How to get a career in criminology

What is criminology?

Criminology is the scientific study of crime and criminals, considering various theories and ideas about how and why crimes occur.

The term criminology comes from the Latin term ‘crimen’, which means accusations, and the translated Greek term ‘logia’, which is used to describe the study of a particular concept or subject.

Criminology plays an important role in establishing a more equitable, science-based understanding of crime, policy, and social justice.

It can lead to improvements across the criminal justice system, including the response to crime and the treatment of victims and criminals.

Criminologists will look at not just the cause of the crime, but the social roots and the impact as well. They will use their experience and knowledge to support and strengthen the law with their research.

In their research, they will consider many different perspectives and explore a variety of related areas as they believe there is no single answer to why people commit crimes. These include:

  • Characteristics of the people who commit crimes.
  • Methods of crime prevention.
  • Reasons why people commit crimes.
  • Effects of crime on not just an individual but communities as well.

Criminology theories usually fall under four categories, which are:

  • Classical – this theory will explain crime as a free decision to make a criminal choice.
  • Biological – these theories of crime explore whether or not people commit crimes depending on their biological nature.
  • Psychological – these theories of crime explain that criminal behaviour is a result of individual differences in thinking processes.
  • Sociological – these theories believe that society influences a person to become a criminal.

How does criminology work?

Criminologists examine every conceivable aspect of deviant behaviour, including the impact of crime on individual victims and their families, society at large, and even criminals themselves.

These are just some of the specific areas that criminology covers:

  • Frequency of crimes
  • Location of crimes
  • Causes of crimes
  • Types of crimes
  • Social and individual consequences of crimes
  • Social reaction to crimes
  • Individual reaction to crimes
  • Governmental reaction to crimes

What does a criminologist do?

Criminologists will conduct research and analyse data to help understand, deter, and prevent crime from happening.

These are just some of the things a criminologist may do, day-to-day:

  • Research the reasons why people commit crime.
  • Advise policymakers in the justice and policing system.
  • Visit prisons and probation services to speak to offenders and ex-offenders.
  • Look at the scenes of crimes.
  • Work on crime reduction and rehabilitation programmes.
  • Attend conferences and present research findings.
  • Recommend ways to improve the effectiveness of punishments
  • Analyse data from surveys and intelligence to spot trends
  • Teach students at university or college
  • Write reports to form the basis of laws, community initiatives, reform policies, and crime legislation

How to get a career in criminology?

To get a career in criminology, you will need an undergraduate degree. This can be in any of the following:

  • Sociology
  • Psychology
  • Criminal justice
  • Criminology

There are a couple of ways you can enrol on an undergraduate degree course, with the first being A Levels. Those that can get you into university are:

Some universities may be quite prescriptive about what they want from their students in terms of qualifications.

Some universities will only ask for two A Levels with good passing grades in order to enrol on a criminology degree.

Another way you can gain the qualifications for an undergraduate degree is by enrolling onto our Access to Higher Education Public Services Diploma.

This course will lead you to university with the knowledge to hit the ground running. During the course, you will cover:

  • Approaches in psychology
  • Crime and deviance
  • Cognitive psychology
  • The welfare state, among others

What skills do you need for a career in criminology?

Attention to detail

When analysing large amounts of data to discover patterns, criminologists must pay close attention to detail to help understand the context for data analysis. It’s not just when it comes to looking at data that criminologists need to pay close attention to detail. In fact, they also need this skill when observing human behaviours and actions to understand a criminal’s motivations.


Similarly, observing human behaviours and other actions can help criminologists draw conclusions. Also, they will need to notice any small changes in data or information and having the ability to understand what you’re looking for is vital.


Since a criminologist’s research may be used to develop potential solutions like increasing crime rates, it’s important they have strong problem-solving skills. They may be responsible for solving problems involving criminal activity, and by using their data, they can offer solutions to complex social problems.

Legal comprehension

Criminologists can advise policymakers in the justice and policing system, so they must be up to scratch when it comes to the legal aspects of crime. This may include the knowledge of complex policies and laws which are always evolving.

Knowledge of sociology and anthropology

Criminologists will need a degree of knowledge of both sociology and anthropology. This is so they can understand society and culture to draw conclusions easier.

Research skills

Depending on the role, some crimino9logists may need to gather, analyse and report data on various related topics. Knowing the best practices when it comes to using data to draw conclusions is vital in certain positions. You may still need basic research skills, be that interviewing skills or drawing conclusions, even if you don’t work in a research setting.

Written and spoken communication

Whether a criminologist is making data reports, observations, or developing solutions, you may need to ask questions or work collaboratively so being able to communicate proficiently both written and spoken is very important.

People skills

Criminologists will need to be able to understand human nature, and the behaviours involved when committing crimes, and being able to connect with those from different backgrounds is vital. Depending on the role, a criminologist may work with all kinds of different people in various positions, ranging from criminals to law enforcement officers to victims of crimes. Due to this, they will need to be able to empathise and have the patience to listen, offer guidance or collaborate.

Technology skills

A career in criminology will likely require at least basic computer skills or competency. Whether that is using computers to create readable reports or to analyse large parts of data, they will need to be sufficient in using technology of some sort.

Knowledge of teaching

Depending on the experience of a criminologist, they may find themselves teaching at a university or a college. With this, they will need the ability to design courses with the knowledge gained from their experience.


Criminologists will work with different people in one way or another throughout their careers. This could be from sharing data between various groups and agencies to complete complex projects, to collaborating with law enforcement professionals to create a relevant criminal profile.


Due to the large amounts of data that criminologists work with; they must have strong organisational skills. They may work with a wide range of people on multiple projects, which could involve creating databases or systems to manage personal information, crime statistics, and other data.

Integrity and ethics

Criminologists will need to develop ethics and integrity to be successful in the role, due to their working with sensitive information. They will need to be confidential when it comes to private information such as criminal records, as this is data that can affect lives. Being able to remain objective is important as well, as they can’t get emotionally involved in situations involving crime or human psychology.

How much does a job in criminology earn?

According to the National Careers Service, a criminologist will earn an average starting salary of £23,500 per year. This can rise to an average of £36,000 per year depending on experience.

There are other jobs in criminology, however, so here are a few of them along with their salary:

  • Private investigator (national average salary – £16.81p/h).
  • Forensic pathologist (national average salary – £43,499p/y).
  • Correctional officer (national average salary – £23,062p/y).
  • Probation officer (national average salary – £23.87p/h).
  • Police detective (national average salary – £11.34p/h).
  • Crime analyst (national average salary – £33,501p/y).
  • Crime scene technician (national average salary – £31,317p/y).
  • Forensic scientist (national average salary – £23,571p/y).
  • Lecturer (national average salary (national average salary – £33,709).

Career path and progression in criminology

There are several ways you could go when it comes to careers in criminology. Here are just a few:

  • Senior policy adviser on crime and crime reduction with the local or national government, the police, or the probation service.
  • Specialist researcher in particular offences (e.g., online abuse, organised crime, or youth offending).
  • Gain an academic career in a university to become a professor of criminology.
  • Social or probation work.
  • A career in law.
  • Join the security services.

Courses you may be interested in