Imagine working with law enforcement as a criminal profiler, building profiles of criminal suspects from available information, including but not limited to physical evidence. While the reality of working as a criminal profiler is not going to be as action-packed as a television drama like “Criminal Minds” might portray it to be, students with the right kind of training can find work and build careers in the field.
Some criminal profilers may work as consultants with law enforcement agencies, including renowned units such as the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Others may work with local law enforcement or as private consultants.
The criminal profiler field is a meld of psychology and criminology, and students interested in these disciplines can often make great profilers. Many criminal profilers study criminology or forensic psychology to develop relevant knowledge and insight into criminal behavior patterns. The best programs feature a comprehensive awareness of the criminal justice system, including crime prevention through incarceration and rehabilitation. Online and on-campus certificate and degree programs allow interested students to pursue an education that will prepare them to seek work as a criminal profiler.
Interested students should note that the criminal profiling field is very competitive and few positions are available across the country. Most criminal cases do not require the expertise of a forensic psychology professional, and most profilers get their start as experienced investigators or detectives who may transition into this role. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track information about this career. Still, a search on Indeed, Monster, or other job-hunting sites yields very few opportunities for criminal profiling.
Alternatively, professionals trained in forensic psychology may seek out roles such as court liaison, law enforcement officer, probation officer, expert witness, jury consultant, juvenile offenders counselor, or forensic psychologist. The latter four roles generally require a graduate-level degree.
Read on to learn more about criminal profiler programs, including on-campus and online certificate and degree programs.
Although criminal profiling is not necessarily a new career, it does not offer a lot in terms of specialized education. Students interested in pursuing a career in criminal profiling should be prepared to earn a degree in a related discipline, such as psychology, sociology, or criminal justice, and apply that knowledge to the career they want.
Several programs offer online certificates in fields related to criminal profiling. Although not all are specifically tailored to criminal profilers, there is a broad base of knowledge and practical experience to be gained by exploring these types of educational opportunities. Further, earning an online certificate in a field related to criminal profiling can help determine if profiling is indeed the right career path.
Online certificate programs are a good pathway for future criminal profilers who do not have the time or resources to dedicate to a four-year college degree or master’s level program. Online courses are more flexible for students who are currently employed or have family responsibilities but still want to improve their career prospects.
Furthermore, many criminal profilers come from a law enforcement background. An online certificate program in a field such as criminal justice may be an appropriate option for beginning this type of career for those without law enforcement experience.
Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers an online 12-credit undergraduate criminology certificate program. Open to students with no previous criminal justice experience, the certificate offers them a chance to learn about the American justice system, criminal law, and social science.
The certificate can also be a jumping-off point for those wishing to pursue further educational opportunities in criminology or criminal justice. Tuition grants and scholarships are available for qualified students.
UMass Amherst’s Department of Sociology is nationally ranked and offers an undergraduate online certificate in criminal justice studies. The only admission requirement for the 15-credit program is that students have a minimum of a high school diploma or GED. Students must take five courses of three credits each that cover the areas of criminology, sociology, and law.
Michigan State University (MSU) offers five unique online graduate certificate programs in criminal justice. The law enforcement intelligence and analysis (LEIA) certificate is designed for students who already hold a relevant bachelor’s degree and are not yet ready to commit to the rigors of a master’s degree program at MSU or elsewhere.
The nine-credit program includes 45 contact hours per semester in classes such as issues in criminal justice, counterterrorism and intelligence, and law enforcement intelligence operations. Students not already enrolled at MSU can register for this program as lifelong education students.
Colorado State University (CSU) offers a 15-credit online certificate in criminal forensics that could be directly applicable to a career as a criminal profiler. This degree specialization in criminal forensics allows undergraduate students to focus on learning about forensic psychology as it applies to questioning suspects and collecting evidence. The lower-level courses are designed for those who cannot complete a full undergraduate degree but want to earn credits that could apply to a bachelor’s degree in the future.
Students at CSU take courses such as forensic psychology, forensic interviewing, criminal investigation, and forensic photography. This degree specialization is ideal for undergraduate students in criminal justice, information technology, and organizational leadership.
Students that want to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree that can help them pursue a career in criminal profiling also have several online options to choose from. Accredited programs across the country offer online degrees in criminal justice, psychology, and other related fields.
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As with the online certificate options, degrees are not yet offered that focus only on criminal profiling as a specialty. Rather, students who want to further their education online to take advantage of scheduling flexibility as the self-motivated online learning approach should look for programs that focus on forensic psychology, sociology, or criminology.
University of Massachusetts (UMass) Lowell offers a 33-credit online master’s degree in criminal justice that is particularly geared to those students who are actively working in law enforcement in some capacity (although it is open to all interested applicants, pending department approval).
The online degree program requires five core courses and six elective courses in criminological theory, law & public policy, criminal profiling, forensic psychology, and criminal homicide. Students can earn the degree completely online, although many elective courses are available for on-campus students.
The University of Florida (UF) offers an online bachelor of arts (BS) degree in criminology and law that would be highly applicable to a career as a criminal profiler. The program is part of the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and includes courses in advanced principles of criminal justice, criminological theory, and law and society.
In addition to general degree requirements, students in this program take courses titled advanced principles of criminal justice; criminological theory; law & society; and juvenile justice. To be admitted to this program, students must have earned more than 60 college credits; have a 2.5 GPA or higher; completed an introduction to statistics course; earned a minimum of nine credits in criminology; history; anthropology; economics; philosophy; political science; psychology; and sociology.
