How to Become a Criminal Profiler | Criminal Justice Programs

Criminal Profiling

Criminal profiling is an investigative profession used to assist law enforcement and government agencies that pursue unknown perpetrators. Criminal profilers typically have a background in forensic and/or investigative psychology, which gives them skills to recognize the personality traits and characteristics of criminals based on crime scene evidence. FBI criminal profiling, criminal justice psychology and detective positions are common jobs for profilers.

(Criminal profiling is) a combination of analyzing the physical and behavioral evidence, reconstructing a crime from the beginning to the end and coming up with the most scientific determination possible with the information available.

The Profiler by Pat Brown

Criminal Profiler Job Description

The criminal profiler’s job is to create a psychological profile of a criminal suspect. The profile he or she creates can then be used to help catch the suspect.

A criminal profile is typically created by:

  • Examining evidence from the crime
  • Interviewing witnesses and victims
  • Analyzing crime scenes

A profiler uses information obtained in these investigations to help identify any patterns (or “signature”) that match certain crimes, such as a robbery. By matching up an unknown criminal’s behavior with behavior of a known criminal, profilers can find out more about the suspect. Aside from developing profiles of real-world criminals, criminal profilers may also conduct research and write reports on patterns of criminal behavior by going through old case studies and interviewing convicted criminals.

Psychological profiling also helps criminal profilers understand the complex facets of human behavior in relation to crime and the legal system. Criminal profilers commonly work for local, state or federal law enforcement agencies, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Additionally, there are criminal profilers that work independent of such agencies and provide their services upon request to lawyers, police departments and government agencies such as the National Security Administration (NSA).

The job of an FBI criminal profiler falls somewhere between the fields of law enforcement and psychology, often depicted in popular television shows and Hollywood movies. FBI profiling is also known as:

  • Criminal investigative analysis
  • Crime action profiling
  • Investigative psychology

The job requires a graduate-level education (either a master’s or doctorate degree) and usually several years of experience. In addition, the role of an FBI profiler requires research and analytical skills in the psychological sciences to better comprehend criminal behavior.

Criminal profilers with doctorate degrees could work in academia, teaching and publishing their research and findings in the field. Criminal profilers may also be called upon to testify as expert witnesses in court proceedings.

How to Become a Criminal Profiler

Successful criminal profilers must possess excellent analytical and critical thinking abilities, good communication skills, and the ability to effectively analyze scientific and statistical data. Degree requirements for criminal profiling are not specifically outlined because it’s such a small field and there are a limited number of degrees specific to only criminal profiling; however, it’s recommended to major in criminology, criminal justice, psychology, or sociology for your bachelor’s degree.

It would be valuable to get a dual degree in psychology and criminal justice, and then gain job experience working in law enforcement, ideally as an investigator. A master’s degree in forensic psychology or the behavioral sciences will help advance your career as a criminal profiler. Some law enforcement agencies, including the FBI’s behavioral sciences unit, also provide training specific to the field; however, these programs usually require you to already have advanced qualifications and job experience.

FBI Criminal Profiler Requirements

To become an FBI criminal profiler, you’ll need the following:

  • A bachelor’s degree in either psychology or criminal justice
  • A master’s or doctorate degree, preferably in a psychology-related field
  • Training in criminal investigations, forensics, forensic pathology, human behavior, crime scene analysis, legal issue, interviewing skills, and crime typologies

Entering the FBI as a criminal profiler is a tough career route as few positions are available; however, it’s a crucial role in helping to quickly capture the criminal(s) at hand.

Silhouette of a man

Traits of a Good Criminal Profiler

A criminal profiler uses both inductive and deductive reasoning to develop a profile of a criminal based on characteristics of the crime committed. Research conducted by the FBI identified various traits attributed to successful criminal investigative analysts, or criminal profilers. These include:

  • Critical thinking using logic and reasoning
  • Strong intuition and analytical skills
  • Emotional detachment
  • Understanding of criminal minds and psychology
  • Active listening with the ability to understand what is and isn’t said
  • Complex problem solving with the ability to evaluate options and implement solutions
  • Social perceptiveness, awareness, and an understanding of people’s reactions and why they react as they do
  • A drive to acquire knowledge and understanding of how to apply scientific methods to investigations, evidence collection, and processing methodologies.
  • Determination and persistence
  • Organization
  • Attention to detail
  • The ability to convey information effectively
  • The ability to synthesize complex material in a clear, concise manner

A criminal profiler must analyze a large volume of data, yet stay alert to the smallest details.

