What are the education requirements of being a criminal profiler?

Updated February 21, 2017

Criminal profilers are behavioural analysis experts who attempt to understand criminal behaviour such as serial murders. They try to predict the criminal's next move so that the criminals can be apprehended. Becoming a criminal profiler typically requires specialised psychological education. Criminal profilers work for governmental law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, but they can also work for local law enforcement or as private detectives who provide their services for a fee.

Undergraduate Degree

The road to becoming a criminal profiler begins with foundational studies at the undergraduate level. Potential profilers may obtain a bachelor's degree in psychology. FBI criminal profilers receive additional specialised training covering the areas such as sexual victimisation, stalking, counter-terrorism, organised and white collar crime, crimes against children, how to anticipate crisis situations, and the nature of serial and mass murders.

Specialised Degree Tracks

Instead of a degree in general psychology, aspiring criminal profilers may also pursue bachelor's degrees in a specialised area of focus. Some schools offer psychology degrees with emphases in forensic psychology. These degrees prepare students to delve into the field of criminal profiling. Retired special agent and former head of the FBI's Investigative Support Unit, John Douglas, notes that no specific degree is needed at the undergraduate level, but he recommends a degree with this emphasis if possible. Other potential specialised undergraduate degrees can include those in criminology, criminal justice and police science.

Graduate Degrees

Working as a criminal profiler typically requires an advanced degree. A master's degree in an area such as forensic psychology, criminology and criminal justice can all suffice for a career in this field. There are no specific degree requirements to work as a criminal profiler, so the more education you have and the more specialised it is, the better. A Ph.D. in forensic psychology is more likely to gain you recognition and put you in contention for a job in this field than is a master's degree. Psychologists and psychiatrists are both considered mental health experts and can choose to focus their research in the area of criminal behaviour.

Research and Experience

Research is central to a career in criminal profiling. Both master's and doctoral degrees in forensic psychology tend to focus on advanced research in criminal psychology. Having a few publications under your belt before applying for a position as a profiler is likely to gain you some recognition in the academic community and set you apart from others vying for the same jobs. Professional profiler Pat Brown recommends taking any job you can that may be remotely related to the field to gain hands-on experience. Working as an apprentice to a professional profiler is one way to get experience. Brown also recommends working in the morgue, becoming a detective, working as an emergency medical technician, working a prison work or in psychiatry. The FBI's Behavioral Science Unit also offers a full-time unpaid summer internship that can provide additional experience.

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About the Author

Jared Lewis is a professor of history, philosophy and the humanities. He has taught various courses in these fields since 2001. A former licensed financial adviser, he now works as a writer and has published numerous articles on education and business. He holds a bachelor's degree in history, a master's degree in theology and has completed doctoral work in American history.