An overview of the skills needed for a career in criminology

Criminology is a multifaceted career that focuses on the psychological and sociological aspects of delinquency and crime. Criminologists today are trained to analyze crime scenes, apprehend criminals and evaluate how crime affects the community and correlates with societal issues. Criminologists play an important role in upholding justice in a community.

A degree in criminology allows you to explore many job opportunities and can lead to a variety of career paths. For example, you could work in the private sector as a social worker or in law enforcement as a criminal investigator, forensic analyst or FBI agent, among others. If you are currently looking for a career path to pursue, criminology is worth considering. Here is a detailed look at what the job entails, the career outlook, the education required and the skills needed to be successful in criminology.

Introduction to criminology 

Criminology is a behavioral and social study of crime. Criminologists look at criminal behavior and criminals to understand these individuals and the factors that motivate their actions. It is an interdisciplinary field that incorporates elements from many different areas, including biology, social anthropology, philosophy, economics, sociology, psychology, law and political science.

Criminology programs are available at the doctoral, master’s, bachelor’s and associate levels. Students can earn either a bachelor of science or a bachelor of arts degree. Arts degrees in criminology tend to be more research-oriented and focus on the humanities, while science degrees are more science-focused and technical. Some of the aspects that criminology focuses on include:

  • Causes of crime
  • Impact of crime
  • Types of crime
  • Reactions to crime
  • Individual and social consequences of crime
  • Occurrence of crime

Difference between criminal justice and criminology 

Criminal justice vs criminology is an important distinction to understand for all students. If you are interested in pursuing a degree in criminal justice, an institution like the Central Christian College of Kansas is a good choice. Their online programs in criminology will prepare you to understand these two theories and concepts to understand how they are different. There are a few key differences between criminal justice and criminology:

  • Criminal justice mainly focuses on the handling of law enforcement and crime, while criminology focuses on crime and its impacts, consequences and causes.
  • Criminal justice deals with topics such as gathering evidence, investigation procedures, arresting criminals, trials and sentencing criminals. Criminology deals with topics like how to control crime, how to predict crime and understanding why crime is committed.
  • Criminal justice is practiced in courts and similar institutions, while criminology is practiced in social settings, research centers and laboratories.
  • Criminal justice careers may include customs officer, court administrator, crime scene technician, investigator, lawyer and detective. A degree in criminology can lead to careers such as drug enforcement agents, community work and crime management officers.

Is a criminology degree worth it?

Depending on your expectations and what you aim to achieve through your degree, criminology can be an excellent degree to pursue. If you are interested in disciplines related to criminology such as sociology and psychology, it can be a good academic option. Criminology is also a good subject for people who enjoy research and are interested in integrating sciences and humanities to apply it to the real world.

Criminologists carry out important work and have a huge impact on society. The degree is available at many levels, so it can be suitable for a wide range of students. If you want a quick entry into criminology, an associate degree is a good option. Advanced degrees can provide you with lucrative opportunities in academia, behavioral or social sciences, government and law. If you have limited time and are already working a full-time job, pursuing an online criminology degree is a suitable option.

Criminology coursework 

While the coursework may change depending on the level of the degree and the university, most degrees include courses in natural sciences, behavioral sciences, social sciences and humanities. Criminology programs will usually include introductory materials on the subject and the criminal justice system, along with related topics such as public policy, social control and social deviance.

Students may also be required to study crime analysis and look at the social, biological and psychological factors related to the crime such as poverty, impulsivity, and mental illness. Courses on history and law are also quite common, along with research-oriented subjects like data science and statistics.

Additional coursework may include:

  • Crime-related public policy
  • Criminal procedures and investigations
  • Criminal justice system
  • Corrections and punishment
  • Psychology of criminal behavior and crime
  • White-collar crime
  • Juvenile crime
  • Victimology
  • Police and society
  • Crime analysis
  • Criminal justice theories
  • Social order theories
  • Economics and culture in relation to crime

Roles and responsibilities 

Criminologists are responsible for examining criminal behavior, its causes and ways to prevent future crimes by addressing these factors. Criminologists collect crime-related data and analyze it. They perform data research in offices, but they may also operate in correctional facilities, where they collect data about the reasons crimes are committed. Occasionally, they may also work in government and law enforcement settings to inform policies and support police work.

Why consider a career in criminology?

If you are looking for an exciting and lucrative career, criminology is a good path to pursue. Some of the main reasons to consider this career are:

  • As a criminologist, you can contribute to society and the greater good. You focus on investigating crimes, apprehending criminals and developing ways to prevent crime. It is a rewarding career that will have a huge impact on society.
  • The work environment is quite engaging and exciting. Unlike many other jobs with routine, mundane tasks, criminologists tackling exciting, challenging assignments. You will be using your knowledge of political science, law, psychology and sociology to accomplish these assignments. Every day on the job is different, exciting and challenging.
  • This is a constantly evolving field. Crimes continue to change as modern technologies are introduced and laws change. As a professional in this industry, you will have to continue to learn to keep up. This will allow you to change the way you work, investigate crimes and create solutions to prevent criminal activity.
  • Criminologists enjoy job stability and security. Most criminologists work in law enforcement and government agencies. They tend to remain unaffected by the job market challenges and trends faced by employees working in the private sector. Keeping the peace and ensuring that justice is served is crucial in any society, which means there should always be criminology jobs available to you.
  • Most jobs in the industry include excellent retirement and health benefits. Many criminologists prefer to work with government agencies because of the excellent benefits they provide.

