Unraveling Criminology: Exploring Diverse Career Pathways with a Criminology Major

31/10/202323 minute read
Unraveling Criminology: Exploring Diverse Career Pathways with a Criminology Major

Criminology majors will have exceptional career options to consider as they discover that the field of criminology opens doors to diverse sectors: law enforcement and criminal court procedures, the study of criminal behaviors, and social work, policy, and advocacy. As such, those considering a criminology major should consider their underlying interests and career goals, including whether a dual major or dual degree program, or similar interdisciplinary approach, makes sense.

So whether you’re interested in policy roles, serving as a law enforcement professional, or motivated by complementary interests in the field of psychology, keep reading to learn more about the paths that interest you. And, buckle up — you’re almost sure to discover some altogether new career options to add to your criminology career shortlist!


In today’s rapidly changing world, the field of criminology has never been more vital. Criminology, the scientific study of criminal behavior, crime prevention, and the social response to crime, plays a crucial role in maintaining social order and justice. As communities strive for safety and social justice, the need for knowledgeable and skilled professionals in this field continues to grow. Understanding the root causes of crime, the impact on victims and communities, and the most effective strategies for prevention and intervention are paramount.

The fact is, myriad professionals rely on concepts and training related to criminology — from policing, to data analysis, to investigations and forensics, and on to include social work, community nonprofits, and behavioral and probationary interventions… The facts are clear: criminology encompasses a diverse network of occupations.

Pursuing a criminology degree can be a crucial step that allows you to get exposure to key concepts and topics so you’ll be more confident and effective professionally:

  • Explore evidence-based principles related to law and criminal justice procedures.
  • Learn about prominent research and theories guiding practices in the field.
  • Develop awareness of professional standards and occupational pathways and specializations.

A comprehensive undergraduate degree program in criminology doesn’t end there either. It should also equip you with valuable critical thinking and analysis skills, and arm you with crucial insights into criminal behaviors and the social and psychological factors that can impact behaviors or impact crime rates.

In addition to building your resume, access to peer and employer networks is another reason to pursue your degree at a top school. Whether it’s mentoring opportunities, job postings, professional development opportunities, or peer networks, professional associations in criminology can help you feel supported and also boost your career advancement.

Finally, with diverse career directions to consider, investigating educational options is also worth your effort. What academic path makes sense for you? Is it getting an associate degree and vocational training? Equipping yourself with a bachelor’s degree that affords you deeper liberal arts learning and a wider range of professional skills? Or are you angling for a professional degree or masters degree, or seriously considering a dual major or dual degree option?

With all this in mind, let’s start to explore just some of the numerous career pathways where professionals often apply criminal justice concepts and methods.

Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice

Police Officer

Police officers are on the front lines of community safety, responsible for enforcing laws, responding to emergencies, and maintaining public order. Police officers serve the public, but they also serve courts and ensure enforcement of established laws, legal codes, and statutes.

Typical duties can vary widely — making this an alluring option if you like action, some regular adrenaline rushes, and less predictability and repetition from day to day. From patrolling neighborhoods and directing traffic, to responding to calls for help, or combating criminal threats and solving crimes, police officers apply criminology expertise on the front lines of criminal justice action.

As a criminology graduate, you’re going to be equipped to bring a well-rounded understanding of crime patterns and societal factors that contribute to criminal behavior to your day-to-day work, while also developing more nuanced and effective communication and critical thinking skills that should boost your confidence and your pathways to future advancement.

Detective or Criminal Investigator

Detectives and criminal investigators take stock of complex cases and events, take pains to ensure meticulous evidence gathering, conduct interviews, and they put to the test, almost daily, their analytical and crime-solving skills.

A degree in criminology provides a strong foundation in understanding criminal behavior, investigative techniques, and the legal procedures necessary to build a solid case. These are not only skills you can use in a law enforcement occupation, but ones that could be foundational for various court officer roles or for specialized pathways related to criminal law, such as lawyer or legal advisor.

