finding criminals, law enforcement prevents crime by providing security for high target buildings like courts and federal offices, patrolling the streets and neighborhoods, and in the private sector there are also security for malls and large stores. Prisons and officers in corrections detain and work to prevent recidivism (return to criminal activity) by monitoring criminals in prison and when they are released. Law enforcement has a broad mandate and as a result there are many diverse opportunities within this sector. Not only among the different types of work available but also between the different levels of employment, from local, state, and federal to private security. (Please note, there are also a number of support positions needed to administrate law enforcement offices)

If you are willing to start “at the bottom” and work your way up, many positions in law enforcement are open to English majors without additional formal education or training in criminal justice.

When it comes to positions in law enforcement, federal jobs are the most competitive. Most people who dream of working one day for the FBI and other similar federal agencies start out with local or state law enforcement to gain experience to make themselves more competitive. Many people will start as patrol officers, probation/parole officers or correctional officers and later become detectives, special agents, etc. Along the way, you may choose to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice or a related field to make yourself more eligible for promotion.  Knowledge of computer science, accounting and foreign languages are desired for federal jobs and help make students more competitive in this field. 

English majors should also look at opportunities for public affairs positions, since most of these officers need interaction with and help from the public to successfully handle crime.

Related Jobs Include: Agent or Special Agent (with a Federal agency like: ATF, Border Patrol, CIA, DEA. FBI etc.), Detective/Investigator (including private investigator), Officer (Patrol/Police, Correctional, Courts – Bailiff, Retail – Loss Prevention), Probation Officers or Counselors, Social Workers, Correctional Educator (teach GED, English, life skills, etc.), Medical Examiner


Law is a popular field for English majors and has a wide range of opportunities. While some lawyers work in criminal law, many others work in different areas including public interest law, civil rights, corporate law, environmental protection, immigration law and more. In the criminal justice field, lawyers represent the government (local, state, or federal) as the prosecutor or the accused as the defense attorney. Law enforcement agencies also employ lawyers to provide counsel to their officers.

With a bachelor’s degree in English, students can successfully pursue paralegal positions upon graduation with law firms, government agencies and more. Administrative opportunities also exist within the courts as a Court Reporter or Clerk. To practice law, students can go on to law school and become lawyers and judges. With a JD, students can find positions in a law firm or at a government agency as legal counsel. They can also work under the State or District attorney (which are elected positions) to prosecute cases for the government. Lawyers can move from practicing law to hearing cases as judge, an administrative law judge, or by working in alternative dispute resolution (mediation, conflict resolution etc.).

Outside of the private sector, higher positions for lawyers associated with the government (attorney-generals) are mostly elected posts, or, for the U.S. Attorney-General, by appointment of the President.

Related Jobs Include: Court Reporter or Clerk, Paralegal, Assistant District/State/U.S. Attorney, Judge


The study of crime, using psychology, behavioral patterns, and social trends is very important in developing new procedures to help law enforcement keep up with the changing nature and type of crime they face on a daily basis. Criminologists are very important to this effort and often work closely with law enforcement offices to create and implement new procedures based on their research as well as use their theories to help find criminals.  

For the most part, Criminology almost always requires more advanced graduate training. However, undergraduate experience in criminal justice does provide some knowledge necessary to the field. Undergraduate coursework in psychology could also provide a helpful start.

Related Jobs Include: Criminologist, Forensic Psychologist, Police Consultant, Post-Secondary Instructor/Professor, Legislator, Policy Consultant, Researcher, Probation Officer

Alumni Within the Field

Coming Soon! We're in the process of gathering alumni profiles for this page. Meanwhile, you can connect with alumni in this field through the University of Maryland Alumni Advisor Network.

Getting Started

If you’re interested in a career in this field, here are some ways you can start preparing:

Where to Learn More

Occupational Outlook Handbook: Protective Service - Information on Correctional Officers, Police & Detectives, Private Detectives & Investigators, Security Guards etc.

Occupational Outlook Handbook: Legal - Information on Court reporters, Judges, Lawyers and more.

Career Profiles: Law Enforcement Careers - Overview of Law Enforcement Careers with articles, and detailed examples of various job opportunities.

GoLawEnforcement - Comprehensive site with information on how to prepare for a career in Law Enforcement as well as Law Enforcement opportunities.

LawOfficer - Site with articles and resources tracking changes and information about the criminal justice field, news on current events, issue articles, leadership and training.

Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) - A great resource for information on various topics including crime prevention, counter-terrorism, and adjucation.

CriminalJustice - A comprehensive directory of online criminal justice programs, with information about the field and types of positions/openings in criminal justice.

USAJOBS - A great website for finding government jobs and the programs for federal  internships, search for positions particularly in the Department of Justice or Homeland Security, altoough other government agencies also have positions in criminal justice.

University of Maryland's Career Center – Visit Careers4Terps, a jobs/internship database exclusively for UMD students; also see the events calendar for networking opportunities, and events.

LinkedIn – Search for groups to join with the keywords “law enforcement”, “law”, “public safety (Some groups of interest – Law Enforcement 2.0, Law Jobs Network, etc.) You can also search for alumni who work in criminal justice or law-related positions to get a better idea for job titles and organizations in the field as well as to make new networking connections.