Criminology is a branch of sociology that studies the social patterns of criminals, criminal victims and the environments in which crime occurs. A college degree in criminology can be excellent preparation for a leadership position in law enforcement or a research position with the government, but competition for such roles is keen, and high school students can start preparing themselves in advance by taking the right courses before college.

English and Social Science

Study in criminology requires the extensive reading of academic research studies as well as the writing and publication of a student’s own research studies, usually performed in partnership with a professor. Professional criminologists also make public speeches and statements before reporters, judges, lawyers and criminal justice professionals. They may also have to conduct extensive interviews with crime witnesses, criminals, crime victims and their families. Students hoping to study criminology should develop strong skills in reading, writing and communication by taking a full four years of English in high school.

Because criminology is a social science, future criminologists should take four years of social science in high school. History is useful to help students understand the development of societies over time, while electives in psychology and sociology, if available, can give students an overview of the workings of the mind and the scientific study of social groups, which is the basis for criminology.

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Criminologists read academic research extensively and require an understanding of statistics, a form of mathematics frequently used to measure and report social patterns. To understand statistics, a student should take two years of algebra first. Algebra, the study of unknown variables in a system, is itself useful as it develops the analytical reasoning criminologists need to solve puzzles. Calculus, the study of how unknown variables in a system change over time, is also useful for future criminologists. Additionally, studying geometry helps criminologists evaluate the dimensions of a crime scene and how a space plays a role in a crime.


Because the social science practices of criminology are based on the “hard” sciences of biology, chemistry and physics, future criminologist should take all three subjects in high school. Biology is especially useful because it is preparation for the understanding of human cadavers that criminologists will need. Chemistry helps criminologists understand substances like drugs and explosives, while physics helps criminologists understand the nature of a movement, such as a punch or bullet trajectory.


The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that ability to speak a foreign language is “highly desired” in criminal justice professionals, because some crime witnesses may not speak English. The most common foreign languages in the United States are Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, French and Spanish, with Spanish being five times more common than any other language. It typically takes students about four years of Spanish study to develop basic conversational facility.

Criminologists who work in law enforcement may have to run after, tackle and confront dangerous individuals during their careers. Young people interested in this field need to keep themselves physically fit by actively participating in physical education courses and after school sports.

About the Author

Laura Holland Fletcher has graduate level training in ESL, linguistics and the teaching of writing. She taught ESL and college writing for more than 10 years in both the US and Asia. She also writes for local and national magazines that cover legal, educational and social justice issues.