Criminology is a branch of sociology that studies the social patterns of criminals, criminal victims and the environments in which crime occurs. A college degree in criminology can be excellent preparation for a leadership position in law enforcement or a research position with the government, but competition for such roles is keen, and high school students should start preparing themselves in advance by taking the right courses before college.
English and Social Science
Study in criminology requires the extensive reading of academic research studies as well as the writing and publication of a student’s own research studies, usually performed in partnership with a professor. Professional criminologists will additionally have to make public speeches before reporters, judges, lawyers and criminal justice professionals. They may also have to conduct extensive interviews with crime witnesses, criminals, crime victims, and their families. Students hoping to study criminology must develop strong skills in reading, writing and communication by taking a full four years of English in high school. Because criminology is a social science, future criminologists should take four years of social science in high school. History will be useful to help students understand the development of societies over time, while electives in psychology and sociology, if available, will give students an overview of the workings of the mind and the scientific study of social groups, which is the basis for criminology.
The extensive reading of academic research required of criminologists requires an understanding of statistics, a form of mathematics frequently used to measure and report social patterns. To understand statistics, a student should take two years of algebra first. Algebra, the study of unknown variables in a system, is itself useful as it develops the analytical reasoning criminologists need to solve puzzles. Calculus, the study of how unknown variables in a system change over time, is also useful for future criminologists. Additionally, studying geometry helps criminologists evaluate the dimensions of a crime scene and how a space plays a role in a crime.
Because the social science practices of criminology are based on the “hard” sciences of biology, chemistry and physics, future criminologist should take all three subjects in high school. Biology is especially useful because it is preparation for the understanding of human cadavers that criminologists will need. Chemistry helps criminologists understand substances like drugs and explosives, while physics helps criminologists understand the nature of a movement, such as a punch or bullet trajectory.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in May 2013 reports that ability to speak a foreign language is “highly desired” in criminal justice professionals, because the U.S. is an immigrant country, and some crime witnesses cannot speak English. The most common foreign languages in the United States are Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, French, and Spanish, the bureau reports, but Spanish is five times more common than any other language. It typically takes students about four years of Spanish study to develop basic conversational facility. Criminologists who work in law enforcement may have to run after, tackle and confront dangerous individuals during their careers. Young people interested in this field need to keep themselves physically fit by actively participating in physical education courses and after school sports.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Sociologists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Police and Detectives
- John Jay College Department of Sociology: What Is Criminology?
- Anne Arundel Community College: Applied Sociology - Questions and Answers
- American Statistical Association: What Is Statistics?
- Syracuse University: What Is Algebra?
- Southern State Community College: What Is Calculus?
- Cornell University: What Is Geometry?
- University College of Cork: What Is Chemistry?
- Physics.org: What Is Physics?
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