As a detective you’ll also work closely with other law enforcement agencies, legal professionals, and forensic experts, with your criminology degree an opportunity to hone nuanced collaboration skills for these kinds of exciting and challenging opportunities.

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Corrections and Rehabilitation

Correctional Officer

Correctional officers play a vital role in maintaining order and safety within prisons and jails. They are responsible for overseeing inmates, preventing disturbances, and ensuring that rules and regulations are followed.

Criminology graduates bring a unique perspective to this role, understanding the social factors that contribute to criminal behavior and the importance of rehabilitation.

That’s right, correctional officers might help monitor incarceration facilities and processes, but you might also find roles with a focus on the rehabilitation and helping former inmates rebuild productive lives, reducing system-wide recidivism.

Probation Officer

Probation officers supervise individuals who have been placed on probation or parole, ensuring that they comply with the conditions set by the court. This role requires regular check-ins, monitoring behavior, and providing guidance and support.

Criminology graduates are uniquely positioned to learn how to navigate roles related to probation processes. Criminology students develop a well informed understanding of the criminal justice system, of risk assessment tools and practices, and of different kinds of rehabilitative challenges and needs.

In the end, probation officers carry out important and consequential work and services — helping individuals intertwined with criminal justice processes and disciplinary consequences reintegrate into society.

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Forensic Science and Criminal Investigation

Forensic Scientist

Forensic science has become a cool profession for some students steeped in storylines and personas from popular shows such as Sherlock, CSI, NCSI, and Law and Order… But however you parse fact vs. fiction in this career role, the fact remains that the work is crucial day-in and day-out in solving crimes.

While most forensic scientists in laboratories have significant credentials in fields such as chemistry, biochemistry, biology, or forensic science, principles from criminology and law govern practices for collecting, monitoring, using, and safeguarding physical evidence and forensic findings for legal proceedings.

Therefore, criminology graduates bring a strong foundation to forensic lab management related to properly gathering and managing evidence.

A criminology program should help prepare you to understand the broad range of responsibilities and principles involved in crime forensics, pivotal for the integrity of criminal investigations.

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Crime Scene Investigator

Crime scene investigators are on the ground, working directly at crime scenes to document and collect evidence. This requires a keen eye for detail, a systematic approach, and a comprehensive understanding of the types of evidence that can be crucial in solving a case. 

Criminology graduates are trained to approach crime scenes very professionally and methodically, with a critical and analytical mindset, ensuring thorough and accurate evidential discovery that will be valid in court proceedings or other evidentiary hearings.

The evidence collected by crime scene investigators plays a vital role in reconstructing events or otherwise helping law enforcement and legal professionals build a case and solve crimes.

PROSPECTIVE CAREER PATHWAYS FOR CRIMINOLOGY MAJORS
OCCUPATIONMEDIAN ANNUAL PAY (US$)
Police and Detectives$69,160
Private Detectives & Investigators$52,120
Probation Officers & Correctional Treatment Specialists$59,860
Forensic Science Technicians$63,740
Sociologists$98,590
Social Workers$55,350
Paralegals & Legal Assistants$59,200
Information Security Analysts$112,000
Rehabilitation Counselors$39,990
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, & Mental Health Counselors$49,710

Bureau of Labor Statistics (retrieved October 2023)

Legal and Paralegal Roles

Paralegal

A criminology major provides a strong foundation for paralegals, especially those who plan to assist lawyers who work in criminal law proceedings. Paralegals are not required to be licensed lawyers, but are typically tasked with understanding legal terminology in order to conduct thorough legal research, prepare formal documents, and help lawyers manage offices and cases efficiently.

In some settings, paralegals may also play a crucial role in assisting in the preparation of arguments, gathering evidence, and ensuring that all relevant materials are ready for court sessions.

Depending on the level of certification and qualifications you pursue, you may or may not need to complete a bachelor’s degree. That said, completing a bachelor’s degree in criminology, philosophy, political science or another rigorous liberal arts field — one that elevates your critical thinking and evidence-based reading and communication skills — could help you open doors to more challenging and rewarding opportunities once you become a certified paralegal.

