Criminology Careers: 2023 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary

The field of criminology is multifaceted. It focuses on both sociological and psychological aspects of crime and delinquency. As such, many criminologists are trained not only to apprehend criminals and analyze crime scenes but also to evaluate the effects of crime on the community as well as correlate it with existing societal issues. This is why it is no longer surprising that criminologists play a critical role in upholding justice in a community.

With this in mind, a degree in criminology can lead to plenty of job opportunities, with over 3.95 million graduates currently in the workforce (Data USA, 2021). It can lead to a career path in law enforcement, such as that of an FBI agent, forensic analyst, criminal investigator, or even a social worker. Plenty of job opportunities in the private sector are also available to them.

If you are in the process of choosing a degree or career to pursue, criminology careers are definitely something worth checking out. To help you make an informed decision, this guide will give you the information you need. It will cover the job and salary outlook of this career, what skills you need to thrive in criminology, and what jobs can you get with a criminology degree. In this way, you can better gauge whether criminology is the right career choice for you.

Criminology Careers Table of Contents

  1. Why pursue a career in Criminology?
  2. Criminology Career Outlook
  3. Required Skills for Criminologists
  4. How to Start Your Career in Criminology
  5. How can I advance my career in Criminology?
  6. Alternative Career Options for Criminology

Why pursue a career in Criminology?

There are many reasons for individuals to pursue various careers in criminology, chief of which include the following:

  1. The job allows you to contribute to the greater good. Criminology degree jobs are focused on the investigation of crimes, apprehension of criminals, and development of crime reduction efforts. As such, these can be rewarding careers that allow graduates to contribute to their community and society as a whole.
  2. It offers an engaging work environment. As opposed to professions that involve routine tasks, criminology major jobs often tackle assignments of varying difficulties and circumstances. Industry professionals are required to use their knowledge of sociology, psychology, law, political science, and similar fields to accomplish their assignments. That said, one can expect that there is never a dull day at work.
  3. It is an ever-evolving industry. After all, crimes change as new laws are passed and more modern technologies emerge. To keep up with these changes, criminologists continually learn, investigate, and come up with ways to curb criminal activity.
  4. It offers high job security and stability. As most criminologists are in law enforcement, they generally remain unaffected by the ebbs and flows of the job market the way private-sector employees are. Plus, in any society, serving justice and keeping peace and order is essential. So, they need not worry about running out of job opportunities.
  5. It may come with good health and retirement benefits. Criminologists may not have the highest of salaries, with a median entry-level wage of $40,673 per year (Glassdoor, 2022). However, those that end up working in federal agencies gain access to good health and retirement benefits. In fact, 70% of employees say these benefits are why they decided to work in the government.

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Criminology Career Outlook

What can you do with a criminology degree? The discipline has a variety of specializations that lead to numerous career opportunities. Criminology graduates generally have a positive career outlook to look forward to.

If we take a look at the job outlook of sociologists, which typically includes criminologists, the employment rate is projected to grow by 4% between 2019 and 2029 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). This is roughly the same rate as the average employment growth for all occupations. In addition, the median criminology degree salary is $86,110 annually. However, it is best to note that this amount often depends on one’s educational attainment, certifications, specializations, as well as whether they work in the private or public sector.

Meanwhile, when we examine the job outlook of criminologists in law enforcement, particularly police officers and detectives, the demand is expected to increase by 5% (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). This is more or less similar to the job outlook of sociologists in general. However, as there is a constant need to uphold public safety, criminologists can expect that there will always be job opportunities available to them in this sector. The only factor that one must consider is that the demand may vary by location and the required skill set.

In addition to these, there are other career paths that criminologists can look into, such as becoming a social worker, entering the legal profession, or even working in academia. In most cases, they offer the same or perhaps even better employment opportunities as well as compensation. However, they generally require the credentials that criminology professionals already possess.

