Criminology synthesizes psychological, biological, and sociological concepts to identify and explain deviant behavior. According to the research organization Data USA, 3.68 million people currently work in criminology positions. In 2016, colleges and universities awarded more than 9,000 criminology degrees, a 2.1% increase from the previous year. Careers in criminology continue to expand due to technological innovations and the threats of domestic crime and international terrorism.
This guide offers valuable information on possible careers for criminology degree-holders, including traditional paths and alternative opportunities. You can also find insights on academic programming, concentration options, skill development and application, and professional resources.
Skills Gained in a Criminology Program
You can pursue careers in criminology after developing core competencies through associate and bachelor's programs. At the undergraduate level, students learn fundamental theories in deviance and the psychology of crime. They also receive an overview of the U.S. justice system. At the graduate level, learners build on key skills through coursework in concentration areas like forensic science or homeland security. They also train in advanced research skills needed for scientist, analyst, and postsecondary teacher careers.
- Criminologists develop integrative communication skills to convey ideas in written, oral, and multimedia formats. They must be able to relate technical and theoretical information to diverse audiences including students, law enforcement, community members, and business professionals. They also advocate for individuals adversely affected by the criminal justice system.
- Leadership skills are crucial for individuals in managerial and director-level criminology positions. Students develop the ability to lead multidisciplinary teams, motivate staff, and resolve conflicts. They also delve into the moral aspects of effective leadership and how to creatively shift their management style to suit different contexts.
- Critical Analysis
- Criminology students develop the quantitative and qualitative analysis skills to effectively conduct, evaluate, and present ethical research. They learn to identify criminal behavior, assist law enforcement, and address issues of injustice. Criminologists also analyze the criminal justice system itself, locating areas of inequality and advocating for victims' rights.
- Criminological Theory
- This core skill enables students to differentiate the major theories concerning criminalization and crime, including classifications of delinquent behavior. Learners apply these concepts to evaluate contemporary injustices and recommend a course of action. In addition to its national context, criminological theory tackles transnational crimes through a comparative approach that examines the world's police, courts, and corrections systems.
- Administration of Justice
- Criminologists must understand the major steps in law enforcement, judicial, and policymaking processes. Students learn to assess the institutions and key tasks involved at each stage of the criminal justice system. Criminologists apply this knowledge by working as program managers and freelance consultants.
Why Pursue a Career in Criminology?
You can pursue diverse and lucrative career paths with a criminology degree. Law enforcement represents a major field, particularly for those who do not want to earn graduate credentials. The BLS projects that protective service occupations, including correctional officers, police officers, private security, and criminal investigators, will grow 5% or by 158,200 jobs from 2016 to 2026. According to the BLS, demand for private detectives and investigators will increase by 11% from 2016 to 2026.
Criminology graduates can also seek forensic positions including forensic science technician, an occupation projected to grow 17% in the same time period. And according to PayScale, crime scene investigators earn a median salary of $45,816. Furthermore, criminology students who pursue specialized training in cybersecurity gain access to some of the most in-demand jobs in the U.S. The BLS projects an astounding 28% expansion in opportunities for information security analysts from 2016 to 2026.
Aspiring criminologists can also pursue careers in rehabilitation, community development, and education. By enrolling in master's and doctoral programs, students gain the advanced skills to work as research scientists and policymakers. They may further expand their job opportunities by earning professional certification and/or licensure.
How Much Do Criminology Majors Make?
BLS data shows that detectives and private investigators earn an average annual salary from $43,800 (the lowest 10%) to $138,860 (the top 10%). Industry also impacts pay, with professionals working in the federal executive branch enjoying the highest salaries. Additionally, your college education level greatly affects how much you can earn. Master's degree-holders enjoy $12,000 more in median annual salary than those with baccalaureate credentials.
Dr. David Corbett Everidge
Dr. David Corbett Everidge is a security professional with 22 years' experience in the public and private sectors. Currently in private practice, he has held numerous public criminal justice roles and is a criminal justice instructor and martial artist. His expertise benefits clients including corporations worth half a billion dollars or more, high net worth families and individuals, government agencies, and religious organizations.
