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Criminology is an interdisciplinary field that applies psychological and sociological concepts to explain and treat criminal behavior. Careers with a criminology degree include correctional officer, forensic scientist, criminal profiler, and cybersecurity specialist.
This guide aims to help you build a career in this growing field by providing information on college programs, job opportunities based on degree level, and professional development.
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Why Pursue a Career in Criminology?
Criminology careers are diverse, each requiring its own set of skills. In general, criminology professionals need to have exceptional verbal and written communication skills. Their work often requires explaining complex theories, policies, and research findings to government officials, law enforcement, the press, and the public.
Criminology professionals must also develop ethical leadership skills and the ability to work effectively in time-sensitive and high-stress situations. Critical analysis is another important competency, enabling criminologists to draw actionable conclusions from vast data sets and come up with solutions to administrative and forensic challenges.
Featured Programs in Criminology
Criminology Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual wage for detectives and criminal investigators is $86,030. Criminology careers within the government sector boast the highest salaries, with federal executive branch employees making $107,150 per year.
The BLS projects that police and detective positions will grow by 5% between 2018 and 2028. Forensic investigators (14%) and information security analysts (32%) benefit from even greater projected growth rates over the same period.
The table below contains salary information based on a worker's experience for three popular criminology careers.
|Job Title||Entry-Level (0-12 months)||Early Career (1-4 Years)||Midcareer (5-9 Years)||Experienced (10-19 Years)|
|Detective or Criminal Investigator||$49,320||$51,200||$51,570||$69,360|
Skills Gained With a Criminology Degree
You can pursue careers in criminology after developing core competencies while enrolled in an associate or bachelor's program. At the undergraduate level, students learn fundamental theories related to 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 a concentration like forensic science or homeland security. They also develop the research skills needed for careers as scientists, analysts, and professors.
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 students, law enforcement, community members, and business professionals. They may also advocate for individuals adversely affected by the criminal justice system.
Leadership skills are crucial for professionals 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.
Criminology students develop the quantitative and qualitative analysis skills needed 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.
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.
Criminology Career Paths
Career paths with a criminology degree greatly depend on your education level and program concentration. You should choose a 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 their career objectives can opt for a broader concentration like psychology, sociology, computer science, or a foreign language.
Career paths for criminal justice students include positions in forensic science, homeland security, and public policy.
How to Start Your Career in Criminology
You can work as a police officer in most U.S. states without a college degree. However, many criminology careers require at least an undergraduate degree, particularly if you want to advance to research or leadership positions down the road.
Bachelor's in criminology programs provide comprehensive training that covers areas like abnormal psychology and the U.S. judicial system. Students in bachelor's programs can also access networking opportunities through internships and academic conferences.
With a bachelor's degree, you can work in law enforcement as a correctional officer or pursue employment with private companies as a loss prevention specialist or financial examiner. As you gain experience and/or advanced degrees, you can pursue management positions in information security, forensic psychology, and emergency response.
Associate Degree in Criminology
Associate in criminology programs total at least 60 credits, which students typically complete in two years. Some colleges and universities offer accelerated online tracks that enable learners to graduate in 18 months.
Curricula often include introductory coursework in violence, psychological profiling, and constitutional law. Students also develop core skills in forensic and criminal analysis.
The table below details a few jobs that individuals with an associate degree may qualify for. However, note that some of these roles may require additional certification or training.
What Can You Do With an Associate in Criminology?
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.
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.
Police officers patrol assigned areas and respond to emergency/nonemergency calls. They monitor neighborhoods and look for signs of criminal behavior. They also conduct traffic stops, secure evidence at crime scenes, and prepare reports for investigation and trial.
Bachelor's Degree in Criminology
Bachelor's in criminology programs require approximately 120 credits, which full-time students finish in four years. Some accelerated online programs offer eight-week classes throughout the year, enabling especially motivated learners to graduate in significantly less time.
On top of core competencies, bachelor's students develop specialized skills through open electives, concentrations, and practica.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Criminology?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Financial examiners can pursue fraud investigations on behalf of state and federal governments.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Master's Degree in Criminology
To earn a master's degree in criminology, students usually complete 30-45 credits, which generally takes about two years. Many schools offer online programs with accelerated options that enable full-time learners to graduate in one year.
Core courses often cover topics like criminal justice policy; cybercrime; and police, courts, and corrections. Students also explore advanced topics like white-collar and corporate crime, hate crimes, and U.S. immigration. Capstone projects require learners to tackle a real-world challenge in the criminology field.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Criminology?
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 earning certification through organizations like the International Association of Emergency Managers.
Information Security Manager
With master's degrees 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.
Social Service Manager
Criminology students who pursue concentrations in family studies or social justice are prepared to work as community and social service managers. These professionals coordinate and manage programs for nonprofit and government organizations. They advocate for the rights of ex-offenders through criminal justice reform and support victims and their families.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
Doctoral Degree in Criminology
Ph.D. and other doctoral programs in criminology usually require 50-80 credits. Students can complete these programs in 3-7 years, depending on their schedule and credit requirements. Learners take required classes in subjects like evidence-based crime policy and justice organizations. They also receive comprehensive research training, learning how to conduct studies using statistical methods, surveys, directed reading, and longitudinal data analysis.
Doctoral candidates may also delve into advanced theoretical approaches, pursuing social research using feminist or environmental approaches.
Careers in criminology for doctoral degree-holders 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 be a more efficient path toward fulfilling career objectives.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Criminology?
College and university professors deliver classroom instruction, help students find internships, and assist with career 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.
