How to Become a Criminologist in the US

Criminologists help law enforcement officers and agencies understand why criminals engage in criminal behavior. They also play an important role in combating crime and helping convicted criminals rehabilitate into useful and productive people. If you possess excellent problem-solving skills and would love to help create a crime-free society, this is a career that could suit you.

What do criminologists do?

Criminologists typically work alongside law enforcement agencies such as police officers, FBI agents, medical examiners or private investigators. Their general duties include:

  • Analyzing the causes and effects of crimes on individuals, families and societies
  • Assessing the effectiveness of judicial systems in applying the law
  • Evaluating the effectiveness of correctional and rehabilitation programs
  • Developing crime prevention and reduction strategies
  • Profiling the various types of criminals
  • Keeping accurate records of all crimes committed
  • Measuring the level of crime in various regions

Work environment

As a prospective criminologist, you can expect to work from 9am to 5pm, Monday through Friday. However, you may be called in when off-duty to examine a crime scene and try to decipher the intentions or thoughts of the perpetrator.

Apart from crime scenes, criminologists can also spend time in courts, forensic laboratories, prisons and private offices. This job can be risky, especially when interviewing prisoners.


Although salary can vary the average annual wage for criminologists in the US is as follows:

Job level

Annual pay

Starting criminologists

$29,000 to $49,000

Experienced criminologists

$49,000 to $61,000

Qualifications required

To become a criminologist, you need a bachelor’s degree in any of the following fields:

  • Sociology
  • Criminology
  • Psychology
  • Criminal justice

These programs cover topics such as law and the justice system, criminal theory, social deviance and the causes and effects of crimes.

After graduating, you should establish whether your state regulates the practice of criminologists. If it does, you should be ready to pass a licensing examination.

Apart from being a graduate, employers will also require you to:

  • Be an American Citizen
  • Have a clean criminal background.

Skills, abilities and qualities

To perform the duties of a criminologist successfully you should have:

  • Excellent problem-solving and critical thinking skills
  • An analytical mind with a keen eye for detail
  • Good communication and interpersonal skills
  • Good teamwork skills
  • Flexibility and adaptability
  • Emotional resilience—The job may involve interviewing victims of crime
  • An interest in policing, social welfare and human behavior.

Career development

As a qualified criminologist, you may be able to advance into more specialized fields or progress to administrative positions. To get there you should:

  • Gain vast work experience
  • Earn a master’s degree in fields such as forensic criminology or criminal psychology – This will enable you to become a forensic or psychological criminologist.
  • Obtain a Criminal Profiler Professional Certification from the International Association of Forensic Criminologists
  • Join professional bodies like the American Society of Criminology to network with other criminologists

Job opportunities

Who are your potential employers? They include:

  • Local and state police departments
  • Federal law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI
  • Court systems
  • Rehabilitation and correction centers
  • Forensic laboratories
  • Social welfare organizations

With vast experience and a master’s degree, you can become an administrator in the judicial system. A doctorate is required to become an educator or researcher in colleges and universities.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that demand for all sociologists, including criminologists, will grow by 15 percent through 2022. Since this is greater than the 11 percent average for all jobs, the chance of entering this field is higher than you previously may have though.

So if you have an interest in law enforcement as well as sociology, then perhaps this is the right career for you.


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