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, and even with renowned units such as the FBI Behavioral Analysis Unit or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, as well as in local law enforcement and private consulting.
The field is a meld of psychology and criminology, and students who have an interest in these fields can often make great profilers. Many criminal profilers study criminology or forensic psychology in order to develop relevant knowledge and insight into the minds of others, specifically criminals. It is also important to get a thorough background in the criminal justice system from crime prevention through incarceration and rehabilitation. Both online and on-campus programs are available that 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 there are few positions available across the country. A majority of 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, but a search on Indeed, Monster, or other job-hunting sites yields very few opportunities in 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.
Although criminal profiling is not necessarily a new career, it is one that 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 to apply that knowledge to the career they want.
A number of programs offer online certificates in fields related to criminal profiling. Although not all are specifically tailored to future 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 be helpful in determining if profiling is indeed the right career path for you.
Who should enroll in an online digital certificate program?
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 at this time. Because courses are offered online, they tend to be more flexible for students who are currently employed and/or who have a busy life taking care of their families but still want to improve their career prospects.
Further, 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.
Featured Online Certificate Programs
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. These are all essential parts of the education necessary to become a criminal profiler. The certificate can also act as a jumping-off point for those wishing to pursue further educational opportunities in criminology or criminal justice. SNHU programs are accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Tuition is $1,281.50 per credit and 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 are required to take five courses of three credits each that cover the areas of criminology, sociology, and law. Online UMass programs are accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Tuition is $402 per credit.
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. MSU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and graduate-level tuition is $755.50 per credit for in-state residents.
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 are not able to complete a full undergraduate degree but want to earn credits that could be applicable to a bachelor’s degree in the future. Students at CSU will take courses such as forensic psychology, forensic interviewing, criminal investigation, and forensic photography. CSU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and tuition for in-state residents is $522.20 per credit for in-state residents.
Students that want to earn an undergraduate or graduate degree that can help them pursue a career in criminal profiling also have online options available. Accredited programs across the country offer online degrees in criminal justice, psychology, and other related fields.
Who should enroll in an online degree program?
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 in order 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.
Featured Online Degree Programs
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 as well as six elective courses in topics such as:
Students can earn the degree completely online, although a wider range of elective courses are available for on-campus students. UMass Lowell is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC). Graduation tuition is $15,210 per year for Massachusetts residents, $26,990 for out-of-state residents, and $23,021 for those who qualify for the New England Regional Program.
The University of Florida 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 in the following disciplines:
To be eligible to transfer into this program, students must meet prerequisites:
Tuition at UF is $129.18 per credit for Florida residents and $552.62 per credit for non-Florida residents. The UF is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
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” as well as interface with fellow students and professionals working in the law enforcement and criminal justice field.
This program has two application deadlines and can be started fall or spring semester. Tuition is $460.95 per credit for in-state residents and UND is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
Of course, online learning is not for everyone. Whether a student just learns better with the structure of a classroom 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 program.
The University of Central Florida (UCF) offers a 15-credit undergraduate certification in criminal profiling to degree-seeking students. While there are no prerequisites to enroll in this program, some courses may require prerequisites. There are four required three-credit courses: abnormal psychology; serial murder and criminal justice; sex offenders and the criminal justice system; and criminal profiling in criminal justice. Students can choose one elective course in terrorism, criminal investigation, or interview & interrogations in criminal justice. 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 are able to add this certificate as an emphasis. Similar to other criminal profiling related programs, the certificate includes courses that focus 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 so that they can assist in ATF investigations. At the end of the two-year training program, they are considered criminal profilers.
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 or CSULA) 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. Both online and on-campus programs should be able to indicate some level of accreditation, which shows that the program was evaluated by a third-party organization for its curriculum, faculty, and facilities.
Programs can be accredited either by forensic-specific organizations such as the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) or a more general accreditation for higher education such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), NEASC, HLC, or SACSCOC. Accreditation information is easily available on the website for any school and applicants should be sure to seek out this information before applying to any criminal profiling or forensics program.
Beyond indicating the robustness of a program, accreditation is required for professional certification in some instances. For example, the International Association of Forensic Criminologists (IAFC) introduced a certification process that among its requirements has a degree from an accredited institution. As well, students planning to fund their education using federal loans are required to attend accredited institutions of education.
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).