Criminology Careers: Become a Criminologist

If you are the type of individual who must know the who, why, and when of things, consider the vast opportunities available within criminology careers. Criminologists work at the local, state, and federal levels to help anticipate crime and understand its social impact and the behavioral science of criminals. These professionals work within the branch of human sciences known as sociology, where criminal justice, statistics, and psychology merge to help law enforcement apprehend criminals and the government understands the demographics of crimes.

You may find that many universities offer criminology majors interchangeably with criminal justice majors. The fields are parallel in existence but they are not one and the same. Criminologists require a background in criminal justice, either through life experience as a law enforcement agent or through schooling; however, it will take more than criminal justice courses to become a criminologist. Unlike law enforcement or criminal justice majors, your position as a criminologist requires you to provide law enforcement with the information needed to find and capture criminals and disrupt rings of crime, as opposed to actually apprehending criminals yourself.

Although a bachelor's degree is required for entry into this field, your choice of majors is broad. Courses must include a strong focus in psychology, sociology, statistics, and research. Your choice of major and minor is individual; however, you will need to incorporate both psychology and criminal justice in your studies to work in this field. You may graduate with a major in behavioral science and a minor in criminal justice, for instance.

Choose a school that offers internships within criminology. This invaluable experience will help prepare you for your career in providing hands-on experience in the corrections system. Internships are usually offered at the local or state levels, within correctional institutes or law enforcement agencies. You will gain the opportunity to work side by side with criminologists and explore the myriad settings and specialties available to you.

If you want to eventually work for the national government, you will require graduate degrees within your field of specialty to be competitive. Specialty areas within criminology careers may include crime prevention, kidnapping, juvenile crimes, research, and science, as well as academic instruction. You may also choose to work within the corrections system to study deviance and criminal behaviors during incarceration.

Federal profilers are an example of national criminologists at work; the scientist develops a profile of a criminal to match criminal acts and assists law enforcement in narrowing the search for kidnappers, violent offenders, and other criminals.

Criminology careers are largely academic. This does not mean that you will not spend time at a morgue, law enforcement agency, or crime scene. Criminologists use research and statistical analysis to write reports that help law enforcement understand the criminal thought process and element. You may spend hours in a lab, interviewing convicts to gather information or behind a computer compiling reports.

Although criminologists have a variety of employers, the majority work for or within law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and federal levels. Expected salaries within this field depend on the employer; working in large metropolitan areas provides job security with a higher element of criminal acts per capita. Federal positions within the FBI, DEA, or ATF may provide higher salaries, but they are extremely competitive.

The humanistic component of criminology requires that you obtain a licensure to practice in many states. Check with the law enforcement agency for your area, as this is a state-mandated practice and there is no national licensure available to criminologists. If you are required to take a test, it may be a pencil-and-paper exam or a computerized licensure examination for criminologists.

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