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 sociology or 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.
Aspiring criminologists can start preparing themselves in advance by taking the right criminology classes in high school, selected with the help of a guidance counselor.
Earning Potential of Criminologists
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2017, sociologists specializing in criminology earned a median annual wage of $76,650, meaning half made more, and half made less. Criminologists in the top 10 percent wage bracket made more than $141,450. Job opportunities will be best for experienced researchers with a PhD.
English and Communication
Requirements for criminology include strong verbal and written communication skills acquired through classes in English and communication studies. Students hoping to pursue a career in criminology can gain proficiency in reading, writing and communication by taking a full four years of English in high school.
Criminology students must learn to carefully read and analyze academic research studies. Some students write and publish their own research studies, usually performed in partnership with a professor. Criminologists may also have to conduct extensive interviews with crime witnesses, criminals, crime victims and their families.
Professional criminologists make public speeches and statements before judges, lawyers and criminal justice professionals. Public speaking classes can give students poise and confidence when addressing different audiences, including reporters at press conferences. Other helpful communication classes include debate and rhetoric.
Social Science and History
Many of the high school prerequisites for criminology are the same courses students need to get into college. 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.
Math and Statistics
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.
Natural and Physical Science
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.
Language Instruction Courses
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.
Other Requirements for Criminology
Students should also consider the other requirements for criminology that don't involve having your head in the books. 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.
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.