Dr. Everidge holds a doctor of philosophy degree along with master's degrees in criminal justice and security management. He has been a guest on international podcasts focused on criminology and interviewed by various media sources, covering topics such as crime prevention and women's self-defense. Dr. Everidge's academic interests include crime prevention techniques, kidnapping, and labeling theory. He can be reached at www.phdce.com or on Instagram and Twitter at @thefeloniousphd.
- Why did you decide to pursue a career in criminology?
My education and career in criminology was purely happenstance. Undecided on a major during my undergraduate studies, I enrolled in an introductory criminology course taught by a district attorney that had prosecuted some very high-profile cases. I recall one lecture in which she detailed the case of a serial rapist she had prosecuted who happened to be a former professor at the university I was attending. From that night forward, I was hooked.
During my undergraduate years and onward into my master's program, I became fascinated with attempting to answer three vexing questions: Why do people behave in ways that violate not only the laws of the land but also the social contract that binds us together? How do these behaviors impact victims? The final question would serve as the foundation for my true passion in life, which is security and crime prevention: How do we detect and prevent criminal behavior before it becomes a tragic reality?
- What is so valuable about earning a degree in this field right now?
A degree in criminology is valuable in contemporary society for two reasons. In the post-9/11 era, we live under a different set of social and legal circumstances. Socially, people are rightfully concerned about their safety with a real or perceived looming threat of terrorism. To confront these threats, laws have been enacted to counter these threats. A degree in criminology takes an in-depth look at both sides of this issue. How do we protect our citizens while maintaining the basic freedoms that define us as Americans?
The degree is perhaps most important today because we have to face a harsh reality: our society is changing. Despite one's political and social beliefs, we are witnessing a shift in society that sees us becoming more polarized. We have seen numerous examples of violent clashes recently that are indicative of a shift in cultural values and norms across society. For the criminologist, this is an exciting time to be involved in this field of study because we have a front-row seat in watching this drama unfold. We have the unique opportunity to understand how macro-level society impacts criminal behavior that by its nature is intensely personal.
- What did your career trajectory look like after you graduated? How did you end up in your current position?
My career has taken a meandering path. I began my career, after completing my master's degree, as an adult probation and parole officer. After three years, I was appointed as a magistrate judge, which was very unusual for someone the age of 28. During this time, I also began teaching courses at local community colleges. Due to my position as a magistrate, I taught courses related to criminal procedure, criminal law, and constitutional law. I also taught courses related to crime prevention.
During this period of my career, I was also involved in military law enforcement as a member of the Navy Reserve. I graduated at the top of my class and served after 9/11 in various law enforcement and security roles. One of my most memorable career experiences involved performing physical security duties onboard the USS Constitution.
After five years as a magistrate, I focused on my true passion in life: security and crime prevention. I had worked in several capacities in the security and crime prevention field aside from my duties as a magistrate. From healthcare security to hotel security, I was able to gather a vast amount of experience in private sector security. The experiences I gained in public service, military law enforcement, and private security led me to my current position.
- Why did you decide to pursue a master's and a Ph.D.? Was this necessary for your criminology career goals?
At the present moment, I have two master's degrees and a Ph.D. I may be an unusual case amongst my peers, but I did not pursue any of my graduate degrees with the idea of furthering my career. I was simply fascinated with criminology and wanted to gain a deeper understanding of what I was witnessing on a daily basis in my work.
As a professional in private practice now in the security profession, my credentials do play a role in how clients perceive my knowledge, skills, and abilities. As a Ph.D., I focus on a very specific knowledge base and skill set. You are looked upon as the expert because of your training. Although my education was not necessarily required for the position I now hold, it has certainly been beneficial in establishing me as someone with credibility and expertise.
- Why did you decide to move into teaching criminology?
For my most of my life, I have admired teachers. I am personal friends with a middle school teacher who taught me in the eighth grade. An esteemed professor in my master's program was the most influential person I have ever known, in that he allowed me to discover a thirst for knowledge. He taught me how to think, not what to think. My time with him changed my life, and I am forever grateful to him for the lessons he taught me.
I feel alive when I am teaching. Whether I am teaching a self-defense course for a half-billion-dollar corporate client or a course in constitutional law to undergraduates, time stands still for me. That is not hyperbole. I receive an immense personal satisfaction from being able to teach a subject that I love.