Criminology Careers Salaries and Demand

Surveillance Officer$31,0803%
Correctional Officers and Bailiffs$47,440 4%
Social Worker$51,760

Paralegals and Legal Assistants$52,920 10%
Private Investigators$53,3208%
Forensic Science Technician$60,59014%
Police and Detectives$67,2905%
Postsecondary Teacher$80,7909%
Financial Examiner$81,430 7%
Information Security Analyst$103,5909%
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Required Skills for Criminologists

Criminology requirements will vary based on the specific job role or agency you are interested in. However, as with any career, there will be technical and soft skills that will be expected of criminologists. Below, we discuss these skills in detail.

Essential Skills for Criminologists

The following are some of the technical skills that criminologists must hone:

  • Data Interpretation. Criminology involves a lot of research. So, they will need to know how to read and interpret official statistics, surveys conducted by governmental agencies, case studies, criminal typologies, and similar datasets. In some cases, criminologists may be asked to review evidence-based publications like meta-analyses, systematic reviews, and the like. According to research, 46% of criminologists say that their ability to perform data analysis affects their salary (PayScale, 2021).
  • Computer Proficiency. Computer literacy and digital skills are now expected of employees across sectors (WorldSkills, 2021)—and criminologists are no exception. Their job will require them to know how to use law enforcement software, access criminal databases, crime mapping tools, gunshot detection systems, license plate readers, and even drones. That said, criminologists must have a high computer proficiency that goes beyond the use of office suites for preparing reports.
  • Forensic Analysis. In many criminal investigations, professionals will need to run forensic tests to study evidence. These can include running ballistics tests, using DNA sequencers, performing hair analysis, and the like. Aside from understanding how these processes work, criminologists will also need to have the ability to analyze and interpret the results.
  • Crime Scene Analysis. Criminologists are expected to know how to process crime scenes. This includes collecting physical and digital evidence, analyzing trace materials, as well as documenting crime scenes. They must also know how to ensure that the crime scene will not get contaminated during the investigation.
  • Legal Knowledge. As professionals in the field generally deal with criminal activity, corrections, and the like, they need to have a fundamental understanding of the legal frameworks concerned with crime prevention and reduction. In addition, criminologists who intend to become police officers or detectives will need to have a solid understanding of law enforcement protocols as mandated by local, state, and federal laws.

General Skills for Criminologists

Criminologists must also possess various soft skills that will help them in performing their duties. Among them are:

  • Attention to Detail. Criminologists will be asked to determine criminal behavior patterns, analyze evidence, and investigate crime scenes on the job. As such, they are expected to be extremely detail-oriented. This allows them to thoroughly process data and come up with comprehensive and accurate assessments.
  • Investigative and Critical Thinking Skills. Professionals in this field process tons of information for each case they are assigned to. That said, they will need a high level of perception and awareness so that they can weed out the grain from the chaff. They must also employ inductive and deductive reasoning to draw conclusions on criminal motivations as well as pinpoint underlying sociological and political issues behind crimes.
  • Communication Skills. Criminologists are often asked to prepare reports or papers on incidents they handle as well as testify before courtrooms. With this in mind, they need to have strong written and verbal communication skills so that they can succinctly explain their findings.
  • Active Listening. Those who intend to pursue criminology careers will need to not only collaborate with their coworkers and employees of other agencies, they may also be asked to interview suspects and victims. This is where active listening is critical. It will help them engage in positive dialogues, allowing them to effectively get the information they need.
  • High Level of Integrity. Criminologists, particularly those in law enforcement, need to have high moral and ethical standards. This is what allows them to remain impartial in any investigation they take part in. It will help them to perform their job without preemptively forming an opinion of crimes they handle based on factors like gender, religion, race, and the like.

