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How to Choose A College Major for Criminology Careers

Helpful Tips and Advice on Choosing the Best Degree For You

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Graduates walking towards future
© 2011 Dorann Weber / Moment / Getty Images
Preparing to start your college career is daunting enough for most students without having to declare a major.  Between getting settled at your new school, making new friends, studying and trying to stretch a single bag of noodles into a week-long meal, making the transition to college life can be difficult, to say the least.  At some point in your education, however, you're going to have to figure out just exactly what it is you want to do with your life.  

Jobs in criminology and criminal justice make for an excellent and rewarding career choice, but the question still remains: what should you get a degree in?  To help you better plan your educational path, here's some helpful advice:

Set Career Goals

Determining your career goals is perhaps the most important start.  In deciding what career path you want to pursue, you can narrow down your career choices significantly.  More than likely, you have a general idea of what direction you want to go.  In order to make a better choice, do a little research.  Learn as much as you can about the field you're interested in and find out what jobs are available and what jobs are right for you. Once you've gotten a good idea of what sort of career you want to pursue, you'll be in a better position to start working toward your degree.  Each of area of criminology and criminal justice are related, but some fields require specific skills and education backgrounds.   In some cases, certain degree programs may be required.  In others, some degrees may be more appropriate or beneficial than others.  In any case, you can never discount the importance of a college education in criminal justice.

Choosing Your Degree

Your career choice will go a long way in determining your degree path.  Here are some suggestions on what to study, depending on your career goals:
  • Natural Sciences

    If you're interested in pursuing a career in forensic science, then you should study the natural sciences.  Of course, even within forensics there are almost infinite opportunities for specialization that may influence your area of study.

    If you want to become a DNA analyst, you'll want to earn a degree in biology or chemistry.  If you decide working as a bloodstain pattern analyst is a better fit, physics or biology would be the way to go.  Likewise, a forensic ballistic expert may want to focus her studies on physics.

  • Social Sciences

    Ultimately, criminology and criminal justice is about people: how they interact and react, how they behave, and how they respond to various stimuli and situations.  Because of this, it's hard to go wrong specializing in the social sciences, either as a major or a minor.

    If you decide you want to pursue a career as a criminologist, your focus should be on looking at the large scale causes, effects and consequences of criminal behavior.  In this case, you should look into a degree in criminology, sociology or anthropology.

    If you find you're more interested in the practical application of criminology, you'll probably be more interested in working as a police officer, probation or community control officer or other law enforcement-related field.  In this case, you may instead want to look into earning a degree in criminal justice, public administration or even political science.

  • Psychology

    Maybe it's the human mind you're interested in, in which case you may choose to pursue a career as a forensic psychologist, criminal profiler or even a jury consultant.  More likely than not, you'll need to earn an advanced degree in order to advance in this field.  Here, of course, a degree in psychology would be a good start.

Criminology or Criminal Justice?

In truth, your degree choice need not limit your career options.  Many degree programs are closely related to each other, and some even share some of the same prerequisites.  The subtleties in the differences between criminology and criminal justice, for example, are small enough that a degree in one would not preclude you from careers that may be better suited for the other.

In any case, you can choose to continue your education and earn a master's degree in criminology or criminal justice if you find that your resume is lacking.  The same can be said for most fields, and it may be wise to earn a four-year-degree in one area and an advanced degree in another in order to help you be more balanced and well rounded.

Finding Jobs in Criminology and Criminal Justice

As you plan your college career, you should do so with a focus on preparing for job search success after graduation.  As you progress, remain focused on the prize.  Take classes and find internships that will help you prepare for your new criminology career.

As much as possible, your degree path and your career choice should be complimentary.  Ideally, you'll want to figure out what to do and plan your learning around a career goal.  With research, hard work and perseverance, you're sure to enjoy a bright future in a successful career in criminology or criminal justice.

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