Become a Criminologist

Criminologists study physical aspects of crime scenes and seek to understand the sociological causes and implications of crime. In some cases, they also study the psychology of criminals and may develop criminal profiles (think of TV shows like “Criminal Minds” and “The Profiler,” only more realistic). Their work involves helping to solve crimes and to prevent them. Criminologists usually work for local police, state or federal government agencies, although some do research for private companies.


Getting an Education

  1. Get a high school education. You can start thinking about a career in criminology while you are still in high school. Concentrate on doing well in all academic subjects, since this will help you prepare for a criminal science program in college.
    • Good high school courses for a future criminologist to take include sociology, government, history, psychology, and statistics.[1]
    • Some high schools offer courses in criminology, criminal justice, or related areas.[2][3] If yours does, be sure to take them.
    • In addition to academics, seek out extracurricular activities to broaden your education and deepen your interests. You could join or start a Criminology Club, for example, as well as participate in common activities like Mock Trial, Debate Club, Math Team, etc.[4][5]
  2. Get a bachelor’s degree.[6] It is essential to get at least an undergraduate education if you want to become a criminologist. Some colleges and universities have degree programs in criminology, but there is no set subject your degree must be in. Whatever your chosen major subject is, make sure to take courses in areas like sociology, psychology, criminal justice, statistics, writing, and computer science.[7][8] Criminologists enter the field from a variety of academic backgrounds, including:
    • Criminology
    • Sociology
    • Psychology
    • Criminal Justice
  3. Look for internships.[9] These offer opportunities to gain first-hand, real-world experience while you are still getting your education. Work with your school to develop an internship plan that fits your educational and career goals. You might seek internships with:[10]
    • A police department
    • A law office
    • State or Federal government offices
    • Community organizations
    • Research groups
  4. Get an advanced degree.[6] Many criminologists choose to further their education either before or after beginning work in the field. Earning a master’s degree or even a doctorate can help you gain more advanced positions, greater responsibilities, and higher pay. You can earn a graduate degree in a field such as:
    • Behavioral Science
    • Criminology
    • Sociology
    • Psychology
    • Criminal Justice
  5. Get your license.[6][7] To work as a criminologist in most locations and with most law enforcement agencies, you must pass a written examination and earn a license.[11] In most cases, this is separate from any degree in criminology or a related field that you might earn. In other words, even if you earn your degree, you may not be able to practice as a criminologist until you pass the licensure examination.
    • The specific format of the examination will vary depending upon your location and the agency you want to work for. Expect the examination to be rigorous, however, so study hard beforehand.

Gaining Experience

  1. Join a professional association.[12] Professional groups provide opportunities to network, present and learn about research, continue your education, and find jobs. There are a number of organizations serving the field of criminology, such as:
    • The International Society for Criminology[13]
    • The American Society of Criminology[14]
    • The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences[15]
    • The Law and Society Association[16]
    • The Midwestern Criminal Justice Association[17]
    • The Western Society of Criminology[18]
  2. Look for a job.[6] Individuals trained in criminology find work in numerous careers. While you may look for an entry-level position at first, there are usually good opportunities for advancement. However it may be difficult to cross fields. For instance, if you are hired with a state agency, it might be more difficult to later get an advanced job at a federal agency, and vice versa.[7][8] Criminologists find positions with:
    • Police departments
    • The FBI
    • State and local governmental agencies
    • Colleges and universities
    • Consultancy agencies
  3. Pass background checks. During the process of being hired for a job in criminology, you can expect to have to pass background and security checks.[6] As participants in the fight against crime, criminologists are expected to have good records and impeccable ethics.
  4. Excel at your job. Your day-to-day work as a criminologist will vary depending upon your specific position and area of expertise. Most jobs in the field, however, eventually involve some combination of fieldwork, analysis, and reporting. For instance:
    • You might be present at a crime scene, to help gather evidence and determine exactly what occurred.
    • You might investigate how the crime is related to social issues.[6] For instance, you might consider how crimes are related to other problems, such as drug abuse, poverty, and corruption.
    • You might be involved with cataloging information, processing data, and writing reports based on criminal investigations.[7]
    • You might be involved with helping policy makers determine how to respond to and eliminate crime.
  5. Investigate alternative careers. Many individuals trained in criminology wind up working in jobs that do not bear the title “criminologist.” Nevertheless, these careers can be just as fulfilling, and draw on your skills, training, and experience. Job titles of people with a background in criminology include:[19][20]
    • Border Patrol Agent
    • Compliance Officer
    • Court Administrator
    • Evidence Technician
    • Federal Protection Officer
    • I.R.S. Agent
    • Legal Assistant
    • Penologist

Developing Your Skills

  1. Attend conferences. Attending professional criminology conferences is a great way to network, learn about new developments and issues in the field, and get information about jobs and other important matters. Regular conferences are hosted by many of the major professional criminology associations, such as:
    • The American Society of Criminology[21]
    • The Western Society of Criminology[22]
    • The European Society of Criminology
  2. Read and publish research in the field. You can keep up with new developments in criminology by reading current research in journals devoted to the field. If you are interested in sharing research that you have conducted, or want to report on work you have done, you can also try to publish articles in these journals, such as:
    • The Criminologist[23]
    • The Journal of Quantitative Criminology[24]
    • International Annals of Criminology[13]
    • Criminology and Criminal Justice[25]
    • The British Journal of Criminology[25]
    • The European Journal of Criminology
    • Criminology and Public Policy
  3. Take continuing education courses. Criminology is a field that is constantly changing as new technologies, methods, and policies are developed. Taking refresher courses even after you complete a degree and have experience working as a criminologist is a good way to keep up with these new developments. Continuing educations courses in criminology may be offered through colleges and universities, professional associations, and governmental agencies. These courses cover topics like:[26]
    • Documentation and forensics
    • Combating cyber crime
    • Promoting crime prevention
  4. Develop a specialization. You can also dedicate yourself to gaining expertise in a specialty such as translational criminology, national security, or cyber crime.[27][28] Working on projects in your area of interest, taking relevant courses, and publishing in the field can all help you gain this expertise. Developing skills in a sub-field of criminology can leader to greater responsibility, recognition, and employment opportunities.


  • Salaries for criminologists can vary widely.[6] You might expect to earn $29,000-$40,000 per year when you just start out. As you increase your skills and experience, your salary can rise. Criminologists working for the federal government earn higher salaries (about $41,000-$63,000).

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Sources and Citations

  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3
  8. 8.0 8.1
  13. 13.0 13.1
  25. 25.0 25.1