What could my career as a criminologist look like?

September 18, 2017 · 5 min read · By ASU Online

The criminal justice field oversees critical public safety functions on a local and national level — with involvement in all aspects of criminal proceedings from initial investigation to sentencing. This industry offers a number of rewarding career paths that serve public and private interests. This career profile series will explore some job opportunities available to those looking to make an impact in criminal justice.


Criminal justice professionals fall into one of two categories those who enforce the law and keep people safe and those who work to either solve crimes or understand criminal behavior. Professionals in this second category utilize many scientific and analytic skills in addition to those common in all criminal justice career paths.

Criminologists fall into the latter category since they’re typically specialized analysts or scientists who seek to understand why criminals behave as they do. Rather than focus on solving individual crimes, a criminologist works to discover what causes the behaviors most often associated with criminal activity. The findings are then used to aid police officers in their investigations.

Due to of the nature of their jobs, criminologists also are often college-level educators. Working in higher education gives them time to conduct research in conjunction with teaching criminal justice courses. In fact, three of the most common places a criminologist might work are large law enforcement agencies, government agencies or within sociology departments and social psychology labs at colleges and universities.

Typically, at least a bachelor’s degree is required for this position, usually in sociology. However, it’s becoming more common to require a post-graduate degree such as the online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice from Arizona State University. This degree helps develop the research, analytical and communication skills criminologists can utilize to help succeed in their careers. By learning these skills, as well as studying crime within a larger context, you’re also developing abilities that can help you succeed as an educator should you decide to pursue a career in both areas.

Criminologist professor teaches whiteboard lesson on memory and the subconscious.

A typical day in the life of a criminologist

Two of the most common daily tasks for a criminologist are researching and reporting. If you are also a college professor, teaching classes and working with students can come into play as well. While you’ll primarily spend your time in an office or classroom in this role, opportunities to travel and conduct field work are also common.

Criminologists collect research data in a number of ways, so a typical day might include interviewing incarcerated felons to generate psychological profiles or consulting with law enforcement officials to gather information. Primarily, data is collected that relates to a specific type of atypical behavior exhibited by criminals. This allows the criminologist to focus on a particular criminal behavior rather than a single crime when analyzing information and reporting findings.

Collaboration among your peers can also be major component of your day as a criminologist. Sharing research brings together findings from different individuals working in the same area and helps create useful and actionable conclusions.

A closer look at the professional landscape for criminologists

Since criminologists can potentially do their work while also fulfilling the responsibilities of a professor, it’s difficult to pinpoint an exact average salary. Not only can a dual role impact your wages, but so too will your level of education along with any previous work experience. To get a better idea of some potential salaries, here are a few median salaries from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Sociologists $80,000
  • Criminal investigators $78,000
  • Criminal justice professors $60,000, for both teaching and doing a combination of teaching and research


Growth is predicted over the next few years for these types of careers whether you decide to include teaching in your role or solely focus on behavioral research. For example, the BLS reported that private detective and investigator employment is projected to increase by 5 percent between 2014 and 2024. Sociologist employment will remain steady over that time. Furthermore, postsecondary teacher employment is projected to increase by 13 percent, faster than the average for all occupations.

Balancing a position as college faculty member with an active research role can be achieved in more ways than one. Working in a university’s sociology department can give you access to research grants and student assistance as you teach. You may even consider becoming an educator only part-time. Often called an adjunct, these part-time positions would enable you to have enough time for your research as a criminologist while also instructing students in criminal justice.

Becoming a criminologist

In addition to education requirements, there are several important skills that can lead to success as a criminologist. Because criminologists spend most of their time working with data and communicating their findings, it’s important to work on developing the following abilities:

  • Criminal justice research methods
  • Criminal justice policy
  • Communication in high-risk situations
  • Collaboration in professional settings
  • Writing, analysis and theory


Combining refined skills in the areas above with an online Master of Arts in Criminal Justice from Arizona State University can help you get noticed during the interview process and assist you in starting your career as a criminologist.

Ready to learn more about your potential career as a criminologist?

Pursuing a career in criminal justice can help you join a community of educators, scientists, police officers, supervisors, correctional officers, federal agents and many more professionals. No matter which career path in criminal justice interests you, you can learn more about expanding your qualifications in the online criminal justice master’s program from Arizona State University. This advanced degree explores the core tenets of criminal justice that may be applied in a variety of career settings.




Criminologist observes courtroom hearing.


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