If you’re interested in understanding the criminal mind, you may want to consider a career as a criminologist. To learn more about this profession and how to join it, read on.
Common questions you’ll hear in documentaries or conversations relating to crimes are “how could they do something so horrible?” or “what kind of person is capable of committing such heinous crimes?”
Finding the answers to these questions can be difficult because they require you to have an understanding of the criminal psyche, which is why we have criminologists! Criminologists’ main responsibility is getting to the root of these questions to figure out why criminals commit the acts they do.
If grappling with these difficult questions intrigues you, this guide will go into further detail about how to become a criminologist, what their job entails, and the skills required to join this profession.
The first part of deciding whether a profession is right for you is determining what the job involves.
Criminologists aim to understand why crimes are committed and how they can be prevented. In an attempt to get into the mind of the criminals they study, this field intersects with sociology, psychology, and ethics.
Criminologists spend the majority of their time in lab settings analyzing data, social patterns, evidence, profiles, and behaviors. They take two approaches to their studies:
While a criminologist’s day-to-day tasks will depend on the crime they’re studying, they generally involve:
Since there are so many crimes for criminologists to study, they often specialize in either an age group or type of crime. Forensic criminologists, for example, are a popular specialty. These professionals combine hard sciences like chemistry with soft sciences like psychology to best understand criminals.
Understanding criminal behaviour and predicting future crimes involves a high degree of skill and training. So, how long does it take to become a criminologist?
Aspiring criminologists can expect to spend at least four years learning about the criminal justice field and at least a couple years gaining experience with criminal cases before becoming independent criminologists.
The first and minimum educational requirement you’ll need to become a criminologist is obtaining an undergraduate degree from an accredited university. The majority of criminologists major in criminal justice, but majors in sociology and psychology are also common.
Aspiring forensic criminologists may opt to join highly competitive forensic science majors or other science-based majors.
Regardless of the major you choose, you should gain significant coursework in each of these disciplines to become the most effective and qualified criminologist possible. For instance, while a major in criminal justice may help you understand the law better, you’ll have little knowledge of human behavior and the dynamics that affect it.
To ensure you gain a comprehensive education, take courses in psychology, sociology, and criminal justice, and hone your research and writing skills as well.
Considering a large part of your job as a criminologist will be conducting research and writing scholarly articles, it’s essential you develop these skills prior to entering the field. Having significant research experience on your resume will give you a competitive edge and ensure you’re prepared for a career as a criminologist.
Participating in psychology-related research will be the most beneficial for you, and will likely be the easiest for you to pursue considering your major.
Criminologist positions will require you to have at least a few years of experience working in a similar field. Having prior experience interacting with criminals through an internship with local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies can boost your resume.
Gaining a Master’s in Criminal Justice or Psychology is highly encouraged for students interested in becoming criminologists. This degree will allow you to gain more advanced training in data analysis, research, and writing.
While many criminologists successfully join the field with just an undergrad, having a master’s degree can get you into the field quicker, as you will not need as much work experience to prove your qualifications.
You will also have more opportunities, as large federal law enforcement organizations like the CIA or FBI typically require applicants to have master’s or doctorate degrees.
Forensic criminologists in particular have various certification options that they can obtain through the American Board of Criminalistics once they’ve gained some experience in the field. These include certifications in:
Criminologists of any speciality may also gain certification with a national institute before entering the field. Many criminologists opt to become Certified Criminal Profilers (CPPs) to enhance their skills in criminal profiling, which is an essential part of a criminologists job. There are several accredited institutions that offer this certification.
Criminologists are expected to have a high degree of technical knowledge on criminal behavior, patterns, and influences. Aside from having advanced knowledge in the field, they’re also expected to have the following skills:
The field of criminology requires patience and keen observation as well! It’s a field that is constantly expanding as these professionals make new discoveries.
Drawing definitive conclusions in this field is difficult, so criminologists must be willing to study and analyze crimes for long periods of time to gain even a little more insight on criminals.
While the US Bureau of Labor and Statistics does not report on criminologists’ salaries in particular, they consider criminologists to be sociologists. Sociologists make an average of $92,910 a year. Criminologists may make more or less than this depending on their state, agency, and experience.
There is expected to be steady job growth in this career over the next decade, but criminologist positions are competitive, especially if you’re applying to federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI.
This guide is intended to provide you with a comprehensive understanding of how to become a criminologist. In case you have any unanswered questions, here are the answers to frequently asked questions about this profession.
It will take at least five years to become a criminologist: four years to complete a Criminal Justice, Psychology, Sociology, Forensic Science, or related undergrad and at least one year of field experience. However, most jobs will require you to have a Master’s degree as well, which will take one to two years to complete.
Joining this field will require focus and dedication. You’ll be expected to complete at least one, but preferably two, challenging degrees and gain valuable research and work experience to join the field. These positions are also highly competitive, meaning you’ll have to have a stellar application to stand a chance of landing your dream job.
Yes, the FBI employs highly skilled criminologists.
Yes, criminologists typically make around $90,000 a year, but can make more depending on the organization they work for.
No, fortunately you do not have to go through the arduous process of going to law school to become a criminologist. You only need an undergraduate degree at the minimum to join this profession, not a JD.
Criminologists play an essential role in predicting and decreasing crime. While joining this profession will require advanced training and experience, you’ll play a major role in making society a safer place! You’ll also get closer to answering the seemingly unattainable question: “why do people commit crimes?”