Source: WorldSkills UK, 2021

How to Start Your Career in Criminology

Aspiring criminologists commonly start their careers by earning an associate degree or bachelor’s degree in this area of study or related fields such as criminal justice.  In fact, 56.8% of social science graduates currently in the workforce are undergraduate degree holders (Data USA, 2020). They often begin as investigative assistants and legal assistants and go on to become forensic technicians and detectives. However, the entry-level careers list is not limited to job roles that require criminology degrees.

For instance, there are professionals in the industry that start as police officers and correctional officers. One reason for this is that in many states, the basic educational requirement to enter a job in law enforcement is a high school diploma or a General Educational Development (GED) certificate. This allows them to start gaining professional experience early on. One thing to note here, though, is that further studies will be required of you should you decide to aim for higher job positions. You may also be asked to take up certifications or additional training programs before you can be promoted.

What can I do with an Associate's Degree in Criminology?

Having an associate degree leads to several criminology career paths. Here are some of the most popular options.

Police Officer
Police officers are government employees tasked with maintaining public order and safety. They are responsible for pursuing and arresting offenders, enforcing traffic laws, as well as preparing field notes for patrol activities and criminal investigations. They are also expected to respond to emergencies and prepare legal documents such as warrants and citations.

Median Salary: $56,644 (Payscale, 2022)

Correctional Officer
Correctional officers serve the criminal justice system by supervising inmates and enforcing rules and regulations within prisons. They are expected to maintain the integrity of correctional facilities as well as reinforce the rehabilitation of prisoners. Correctional officers may be assigned to general corrections, juvenile corrections, and other departments. They can also become bailiffs, which are tasked with maintaining safety within courtrooms.

Median Salary: $41,538 (Payscale, 2022)

Contrary to popular belief, one need not have a degree in paralegal studies in order to become a paralegal. You can pursue this path even with a degree in criminology. Paralegals are professionals who assist attorneys in preparing for court cases. They are expected to conduct legal research, draft summary reports, prepare pleadings and appeals, and take notes during court proceedings. In many cases, they may also be tasked with daily administrative tasks such as scheduling appointments, handling client correspondence, and the like.

Median Salary: $52,070 (Payscale, 2022)

What can I do with a Bachelor's Degree in Criminology?

There are a lot of jobs with a criminology degree requirement available to graduates and many of these are decently compensated. As such, our team of researchers has put together a criminology jobs list for bachelor's degree holders. It also indicates the median forensic criminologist salary as well as those for other occupations.

Crime Scene Investigator
Crime scene investigators are law enforcement personnel specializing in collecting, preserving, and analyzing evidence from crime scenes. They must know how to keep crime scenes from getting contaminated, properly label and transport evidence, as well as prepare comprehensive documentation reports that will be used in the investigation process. This requires proficiency in using advanced investigative analytics software tools. Also called evidence technicians and forensic investigators, they often collaborate with police officers and detectives to piece together theories on how crimes are committed based on collected evidence.

Median Salary: $71,987 (Glassdoor, 2022)

FBI Agent
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents comprise the United States of America’s chief investigative unit. They are tasked to look after the political and security interests of the country by gathering intelligence and conducting surveillance activities. They work with state and local law enforcement to investigate and curb violent crimes, public corruption, cybercrimes, organized crimes, white-collar crimes, and more. These said, they are not only expected to perform in-depth research but also accomplish fieldwork such as raids and arrests as well as suspect interviews.

Median Salary: $67,731 (PayScale, 2022)

Forensic Science Technician
Forensic science technicians assist criminal investigators by collecting evidence. Similar to crime scene investigators, forensic science technicians also handle the processing of evidence. However, the key difference is that they are tasked with conducting laboratory tests on the samples. They may perform microscopic, chemical, or biological analysis on various types of evidence, ranging from fingerprints and DNA to ballistics. Hence, criminologists who end up in this industry usually have a strong background in science. And, more often than not, have a forensic science degree or, at the least, extensive training.

Median Salary: $60,086 (Glassdoor, 2022)

Can you get a Criminology job with just a certificate?

