Criminology Degree

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What is Criminology?

Criminology is the study of crime, its causes, prevention, and resolution and is considered a branch of sociology. The field of criminology combines research and theory and applies it to the real world dynamics that encapsulate crime. This involves understanding behavioral analyses, biological factors, social considerations, and environmental conditions.

The use of criminology is particularly felt in the development of laws, rules and treatments on how to avoid the development of criminal behavior, how to manage existing criminals, and how to offer reform opportunities.  Criminologists study very specific behavior, social structures, and human activity.  As a branch of sociology, it utilizes many of the same methods for gathering data and conducting research.

Difference Between Criminal Justice and Criminology

It is easy to confuse criminal justice and criminology as many people may use the terms interchangeable.  However, as a discipline of sociology the field of criminology is distinctly different.  In simplistic terms, criminal justice is the systemic study of crime detection, punishment, and corrections.

On the other hand, criminology looks at all crime and the effects of crime as a social phenomenon.  While both criminology and criminal justice analyze crime and criminal activity, one looks at the systematization (criminal justice) while the other looks at the social impacts (criminology).

Top Degrees in Criminology

A number of degrees in criminology exist via accredited colleges and universities across the country.  Online degrees in criminology and its counterpart, classroom-based programs, can be found offered through large and small colleges with varying course curriculum.

Some schools emphasize the combination of criminology with psychology, forensics, law enforcement, corrections, and/or technology.  As a result of these variations, take the time to request information from several schools to understand their course offerings compared to your preferred area of interest.  Below you will find a list of degree programs in criminology to explore further:

Criminology Associate’s Degree Online

The online associate degree in criminology is a 2-year program that fuses general education courses such as math, English composition, communications, and philosophy with core criminology courses to help provide students with a set of holistic reasoning skills and think differently about the world around them.

Students taking classes part-time can expect the program to last around three years depending on the number of courses taken at a given time.  Degrees are most frequently conferred as an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) or an Associate of Science (AS) depending on the school’s programmatic design.

Core classes in criminology will blend sociology, psychology, criminal justice, corrections, and law enforcement classes to help prepare students for a career in the field.

Criminology Bachelor’s Degrees Online

Online bachelor degrees in criminology is a 4-year program conferred as a Bachelor’s of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Applied Science (BAS) within most colleges and universities.  The bachelor degree provides students with additional liberal arts courses along with a deeper understanding of criminal justice disciplines compared to the associate degree programs.

Areas of specialization within criminology can include the criminal justice system, cybersecurity, network security, and contemporary issues in criminology.  Classes you will take will be a correlation to your area of specialty but may include courses such as: juvenile law, policing, white-collar crime, violence & victimology, environmental crime, and the criminal justice system.

Criminology Master’s Degrees

Master’s degrees in criminology online or taken in a classroom are typically conferred as Master of Science (MS) or a Master of Arts (MA) from accredited colleges and universities.  Areas of concentration for online degrees in criminology will vary by program.  Common coursework for graduate students will generally include classes such as: public administration, psychology, emergency management, homeland security, sociology, computer information systems, human services, and forensics.

Classes will be a function of the area of emphasis but may include classes like: criminology theory, research methods, legal issues in criminology, quantitative strategies, organizational dynamics, ethics, policing, corrections, and crime prevention.

An MA or MS degree can be completed in 1-2 years of full time matriculation with all prerequisites met.  Students may elect to earn a criminology degree online, on-site, or a hybrid program blending distance learning and classroom-based learning.

PhD Degrees in Criminology

Doctoral degrees in the field of criminology are conferred as a PhD and will take students three to six years to complete depending on the number of courses taken at a given time and length of time spent completing a board-approved dissertation.

Upper level classes in criminology can include a variety of classes depending on the area of specialization but may include advanced classes like: theoretical criminology, qualitative methods, quantitative analysis, advanced criminal justice analysis, ethics, and applied research methods.

Students earning a PhD in criminology are equipped to launch a career in private industry in a variety of administrative or management positions, research organizations, government agencies, or teaching positions within higher education.

Criminology Degree Requirements

A student pursuing a degree in criminology will learn about the criminal justice system, psychological and sociological motivations of crime, and study anthropological evidence regarding behavior and interaction.