- What are the pros and cons of working in the industry?
The pros of this profession are dependent upon the personality and career goals of the individual. Many people are able to quench a thirst for adventure. I tend to receive the greatest amount of joy in knowing that I was able to promote a positive change in a person's life. Whether it is a corporate client learning travel security, a victim of a crime that I encountered as a magistrate, or a former student, it is humbling to hear them thank you for adding something positive to their life.
The cons of this job are numerous, but two stand out for me. First, you will witness some horrific things. It is shocking to witness how we as human beings can treat one another. Second, this leads to a feeling of isolation. The average citizen has no idea as to the depravity that takes place in their communities on a daily basis. As a professional criminologist ensconced in this world, you will have a glimpse into a world that not many people understand, and it can be lonely.
- What advice would you give to criminology graduates seeking a job after graduation?
I offer two pieces of advice that were not given to me at the onset of my career. I had to learn this for myself! First, stay grounded. Surround yourself with positive people and things that bring peace and joy to your life. Whatever it is that brings you happiness, be it playing golf or spending time with your family, let this be a major part of who you are. Second, never lose sight of the good in people. You will confront circumstances and people that are unimaginable. Don't let these professional encounters define your views on life as a whole. Although as criminologists we focus on the darker aspects of humanity, I will forever believe in the goodness of people as a whole.
How to Succeed in Criminology
Due to the ubiquity of the criminal justice system, your career options in criminology exist at every degree level. Students who enroll in associate programs prepare for law enforcement positions such as police officer, fish and game warden, and corrections officer. They can also work as legal assistants and paralegals. Bachelor's programs in criminology offer learners comprehensive training to become forensic science technicians and insurance fraud investigators or work for private companies as human resource generalists and loss prevention specialists.
At the master's level, students gain advanced skills to work as emergency management directors, forensic psychologists, and information security analysts. They can also pursue careers with federal agencies like the CIA and DEA. Doctoral programs represent the final step in academic preparation for dedicated research, postsecondary teaching, and executive-level positions.
Careers in criminology are diverse. Depending on the industry, job qualifications may include specialized training. Professionals who pursue local and state law enforcement positions typically must complete a government-sponsored training program. Police officers undergo rigorous physical conditioning and learn about constitutional rights, emergency response tactics, and professional ethics. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists complete similar training before sitting for a state certification exam.
Law enforcement staff progress through the ranks by cultivating experience in the field. Police officers can advance into detective roles and, with additional college education, gain management positions as department chiefs. Professional certification represents another method for career advancement.
Licensure and Certification
In addition to academic credentials, you may need to obtain licenses or certificates for certain careers in criminology. Professional credentials are common among technical occupations including cybersecurity, business intelligence, and forensic investigations. Even if a career does not require certification/licensure, earning optional credentials allows you to demonstrate valuable expertise and experience.
Forensic science technicians and forensic scientists generally hold bachelor's and master's degrees, respectively. Many practitioners obtain professional certificates. The International Association of Identification and the American Board of Criminalistics operate certification programs in areas like crime scene reconstruction, trace evidence, and fingerprint analysis. The High Tech Crime Network offers certificates in computer crime investigation.
To become a practicing lawyer, students need to earn at least a bachelor's in legal studies, criminology, political science, or another relevant field. They must then enroll in law school and sit for the bar exam to earn their juris doctor. The National Conference of Bar Examiners provides comprehensive information on bar admission requirements, including state-specific criteria concerning domestic and international legal education and character and fitness determinations.
Private investigators typically come from a law enforcement background, often first working as police officers or private security. Most U.S. states require investigators and detectives to obtain professional certification. Criteria vary by state and students should check with the relevant PI associations for more details. The National Association of Legal Investigators and ASIS International operate optional certification programs for investigators who want to develop specialized skills and advance their careers.
Concentrations Available to Criminology Majors
Your career paths with a criminology degree greatly depend on your education level and program concentration. You should choose the concentration that aligns with your personal interests and professional goals. Typical options include criminal justice, criminal law, and global criminology.
Students who are undecided regarding career objectives can opt for a broader concentration like psychology, sociology, computer science, or a foreign language.
