Compared to some of the more popular majors (like psychology, business, and education, to name a few), criminology typically falls under the radar. However, many schools do offer such courses, and, as a (biased) criminology major myself, they are some of the most interesting courses available. Of course, for those who have never taken a criminology class, it is easy to make assumptions and draw false conclusions about the discipline and those who study it. I am here to set the record straight by addressing three of the most popular misconceptions about criminology majors, based on personal experience.
- Criminology and Criminal/Forensic Psychology Are Completely Different Subjects
One of the most common misconceptions I’ve encountered over the years is the belief that criminology centers around criminal profiling and understanding individual motivations for crime. In other words, people immediately think of shows like “Criminal Minds” where federal agents crawl into the complex psyches of the “unsubs” they’re after. Because of these associations, criminology majors are typically lumped in with our friends studying criminal and forensic psychology.
However, criminology is actually a social science (with roots in sociology) that looks at broader social patterns as they relate to crime. For example, a criminologist might sit down and analyze datasets documenting crime rates in a specific area over time. From this kind of data, a criminologist would be proud to tell you that, as a whole, crime rates have been on the decline for the last few decades, although crime certainly tends to concentrate in disadvantaged communities. They could not, however, tell you anything about the specific traits of serial killers. Sorry, Ted Bundy fans.
- Not Every Criminology Major Wants to Be a Police Officer
If I had a dollar for every time someone has asked me, “Are you going to be a police officer?” or “Are you going to join the FBI?” after I tell them my major, I would be a wealthy gal. Criminology is wonderful in that there are a number of career paths to choose from post-graduation. Many criminology majors (with concentrations in criminal justice) do go on to take law enforcement positions, but others pursue master’s degrees and Ph.D.’s with aspirations of becoming criminologists and conducting original research.
Thankfully, we are not limited to positions within the criminal justice system. I couldn’t imagine myself having to arrest anyone or being present at a crime scene, and I know that I am not the only one!
- Not Every Criminology Major Watches All the “Crime Shows”
Another common misconception is that people only major in criminology because of their exposure to popular shows like “Criminal Minds” and “CSI.” Maybe it’s just me, but, although I was semi-familiar with these shows before declaring my major, they had no impact on my decision to pursue criminology (especially because they have weak ties to the discipline, as already mentioned). These shows are still enjoyable, but criminology is far broader and more complex than simply tracking down criminals.
For anyone in college with a few extra credits to spare, I would highly recommend taking an introductory criminology class. Not only will the content fascinate you, but you will be in a better position to appropriately react when someone (like me) tells you it’s their major!