How To Become a Criminologist

If you enjoy working with people and have an interest in both criminal behavior and social interactions, you might be wondering how to become a criminologist. Criminology is a discipline within the social sciences that studies crime through a social, behavioral, and psychological perspective. A criminologist may work in a research capacity or in a hands-on role at crime scenes and in law enforcement investigative laboratories.

While all criminologists look at the behavioral causes and societal aspects of crime, the daily undertakings of jobs in this field vary. Some criminologists work in an academic setting, spending their time collecting data in laboratories and researching the factors at work when crimes occur, including the psychology of the perpetrator, the legal policies in place, and what social factors may have contributed to the act. Other criminologists spend all or at least part of their time gathering information at crime scenes and medical or investigative laboratories and “profiling” criminals, or developing a list of their expected traits. This role may seem more glamorous and is often portrayed in television crime dramas, but professionals working in this field still need the same level of education as academic researchers.

Criminology combines principles of sociology with a focus on criminal behavior to not only better understand why people commit crimes, but how to discourage people from committing crimes in the future. A criminologist can have a big impact on government policies that deal with crime. Prevention of crime, especially violent crime, is a major benefit to society. When individuals choose to pursue a career as a criminologist, they are helping to reduce crime and protect people from unnecessary harm.

Criminology is often considered a subdivision of sociology, and many aspiring criminologists begin preparing for their career by earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Psychology and criminal justice are also popular undergraduate degree paths for aspiring criminologists. Some institutions even offer undergraduate study programs in criminology specifically. Regardless of which major students choose, they should be sure to complete enough coursework in psychology, the social sciences, and statistics to develop a thorough background from which to draw the skills they need for this interdisciplinary career field. Because the factors that influence crime and its impact on society are so complex, aspiring criminologists must gain advanced education through a master’s-level degree program in criminology.

Criminologists earn a median annual salary of $45,025, according to This is significantly more than the $33,840 median annual salary that the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics reports for all occupations. In addition to their pay, criminologists get the satisfaction of explaining why crimes occurred, working to prevent future violations, and, if the work directly with crime scene investigators and law enforcement, helping get violent criminals off the streets. If you have a natural curiosity as to why crimes occur and a desire to make a concrete difference to society, knowing how to become a criminologist could be the start of a meaningful, exciting new career.

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