Criminal Profiler Education

Criminal Justice Psychology Research Methods and Design along with Criminal Psychological Assessment are a couple courses that may be included in your criminal justice program. Additional courses listed below will continue to build your skill set toward the goal of becoming a criminal profiler.

Mental Health Professionals, Social Science and Law

The interaction between mental health and the criminal justice system. Criminal profiling has a strong basis in understanding the role of mental health as it relates to law and the criminal justice system. Issues such as: civil commitment, mental health testimony, the rights of mental health patients in a legal setting, competency to stand trial and insanity defense pleas are analyzed. The objective is to learn the applications and limitations of mental health within the judicial system.

Criminal Justice Psychology Research Methods and Design

The aim of this course is to understand and implement proper scientific research. Students will gain knowledge of different types of research (correlation vs. experimental). Additionally, the structure of research is explored through hypotheses testing, carrying out surveys, experimental design, and evaluating programs and data analysis.

Criminal Psychological Assessment

Learn how to apply and rank criminal assessment measures. Students administer, score, and interpret data results that are currently used in criminal forensic procedures. Included in these tests are risk assessment, mental state during a criminal offense, competency, and psychopathology.

Human Growth and Development

This course focuses on developmental milestones that occur throughout an individual’s lifespan. Students learn typical developmental landmarks in relation to age, from the prenatal stage through adulthood. Such stages include: prenatal, infancy, toddlerhood, childhood, adolescence and adulthood.

Criminal Behavior

Examine accepted theories of aggressive criminal behavior and mentalities. Current classification models are used to analyze various viewpoints from cognitive, psychodynamic, social learning, and behavioral theories. To illustrate these theories, case studies are used to facilitate such applications. Additionally, issues such as sex crimes, delinquency and substance abuse may also be explored.

Criminology Degrees & Careers | Criminal Justice Programs


Criminology is the study of crime from a societal perspective. Criminologists investigate why crimes are committed, who is committing them, what type of societal factors might be contributing to higher crime rates, and the best ways to predict, deter, and prevent future crimes.

While many criminology graduates might eventually enter the field of criminal justice, there is a distinct difference between the two disciplines. Criminology focuses on the things that lead to individuals committing crimes or acting in a criminal way, whereas criminal justice focuses primarily on the individuals who commit the crime.

Whether you want to help reduce crime rates, participate in criminal justice reform, prevent crime from happening, or ensure a higher quality of life, the study of criminology can make a real difference to people’s lives.

This page introduces the field of criminology and a guide to criminology degrees. Within, you’ll find the following:

  • What does a criminologist do?
  • Career outlook and salary information for criminologists
  • How to become a criminologist
  • Featured criminology degree programs
  • Overview of criminology degree programs
  • Other career paths for those with a criminology degree

What Does a Criminologist Do?

At a basic level, criminologists focus on two things: studying and analyzing data.

Typical Duties

  • Conducting research: Criminologists conduct research, using data to analyze crime patterns that could lead to preventing and deterring future crimes. Criminology data ranges from specific behavioral and biological profiles of those who commit crimes to geographical crime data.
  • Developing theories: In order to effectively translate data into action, criminologists develop theories based on the research they conduct. These theories help others in the field understand crime patterns and improve their practices.
  • Compiling and generating reports on crime statistics: While the research, data collection, and analysis are the first steps to be taken, criminologists must also take the information learned and create a report that is helpful to the audience. Reports might be created for colleagues, superiors, or even the general public.
  • Investigating crimes and crime scenes: In many cases, criminologists will also work with data on a smaller scale, such as through individual crimes. In these cases, they won’t be working with large data sets, but rather with pieces of evidence from a crime scene or larger-scale crimes.
  • Evaluating, analyzing, developing, and implementing criminal justice policies and procedures: Many who choose the public policy path utilize the research and data analysis skills described above, while also looking directly at specific policies and conducting research and analysis on how those policies affect crime.
  • Program implementation: Criminologists also utilize their research and reports to implement programming that is appropriate for a specific population or geographic region. Those who carry out those recommendations must be systems thinkers, able to take action on a recommendation that came from a more theoretical standpoint.

