Criminologist Career Profile

Job Functions, Education Requirements and Salary Outlook For Criminologists

Man wearing gloves brushing jar for fingerprints in lab, close-up
Criminologists study crime and its causes. Lester Lefkowitz/The Image Bank/Getty Images

Criminology as you probably understand it is a relatively new field, having developed from the broader study of sociology in the 19th and 20th centuries. Though the job of a criminologist is new, society in general, and philosophers, clergy and community leaders in particular, have been studying and learning how to deal with crime throughout human history.

Even though it may not hold the same glamor and excitement of other jobs in criminal justice, a career as a criminologist is no less important.

In fact, for those who are of a more academic mind, it may present the best opportunity to contribute to the prevention and treatment of crime.

What Do Criminologists Do for a Living?

The core job of a criminologist is to examine all aspects of crime and find ways to prevent criminal behavior and reduce recidivism. Criminologists gather statistics and identify patterns. They look at types of crimes as well as demographics and locations.

A criminologist's job is largely research driven, and their research might be conducted in a sterile office setting or in the field. 

Criminologists may interview criminals to learn more about their mindset and motivations for committing crimes. They night also work closely with law enforcement partners, community leaders and politicians to develop policies to help reduce crimes and make sure alleged and convicted criminals are treated fairly and humanely.

Criminologists work for local, state and federal governments, on policy advisory boards, or for legislative committees.

In some cases, they may work for privately funded think tanks or for a criminal justice or law enforcement agency.

Most often, you can find a job as a criminologist through a college or university, where you'll teach and conduct research.

The job of a criminologist often includes:

  • Compiling statistical data
  • Conducting surveys
  • Conducting research interviews
  • Formulating policy recommendations
  • Writing research papers and articles
  • Working with law enforcement and corrections personnel
  • Studying criminal behavior
  • Devising strategies to help reduce crime

What Kind of Education and Skills Do Criminologists Need?

Employment as a criminologist will require an advanced degree under almost every circumstance. Specifically, you need some combination of degrees in criminology, criminal justice, sociology or psychology.

Graduate level education is a must for any research position. At the university or college level, a Ph.D will often be necessary.

To be a Criminologist, you need to have excellent organizational skills. You will also likely need to have a firm grasp of mathematics, especially in the area of probability and statistics.

Since some jobs may require interviewing or meeting with other criminal justice professionals and criminals, interpersonal communication skills will also be helpful. Lastly, you'll definitely need to have strong writing skills.

What Is the Job Growth and Salary Outlook for Criminologists?

Salaries for criminologists can vary widely, based on the specific type of job, who your employer is what your education level may be.

 For example, university professors, department heads, and policy directors are found at the higher end of the scale.

Typically, a criminologist's salary may range from around $40,000 to $122,000 per year. The median yearly wage for criminologists is approximately $72,000.

Job growth for criminologists is almost entirely dependent on public funding, as most employment is through the federal, state and local governments. For sociologists in general, the availability of jobs is expected to increase over the next several years.

As the population increases, there will be a need for more people willing to work as criminologists. Finding a job, however, will take a lot of leg work. Even though growth is expected, specifics jobs within the field may be hard to find.

Is a Career as a Criminologist Right for You?

The specific job of a criminologist is primarily one of research.

If you are academically inclined, you may enjoy working in this field. A career as a criminologist can allow you to positively influence public policy and help devise new strategies to fight and prevent crime.

People with a talent for interpreting and explaining statistical data, as well as those who have a strong desire to help their communities, will enjoy working as criminologists.