How to Become a Criminologist – Guide

by Anwesha Sarkar
Published: Last Updated on

So you want to become a criminologist? As a field of study, criminology examines criminal behavior and seeks to understand its causes. Criminologists study crime data, criminal psychology and behavior, and the impact of societal factors on crime rates.

Their work informs policies aimed at preventing and responding to crime. Becoming a criminologist requires focused education and relevant experience. Follow these key steps if you want to pursue this fascinating career path.

Educational Requirements

To become a criminologist, you need an advanced degree:

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree – The first step is a 4-year bachelor’s degree. Relevant majors include criminology, criminal justice, sociology, and psychology. Coursework covers areas like research methods, statistics, criminal law, juvenile delinquency, and deviant behavior. Develop strong research and analytical skills.
  • Obtain a master’s degree – Most criminology positions require a master’s degree. Look for graduate programs in criminology or criminal justice. Coursework expands on undergrad topics and includes theory, criminal behavior analysis, ethics, and program evaluation. A thesis is usually required.
  • Consider a doctorate – A PhD opens doors to research, teaching, and leadership roles. Earning a doctorate takes 5-7 years with courses, seminars, comprehensive exams, independent research, and a dissertation. Look for funded PhD programs to avoid tuition costs.

Gain Relevant Experience

Beyond your education, real-world experience is vital:

  1. Complete an internship – Look for undergraduate or graduate criminology internships to start building your resume. Placements could include police departments, correctional facilities, courts, victim services, research groups, or criminal justice nonprofits.
  2. Volunteer – Find volunteer opportunities that provide exposure to at-risk individuals or criminal justice system operations. Possibilities include youth outreach programs, prison literacy projects, crisis hotlines, or community mediation services.
  3. Work or research assist – Seek part-time work or research assistant roles during your studies. Academic departments frequently need help with research, data analysis, or literature reviews.
  4. Present and publish – Attend academic conferences to present research and network with peers. Aim to publish papers in credible criminology journals while a student. These activities boost your experience and credentials.

Key Skills and Attributes

Criminologists require a specific set of skills and traits to succeed:

  1. Analytical skills – Review complex data sets and research to identify trends and draw conclusions. Statistics and research methods are key hard skills.
  2. Communication abilities – From writing reports to briefing policymakers, you need to communicate scientific findings clearly and convincingly for multiple audiences. Strong written and verbal skills are essential.
  3. Critical thinking – Objectively assess theories, examine assumptions, and interpret criminal behaviors and motives. An open, inquisitive mindset is essential.
  4. Interpersonal skills – Work collaboratively in teams and build relationships with diverse stakeholders. Ability to interview subjects with sensitivity.
  5. Attention to detail – Precise and meticulous approach when gathering and analyzing data. Careful record-keeping abilities.
  6. Ethics – Follow rigorous ethical standards when conducting research and keep subjects’ identities confidential. Integrity is paramount.

Career Paths and Specializations

With your criminology qualifications, various career paths open up:

  • Academic researcher – Teach at the university level and publish studies advancing scientific knowledge of criminology. Pursue tenured professor roles.
  • Criminal profiler – Work with law enforcement to analyze crime scene evidence and develop profiles of criminal suspects. Help solve serial crimes.
  • Corrections specialist – Oversee offender rehabilitation programs and provide expertise on reducing recidivism rates post-incarceration.
  • Intelligence analyst – Support law enforcement by compiling and analyzing crime data to identify patterns and inform deployment of resources.
  • Forensic criminologist – Apply criminology principles to help solve crimes through forensic science techniques.
  • Public policy advisor – Inform policymakers on criminology research and recommend evidenced-based reforms to prevent crime and support victims.

Within these roles, you can specialize in areas like organized crime, cybercrime, hate crimes, or comparative criminology. The field offers great variety!

Working Environment

Criminologists work in diverse settings:

  • Government agencies like police departments, courts, corrections facilities
  • Consulting firms, research institutes, think tanks
  • Universities and academic departments
  • Private companies in security, forensics, or investigations
  • Nonprofit and advocacy organizations

Much time is spent doing research in libraries, labs, or in the field. For policy and academia roles, an office setting is more common. Fieldwork may involve site visits and subject interviews. Flexible work arrangements are often possible.

Professional Organizations to Join

Once established in the field, join relevant professional groups:

  • American Society of Criminology – Leading professional organization hosting conferences and publishing research.
  • Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences – Supports multi-disciplinary research and education for criminal justice professionals.
  • American Evaluation Association – helps evaluators strengthen their skills and knowledge.
  • American Psychology-Law Society – Focuses on contributions of psychology to understanding law and legal systems.

These groups provide networking, research presentation opportunities, job boards, and avenues to impact public policy. They help you build your profile as a criminology expert.


Becoming a criminologist requires commitment but offers rewarding career paths. Follow the steps above to gain the right mix of education, experience, skills and professional connections. Above all, let intellectual curiosity about human behavior drive you.

With passion for this complex field, you will find a fulfilling role shaping crime prevention and justice policies.

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