Requirements to Become a Criminologist

A criminologist studies crime prevention, the causes of crime, criminal behavior, and society’s response to crime. Criminology is a subset of sociology and psychology, although it has been classified as its own applied discipline. This field of study also draws on a number of other areas, including anthropology, psychiatry, biology, statistics, and economics, with subdivisions of criminology including everything from penology (the study of prisons and prison systems) and biocriminology (the study of the biological basis of criminal behavior) to forensic science and criminalistics.

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The job of a criminologist may include:

  • Measuring crime and analyzing crime patterns
  • Preventing/controlling crime, through the formulation and implementation of educational and rehabilitative programs
  • Analyzing a criminal’s role in society and how society and the media respond to criminals in society
  • Analyzing the responsiveness of law enforcement to crime
  • Analyzing the rehabilitation of criminals and the effectiveness of rehabilitation and correctional programs

Criminology has had an impact on the criminal justice system and has produced notable findings that have influenced how our law enforcement, corrections, and courts system address crime and criminals. Therefore, its significance cannot be overvalued or disregarded in today’s society. Individuals who want to learn how to become a criminologist must be prepared to meet specific requirements as to serve as a valuable member of this applied social science.

Requirements to Become a Criminologist: Education and Degree Options

Criminology, as a multidisciplinary field, lends itself to various, appropriate areas of study. As such, individuals who want to become criminologists may choose a number of paths of study to achieve this career goal.

Although there are a number of universities and colleges that offer undergraduate degrees in criminology, the availability of these programs is not as widely available as other areas of study, such as psychology and sociology, for example; therefore, it is quite common for individuals to pursue a broader course of study for their undergraduate degree and then pursue criminology or a related field for their graduate degree, a common pursuit among criminologists.

Undergraduate degrees for criminologists may range from biology and computer science to social work and criminal justice, just to name a few. Individuals studying a related area of criminology for their undergraduate should ensure that they complete undergraduate work in:

  • Sociology
  • Criminal psychology
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Statistics for social sciences
  • Criminal law
  • Forensics

Although work for criminologists with bachelor’s degrees does exist, it is more typical for employers, such as law enforcement agencies and government clients, to seek out criminologists with graduate degrees in criminology or a related field. Graduate work should include study in molecular biology, genetics, biochemistry, and population genetics or statistics.

Criminologists with master’s degree often work in private business or industry as forensic consultants or as advisors to government organizations or policymakers that establish policies and legislation regarding criminal justice and rehabilitation programs.

Both graduate and Ph.D. programs should be focused on the behavioral sciences. A master’s program in criminology, psychology, or sociology is a common endeavor for individuals interested in work in criminology, with Ph.D. work often focused on law and society, law and justice, and sociology. Individuals pursuing a Ph.D. in criminology or a related field are typically expected to complete a comprehensive examination, independent research, and a dissertation.

A Ph.D. is a mandatory requirement for individuals who want to apply their criminology background in an academic setting, performing research or teaching at the university level.

Requirements to Become a Criminologist: Skills and Qualities

To become a criminologist, individuals must possess a specific skillset and characteristics. For example, criminologists must:

  • Have a deep interest in behavioral patterns and human nature
  • Possess an aptitude for math, computer science, and statistics
  • Possess excellent written and communications skills
  • Possess keen observation skills
  • Possess excellent research and analytical skills
  • Possess a high level of integrity
  • Be able to act objectively when analyzing evidence

Requirements to Become a Criminologist: Professional Accomplishments

As scientists, many criminologists work to conduct and publish their own research in the field. As such, publishing work in a notable criminology journal helps criminologists establish themselves as experts in the field. Professional journals in this field include:

  • Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency
  • Journal of Quantitative Criminology
  • Journal of Criminal Justice
  • Criminology and Public Policy
  • Criminal Justice and Behavior
  • Crime and Delinquency

Criminologists also often join professional associations as to interact and collaborate with other professionals in the field, as well as to stay current on changes in criminology and the criminal justice system. Major criminology professional associations include:

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