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A criminologist is someone who studies aspects of crime other than the law, including the causes of crime, crime prevention, criminal behavior, and society’s response to crime. The word may be confused with criminalist because of the similarity in spelling, but a criminalist is an expert in evidence collection and examination. Criminology is one of the branches of sociology, and it has a fair amount of overlap with psychology. Criminologists work in a variety of settings, including universities and other teaching institutions, as well as all levels of government, from local to Federal.
To become a criminologist, there is not the set path that there is for some other fields. First of all, there is no undergraduate degree in criminology at many schools. Criminology is widely considered a multidisciplinary field, and as such, its graduate programs draw on enrollees with a range of undergraduate majors. In these cases, you may do an undergraduate degree in biology, computer science, criminal justice, economics, psychology, or sociology and become a criminologist through graduate study.
At schools that do have an undergraduate major in criminology, they may also provide the opportunity for an undergraduate minor. With an undergraduate degree, one may have access to jobs in various areas of criminal justice, but is not be possible to become a criminologist in all areas of practice without a graduate degree.
In schools that offer graduate programs, masters degrees may be offered as a master of science program or a master of arts program, and the school or department of the university offering the degree may or may not have the word criminology in its title. Other names to look for are criminal justice, sociology, crime, law and society, and law and justice. Some schools only offer a Ph.D. degree. Graduate study generally involves set courses, some electives, research, and a written report. For the doctorate, a comprehensive examination, independent research, and a dissertation are standard.
Beyond the degree program, you should check your state’s regulations to see if a written license exam is required to become a criminologist. If you are considering working for a law enforcement agency, be aware that a background check will be required, as well.
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