- Criminal Justice
Colleges and universities often embed criminal justice topics into criminology programs, and vice versa. Students learn criminological theories in relation to the U.S. justice system, with emphasis on criminal justice as a social system of control affected by political trends and individual personalities. Learners examine prevention, intervention, and criminal reform strategies.
- Forensic Science
Another common criminology concentration, forensic science trains students to identify, collect, and analyze crime scene evidence. They develop the ability to secure areas of interest, reconstruct crime scenes, and examine chemical and biological samples in laboratory settings. Students also learn to prepare official reports, assist with criminal investigations, and act as expert witnesses during trial proceedings.
- Homeland Security
The homeland security concentration trains learners to prevent and ameliorate natural and human-made disasters. Students delve into emergency management and infrastructure protection. They learn to allocate resources, train emergency responders, and coordinate volunteers. They apply criminological theories to domestic and international terrorism, with emphasis on state and federal security protocols.
- Public Policy
Public policy comprises government regulations and laws that impact how individuals, communities, and entire nations act. Students learn about policymaking processes, including how social, economic, political, and technological factors influence government actions. They also train in public administration as preparation for working as program coordinators and managers in nonprofit and government organizations.
What Can You Do With a Criminology Degree?
The four sections below include criminology career lists based on degree. Lucrative and growing opportunities exist in a variety of fields, with law enforcement and government administration the common paths. Forensic science is another high-need area. According to the American Chemical Society, 90% of forensic chemists work for government-affiliated laboratories.
You can access some entry-level positions with an associate degree, but these occupations (including police officer and paralegal) often require additional training and certification. Most careers in criminology require a bachelor's degree. Options outside of law enforcement include business-oriented positions like loss prevention manager and information security technician.
Master's programs in criminology train students for leadership positions in police administration, correctional supervision, and community advocacy. Although candidates can sit for the bar exam with baccalaureate credentials, many prospective lawyers obtain graduate degrees before pursuing their JD. At the doctoral level, students complete independent projects that prepare them for postsecondary teaching and research positions.
Associate Degree in Criminology
Associate criminology programs total at least 60 credits, which students typically complete in two years. Some colleges and universities operate online accelerated tracks that enable learners to earn their credentials in 18 months. Degree plans consist of introductory coursework in deviance and violence, psychological profiling, and constitutional law. Students also develop core skills in forensic and criminal analysis.
Note that the three careers detailed below have technical aspects that may require additional training.
- Fire Inspector
Fire inspectors examine buildings for adherence to local, state, and federal fire codes. They review building plans with developers, plot evacuation routes, and test fire protection equipment. They also train residents and companies in fire prevention strategies. When examining wilderness locations, fire inspectors enforce regulations and report conditions back to central command.
Average Annual Salary: $60,200
- Paralegal/Legal Assistant
Paralegals and legal assistants support attorneys by conducting research and drafting summary reports for case preparation. They organize and maintain documents using electronic filing systems. Paralegals also oversee daily administrative tasks including answering the phone and scheduling appointments. During trials, they take notes, handle exhibits, and review transcripts of court proceedings.
Average Annual Salary: $50,940
- Police Officer
Police officers protect lives and property by patrolling assigned areas and responding to emergency/nonemergency calls. They monitor neighborhoods and look for signs of deviant or criminal behavior. They also conduct traffic stops, secure evidence at crime scenes, and prepare reports for investigation and trial.
Average Annual Salary: $63,380
Bachelor's Degree in Criminology
Bachelor of criminology programs total at least 120 credits, which full-time students finish in four years. Some accelerated online programs operate via eight-week classes year-round, enabling learners to graduate in two years.
On top of core competencies, bachelor's degree students develop specialized skills through open electives, concentrations, and practicums.
- Forensic Science Technician
Forensic science technicians assist criminal investigators by collecting evidence. They conduct laboratory tests on samples and preserve and catalog evidence for future use. They may specialize in a type of evidence, like ballistics, fingerprints, or DNA. Additionally, forensic science technicians prepare official investigative reports and act as witnesses during trials.
