Associate degree in criminology full program guide

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Introduction to criminology

Criminology explores crime from a social, psychological, and political perspective by looking at crime rates, factors that motivate perpetrators, how the system functions to prove a crime was committed, and how criminals are thereby punished for their actions.

The field appeals to individuals with a strong sense of justice,  who like to solve problems, and  enjoy analyzing and understanding why things happen. A degree in criminology and a career in the field can provide insight into how individuals, communities, and societies  are affected by crime. It could also give you an opportunity to shape and improve the criminal justice system.

Many degree programs combine aspects of criminal justice with criminology, which focuses more on the social aspects and crime prevention. Others look specifically at criminal justice, which involves law enforcement, corrections, law, and investigation.

Associate degrees are usually 2-year programs that give a foundation in a subject. After earning an associate’s degree in criminology, typically, you have 2 options. You could find an entry-level role in the criminal justice field, which might mean in law enforcement, as a corrections officer, or as an evidence technician. Secondly, you could continue to study en route to a bachelor’s degree.

There are associate’s of arts, associate’s of science, and applied science programs available. Generally, they will have similar course content. However, the arts program will be based around critical thinking, whereas the science programs could include more evidence analysis and technological investigation techniques. There are many excellent online associates in criminology, some of which facilitate transfering to a full four-year bachelor’s degree, if you are so inclned.


Associate degree programs in criminology are available at universities and community colleges. These institutions can be relatively flexible when it comes to admission requirements and prerequisites for associate degree programs. While some will require a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 2.5, many won’t focus on your overall performance. Instead, they look at the required aspects for studying criminology.

Generally, schools with criminology programs require your high school transcripts and evidence that you are competent in math or algebra, geometry, and biology. If English isn’t your first language, you’ll need a proficiency certificate. Some institutions might request your standardized test scores, a personal statement, and letters of reference from an academic source.

Several universities will accept transfer students who have already completed several courses at other accredited institutions. It’s also possible to use a military background or police academy training to earn credits at certain schools.


There are associate degree programs in criminology in every format. That means you can take a traditional in-person approach, earning your degree over 4 semesters on campus, or you can study online, where all of the content is shared digitally. These can offer even more flexibility, as they have multiple start dates throughout the year.

Some criminology degree programs require as little as 15 hours commitment a week. If that’s still challenging to commit to, you could choose a part-time option, although this will extend the time it takes to complete the program.  Another route is to find an asynchronous program. These are taught online but don’t have specific class times. Instead, you can access the material when you have time.

The flexibility of associate degrees in criminology will suit those who are already working. They also provide enough choices to meet the needs of those with other commitments, such as family or careers, who can learn from home.


Costs for an associate’s degree in criminology vary by institution, teaching method, and whether you’re a resident or non-resident of the school’s district or state. The average annual tuition for full-time students at public institutions is $3,770. This aligns with the average overall costs for public schools, which is estimated at $10,704.

Private institutions have an average overall cost of around $25,000. Online program costs are often lower, as there’s usually a fee and tuition costs or a charge per credit hour. Tuition can range from $3,500 to $9,500 for in-state residents, and $7,500 to $12,000 for non-residents.

Scholarships and financial aid

The costs of a degree can be covered in several ways. About 86% of first-time students receive some kind of financial aid. That could come through a federal loan, a scholarship, or a grant. There are some opportunities for criminology undergraduates to apply for financial aid. Begin your research by visiting the website of Federal Student Aid to learn more about financial aid for students and to complete the free application form (FAFSA) that assesses your eligibility for federal aid.


An associate’s degree in criminology gives you an introduction to the topic and fundamental skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, and ethics. Most programs are a combination of general education courses and core modules. You’ll usually learn about laws, procedures, and how the criminal justice system works. Typical courses include:

Introduction to criminology

This is a blend of sociology and criminal theories. You’ll learn how the structure of society and crime influence each other and about trends, crime statistics, and the definitions of crimes.


This looks at sentencing, punishment, and incarceration. You’ll examine the structure of the corrections system, the role of prisons, people that work in corrections, and public policy.

Law enforcement

This is a review of policing in the past, present, and future. You’ll find out how law enforcement functions within the criminal justice system, what kind of community relations are needed, and what kinds of roles are required to maintain public safety. Generally, this course also looks at reporting and procedures.