Criminology requirements typically include an associate or bachelor's degree. While you may enter law enforcement with only a high school diploma and a certification, you will still need to earn undergraduate credentials before you can perform criminological fieldwork, such as investigating crime scenes and processing evidence.

As an alternative, a student may decide to take up a certification and get some professional experience in the industry as frontline employees in the criminal justice system. After which, they can pursue further studies and gain the necessary credentials to practice criminology hands-on. In many cases, students can transfer their previous credits or have their professional experience converted into credits to accelerate their degree program.

Source: Data USA, 2020

How can I advance my career in Criminology?

Continuing education is a critical factor when seeking higher positions in nearly any career. In criminology, professionals who seek leadership positions can certainly benefit from taking up a master’s or doctorate degree.

Having advanced degrees can allow you to specialize in a particular aspect of the industry. For instance, you can become an expert on specific crimes. Alternatively, you can build knowledge of certain aspects of the criminal justice system such as criminological research, policy reform, rehabilitation planning, and the like. There are also criminologists who end up in the legal field as lawyers and judges. Meanwhile, some explore cyber security careers to keep up with the current tech-driven landscape.

Consequently, landing these higher job positions also means gaining a higher earning potential. According to recent research, the median weekly earnings of doctoral degree holders are relatively higher compared to those with lower educational credentials (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020). In addition, they also have a lower unemployment rate than other professionals.

What can I do with a Master’s in Criminology?

Careers with criminology degree for those who graduated from a master's program are prestigious and sometimes offer managerial roles. So, how much do criminologists make? Many jobs pay over $80,000 each year and a managerial position in information security yields more than $100,000 annually.

Criminology Professor
Criminologists with extensive field and research experience can become college or university professors to hone the next generation of criminologists. As a member of the academe, they prepare lesson plans, deliver classroom instruction, and prepare students to become professionals in the field. In many cases, they also pursue their own research alongside these tasks and/or remain as practitioners in the field.

Median Salary: $89,273 (Glassdoor, 2022)

Financial Examiner
Criminologists who want to specialize in money-related investigations can take up a master’s degree in financial crime and compliance to become financial examiners. These are professionals who monitor financial institutions by reviewing transactions and balance sheets, assessing operations, and conducting risk assessments. They may also be tasked with investigating crimes such as fraud, embezzlement, and the like.

Median Salary: $86,565 (Glassdoor, 2022)

Information Security Manager
Crimes happen in cyberspace as well and in an increasingly digital world, some professionals in the field choose to specialize in cyber criminology to become information security managers. These criminologists focus on protecting an organization’s computer network against data breaches and cyberattacks. Part of their job is to assess security risks, identify the digital needs of an organization, implement compliance policies, and maintain network infrastructure.

Median Salary: $121,931 (Payscale, 2022)

What kind of job can I get with a Doctorate in Criminology?

Doctorate degrees lead to the most prestigious professions and typically the highest criminology major salary. Besides jobs that require doctorate degrees, graduates can enter jobs for master's degree holders and attain high job grade.

Policy Analyst
As this field is closely tied to social science degree jobs, criminologists with a Ph.D. can also become analysts who help with policymaking activities in the government. They are often needed for their expertise in criminal research, knowledge of deviant behavior, as well as an understanding of legal frameworks. These are what will allow them to effectively evaluate existing and proposed policies, particularly concerning the criminal justice system.

Median Salary: $84,046 (Glassdoor, 2022)

Criminal Defense Lawyer
Criminologists may also pursue a Juris Doctor degree to become criminal defense lawyers. Their duty is to represent defendants in the criminal court system. Be it at the local, state, or federal level, defense lawyers must prepare for arraignments, settlement conferences, as well as other court proceedings to ensure that their clients are getting a fair trial. Their background in criminology will surely be helpful in conducting research and presenting relevant evidence in court.

Median Salary: $104,531 (Glassdoor, 2022)

Which certification is best for Criminology?