Common Career Paths

There are many opportunities for criminologists to branch out and specialize in areas within the field. For example, criminologists can specialize in topics such as specific age groups, demographics, geographical areas, or types of crime.

Beyond looking at specific communities, a variety of career paths are available to criminologists, including:

  • Corrections
  • Law enforcement
  • Criminal investigation for federal and state agencies
  • Forensics
  • Judicial
  • Counseling
  • Medical investigation
  • Private investigation
  • Teaching
  • Other careers in sociology

Career Outlook and Salary Information for Criminologists

The demand for criminologists is expected to grow over the coming years, and with it, job potential in the field will also increase. Because the types of jobs available range so widely, salaries and job outlooks depend on the position and the degree you choose to pursue. Following are some median salaries for several of the career paths listed above.

Criminal Investigator: $81,920
Private Detective: $50,090
Sociologist: $82,050
Law Enforcement (Police, Detective): $63,380
Criminal Justice Teacher, Post-Secondary: $67,040

How to Become a Criminologist

In order to become a successful criminologist, you’ll need to complete the following steps:

  • 1Earn Your Degree
    Getting a bachelor’s degree in sociology, psychology, criminology, or criminal justice can open the door to entry-level jobs in criminology. However, many employers may now require a graduate degree in those same fields – research the type of job you’d like to pursue before choosing which path to take.
  • 2Get an Internship
    Snag an internship with a police department, law office, state or federal government office, a community organization involved with the justice system, or a group that conducts research on relevant subjects.
  • 3Obtain a License
    Many states and law enforcement agencies require criminologists to pass a licensing exam before they can begin their career.
  • 4Pursue a Criminologist Position
    Jobs can be found within the FBI, ATF, at other federal, state, or local agencies, at police departments, in consulting agencies, and even at colleges and universities. (Note – not all positions will have the term “criminologist” in the title.)
  • 5Join a Professional Association
    Join an association such as the American Society of Criminology, the International Society of Criminology, the Law and Society Association, or other groups serving the field of criminology.
  • 6Stay on Top of Current Events
    Stay current with what’s happening in the field. Attending conferences to network and learn about new developments will not only allow you to build relevant contacts but also keep your knowledge of the subject up to date, too.
  • 7Get an Advanced Degree
    People interested in becoming criminologists often pursue a master’s or doctorate degree. An advanced degree can provide the opportunity for greater responsibilities and a higher salary.
  • 8Become a Sub-Field Expert
    Find a sub-field in criminology to master. This will help you gain recognition, advance your career, and enjoy greater workplace opportunities.

Degree Programs in Criminology

While some associate degrees will provide entry into service positions within criminal justice, a bachelor’s degree or higher is often necessary to advance in the field of criminology. Criminology degree programs teach you to think critically and manage the ever-evolving nature of technology and data in the field.

Bachelor’s Degree

A full-time bachelor’s degree in criminology can take at least four years to complete. However, if you already have an associate degree, a bachelor’s completion program focused solely on the criminology major could take as little as two years.

All bachelor’s programs require the completion of general education credits and criminology-specific major requirements. The study is multidisciplinary, with coursework covering areas such as psychology, sociology, statistics, data analysis, history, and public policy.

With a bachelor’s degree in criminology, you’ll be prepared to enter and develop a career across a variety of fields such as human and social services, public policy, juvenile justice, and forensics, as well as direct service positions such as security, probation, and police officers.

Master’s Degree

A master’s degree in criminology will help you develop the technical skills necessary to advance in the criminology field, alongside the critical and analytical practice needed to progress to management-level positions. A full-time master’s program typically takes two years to complete.

Each program offers something unique, but all are largely multidisciplinary. Many master’s programs are more generally focused, allowing students to hone their interests throughout the program. Some also offer specialization opportunities in topics such as forensics or cybersecurity. Programs often range from more theoretical courses, such as comparative studies in criminal justice or foundations in criminology, to skills-based courses, such as those dealing with statistics or computer applications in criminal justice. Many programs require at least 30 credit hours of coursework as well as either a master’s thesis or a practicum as a culminating project.

