The long-running (since 2005) television series Criminal Minds popularized the art and science of profiling criminals. The FBI’s fictitious Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU) solves crimes through profiling the perpetrator’s age range, color, employment status, and possible idiosyncrasies. The creator of this successful series adapted the show from the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit (BSU). Created in 1972, the BSU developed and provided programs of training, research, and consultation in the behavioral and social sciences. However, this was not the advent of profiling. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), two physicians, George Phillips and Thomas Bond, first applied informal profiling in the early 1880s in London’s notorious Jack the Ripper murders.

If this field fascinates you, then high school is the place to begin your educational journey into solving crimes as a profiler. If offered, take courses in psychology and government. Check your local library for books on the subject. For further insight, Google the name, John E. Douglas. Mr. Douglas was one of the FBI’s first criminal profilers who retired in 1995 after a 25-year career. He is the author of several best selling books on the subject.  The non-fiction book, Mind Hunter by Mr. Douglas, takes you inside the FBI’s serial crime unit.

Bachelor of Arts/Science

Even if your interest in profiling starts in high school, your formal education starts in college with at least a bachelor’s degree. What degree is best suited for criminal profiling? John Douglas has a Bachelor of Science in Sociology/Physical Education. He has a Master of Science in Industrial Psychology. He earned a Ph.D. in comparing techniques for teaching police officers how to classify homicides from Nova Southeastern University. While at the FBI, Douglas began teaching criminal psychology classes. In his spare time, he interviewed prisoners. “It was considered innovative, but to me, it was basic. If you want to learn about violent crime, talk to the experts: the criminals perpetrating rapes, arson, and serial homicides,” stated Douglas.

Therefore, profiling involves psychology, particularly forensic psychology. There are schools offering both a Bachelor of Arts and Science in Forensic Psychology. The latter provides a greater depth of knowledge in the biological and neuroscientific aspects of psychology that are becoming increasingly important both for research and clinical forensic practice. There may also be lab work associated with the science degree.

Other programs offer a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology with the choice of a major in forensic psychology. This concentration combines psychology, criminal investigation, and law. This degree will study the motives of crime, definitions of insanity, rehabilitation, eyewitness memory, and criminal profiling. You can also pursue a criminal justice degree with an emphasis in forensic psychology. This option teaches the importance and legal significance of evidence, demonstrating how the investigative process works, from crime scene preservation to case preparation and courtroom presentation. Each step of this process involves a forensic psychologist.

Unfortunately, there are not a lot of schools offering programs in forensic psychology. Another track can be a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Psychology. This program provides you with an overview of the criminal justice system, including aspects of law enforcement, the court systems, correctional organizations, and the ethics and philosophy of criminal justice. You examine theories regarding the nature and cause of criminal behavior and society’s response, approaching the study of crime from a philosophical, psychological, and sociological perspective.

Criminal vs forensic psych

Criminal Psychology vs. Forensic Psychology

Above, we introduced two possible degrees to enter the profession of profiling. Is there a difference? Yes. Criminal psychology focuses on understanding the psychological motivations that occur behind any given crime. It involves the evaluation of crime scenes, evidence, witnesses, and victims. In addition, criminal psychologists create a profile to help law enforcement apprehend a criminal after a crime is committed. Students interested in criminal psychology should study criminal justice, criminology, or forensic psychology.

Forensic psychology applies psychology to the criminal justice system and will frequently deal with the legal aspect of criminal justice, such as law and public policy or competency. These psychologists study and advise on crime prevention systems, rehabilitation systems, and courtroom dynamics. They evaluate criminals and assess the likelihood of re-offending. The majority of forensic psychologists work for state or local government legal or justice systems. Universities, laboratories, hospitals, or medical examiner offices also employ them. A forensic psychology student prepares for his/her career by earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology.

Master’s Degree

As with the bachelor’s degrees, there are both Master’s of Arts and Science in Forensic Psychology. Generally, they both include a fundamental training in clinical psychology as well as specialized coursework and practicum experiences tailored to the study of forensic psychology and law. You may study Psychology & Law, Behavior Pathology, and Child Psychopathology. Other courses, after a year or two of liberal studies, may involve Forensic Psychology, Criminal Psychology, Biopsychology, Criminal Behavior, and Sociology of Deviant Behavior.


To answer the captioned question succinctly, you need a bachelor’s degree. Preferably in criminal justice or psychology. The Pat Brown Criminal Brown Criminal Profiling Agency in Bowie, Maryland states, “A master’s may be perfectly acceptable and a bachelor’s will at least give you the ability to say you are college educated”. The agency also writes, “Most people chose forensics, psychology, or criminal justice as their degree programs.”  You may consider a major that offers courses in criminal justice and psychology. You can always advance your education later with a master’s in forensic psychology or similar field.

This is an extremely specialized profession. Because of this fact, there are few jobs available for criminal profilers. Therefore, as you decide on a degree, select the one you can apply to other professions within law enforcement.

Academic Progression
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