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The Career of a Criminologist

Updated on January 19, 2014

A criminologist is a person who collects and catalogs data from criminal activity to use with a psychological analysis in order to create a criminal profile. The criminal profile created by a criminologist typically includes information about why the criminals commit the crimes, what type of person is most likely to commit certain crimes, and what causes people to commit crimes (Social Science Careers, 2013). Criminologists have a long history of influencing the criminal justice system; to become a criminologist a person needs to meet the minimum qualifications for the job and complete a certain amount of training, however, once a person becomes a criminologist there are advancement, growth, and lateral opportunities available to them.

A criminologist’s job is to study Criminology and use what they learn to assist in the apprehension of criminals by law enforcement. Criminology is “the scientific study of the causation, correction, and prevention of crime” (West's Encyclopedia of American Law, 2008). The study of criminology first emerged in Europe between the late 1700’s and the early 1800’s. The first time criminology truly came into play was when criminologists Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham argued that torture to get confessions and testimonies was wrong. They went onto to argue that crimes are committed through free will and that people know what they are doing and should be punished in way that will deter other people from crime. According to Cesare Beccaria and Jeremy Bentham the punishment for a crime should be harsher than the criminal gain and yet not include painful torture such as: “stretching, crushing and stabbing of the accused bodies” (, 2013). The early criminologist’s efforts to keep punishment humane, yet harsh mark the very beginning of progress for the criminal justice system (, 2013).

To become a criminologist the first step is to obtain a diploma or a GED certificate with a good grade point average; this part is essential because it “serves as a gauge for your academic performance, especially on the basis of general education subjects” (, 2012). The second step is the passing of an English proficiency examination on written and oral communication; most criminology schools require prospective students to pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language examination (TOEFL), but there are other available tests as well. The third step is a physical and mental fitness examination that is required by most criminology colleges (, 2012). This exam is usually done by a physician prior to college admission in order to gauge physical and mental state of applicants. For criminologists the level of mental fitness is more important than the level of physical fitness. The fourth step is obtainment of at least a bachelor’s degree in either criminology or psychology with a concentration in criminology. When working towards the bachelor degree it is suggested that the prospective criminologist participates in an internship program within the criminal justice system. The fifth step is the obtainment of character references and the creation of a resume. Character references typically are letters of recommendation written by teachers or supervisors that can commend on the skills and attitudes of the prospective criminologist as a student or employee. The resume is a document that includes the prospective criminologist’s “qualifications and other pertinent personal and professional data” (, 2012). The sixth and final step is becoming a criminologist, meaning to obtain a job as a criminologist.

To become a clinical criminologist a certain amount of training is required. A clinical criminologist is a criminologist that is allowed to see patients, typically to gather data. To become a clinical criminologist a person would need to have previously obtained their bachelor’s and master’s degree in criminology or psychology with a concentration in criminology (Scottsdale, 2013). First the person needs to obtain their doctorate degree in criminal psychology (Scottsdale, 2013). Secondly the person would need to complete about 2,000 hours of postdoctoral supervised clinical work (Scottsdale, 2013). Thirdly the person would need to pass an ethics test, have no criminal record, and pass the licensing examination, that is only required in certain states (Scottsdale, 2013). Finally the person would need to petition the Board of Psychology to allow them to practice. There is no continued education training or classes that are required to be taken by a criminologist once he or she has obtained their degree(s) and/or license to practice.

The typical day for a criminologist depends on where he or she decides to work. A criminologist can work for a law enforcement agency, a security company, and/or a criminal justice instructor (Social Science Careers, 2013). For a criminologist that works with a law enforcement agency, for example the police or the FBI, their typical day can vary drastically depending if they are willing to do field work, only office work, and their level of college education. For a criminologist that is willing to go into the field he or she might spend some of their time visiting crime scenes, attending autopsies to study crime patterns, interviewing suspects to create a psychological profile, and/or observing a member of a law enforcement agency interview a suspect (Police Employment, 2013). For a criminologist that decides not to participate in field work their typical day would have them staying in an office where he or she studies patterns of behavior among groups and write reports on which pressures make certain behaviors increase or decrease (Police Employment, 2013). Criminologist that work in law enforcement all create surveys, develop theories about crime and design research projects to test them, analyzing the information collected, testify about their findings in court, and writing reports or articles based on research (Morgan, 2013). Criminologists in law enforcement also advise the government, law enforcement officials, and policymakers on what their findings mean and how their findings apply to law enforcement (Morgan, 2013). Criminologists who work in the Justice Department are able to influence criminal policies (Tham, 2013). For instance Fred Inbau was a renowned criminologist that influenced law enforcement interrogation techniques; he often conducted interviews for law enforcement and he would use “deceit, deception and outright lies to trick suspects into confessing” (Thomas, 1998). Criminologists do sometimes work outside of law enforcement; some criminologists decide to use their expertise and knowledge to consult with security companies. Security companies sometime require information about criminal behavior and behavioral patterns to help them to better protect people, vehicles, items, and/or whatever they are hired to protect.