Doctorate Degree

If you want to participate in the advancement of research in the field of criminology, a doctorate is essential. While many positions for a Ph.D. in criminology are based within higher education research institutions, there is an increasingly large number of criminologists now working in the private sector and the government.

Doctoral program completion varies widely and depends on the level of education you have upon entering. It requires strong self-determination and time management skills. Programs can take as little as four years but will often take five or more. The coursework involved is often similar to that of master’s level courses but may require that more classes are taken. In some programs, the Ph.D. track can also include completing a master’s degree along the way.

The most rigorous and variable part of the doctorate is the final dissertation, which is a multi-step process. It can take at least a year to complete and will involve proposals, proposal defense, data collection, various draft reviews, and dissertation defense.

Online Programs

Many master’s (and increasingly more bachelor’s) degree programs now offer online coursework. An online program is a great option if you’re already working in the criminal justice field, as you’re able to apply your coursework directly to your job. An online program can also have a huge advantage in flexibility and pacing. Additionally, it’s typically less expensive in the long run to complete your degree online, because you’re not spending your money on transportation or moving costs.

While online coursework has many advantages, it does also have its negatives. These can include spending less face-to-face time with students and faculty, and the challenges met when trying to gain hands-on experience in the field. However, online programs are increasingly finding ways to develop strong, cohesive communities as well as providing alternative ways for students to apply their coursework in the real world.

Other Career Paths for Those With a Criminology Degree

Some students who earn a degree in criminology will decide that they want to work in a public-facing position rather than in research. There are a number of such careers available, including:

Spotlight: Featured Criminology Degree Programs

There are now so many options for criminology programs, that it can be difficult to narrow down the best one for you. The following list was compiled based on a number of factors, including various rankings and government databases such as the Department of Education’s Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Additionally, the list includes bachelor’s and master’s programs, alongside both on-campus and online courses.

University of Florida, Gainesville

The University of Florida’s criminology programs are based in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. The direction of study is rooted in liberal arts and designed to provide a well-rounded foundation of critical thinking based around societal issues pertaining to crime and the law. The theoretical approach to the coursework trains students to think critically and analytically, both of which are necessities in the field. Additionally, the B.A. program can be completed completely online, making the elite institution’s program accessible and flexible for all. Earning a bachelor’s degree at the University of Florida also prepares students for advanced degrees.

Degree Programs: B.A. in Criminology and Law, combined B.A./M.A. degree, M.A., Joint M.A./J.D., Ph.D.

Tuition: $129.18 per credit (residents) and $552.62 per credit (non-residents).

Online: This school rated highly as an online institution for a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and Law.

University of Maryland, College Park

The University of Maryland’s Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice offers some of the top degree programs in the field. Focused on the three pillars of the criminal justice system — the courts, policing, and corrections. UMD is heavily research-oriented, even at the bachelor’s level. The department’s explicit mission is to be at the forefront of research in the field of “Criminology for the 21st Century,” which considers the changing and evolving nature of the topic. Located just outside Washington, DC, the school’s faculty are internationally recognized as being leaders in criminology and criminal justice.

Degree Programs: Bachelor’s, master’s, joint M.A./J.D., Ph.D.

Tuition: Undergraduate tuition: $8,651 per year (resident), $31,688 per year (out-of-state); graduate: $731 per credit hour (resident), $1,625 per credit hour (out-of-state)

Online: While the University of Maryland doesn’t offer online degrees in any of their criminology programs, there is a satellite campus in Shady Grove, Maryland for undergraduate studies and a master’s degree program in China in association with Nanjing Normal University Law School.

University of California, Irvine

The University of California, Irvine offers not only high-quality in-person bachelor’s degree and Ph.D. programs, but an online master’s program geared specifically toward professionals already working in the field of criminology. The only component of the program that is not online is a five-day introductory immersion course, which takes place on-campus. With faculty experts in the field, the course of study is interdisciplinary and designed to create advanced-level skills and knowledge through coursework in leadership, research methods, and criminology theory.