Criminal law and the judicial system

This is the third key component of the criminal justice system. You’ll learn about courts and the different levels – local, state, federal. The course will include the responsibilities, the officers and their roles, and the common process for trials and hearings, presenting evidence, and sentencing.

Criminal investigation and research

This looks at how to gather materials and information to form and present an argument. This course could be theoretical, focusing on criminological theories and how to use them to support an argument. It could also cover criminal profiling or gathering and interpreting evidence in police procedures.

The majority of programs require students to complete an internship or a capstone project. Either element will usually require some hands-on experience and fieldwork. You might need to present your findings in a written report, orally, or work under the supervision of an industry professional.

Criminology is a relatively difficult degree. It involves a broad range of disciplines, including sociology, psychology, law, biology, statistics, technology, communication, and public speaking, and requires excellent written skills.


As most associate degrees in criminology aim to give you a strong foundation in the fundamental concepts of the subject, there aren’t many opportunities to specialize at this level. However, you might be able to choose some of the following electives:


This course explores the ethical issues criminal justice professionals face. Topics include responses to terrorism, immigration, and police conduct. It examines the decision-making process at all levels of the system.


This module looks at how emerging technologies can be used for criminal purposes and how the law, policies, and procedures can address the issues. You’ll learn about types of cybercrime and how the law and law enforcement is adapting to meet these challenges.

Public safety leadership

This module is an evaluation of different leadership styles. This course looks at ethics, behavior, decision-making, communication, and conflict resolution, as well as organizational structures.


While some bachelor’s and master’s degrees are taught by schools with accreditation from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS), they don’t certify associate degrees. However, seeking an accredited institution is still crucial, as it makes it more likely that you can transfer your credits to another school. It also appeals more to potential employers.

Accreditation is also a sign of quality in terms of teaching methods, materials, and student support. The majority of universities and colleges that deliver an associate degree in criminology can seek accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission or a regional body.   

Career paths

Many associate degree programs in criminology cover police procedure and law enforcement, which means a role as a police officer or criminal investigator has potential. Entry-level positions as a police officer require a high school education. However, having an associate degree in criminology could help your prospects and make it easier to progress in your career. It is estimated that approximately 50% of police officers in the U.S. have an associate degree.

Police officer roles can be at the local, state or federal level and criminal investigators can work for other organizations, such as insurance companies or fire departments. The median annual salary for a police officer is $65,170. An associate degree is typically sufficient to gain these positions and could give you an advantage over candidates without a college education.

A core part of the curriculum includes correctional issues and procedures, which is why an associate’s degree in criminology can lead to a career as a corrections officer. You’ll work in a prison or jail and oversee those who have been arrested and are awaiting trial or have been sentenced.   

Entry-level positions require a high school education or equivalent, though an associate degree can help you secure a role and advance. The median annual salary for a correctional officer or bailiff is $45,300.

Working for law enforcement agencies or private companies, you could use the practical skills you gain from an associate’s degree in criminology to become an evidence technician. The role involves gathering and processing evidence and producing reports.

Some employers require a bachelor’s degree for these roles, while others ask only for a high school diploma. You might want to consider continuing your education to earn a bachelor’s degree in forensic science to have more options as better prospects as you advance in this career. The median annual salary for this position is $39,490.

Continuing education

Several universities that provide associate degrees also deliver bachelor’s degree programs in criminology. To advance your knowledge or apply for more senior positions, you may consider continuing your studies or working in the field and embarking on a flexible program online.

Whether you choose the same school or a different one, most universities accept the transfer of credits of your associate’s degree to contribute to your bachelor’s degree in criminology. Bachelor’s programs are usually completed in 4 years, but with your credits from your associate degree, you may need to study for only another 2 years.

If you continue your education to a bachelor’s or master’s degree, which is optimal for criminology, you’ll also get the opportunity to specialize. Options include victimology, homeland security, and counterterrorism. Advancing your education could lead to a position as a forensic technician, federal agent, or victim advocate. Criminology is a popular choice of degree for those who go on to earn a Juris Doctor (JD) to practice law.

Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS) 

The accrediting body for some bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminology, which can provide information about accredited schools if you choose to continue your education. 

American Society of Criminology (ASC) 

The ASC is an international association that promotes the education, practice and research of criminology.  Membership is open to students and all professionals in the field.