Average Annual Salary: $58,230
- Loss Prevention Manager
Loss prevention managers work for private businesses (typically retailers) where they minimize profit shrinkage by implementing security measures. They prevent theft, fraud, and other abuses of company resources by customers and employees. In addition to coordinating staff training programs, they audit inventory and partner with company leaders to develop organizational policies and objectives.
Average Annual Salary: $50,880
- Correctional Treatment Specialist
These professionals offer social services to offenders in custody, on probation, or on parole. They interview clients and conduct examinations, including drug tests and psychological evaluations, to develop rehabilitation plans. Correctional treatment specialists also connect clients with employment opportunities and affordable housing. Occasionally, they may testify in court regarding an offender's background and progress.
Average Annual Salary: $53,020
- Information Security Analyst
Information security analysts plan and implement technological measures to protect a company's private data from cyberattacks. They conduct penetration tests to discern security weaknesses and recommend solutions. They also train employees on proper information handling and disaster recovery plans. Due to the high need for cybersecurity experts, information security analysts can work for private, nonprofit, and public/government employers.
Average Annual Salary:$98,350
- Financial Examiner
A career accessible to students who pursue a concentration in forensic accounting, financial examiners analyze a company's transactions to ensure compliance with government regulations. They also establish guidelines for operational policies and conduct risk assessments to discern fiscal health and growth potential. Furthermore, financial examiners can pursue fraud investigations on behalf of state and federal government.
Average Annual Salary: $80,180
Master's Degree in Criminology
To earn a master's degree in criminology, students complete at least 30 credits, a process that commonly takes two years. Many schools offer online programs with accelerated options that enable full-time learners to earn their graduate credentials in as few as 12 months.
Degree plans include core classes in criminal justice policy; cybercrime; and police, courts, and corrections. Students also explore advanced topics like white-collar and corporate crime, hate crime, and U.S. immigration. A capstone project requires learners to tackle a real-world challenge in the criminology field.
- Emergency Management Director
Emergency management directors develop strategies in response to natural and human-made disasters. Like other managers, they organize programs, train staff, and allocate resources. Although staff-level emergency service positions are open to individuals with a bachelor's degree, directors usually need a master's and extensive work experience. They also benefit from certification through organizations like the International Association of Emergency Managers.
Average Annual Salary: $74,420
- Information Security Manager
With master's credentials and professional certification, information security analysts can work in management positions. These IT leaders oversee the entire security network for their organizations. After identifying operational needs, managers implement policy compliance software and maintain network infrastructure. They work with teams to update software and conduct forensic investigations.
Average Annual Salary: $111,877
- Social Service Manager
Criminology students who pursue concentrations in family studies or social justice are well-prepared to work as community and social service managers. These professionals coordinate and manage programming for nonprofit and government organizations. They advocate for the rights of ex-offenders through criminal justice reform and support victims and their families.
Average Annual Salary: $65,320
- Survey Researcher
Survey researchers design questioning instruments to examine public opinion and individual desires and beliefs. They may examine an offender's behavior by exploring education level, family life, and social status. They also conduct research on criminal justice policy and its effects on communities, with emphasis on factors like recidivism and racial/ethnic bias.
Average Annual Salary: $57,700
Doctoral Degree in Criminology
Ph.D. and other doctoral programs in criminology range from 50 to 80 credits. Students complete these programs in 3-7 years, depending on the pace of their coursework and dissertation scope. They take required classes in subjects like evidence-based crime policy and justice organizations and receive comprehensive research training, learning how to conduct studies using statistical methods, surveys, directed reading, and longitudinal data analysis techniques.
Doctoral candidates may also delve into advanced theoretical approaches, pursuing social research using feminist or environmental approaches.
Unsurprisingly, careers in criminology for doctoral degree-holders heavily emphasize research and its applications. Professionals can work for higher education institutions, policy research organizations, and think tanks. For students who want to work in practitioner-based roles, particularly in business or law enforcement, earning a master's degree and professional certification may represent a more efficient path toward fulfilling career objectives.
- Postsecondary Teacher
College and university professors deliver classroom instruction, help students find internships, and assist with post-graduation planning. They also pursue their own research, publishing findings in scholarly journals and presenting at conferences. Furthermore, they usually perform administrative duties like developing curricula and boosting student enrollment in the department.