Degree Programs: Bachelor’s, Master of Advanced Studies in Criminology, Law, and Society (online), Master of Legal and Forensic Psychology (online), Ph.D.

Tuition: $11,442 per year (resident), $40,434 per year (non-resident); graduate: $11,442 per year (resident); $26,544 per year — based on full-time enrollment

Online: This school rated highly as an online institution for a Master of Advanced Study in Criminology, Law and Society and the Master of Legal and Forensic Psychology degree programs.

Florida State University

Florida State University’s College of Criminology and Criminal Justice offers degree programs that lead to bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. In addition to their on-campus coursework, the college offers completely online-based bachelor’s completion and master’s degrees. Students can choose either a research-focused track or an applied track with a strong emphasis on statistics and computer applications in security and criminal justice.

Degree Programs: Bachelor’s (on-campus and online bachelor’s completion program), Master’s in Criminology (on-campus and online), Master’s in Computer Criminology, Joint Master’s in Social Work, Joint Master’s in Public Affairs, Ph.D.

Tuition: Undergraduate: $215.55 per credit (on-campus resident), $721.10 per credit (on-campus non-resident), $180.49 per credit (online resident), $686.04 per credit (online non-resident); graduate: $479.32 per credit (on-campus resident), $1,110.72 (on-campus non-resident), $444.26 per credit (online resident), $1,075.66 per credit (online non-resident)

Online: This school rated highly as an online facility for both bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

University of Nebraska, Omaha

With a focus on the sociological approach to criminal behaviors, the University of Nebraska’s criminology and criminal justice degree programs prepare students to enter many of the direct service professions in the field, including law enforcement, corrections, and victim’s advocacy. Additionally, there are opportunities to take a more research-focused track, especially for those pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees. The university’s faculty are internationally recognized for their research, teaching, and leadership in the top professional organizations. The school offers fully online degree programs at both the bachelor’s and master’s degree levels.

Degree Programs: B.S. in Criminology and Criminal Justice, M.A., M.S., M.S./Master of Social Work joint degree, Ph.D.

Tuition: Undergraduate: $9,522 per year (resident), $25,828 per year (non-resident); graduate: $7,696 per year (resident), $18,882 per year (non-resident)—based on full-time enrollment

Online: This school is rated highly as an online institution for bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Michigan State

Michigan State’s School of Criminal Justice offers programs from bachelor’s to doctoral degrees, including three fully online master’s programs in criminal justice, law enforcement intelligence, and judicial administration. The programs are reflective of the school’s interdisciplinary approach, with over 30 faculty members working in a variety of areas of expertise including public health, history, environmental social science, law, and criminology. As a land-grant institution, the school is dedicated to translating theory and research into practice, which is reflected through their degree programs.

Degree Programs: B.A. in Criminal Justice, M.S. in Criminal Justice (on-campus and online), M.S. in Forensic Science (on-campus only), M.S. in Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysis (online), M.S. in Judicial Administration (online), Ph.D.

Tuition: Undergraduate: between $482 and $555 per credit (resident), between $1,325 and $1,385 per credit (non-resident); graduate: between $745 and $785 per credit (resident); between $745 (online) and $1,544 per credit (non-resident).

Online: This school rated highly as an online facility for master’s degrees in criminal justice, law enforcement intelligence analysis, and judicial administration.


Northeastern University’s School of Criminology & Criminal Justice uses a multidisciplinary approach to prepare students for working in both research-based and professional settings within the criminal justice system. The entire university is a fully integrated experiential learning model in which students at all levels—bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral—are guaranteed to graduate with not only a strong academic and theoretical foundation in criminology, but with practical experience, too. The bachelor’s degree program uses the co-op model, where students alternate between in-classroom learning and real-world experiences such as internships, service-learning, and research activities. The graduate programs promise to prepare students with current knowledge in the field, theoretical foundations, and the technical skills needed to advance in their careers.

Degree Programs: B.S. in Criminal Justice, M.S. in Criminology and Criminal Justice, Joint M.S./JD., Ph.D., Joint Ph.D./J.D.

Tuition: Undergraduate: $1,577 per credit (full-time course load is $25,225 per term); graduate: $1,295 per credit

Online: Northeastern doesn’t offer online degree programs at this time.