Victim Advocate

On the flip side of law enforcement roles, are roles related to victims’ needs and legal protections. This is where victim advocates play a crucial role.

Victim advocates are essential in providing emotional support, resources, and information to victims of crime. They assist victims in navigating the complex legal system, ensuring they are aware of their rights and the services available to them.

As a victim advocate you’d typically be hard at work ensuring that victims have proper care, are treated with respect and dignity, and — importantly —  that their voices are heard throughout the legal process. A criminology degree can help equip individuals for this kind of unique role, providing students with a deeper understanding of victimology and the skills needed to support those affected by crime, helpimg them navigate their legal challenges.

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Social Services and Community Outreach

Juvenile Counselor

Juvenile counselors play a vital role in the lives of young offenders, helping them to address and overcome behavioral and emotional challenges. They provide counseling, support, and guidance, aiming to steer these individuals onto a more positive path.

For youth who’ve been caught up in criminal justice proceedings or have been incarcerated, the ultimate goal of a juvenile counselor can be to guide rehabilitation processes and ensure successful reintegration into society. This involves working closely with other social services, educational institutions, and the juvenile justice system.

A background in criminology informed by a dual track that includes sociology or social work could be a rewarding approach to consider for working as a juvenile counselor or in other social services related to criminal justice.

Domestic Violence Advocate

Domestic violence advocates are dedicated to supporting survivors, providing them with the resources, support, and advocacy they need. They raise awareness about domestic violence and work tirelessly to ensure that survivors have access to the services and protection they require.

As an advocate in this role or similar one, you’d typically work in collaboration with shelters, legal services, and various social agencies, coordinating care and ensuring that survivors receive comprehensive support.

The interdisciplinary knowledge and skills gained through a criminology major enable graduates to effectively navigate this network of services — advocating for survivors and working towards systemic change.

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Research and Policy Analysis

Criminology Researcher

Criminology researchers are at the intersection of law, policy, criminology, and data analysis.

Do you enjoy analytic thinking? Can you see yourself as a data detective combing through the complexities of crime data and crime-related factors, studies, and policies? If so, consider policy research and analysis roles.

This kind of work is often inherently purposeful, as it can play a key role in shaping public policy, law enforcement strategies, and community initiatives. Effective policy analysis and research increases the odds that specific policies get to root causes and have a greater positive impact.

A background in criminology can provide relevant analytical and research skills and ensure students have exposure to foundational research methods and relevant criminology theories.

Office worker studying a policy manual and working at his desk

Policy Analyst

Policy analysts often work in tandem with criminology researchers or cite these researchers’ reporting in order to guide policy improvements or new policy reforms or approaches. They use their expertise to analyze the impact of laws and regulations, ensuring that they align with principles of justice, fairness, and efficacy.

Criminology policy analysts often work to ensure that criminal justice policies are fair, equitable, and effective, contributing to a more just society.

As a criminology major you’ll have a deep understanding of the criminal justice system, legal frameworks, and policy frameworks relevant to your role.

Cybersecurity and Digital Forensics

Cybersecurity Analyst

In our increasingly digital world, the role of a cybersecurity analyst is more important than ever. If you’re into fast-growing occupational fields and like the idea of mixing investigation work with computer science, this could be your dream occupation.

Cybersecurity analysts work to protect organizations from cyber threats and breaches, ensuring the security of networks, systems, and data. A criminology degree, with its focus on understanding criminal behavior and prevention strategies, would provide you unique perspectives and valuable skills for positive contributions to cybersecurity teams.

While cybersecurity involves advanced computer science knowledge and training, it also incorporates oversight concepts that relate to a range of evidentiary methods, to law enforcement and court procedures, and to criminal behavior and methods. This means your criminology degree program could be instrumental in helping you develop the sophisticated critical thinking, risk management, and research analysis skills and methods used in a range of operational analysis and management roles.