Average Annual Salary: $78,470
- Security Consultant
While individuals with a master's degree can work as security consultants, the highest-paying senior positions are reserved for experienced professionals with doctoral training. These consultants apply their cybersecurity knowledge to help clients strengthen their information systems against intrusion, theft, and attacks. They identify security gaps, conduct penetration tests, and provide recommendations for multi-layered security infrastructure.
Average Annual Salary: $106,521
- Forensic Psychologist
Forensic psychologists help criminal investigators, attorneys, and judges understand factors like memory, perception, and a perpetrator's mental state. They often testify in court as expert witnesses. Forensic psychologists can specialize in criminal, family, or civil casework. After earning their doctorate, professionals who want to work within the government judicial and criminal justice systems usually need to obtain state licensure.
Average Annual Salary: $79,010
What Industries Can You Work in With a Criminology Degree?
Careers in criminology span across multiple industries. Data USA reports that 14% of active professionals in the field are employed by elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools. Approxmiately 7% work in legal services; 4% occupy justice, public order, and safety positions; and 3% are employed by insurance carriers and related companies. Ample opportunities exist within these fields, enabling criminologists to pursue distinct interests and goals.
How Do You Find a Job as a Criminology Graduate?
You should begin your job search early to take advantage of university resources. Career counselors provide one-on-one guidance, helping candidates find work, create resumes, and practice for interviews.
You can also bolster your career prospects by engaging with industry associations. The American Society of Criminology and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences publicize employment opportunities and offer networking events. For students interested in legal careers, the American Bar Association provides comprehensive information on education and certification.
Professional Resources for Criminology Majors
AAFP is a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting board-certified forensic psychologists in research and practice. The academy funds diversity, research, and early-career grants. Members also benefit from mentorship programs providing support through the certification process. AAFP operates in-person and online skill development workshops that center on contemporary issues in the field.
Founded in 1948, AAFS supports over 6,600 members in 50 U.S. states and 72 countries. Members can access a vast library of scholarly articles and research papers. The academy provides employment opportunities and networking events including educational conferences and international outreach programs. Through its foundation, AAFS offers research funding, student travel grants, and scholarships for educators.
Established in 1870, ACA helped develop the first guidelines for correctional operations in the U.S. The association maintains industry standards and confers accreditation for training programs. Members benefit from networking opportunities, healthcare resources, and research publications. ACA also delivers comprehensive professional development services that include e-learning courses, in-person training programs, and certification options.
A leader in the community corrections field, APPA serves over 90,000 professionals in the U.S. The association establishes best practices through intensive research and an organizing committee. Members access online and on-site training seminars. APPA also operates a leadership institute that provides rigorous career development training.
AACS dedicates its mission to fostering beneficial social change through the application of social scientific knowledge and methods. The association connects professionals from diverse fields, including criminology, community services, and information technology. Members enjoy job resources, conferencing opportunities, certification options, travel grants, and award competitions.
Founded in 1971, ALA supports legal management professionals working for law firms, government agencies, and corporate legal entities. It provides comprehensive academic guidance including information on academic programs, research opportunities, and online learning resources. Additionally, ALA operates a career center, where members can search for open positions, obtain career guidance, and receive certification support.
JRSA works to improve criminal and juvenile justice decision-making at the individual, organizational, and public policy levels. The association facilitates research initiatives through its statistical analysis centers. Members can connect through conferences and collaborative projects. They benefit from online learning tools and funding opportunities such as student research awards and academic scholarships.
Formed in 1975, NOVA is the oldest victim assistance organization in the U.S., advocating at all levels of government and organizing community engagement programs. Members can develop skills through crisis-responder credential programs. NOVA also operates on-site team training, student-centered educational programming, and online skill-based seminars.
The NBPA was chartered in 1972 as a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting fairness, effectiveness, and justice in law enforcement. The association connects members through local meetings and national conventions. The NBPA also offers online job listings, student scholarships, and career development resources. Professionals can access additional services by joining the Century Club.
The NCJA assists criminal justice organizations in developing effective and equitable public policies. It connects professionals from fields like corrections, law enforcement, elected offices, and victim and witness services. Members collaborate through leadership committees, national conferences, and the online platform Connect2Justice. They benefit from funding opportunities and career guidance.