Career outlook 

Once you graduate with a criminology degree, you will have the opportunity to pursue lucrative, stable jobs in a variety of settings. The employment growth rate for sociologists, which includes criminologists, is projected at 5% through 2031, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The salary you can expect in the field will depend on your education, specializations, certifications and the sector in which you choose to work. The median salary for criminology jobs is $92,910. If you choose to work as a detective or police officer in law enforcement, there is a higher demand. There is always a need for upholding public safety and keeping crime at bay, so criminologists can expect to have plenty of job opportunities. Demand may vary based on your location and the skill set you possess.

Criminologists can also pursue many other career options, such as working in academia, the legal profession or as a social worker. Compensation and employment opportunities will vary depending on which career path you choose. These career choices require the same credentials that you would have as a criminologist.

If you are an aspiring criminology student, it is best to take some time to look into the various career paths available to you after graduation and compare the pros and cons of each one. Select a profession that aligns with your overall career goals and your personal interests so you will be satisfied with the choice you make.

How to start your criminology career 

If you are an aspiring criminologist, one of the most important things to do is earn a degree in the field. You can start your career by earning a bachelor’s or an associate degree in criminology. Most graduates in the workforce are degree holders. You may begin your career as a legal assistant or an investigative assistant. As you gain more experience in the field, you might choose to become a detective or a forensic technician. There are many entry-level roles available in criminology that you can start with and climb up the ladder to a role of your choice.

Many professionals in the criminology industry start as correctional officers or police officers. Many of these entry-level roles do not require an advanced degree. In many states, entry-level law enforcement jobs require a GED or a high school diploma. With entry-level roles, these professionals can start gaining real-world experience. However, if you are interested in pursuing more advanced job positions in the future, further studies will be needed. If you are pursuing a promotion in the industry, you may also be asked to take up additional certifications and training programs.

Regardless of the industry, continuing education is important if you want to seek higher positions. In criminology, leadership positions in the industry require advanced degrees, so it is important to plan for this when you start your career. An advanced degree in criminology will provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to advance in your career. You may also be able to specialize in an area that is of interest to you.

You might choose to become an expert and build your knowledge in specific areas, such as rehabilitation planning, policy reform or criminological research. Many criminologists also work as judges and lawyers in the legal field. Others may choose to work in the tech-driven landscape with roles in cyber security. With these specialized, higher roles, you will enjoy greater earning potential. Employees with lower educational credentials tend to earn less money compared to those with advanced degrees. Professionals with advanced degrees are also less likely to be unemployed because of their skills and knowledge.

Technical skills needed to be a good criminologist 

To be a good criminologist, you will need a mix of technical and soft skills. These are the technical skills you will need to work on as a criminologist:

  • Data interpretation: As a criminologist, you will have to work with a lot of research. You will need to learn how to interpret and read surveys and statistics provided by government agencies, criminal typologies, case studies and more. You may also be asked to study publications such as systematic reviews and meta-analyses in many cases. Your ability to conduct data analysis and interpretation may also affect your earning potential.
  • Technical proficiency: Digital skills and computer literacy are required in most sectors today. As a part of their daily job, criminologists may have to use drones, license plate readers, gunshot detection systems, crime mapping tools, criminal databases and law enforcement software. They must have advanced computer proficiency to be successful in this role.
  • Crime scene analysis: If you choose to work in law enforcement, you will be expected to know how to collect digital and physical evidence, process crime scenes, document crime scenes and analyze materials. You will also need to ensure that a crime scene is not contaminated in an investigation.
  • Forensic analysis: Professionals need to conduct forensic tests and study evidence in criminal investigations. You may need to perform hair analysis, use DNA sequences and run ballistics tests. As a criminologist, you will need a deep understanding of how these analyses work and how the results are interpreted.
  • Legal knowledge: Criminologists will usually work with corrections and criminal activity, so it is important for them to have thorough legal knowledge pertaining to crime reduction and prevention. If you plan to become a detective or a police officer, you will also need to have an understanding of law enforcement protocols at the federal, state, and local levels.

Soft skills required to become a criminologist

In addition to the technical skills discussed above, you will also need many soft skills to be successful at your job. Some of these soft skills are:

  • Attention to detail: As a criminologist, you will be working to investigate crime scenes, analyze evidence and study criminal behavior. Your responsibilities will require you to be detail-oriented so you can thoroughly analyze data and conduct accurate assessments. A single mistake can derail an entire investigation, so it is important to be accurate.
  • Communication skills: You will be working with professionals from a variety of backgrounds and communicating with your peers on a daily basis. You will also be required to prepare documents and reports on incidents you handle. In many cases, you may also have to testify in court. As a criminologist, it is important for you to have strong verbal and written communication skills. This will allow you to clearly explain your analysis and findings.
  • Critical thinking skills: Criminologists need to be critical thinkers. As a professional, you will be dealing with a lot of information each day related to your cases. You will need a higher level of awareness and perception so you can identify the most useful information. You will also need to use deductive and inductive reasoning to come to conclusions about the political and sociological factors affecting crimes and criminal motivations.
  • Integrity: You will need to maintain high ethical and moral standards as a criminologist, especially if you work in law enforcement. This will allow you to be unbiased in your investigations. Integrity will allow you to perform your job without forming an opinion based on external factors such as race, religion and gender.
  • Active listening: You will be collaborating with employees and professionals from many agencies during your career. You may also have to interview victims and suspects, so it is important to have strong active listening skills. This will help you collect the information you need successfully.

If you are passionate about serving your community, criminology is a rewarding career. This career path is suitable for those who are problem solvers and have an eye for detail. The tasks performed by criminologists are exciting and challenging. Throughout their career, they have the opportunity to work on exciting projects and assignments. You will also be able to learn something new every day while on the job.

Although criminology can be a challenging career at times because it requires a lot of attention to detail, it does offer a higher level of security and stability. You will also have many opportunities to advance your career and earn a higher salary as you gain more experience in the field.

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