How to become a criminologist

May 23, 2023 · 4 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.


What does a criminologist do?

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. Criminologists fall into the latter category, as they’re typically specialized analysts or scientists who seek to understand why criminals behave as they do.

Rather than focusing on solving individual crimes, a criminologist works to discover what causes or triggers behaviors most often associated with criminal activity. Their findings are then used to aid police officers in their investigations. Criminologists also often work in higher education as college-level educators. This provides them with 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.


A day in the life of a criminologist

Two of the most common daily tasks for a criminologist are researching and reporting. They collect research data in a variety 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, the data criminologists collect relate 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.

If a criminologist is also working in higher education, they’ll spend their time teaching classes and mentoring students. If you choose to take this career path, you’ll primarily spend your time in an office or classroom. However, opportunities to travel and conduct field work are also common.

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


How much do criminologists make?

With varying criminologist career paths, it can be difficult to pinpoint an average criminologist salary. Holding a dual role in field work and higher education will positively impact your wages, as well as your level of education and previous work experience.

To get a better idea of potential criminologist salaries, here are a few 2021 median annual salaries in the field, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS):

Whether you decide to include teaching in your role or solely focus on behavioral research, opportunities for these career paths are reported to grow over the next decade. According to the BLS, employment growth for private detectives and investigators is projected to increase by 6% between 2021 and 2031. Additionally, postsecondary teacher employment is projected to increase by 12%, which is much faster than average for all occupations.

Balancing a position as a 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 enable you to have enough time for your research as a criminologist, while also instructing students in criminal justice.


How to get a job as a criminologist

Typically, a bachelor’s degree, usually in sociology, is required to pursue a career as a criminologist. However, more employers are now looking for candidates who also hold an advanced graduate degree. By obtaining both an undergraduate and graduate degree, you’ll be prepared to take on a role as a criminologist with the knowledge and experience needed to stand out from the competition.

In addition to these education requirements, it’s important to develop skills that enable you to work with data and communicating your findings, such as:

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

Combining these refined skills with an appropriate education will make an impact on employers in the interview process and assist you in starting your career as a criminologist.


Earn your online master’s in criminal justice from Arizona State University

Regardless of the exact career path you choose to pursue in the field of criminology, ASU Online’s Master of Arts in criminal justice will provide you with the research, analytical and communication skills needed to succeed as a criminologist. Upon graduation, you’ll be prepared to:

  • Analyze societal and economic factors that contribute to crime.
  • Demonstrate proficiency in program evaluation, statistical analysis and academic research and writing.
  • Learn best practices and appreciate where change in the justice system is needed.
  • Synthesize research findings that address critical questions in the field of criminal justice.

By mastering these skills, as well as studying crime within a larger context, you’ll also develop competencies applicable to a role as an educator should you decide to pursue a career in both areas.

Everything you need to know about ASU Online classes and degree programs

We’ve compiled what you need to know about online classes and degree programs at Arizona State University. Read on to learn all about what to expect from the ASU Online learning experience.


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