Three students are looking at a computer and collaborating on a computer science assignment

Digital Forensic Examiner

Digital forensic examiners play more specialized roles in cybersecurity work — with skills focused on recovering and analyzing electronic evidence for valid use in legal investigations.

Digital forensic examiners work closely with law enforcement and legal professionals, ensuring that digital evidence is properly handled, analyzed, and presented in court. A background in criminology provides an understanding of the legal procedures and evidentiary standards required in this field.

Private Security and Risk Management

Private Investigator

If you’re intrigued by the idea of doing surveillance and conducting research — or you’ve watched too many private investigator TV shows — maybe you’ve fantasized about being a private detective. If a gritty office and late-night stake outs sound appealing, we don’t want to put you on a different path, but keep in mind that similar roles are played out in a range of settings and for many different types of needs and clients: individual, business, corporate… and for needs related to fraud, graft, policy violations, regulatory crimes… the list goes on. 

In essence though, private investigators gather information, verify facts, and help ensure what they uncover can be used as relevant and allowable evidence to prove misdeeds or build a case that meets the necessary legal standards for convictions in a court of law. 

A criminology degree provides a strong foundation in investigative techniques, legal procedures, and criminal behavior, preparing graduates for success in this field.

Security Consultant

Security consultants play a crucial role in protecting assets, people, and information.

If you’re a big picture thinker who can translate important insights into better governance and security policies, and develop, monitor, and update comprehensive security plans with evidence-based analyses, then security consultant roles are well worth considering.

Criminology insights, the right experience, and relevant management skills could open doors to practical and critical leadership roles in security consulting and advising roles. 

Ascending to a consulting role may take some time because it typically requires a deep understanding of security principles, risk management, and crime prevention strategies in addition to well-honed professional skills, but could prove very satisfying and lucrative.

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Advocacy and Reform

Criminal Justice Advocate

Criminal justice advocates are dedicated to bringing about systemic changes in criminal justice policies. They campaign for reforms that promote fairness, equity, and justice, aiming to create a more just criminal justice system.

Whether you combine your criminology insights with policy chops or community organizing training, you could find yourself challenging the status quo, pushing for purposeful reforms, and advocating for policies that are more effective, just, and humane.

A criminology degree equips individuals with the knowledge, skills, and passion needed to make a difference in this field, advocating for meaningful change.

Policy Lobbyist

Policy lobbyists in the field of criminal justice are focused on advocating for legislative changes that support reform and progress. As a policy lobbyist you’d typically work closely with lawmakers, other advocates, and stakeholders to shape laws and regulations that align with the principles of justice and equity.

If you want to mix criminology with policy skills or follow a dual degree path in criminology and political science or related tracks, a criminal justice lobbyist career track is a great way to combine these interests.

A criminology degree in any case should provide you the valuable research-based knowledge you need to address and impact lawmakers’ approaches to criminal justice, influencing change at the legislative level.

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Final Thoughts

Throughout this article, we have explored the wide array of career paths available to those with a criminology major. From legal roles to social services, and including research, cybersecurity, private security, and advocacy, the possibilities are vast and varied.

We encourage criminology graduates to follow their passion, seeking out roles that align with their interests and values. Planning ahead and taking stock of your genuine interests is especially important given the diverse but quite different pathways and associated skill sets they involve.

Society today is likely to benefit greatly from the efforts of professionals equipped to integrate underpinnings in criminology with other specialized skills. Without a balanced approach to law enforcement and social justice policies, society may lack the kind of holistic understandings that can truly help us all achieve the best outcomes for security, public safety, and social justice.

What Makes Crimson Different

Embarking on a career in criminology opens up a world of possibilities. If you want to explore the best programs in criminology or pinpoint the optimal degree path for your goals, we invite you to get connected with an experienced Advisor with qualifications aligned to your specific interests and circumstances.

Crimson Education Advisors have helped thousands of motivated students land college offers beyond their expectations. Is it your turn? Book your free consultation today.  Let’s explore your college possibilities and make a personalized plan for a college journey that transforms your future.

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