If you watched Jodie Foster in The Silence of the Lambs and marveled at how she tried to pick apart Hannibal Lecter’s brain to determine why he committed his crimes, you may have the type of curious, problem-solving mind needed to become a criminology major. Criminology is a sociology branch that examines nearly every aspect of crime, collecting and analyzing data to figure out what drives criminal behavior, where crime takes place, the impact on victims and their families, and community and government response to crime, among other topics. It differs slightly from the study of criminal justice, which centers more closely on law enforcement, the court system, and the repercussions for those who break the law. Those who venture into the criminology field often find themselves working down the road for government, colleges, social services, law enforcement, the judiciary, think tanks, or as consultants to lawmakers looking to shape public policy.
What do criminology majors study?
In addition to your gen-ed courses, you’ll likely take some computer science and statistics classes—a criminologist often has to go through databases and analyze crime stats and crime reports. You’ll also take a deep dive into criminal psychology and learn the ins and outs of criminal law, as well as take courses tailor-made for whatever specialty you choose to pursue.
So where can you expect a criminology major to lead you?
There’s a role to play along nearly every part of the criminal justice spectrum.
You can become a straight-up criminologist, helping law enforcement, government entities, and even private firms examine criminal behavior. But there’s a plethora of even more specialized careers you can choose, both those you can jump into right out of your undergrad studies, as well as those that need higher education. Some options:
• Forensic technician, psychologist, or accountant
• Intelligence or cybercrime analyst
• Criminal profiler
• Probation and parole officer
• FBI agent
• Victims’ advocate
• Police detective
• Fire investigator
• Loss prevention manager
• College professor
A life of crime may not pay, but a life studying crime can pay pretty well.
The variety of jobs that fall under the criminology umbrella make it difficult to predict what salary you’ll one day pull down, but looking at some of the most popular careers, it’s clear that you can bring home a pretty penny (though you may have to go for a degree beyond your bachelor’s to reach the upper salary ranks). The median annual salary for a sociologist in 2016, for example, was just a hair under $80,000, though it’s important to remember that’s for all sociologists, not criminologists in general; criminologist salaries will differ by location, employer, and specialty. Higher wages are often found in government, scientific research, and technical consulting, as well as after you’ve got a couple of decades under your belt. Job security is also high in this field.
It’s often stimulating work.
Not every day is going to be like you’re on the set of CSI, but you likely will end up at a variety of sites in your quest to figure out the intricacies of a particular crime. You might visit a lab, examine a crime scene, attend a university seminar on criminal behavior, and scroll through criminal databases back at the office, maybe all in the same day. You’ll also likely be talking with and meeting a variety of different people, a plus if you’re an extrovert who thrives on personal interaction. And twists and turns—they’re all in a day’s work, making the job exciting.
You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping solve and prevent crimes.
Whether you’re a police officer, researcher, medical examiner, or anything in between, your studies in criminology will develop your eye to detect patterns, sift through clues, and examine other mitigating factors surrounding crimes that have already happened, as well as those that could happen without your hard work in trying to prevent them. Your efforts will help ensure victims and their families are put on the path to receive justice, as well as to keep others out of harm’s way, either by coming up with a big break in a case, for example, or through developing crime-prevention programs that schools, local governments, and the community at large can use to keep things on the up-and-up.