While individuals with a master's degree can work as security consultants, the highest-paying senior positions are often reserved for experienced professionals with doctoral degrees. 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 multilayered security infrastructure.
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.
Sources: BLS and PayScale
How to Advance Your Career in Criminology
Once you have begun an entry-level career in criminology, advancement requires strengthening your skills and gaining experience. Earning a graduate degree and/or industry-specific certifications can lead to promotions and higher salaries. Building your network by attending conventions and joining professional organizations can also help.
The following sections cover important certification and licensure information for criminal justice professionals, as well as less intensive continuing education options like open online courses.
Certifications and/or Licensure
Careers in criminology are found in diverse fields like commercial and corporate fraud, government intelligence, and criminal investigation. In some cases, licensure is also required. For example, to work as a correctional/prison counselor, you must complete a government-sanctioned training program, which includes competency exams, to earn a state license.
Private investigators must also earn licensure through a government authority. The California Association of Licensed Investigators offers online prep classes to help candidates pass the state's private investigator license test.
Although not usually required, professional certification is an excellent way to demonstrate your competence and learn new skills. Industry-specific certificates are common among technical fields like financial fraud examination and cybersecurity.
Through the International Association of Identification (IAI), forensic investigators can become certified in specialized areas like bloodstain pattern analysis, crime scene reconstruction, and latent print identification.
Master's programs provide students with the analytical skills needed for a criminology career in research, consulting, and public policy. Master's students can pursue concentrations in areas like restorative justice, national security studies, and human rights/humanitarian affairs.
By earning a master's or doctorate, you become eligible for fellowships, including the forensic pathology program sponsored by the National Institute of Justice. Ph.D. candidates can also apply for a research assistantship from the Association of Doctoral Programs in Criminology and Criminal Justice. Government agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, also offer paid training opportunities.
If you want to pursue less intensive continuing education, online classes may be an attractive — and often free — option.
As you advance your career in criminology, continuing education becomes crucial for staying current on new theories and maintaining professional certification and licensure. For example, the IAI requires certified professionals to undergo a renewal process every five years. Candidates must earn the designated number of credits by publishing in research journals, attending conferences, and completing workshops.
Networking is another important part of career advancement. Annual gatherings like the International Criminology Conference and the Techno Security and Digital Forensics Conference provide opportunities to collaborate with colleagues and learn from industry leaders.
How to Switch Your Career to Criminology
Since criminology occupations span multiple industries, career changes are common. For example, law enforcement officers who earn graduate degrees and cultivate extensive leadership experience can become police chiefs. They can also work for the federal government as FBI agents, CIA specialists, and emergency management directors.
Professionals from other fields may also change their careers to criminology, seeking higher salaries and/or a renewed purpose. Business practitioners can apply their data-gathering and evaluation skills in roles as cybersecurity analysts, forensic accountants, and insurance fraud investigators.
Criminologists can also switch their focus to nonprofit work, acting as victim advocates and youth services coordinators.
Where Can You Work as a Criminology Professional?
Careers for a criminology major can be found in government, nonprofit, and for-profit sectors. BLS data shows that law enforcement officers predominantly work for local agencies like sheriff's offices and police bureaus. However, they can also find work with private security firms and financial institutions or work for themselves as independent private investigators.
With a natural science background, criminology professionals can pursue forensic science careers within the judicial system, acting as crime scene reconstructionists and expert trial witnesses. The forensics field also covers financial and digital crimes, opening up employment opportunities with banks, IT consulting firms, and multinational corporations.
Forensic scientists can also work for public health organizations, overseeing conservation efforts and developing new methods to conserve and restore the environment.
The federal government is one of the leading employers of criminology professionals. Positions include border patrol agent, air marshal, postal inspector, and global intelligence analyst. Professionals can also pursue careers with the Drug Enforcement Administration, working as diversion investigators and forensic chemists.
Programs Related to Criminology
Frequently Asked Questions About Having a Job in Criminology
Is criminology a good career?
By pursuing a career in criminology, you can work in a variety of expanding fields. The BLS projects that private detectives and investigators will experience an 8% job growth rate between 2018 and 2028. During the same period, information security analysts have a projected job growth rate of 32%, which translates to the creation of about 35,500 new jobs.
What kind of jobs can you get with a degree in criminology?
Law enforcement is a major source of criminology careers and includes positions like correctional officer and forensic scientist. Criminology professionals can also work in the private sector, with options like insurance fraud investigator, retail theft prevention expert, and business intelligence analyst. Criminologists who have doctoral degrees are qualified to work as tenured college professors and think tank researchers.
What is the highest-paying job in criminology?
According to the BLS, computer and information systems managers earn a median annual salary of $146,360 — one of the most lucrative positions in the field. However, note that a worker's industry can significantly affect their earnings. For example, computer and information systems managers who work in the IT field typically make about 10% more than similar professionals in manufacturing.
Where do criminologists work?
Criminologists can work wherever criminal behavior needs to be examined, explained, and mediated. Many of these professionals occupy positions within law enforcement and the judicial system. Businesses also hire criminologists, requiring their skills to prevent cyberattacks and investigate corporate misconduct.
Criminology professionals can also work for community-based organizations as counselors, attorneys, and advocates.
Interview With a Security Professional
Dr. David Corbett Everidge
Dr. David Corbett Everidge is a security professional with 22 years of experience in the public and private sectors.
Dr. Everidge holds a Ph.D. 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. 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 who 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 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, which 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 among 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 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 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 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.