Criminology differentiates itself from criminal justice by focusing on the motivations for criminal behavior and how to resolve associated problems by utilizing rehabilitative methods and preventive policies; whereas criminal justice focuses on understanding  the institutions that employ those policies.

An education in criminology requires an extensive understanding of social behavior, specifically with a focus on aberrant and criminal tendencies, what constitutes those tendencies, and the developmental and cultural issues that may lead to such tendencies.

As a field of study, criminology is complex.  It requires the weaving of multiple disciplines of study to accurately and effectively understand the factors and ideas proposed by the field. Students in search of criminology degree can pursue schools with active research publications in the field.  Courses you may be offered as criminology major include:

  • Cultural Anthropology
  • Community and Crime
  • Sociology of Law
  • Social Deviance
  • Justice Systems
  • Juvenile Delinquency

Employment in Criminology

Criminologists may be employed as researchers, policy advisors, law enforcement agents, and teachers.  The role of a criminologist is to:

  1. Identify criminal tendencies
  2. Detect large-scale trends
  3. Leverage data to help prevent crime
  4. Engage direct action via law enforcement
  5. Enact legislative policy

Research positions are often found with government agencies or private firms, conducting research and studies in order to better understand the behavior of criminals and positing suggestions that may or may not be applied in order to curb criminal tendencies.

Individuals in law enforcement may utilize methods and ideas gleaned from an education in criminology to implement better methodologies for identifying and dealing with crime. This is often done at the higher level, and in conjunction with findings and reports as issued by law enforcement agencies.

What Can You Do with a Criminology Degree?

Careers you can explore with a criminology degree are vast covering a variety of industries and organization types.  From private industry to government agencies, a criminologist can find themselves working as a generalist or a specialist for a variety of organizations.  A list of prospective careers in criminology can include any one of the following career paths:

Computer Forensics Legal Assistant
Community Social Worker Community Social Worker
Federal Government Official Correctional Officer
Court Paralegal Blood Spatter Analyst
Crime Scene Investigation Crime Lab Analyst
Cybersecurity Substance Abuse Counselor
Forensic Scientist Bounty Hunter
Court Clerk Border Patrol Agent
Police Officer Game Warden
Air Marshal Parole Officer
Bailiff Court Reporter
Sociologist Information Security Analyst
Conservation Officer Private Security
CIA Analyst FBI Agent
Fire Investigator DEA Agent

Criminology Jobs

There is expected to be a steady rise in demand for criminologists over the next 10 years. This is due to the increased interest in curbing crime through proper analyses and implementing more effective measures by which to keep the public safe. Individuals entering into a career in criminology will have to demonstrate a variety of skills, such as analytics, writing, logic, statistics and others.

Individuals interested in entering the field will most likely have to earn work experience through internships and low level research positions in order to build the experience necessary to move to the forefront of the field. Individuals in law enforcement will find that a degree in criminology is useful in finding promotion opportunities and working in areas of law enforcement typically closed off to the average officer.

Criminologist Salary

The average wage for a criminologist is approximately $79,750 a year with the top 10% averaging $146,860 a year.  Meanwhile, the median annual income for the bottom ten percent is $41,950.  Though it is possible to obtain work with a associate's or bachelor's degree, job opportunities and wages increase substantially for those who pursue higher level degrees.  If you are considering a degree in criminology, you may also want to consider a degree in forensic science, sociology, criminal justice, and psychology.

Top 15 Associations in Criminology

  1. American Society of Criminology (ASC)
  2. Western Society of Criminology (WSC)
  3. National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA)
  4. Justice Research and Statistics Association (JRSA)
  5. International Community Corrections Association (ICCA)
  6. Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS)
  7. American Sociological Association (ASA)
  8. International Association of Women Police (IAWP)
  9. National Black Police Association (NBPA)
  10. American Society of Forensic Scientists (ASFS)
  11. American Probation and Parole Association (APPA)
  12. Biosocial Criminology Association (BCA)
  13. American Jail Association (AJA)
  14. American Correctional Association (ACA)
  15. National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA)

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Career Summary: Criminology Major




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