Some criminologists decide that they would like to become a criminal justice instructor for various reasons such as: they wish to impart their experiences to others, they decided to retire from a career in law enforcement, they decided that they would rather teach others, and/or many other various reasons. A criminologist that decides to become a professor needs to have obtained their Ph.D. in criminology, psychology, or sociology. A criminal justice professor’s typical day depends on the university he or she works at; some universities might allow for the research and survey projects while other might not. A professor at an online university would spend their days creating curriculum, grading assignments, answer questions by chat or email, and participating in discussions with students. A professor at a physical university might spend his or her day in a classroom environment with students giving lectures, grading papers, handing out assignments, creating assignments and curriculum, answering questions, and tutoring students who have fallen behind in class.

Criminologists do not have many opportunities for career advancement in law enforcement (Tucker, 2013). Many criminologists work their entire career with minimal promotions (Tucker, 2013). However criminologist are also often paid based on their level of experience; for instance a criminologist with less than one year of experience can earn approximately a maximum of $52,903 per year, a criminologist with one to four years of experience can earn a maximum of $65,169 per year, and a criminologist with more than twenty years of experience can earn anywhere from $42,600 to $82,500 per year (My Criminal Justice Schools, 2013). While criminologist may not have many opportunities to be promoted they can earn more money depending on how much on the job experience he or she has. Criminologists will experience some level of job growth as demand for incorporating sociology into research studies increases (Florida Tech, 2013). This job growth is predicted to open up some level of job advancements for criminologists as there will be higher level positions available that will require filling. A criminologist however, does have many lateral opportunities available to him or her. A criminologist can transfer between law enforcement agencies such as: the police, the FBI, the CIA, and other agencies. A criminologist that works with law enforcement earns “between $30,000 and $55,000 per year depending on education level and experience” (My Pursuit, 2013). A criminologist can also transfer between a in the field job, an office job, a job in a lab, and research jobs. Criminologists that work in research typically earn between $32,270 and $66,460 annually. Criminologists also have the option of moving to a job in a security company, with an airline, and with other companies that require information about how criminals think and behave in order to combat them and protect others. Criminologists can also transfer to a university to become a professor. Criminologist that teach in universities can earn anywhere around $53,000 to $66,000 per year depending on if he or she teaches at a university or a trade school. The amount a criminologist earns as a professor is also dependent on if he or she works at an online or physical school and on the university itself. Bigger more prestige universities will be able to pay their professors more than smaller colleges, but there is a higher level of competition for these jobs.

The future job outlook for criminologists appears to be positive due to the continuing and increasing demand for criminology professionals. “Local and federal law enforcement agencies often post openings for criminology jobs to augment the need for more professionals in different locations” (Criminology, 2013). There appears to also be an increase of about 5% to 17% in criminologists being hired to assist with criminal and forensic investigation, in labs assisting with forensic sampling and evaluation, and in colleges to teach the next generation of criminal justice employees (Criminology, 2013). It is predicted that there will be a 22% increase in the number of criminologists hired by corporate businesses to investigate and analyze criminal activities and behavior in the corporate setting (Criminology, 2013). Criminologists will also continue to impact the media and influence criminal policies (Tham, 2013). The need for criminologists will continue to grow well into 2018 and onward as there becomes an increasing demand for understanding criminal behavior from law enforcement, corporate businesses, security companies, and college students.


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December 13 2013 from

Scottsdale, B. (n.d.). Criminal Psychologist vs. Criminologist. Chron. Retrieved December 13, 2013, from

Tham, H. (2013). Law and order from below or from above? The challenge for criminologists. European Journal of Criminology, 10, 387-393.

Thomas, R. (1998, May 28). Fred Inbau, 89, Criminologist Who Perfected Interrogation. The New York Times. Retrieved November 21, 2013, from

Tucker, K. (n.d.). The Negatives of Being a Criminologist. The Nest. Retrieved December 14, 2013, from

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      martin. 2 years ago

      this is great stuff. what schools offer this course? I'm interested .

    • profile image

      Gloriane 3 years ago

      Not bad at all fellas and gasall. Thanks.

    • misty103 profile image

      misty103 3 years ago

      Your welcome

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      Jeannie 3 years ago

      Your posting really stahngrteied me out. Thanks!