Criminology majors and careers
What is criminology?
Criminology is considered to be a branch of sociology involved with the study of all aspects of crime. Criminologists can help improve society’s response to crime, including the treatment of criminals and victims. As such, criminology includes the examination of topics including:
- Who commits crime
- Reasons people commit crimes
- Frequency of occurrence of different types of crimes
- Where crimes happen
- Impact of crime on victims, criminals, and society
- Reactions to crime by individuals, social, and governments
- Crime prevention
Criminology can impact police practices by highlighting where changes and improvements in police services need to be implemented based on research and data related to criminal activity. In addition, criminology lends its theories to the criminal justice system providing a basis to understand and address issues related to crime, criminals, punishment, victims and crime prevention. The theories that are foundational to criminology incorporate the following:
- Classical – criminal behavior is a conscious choice.
- Psychological – crime is a consequence of factors like childhood experiences and upbringing.
- Biological – inherited traits play a role in criminal behavior.
- Sociological – crime stems from societal influences like systemic oppression and informal social controls.
Why choose criminology?
Criminology can appeal to people who enjoy using critical thinking skills to make connections between various fields to understand human behavior. It can also be an ideal choice of study or career for people seeking a deeper understanding of the complexities related to crime and society’s reactions to it.
The field of criminology is challenging and can provide a wide variety of new experiences. You can contribute to improvements in the criminal justice system by working with offenders or victims. If you choose to focus on research, your work can help shape how your community deals with breaches of the law, possibly leading to a reduction in crime rates. You can help others understand why crime occurs and help instigate rehabilitation programs that can successfully reintegrate criminals back into society following prison sentences, and reduce recidivism rates. You may also be instrumental in developing methods of preventing illegal acts.
Career options in criminology
When deciding on a degree program your main consideration should be on what you want to do, and what you actually can do based on your education. Many different types of jobs exist for criminology majors in numerous employment settings including prisons, police stations, courtrooms, and government offices.
Here are some of the most common careers for criminology majors:
Careers with an associate degree
Patrol officers act to prevent crime and apprehend offenders. Most positions require only a high school education, but some employers may request college credits. Additional training is necessary, usually involving an agency’s training academy.
Detectives assist law enforcement agencies with the pursuit of criminals. Like patrol officers, some employers may ask for college credits. Regardless, having an associate or bachelor’s degree can be advantageous when seeking promotions. Detectives are also required to attend and graduate from a police academy, and many detectives begin their careers working at the police officer level.
Career options with a bachelor’s degree
Probation officers are correctional professionals who help monitor offenders and attempt to prevent them from engaging in illegal activities again. Most employers require exams that show psychological stability, plus other written and oral tests and initial on-the-job training.
Career options with a master’s degree
Criminal lawyerMedian salary: $82K
All lawyers must finish law school and pass the bar exam to work professionally. Those who wish to specialize in criminal law may choose to complete a master’s degree in criminology. This program can help an attorney understand the sociological aspects of crime which can be useful in interviewing witnesses, negotiating with criminals, and presenting evidence in court.
Career options with a doctoral degree
Professors of criminology teach adult students about sociology, law, and criminal psychology. Their work generally includes a research component.
Policy analystMedian salary: $60K
A doctoral degree in criminology prepares you to work as an adviser to the government on crime-related policies. You may work with private or public organizations that influence legislation. A background in politics may be necessary, depending on the position.
As seen above, you can earn a criminology degree at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral level. Full-time students typically take the following amounts of time to complete each program:
- Associate degree: 2 years
- Bachelor’s degree: 4 years
- Master’s degree: 2 years
- Doctorate: 3-6 years
Coursework in a criminology degree
The classes in criminology programs vary, but the categories usually cover:
- Social and psychological aspects of crime across the board
- Juvenile delinquency
- History of crime and the justice system
- Research and reporting skills
- Forensic science and investigative skills
- Special victims and populations
While attending college to complete a criminology degree, you can be eligible to participate in internships within the field. Fieldwork may also be required depending on the program and university.
Undergrad criminology degree vs. graduate coursework
The level of education you decide to pursue is generally based on your end career goal. While employment options in criminology are available at each degree level, many of the options that can lead to higher level positions and salaries demand at least a master’s degree.
