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Skills & Experience Needed to Become a Criminologist

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Pinpointing the reasons for criminal behavior -- and finding ways to prevent it -- is the role of criminologists, whose field emerged during the 18th century. Knowledge of anthropology, psychology and sociology -- as well as investigative techniques -- is the initial prerequisite for entering the field. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics treats criminology as a branch of sociology, for which it anticipates a 15 percent increase in demand by 2020.

Core Requirements

Analyzing criminal behavior patterns is the essence of the job, which means that you'll likely major in criminology, psychology or sociology as an undergraduate, the Education Portal website states. Criminal justice and history are common alternate majors. Although you can find related employment with a bachelor's degree, earning a master's degree, which enhances your marketability, is recommended. About 28 percent of criminology graduates hold master's degrees, and an additional 62 percent hold a doctorate or professional degree.

Critical Thinking Skills

Criminologists often advise clients and policymakers about economic, political and social issues. Success in this arena depends on drawing conclusions about human behavior, and being able to trace its origin and growth, the BLS states. For this reason, you'll likely spend much of your time collecting and analyzing data gathered from interviews, observations and surveys. At times, you may collaborate with other social scientists and researchers, and develop theories in consensus with them about a particular issue.

Effective Communicator

Strong writing and communications skills are an essential skill for criminologists, who explain their latest findings in articles, reports and research papers, the BLS states. Criminologists also use these skills in highly specialized settings. One example is Sheila Balkan, a 30-year criminologist, who advises state and federal courts on sentencing issues, the Promises Treatment Centers website indicates. As a specialist in addiction issues, Balkan investigates clients' backgrounds, offenses and causes of their behavior, which she submits -- along with her recommendation -- to the court.

Investigative Abilities

One of the most recognizable criminology specialties is profiling. The term refers to drawing conclusions about criminal characteristics and motivations from attendance at autopsies and crime scenes, the Education Portal website notes. Police agencies often ask criminologists to create physical and psychological profiles of an offender, based on the nature of the crime. The resulting document remains on file as the agency's primary reference point when a similar offense occurs.

Potential Career Paths

Working for local, state and federal police agencies is one of the more common career paths in criminology. Master's degree holders typically get their credential to obtain leadership positions as police chiefs, or management roles in government agencies, "U.S. News & World Report" states. On the academic side, graduates face stiff competition for sociology jobs, which have few openings, and brighter prospects in related fields such as education, public policy or social services, the BLS suggests.


Ralph Heibutzki's articles have appeared in the "All Music Guide," "Goldmine," "Guitar Player" and "Vintage Guitar." He is also the author of "Unfinished Business: The Life & Times Of Danny Gatton," and holds a journalism degree from Michigan State University.

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