There are other ways to further one’s career in criminology other than earning post-graduate degrees. For instance, there are profession-wide certifications that you can take up to prove your competency in this career. These can also help you gain more experience and boost your earning potential. In some cases, these certifications may also be required for certain job roles.

  • Certified Law Enforcement Analyst (CLEA) Program. This certification is open to professionals with at least three years of full-time experience in law enforcement. It serves as proof that an officer of the law has been trained to perform crime analysis, investigative analysis, police research, and intelligence analysis.
  • Certified Financial Crime Specialist (CFCS) Program. This certification program for financial compliance professionals is internationally recognized in over 80 countries. It aims to test professionals in their ability to detect as well as curb financial crime.
  • Certified Criminal Investigator (CCI) Program. A certification being offered by the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute (ACFEI). This assesses professionals in their knowledge of crime scene investigation, forensic science, trials, evidence processing, psychological autopsies, and the like.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020

Alternative Career Options for Criminologists

A professional with a degree in criminology does not always land a job in this particular field, similar to graduates of other programs. One reason for this is that their foundational skillset can be applied to a variety of other jobs. It is also partly due to the increasing globalization of economic activities and the wider access to various information on the internet. In fact, according to a 2020 survey, 84% of professionals reported being willing to take a job that is unrelated to their current industry or job role (CareerBuilder, 2020).

This is echoed in a study by Sherry Sullivan and Akram Al Ariss published in the Human Resource Management Review. In their paper titled “Making sense of different perspectives on career transitions: A review and agenda for future research,” the authors noted that “due to increased globalization, rapid technical advancements, and shifts in how individuals view and enacted their careers, the nature of career transitions has dramatically changed (Sullivan & Al Ariss, 2021).”

The authors added that “the number of career transitions is expected to continue to increase as members of the millennial generation, who are projected to comprise almost 50% of the global workforce by 2020, are more likely to make a greater number of job and organizational changes than members of previous generations.”

In the case of criminology, professionals can opt to pursue occupations that may not be directly related to the field but still employs the knowledge they learned in the program. Some examples are detailed below.

What else can a Criminologist do?

  • Immigration Officer. Immigration officers are in charge of screening foreigners who intend to visit the country as well as check the eligibility for citizenship of immigrants. Among their responsibilities are interviewing immigrants, performing background checks, as well as analyzing applications. Criminologists can use their knowledge of assessing behavior as well as their training in research and investigation to perform these duties.
  • Victim Advocate. Victim advocates serve as the bridge between victims of crimes and the criminal court. They are tasked with advising victims about their legal rights, helping them apply for assistance, as well as helping them cope with trauma. Professionals with a background in criminology can apply for this job as they have a solid understanding of the justice system.
  • Social Worker. Social workers are professionals who identify communities in need of help and guide them towards social change and development. They may work with individuals or families to solve domestic issues and even navigate through legal concerns. They also help with coping skills training, life skills development, and the like. A criminologist’s training in psychology and knowledge of the law will allow them to accomplish these tasks. What degree do you need to be a social worker then? While you can already apply your criminology skillset in this career, you can still enroll in an associate or a bachelor's degree.

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Is Criminology the Career Path for You?

Working as a criminologist is a fulfilling career, especially if you have a passion for serving the community. It certainly fits individuals with an eye for detail and a knack for solving problems as it allows them to maximize their capabilities. In addition, the tasks criminologists perform are anything but boring as they are exposed to different circumstances throughout their careers. Meaning, working in this industry for a long time can only mean learning new things from different fields of study.

Another advantage to pursuing criminology is that while it is a highly challenging job that involves long hours, it offers a high level of job security. Criminologists can also receive competitive compensation for their services as they advance in their careers.

Should you think that this is the path for you, creating your career plan for criminology does not have to be too difficult. You can begin your journey towards this career path by checking out some of the top schools for criminal justice, police science, and law enforcement majors.