A master’s or doctorate program expands on the knowledge accrued in your undergraduate program and can provide you with a variety of highly transferable skills. While studying criminology as a graduate, you’ll learn analytical skills like problem solving, communication, and research. Class topics usually include:
- Violence and criminal behavior
- Psychology and the justice system
- Contemporary issues in victimology
- Violent threat assessment and management
- Communication and conflict resolution
Criminology majors may wish to specialize in a given area. To that end, universities offer concentrations that can prepare the student for specific positions:
- Global criminology — can lead to positions as a college professor, adviser, policymaker
- Conflict management — this concentration is especially relevant to positions in crisis or hostage negotiation
- Law and society — this is a more generalized concentration beneficial to future positions as a crime analyst, postsecondary teacher, policy adviser
- Criminal behavior — a concentration with broad relevance, especially in the role of a criminal profiler, consultant, or adviser
- Victimology — this concentration focuses more on the impact of victims of crime and can be essential for positions as a lobbyist, victimologist, consultant
The first and most crucial factor to consider when choosing a university to study criminology is whether or not it’s accredited. Accreditation is the official certification of a school based on unbiased formal regulations. It proves that the college and program meet specific educational standards set by the agency and overseen by the federal government.
An accredited university has the benefit of providing a reputable degree, which will be honored by employers and grad schools. You can check if your prospective university is accredited.
Prerequisites for a criminology degree
To apply for admission to an associate or bachelor’s degree program at a university or community college, generally requires you to send in your high school transcript, GPA, personal statements, and academic references. You’ll also need to supply any test scores that are requested, such as the ACT or SAT. For international students, the college may ask you to provide an English proficiency test like the TOEFL. If you’re applying to a graduate program, you’ll need to provide your undergraduate transcripts. Often, these are sent electronically through a third-party website, so you may also need to provide your school ID number for identification.
It is important to check the websites of the schools you are interested in applying to due to variances in admission requirements and dates.
Online/hybrid vs. in-person classes
Some colleges and universities offer criminology studies online or as hybrid programs. Hybrid means that some coursework is internet-based while other aspects are offline. The process of applying to an online program is almost the same as applying to an in-person school. Of course, you won’t meet physically with any counselors to help organize and gather your documents. However, you should be able to speak or email with an admissions officer if you have questions you need answered.
The benefit of online courses is that they may be offered at a lower price than in-person tuition. Also, you have more flexibility to work while completing your degree. On the other hand, on-campus learning provides unique opportunities to network with professors and other students. You can take advantage of the academic community to get to know people from varying backgrounds and experience levels. You can weigh the benefits of each setting to choose what best meets your needs.
Costs and financial aid
A crucial factor in pursuing a degree is how much it will cost you. Financial aid is usually available to anyone who looks for the right opportunities and meets the eligibility requirements. The cost of a criminology degree averages between $7,187 for in-state public tuition and $30,673 for out-of-state private tuition.
Financial aid is also available. You can complete the online form, Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), on the federal government website to be assessed for federal aid to support your education. If you’re not eligible for aid through FAFSA, you can look for independent grants and scholarship opportunities online. Grants, loans, or scholarships are widely available through independent parties to students pursuing this degree.
There are no generalized licensure or certification criteria for entering the field of criminology in the United States. When a university offers a criminology certificate, it consists of a short program of approximately 1 year. The coursework can prepare you for careers in public health, psychology, social work, or law. You typically need to complete a degree program to work in the field of criminology. In some cases, credits from a certificate can count toward a future 2- or 4-year degree.
A criminology certificate may include the following classes:
- Domestic violence
- Child abuse and neglect
- Criminal profiling
- Mental health issues and crime
- Forensic psychology
Listed below are official associations, accreditation boards, government websites, and open publications in the field of criminology.
The American Society of Criminology (ASC) is an international organization for criminology professionals. It offers extensive information, including links to publications, career opportunities, and other sites of interest to those working in this field.
Criminology Open Publications is an online journal published by the ASC. It focuses on crime and deviant behavior, posting interdisciplinary content related to criminology and criminal justice.
Criminology | United States Courts is an online portal for information, career opportunities, judicial system statistics, and court records that can be accessed by the public.
American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) is a professional organization that provides resources to scientists who apply their knowledge in the legal system. It organizes annual meetings, conferences, and other educational opportunities.
American Correctional Association (ACA) is the largest and oldest international correctional association. Membership is open to correctional sector professionals, students, interested citizens, organizations, and corporations.