Studying criminology might bring to mind visions of television crime dramas, late nights in the lab and stressful press conferences about breaking crimes. The reality is tamer but exciting nonetheless. If you're passionate about solving puzzles, helping victims or assisting with the legal process, a degree in criminology may be the ticket to a promising career.
It's a mystery how criminologists spend their time. Rather, solving mysteries is how they spend their time. Employing data-gathering and analytical skills, criminologists work in law enforcement and investigate crime scenes, develop psychological profiles of criminals and take part in autopsies. Concerned with the whens, hows and whys of various crimes, these professionals try to uncover the truth and provide their expertise and opinions to the courts and other law enforcement agencies in order to bring resolution to criminal cases. It's important to note that criminologists often focus on the analysis of individual crimes, while those specializing in criminal justice focus on the broader, societal reasons and prevention of crime.
Legal and Justice System
While criminologists primarily focus on individual crimes, graduates can also enter specific arenas of the criminal justice system. Criminology students can enter the correctional system, where they supervise, train or educate inmates, according to Penn State. They may also work with community-based programs that offer services to victims of crimes, such as domestic abuse, or work on crime prevention. Options are also available for those who want to work in the court system, either helping judges and attorneys or working with witness assistance programs.
Training and Communication
Criminologists are needed to train others in the complexities of the legal system and crime analysis. Positions exist within universities, nonprofit organizations, law enforcement agencies and other governmental entities that require the expertise and training of criminology majors. Occasionally, the communication skills associated with teaching and training can be useful in other areas as well. Criminologists sometimes communicate with the media and other interested parties outside of the field. The ability to offer data-based insights in an accessible way is often a small piece of the job.
Specialization with a Graduate Degree
A criminology degree is one possible first step if you want to become a lawyer, and many criminology students wind up in law school or other graduate programs. Students who pursue a master's in criminology receive specialized and applied training and are often offered the opportunity to directly observe law enforcement and those who work in the court systems. The University of Pennsylvania, which has tracked the careers of its grad school students since 2005, claims that such students may continue in higher education or work for the local, state or federal government in jobs directly related to their studies. Other students may also work for think tanks in Washington, D.C. or research-based nonprofit organizations.
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