The University of North Dakota (UND) offers a 30-credit online master of arts (MA) degree in forensic psychology. The program can be completed in two years (although part-time students may take longer) and consists of recorded lectures and one campus visit to North Dakota.
The campus visit occurs the summer after completing lecture work and is known as a “capstone experience” where online students have the opportunity to “integrate, extend and apply knowledge” and interface with fellow students and professionals working in law enforcement criminal justice field. This program has two application deadlines and can be started in the fall or spring semester.
Online learning is not for everyone. Whether a student just learns better with in-person classroom structure or desires more hands-on experience and face-to-face interaction with fellow students and faculty, there are many reasons for an aspiring criminal profiler to seek out an on-campus certificate or degree program.
The College of Community Innovation and Education at the University of Central Florida (UCF) offers a 15-credit undergraduate certification in criminal profiling which can be completed on-campus or online. While enrolling in this program requires no prerequisites, some courses may have prerequisites.
There are four required three-credit courses: serial murder and criminal justice; sex offenders and the criminal justice system, mental illness, crime, and criminal justice; and criminal profiling in criminal justice. Students can choose one elective course in terrorism; criminal investigation; interview & interrogations in criminal justice; and abnormal psychology. Students are awarded certificates when they complete their degree and must earn a minimum GPA of 2.0 to satisfy the requirements.
The University of Utah offers a 15-credit certificate in criminology at its Salt Lake City campus, as part of its College of Sociology & Behavioral Science. The program is offered by the Department of Sociology in conjunction with undergraduate education at the university, meaning admitted students with another major can add this certificate as an emphasis.
Like other criminal profiling-related programs, the certificate includes courses focusing on psychology, crime prevention, and the criminal justice system. To declare this certificate, enrolled students need to meet with an undergraduate advisor and have their request for this degree emphasis to be added to their degree program.
The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, known more briefly as the ATF, offers a specialized criminal profiling certification program for their agents. While this program is only open to current ATF agents, the certification is a highly respected opportunity that interested profilers may want to pursue.
Agents are trained for two years in the intricacies of behavioral science principles, crime scene analysis and interpretation, forensic science, and pathology to assist in ATF investigations. They are considered criminal profilers at the end of the two-year training program.
The University of Denver (DU) School of Professional Psychology offers a master of arts (MA) degree in forensic psychology that would be directly applicable to anyone looking to pursue a career as a criminal profiler.
The program is not specifically tailored to criminal profiling but is intended to act as a foundation for psychologists wishing to work in the criminal justice system in such capacities as victim assistance, police consultation, correctional institutions, domestic violence and child abuse programs, and trial consulting. Featured courses include psychopathology, evaluation and treatment of adult offenders; psychology, public policy, and advocacy; and criminal evaluations.
The California State University (CSU) Los Angeles (Cal State LA) School of Criminal Justice and Criminalistics offers a bachelor of science (BS) degree in criminal justice that aspiring criminal profilers may want to consider. The four-year program takes place on the school’s Los Angeles campus and includes coursework in criminal procedures, crime scene management, white-collar crime, and forensic mental health.
This 66-credit program includes required courses such as an introduction to administration of justice; police and society; forensic mental health; hate crimes; and offender reentry. To fulfill major requirements, students must earn grades of C or higher in their criminal justice courses.
Earning an education from an accredited institution can be very important to future career prospects as well as graduate or doctoral-level programs that graduates may choose to pursue down the line. To prove academic rigor and integrity, online and on-campus programs should be able to indicate programmatic or institutional accreditation, which shows that the program was evaluated by a third-party organization for its curriculum, faculty, and facilities.
Programmatic accreditation means a certificate or degree program is accredited either by forensic-specific organizations such as the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS).
Institutional accreditation is bestowed by the US Department of Education through one of the six regional accrediting bodies:
Accreditation information is typically available on a program’s website and applicants are encouraged to confirm accreditation status before applying to any criminal profiling or forensics program. Students planning to fund their education using federal loans must attend accredited institutions of education.
Beyond indicating the robustness of a program, accreditation is required for professional certification in some instances.
Having professional certification can help applicants stand out on job applications by demonstrating commitment to the field of criminal profiling. Professional organizations and private companies offer certification credentials to vouch for criminal profilers’ knowledge and skill sets.
For example, the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) offers several exams covering multiple disciplines in criminal profiling. Exams include Comprehensive Criminalistics which leads to the ABC-CC credential and the Biological Evidence Screening or ABC-BIO credential. To be eligible, applicants must have an undergraduate degree from an accredited institution. To maintain earned credentials, professionals must reapply annually for certification, demonstrate knowledge through continuing education, and pay maintenance fees.
The International Association of Forensic Criminologists (IAFC) offers the Profiler General Knowledge Exam (PGKE), the highest level of internationally-recognized certification for criminal profilers. To be eligible for this exam, applicants must have an undergraduate or graduate degree in behavioral or social sciences from an accredited institution.
The McAfee Institute offers the Certified Criminal Profiler (CCP) credential. This 100-hour program provides 100 credits of learning and covers contemporary methods of criminology, crime analysis, and crime scene reviewing concepts. This is a fully online self-study course that confers board certification that lasts for one year. The cost of this program is $997.
Jocelyn Blore is the chief content officer of Sechel Ventures and the co-author of the Women Breaking Barriers series. She graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley and traveled the world for five years. She also worked as an addiction specialist for two years in San Francisco. She’s interested in how culture shapes individuals and systems within societies—one of the many themes she writes about in her blog, Blore’s Razor (Instagram: @bloresrazor). She has served as managing editor for several healthcare websites since 2015.