Becoming a Criminologist: Job Description & Salary Info

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A criminologist's average salary is about $78,810. Is it worth the education requirements? See real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to find out if becoming a criminologist is right for you.
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The Pros and Cons of Becoming a Criminologist

As a criminologist, you analyze social behavior through several paths, including interviews, research and observations. Read below about the pros and cons of being a criminologist to help you decide if this career is for you.

PROS of a Criminologist Career
Salaries are relatively high (sociologists, including criminologists, averaged $78,810 per year in 2014)*
Criminologists are used in a variety of job sectors (research, corrections, intelligence analysis)***
This career offers variety and intellectual challenge**
Limited entry-level jobs are available with a bachelor's degree*

CONS of a Criminologist Career
You generally need a master's or doctoral degree*
Advancement is often limited to your job sector**
You may be required to have a clean criminal record**
Some states require licensure or certification**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **The Princeton Review, ***Florida State University.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

A criminologist is a type of sociologist that analyzes the behavior behind criminal activity. Some criminologists work directly with crime scenes or criminals, while others perform academic research on criminal behavior. Criminologists work in a variety of environments, including the criminal justice system, research, policy analysis, court consultation and teaching. As part of your job, you might analyze reports, interview correctional officers or criminals, write reports and participate in courtroom proceedings as an expert witness.

Salary Info and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), career opportunities for sociologists, including criminologists, were expected to increase 15% from 2012-2022, which is considered faster than average job growth. In May 2014, sociologists, such as criminologists, earned an average annual salary of $78,810.

Education and Licensing Requirements

To be called a criminologist, you generally need a master's or a Ph.D. degree with an emphasis in criminology. Some of your coursework could include qualitative and quantitative analysis, applied research, criminal justice policy, juvenile justice, capital punishment and victimology.

If you want to pursue an advanced degree in criminology, you should plan to earn a bachelor's degree in criminology or sociology. While you aren't technically a criminologist with a bachelor's degree, you can take basic coursework in criminology and work as a research assistant, counselor or government agent.

Some states mandate that you have a state license to practice as a criminologist or work in the criminal justice system. You should check your state's licensing requirements if you want to pursue this career.

Useful Skills

A criminologist should have excellent problem-solving skills and a strong interest in research and analysis. Below are some other abilities common among criminologists:

  • Public speaking and interviewing skills
  • Capacity to design research projects
  • Report-writing skills
  • Passion for learning, especially if you plan to do research

Jobs Posted by Real Employers

The requirements vary by employer, but most organizations want you to have a master's or Ph.D. degree in criminology or a related degree. You usually need to pass background and security checks for most jobs. Read samples below from April 2012 job postings:

  • A government agency is looking for several field enforcement rangers to manage law enforcement on public lands in Wyoming. You could qualify for one of the positions with a graduate degree in criminology or law. Responsibilities of a uniformed officer might include investigation of and arresting violators. You must pass drug and security testing.
  • A university in Virginia is seeking a postdoctoral research fellow to work on a government-funded study of prison inmates and drug abuse. The ideal candidate should have strong presentation abilities, be capable of managing research assistants, be knowledgeable about longitudinal data and have experience with criminal offenders.
  • A case manager with one year of child welfare experience is needed to work for a social services agency in Florida. You could have a bachelor's degree in criminology, psychology or a related field, and you must be certified in child protection by the state. Some of your responsibilities might include visiting and assessing families for risk of abuse or neglect, managing cases alongside other professionals, assisting families in crisis and attending court hearings.
  • A Texas-based university would like to hire a research associate to perform correctional management research. You should have at least two years of experience with criminal justice research, as well as expertise in grant writing, quantitative research and publication of research activities. The person hired must have top-notch communication skills, networking contacts with corrections professionals and be available to travel to prisons and other facilities.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Since it can be difficult to transfer from one industry to another - for example, to shift from being a private investigator to working as a research assistant - it can be helpful to know your career goals before beginning your education.

Having excellent written and oral communication can give you the edge when looking for a job, since these skills are important to many organizations. Also, with jobs requiring an advanced degree, many employers expect you to have supervisory abilities, so a class that offers professional development skills might be helpful.

Other Careers to Consider

Correctional Treatment Specialist

If you want a career in corrections, but would rather focus on the rehabilitation of criminals, you could become a correctional treatment specialist. You generally need a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or psychology, but some employers look for candidates with a master's degree if you don't have experience. Many states also require that you complete state-based training and become certified.

The BLS reported that job opportunities for probation officers and correctional treatment specialists were predicted to see average job growth, at about 18% from 2010-2020. In May 2011, the mean salary for these workers was around $52,000 per year.

Political Scientist

If you like the idea conducting research while earning a higher salary, you might consider becoming a political scientist. The emphasis of political scientists' work is on policies, governments and political ideologies, and you generally need a master's or Ph.D. degree in political science or public administration. The BLS reported in May 2011 that political scientists received an average annual salary of $105,000; however, the job opportunities were predicted to increase 8% from 2010-2020, which is slower than average.

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