Criminology is the branch of sociology that focuses on the scientific analysis of crime, criminals and the justice system, and their effects on society. Though many colleges offer degrees in criminology, other courses will help prepare you to pursue a career in the field.
Criminology is a broad field that provides career opportunities in research, academics and law enforcement. Criminologists are sociologists working in a specialized field, and they often focus on a specialized area of interest, for example policing, victimology, juvenile delinquency, corrections or addiction. The types of courses you take should reflect the area you are most interested in examining. Entry-level criminologists can sometimes get a job with an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. However, most sociologists have at least a master’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In addition, if you are considering researching and teaching at a university -- rather than working with law enforcement, non-profit or government -- you will need to pursue a Ph.D.
The easiest route to becoming a criminologist is to find a college that offers degrees in the field. Criminology programs offer a broad-based education that focuses on areas such as human behavior, criminal theory and social deviance. Graduates of criminology programs have the theoretical and practical knowledge necessary to conduct complex research and analysis as well as to write reports. Students take courses that fall under a variety of categories, including sociology, psychology, law, philosophy, economics, political science, history and even computer science and mathematics.
Sociology studies look at the way society operates and behaves by examining groups, institutions and cultures. When selecting sociology courses to prepare you to be a criminologist, make sure to pick ones that involve studies in areas such as crime control, criminal procedure, law reform, corrections, criminal law and crime statistics. Completing a sociology degree will also expose you to other important skills and concepts necessary to be a criminologist, including research methods, statistics, data analysis, societal relations and technical writing.
Students who pursue a psychology degree to get into the field of criminology should branch into applied psychology, forensic psychology or criminal psychology. A psychology student will leave college with a strong understanding of current societal trends, clinical assessment and human behavior. Psychology graduates also have good problem-solving skills and attention to detail and logic, which will aid them in being a criminologist.
Other Helpful Courses
Courses in criminal justice and law will also provide you with knowledge that will prepare you to be a criminologist, particularly if you hope to work in law enforcement. You can also consider touching on topics that fall under forensic or behavioral science. Remember, criminology involves the analysis of data. Having a solid understanding of statistics and mathematics will help you complete these tasks. Courses in economics, history and anthropology can also provide you with perspective when researching specific demographics and case studies.
- Simon Fraser University: Undergraduate Program - School of Criminology
- Florida Tech University Online: Criminologist Salary and Career Profile
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics - Occupational Outlook Handbook: Sociologists
- University of California at Berkeley: What Can I Do With a Sociology Major?
- Florida Tech University Online: Bachelor of Arts in Applied Psychology With a Concentration in Forensic Psychology Degree
Based in Toronto, J.A. Zander has worked as a full-time journalist since 2004. Zander's work has appeared in Canadian and American magazines, newspapers and websites.