Many people, including some criminal justice professionals, don't realize there's a difference between criminal justice and criminology – the two terms are not synonymous, nor can they be used interchangably. While the two fields are related, they're quite different – and it's important for students and criminal justice professionals to understand and be able to articulate the difference between the two.
While the field of criminal justice encompasses all established systems for detecting crime, apprehending criminals, prosecution and punishment, criminology is a much more narrow discipline. Criminology is the study of the anatomy of crime; its causes, costs and consequences. Criminal justice is closely related to law enforcement. In fact, students pursuing a degree in criminal justice will explore aspects of both the criminal justice and law enforcement systems. Conversely, students who study criminology will focus on the psychology of crime, behavior patterns, backgrounds, and sociological factors as they relate to crime. However, both criminal justice professionals and criminologists strive to better understand and thwart criminal activity.
There are several academic pathways to a career in criminology. These include earning a degree in a related field of study, such as psychology, or earning a degree in criminology. Degrees in criminology are offered at the associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. For criminal justice professional seeking expertise in criminology, undergraduate and post-graduate certificates are also available.
Associate Degree in Criminology
Earning an associate degree in criminology introduces students to the fundamentals of criminology. This degree, in and of itself, is usually insufficient for launching a career in the field. Rather it serves as a stepping stone for students who plan on pursuing a bachelor's degree in criminology, or a related field of study.
An associate degree in criminology also serves as a supplementary education for criminal justice professionals seeking to learn the basics of criminology and make a transition into the discipline.
The associate degree in criminology is offered at several 2-year community colleges and select 4-year universities. Most programs require students to complete 195 credit hours, including 10 units of criminology fundamentals, 60 units of practicum courses, and 45 credits of elective courses.
Bachelor's Degree in Criminology
The bachelor's degree in criminology is the most popular degree option among students seeking entry career positions in fields of criminology and criminal justice. A bachelor's degree in criminology will provide students both a basic and in-depth study of criminology. This degree program typically takes four years to complete.
At most colleges and universities, the bachelor's degree in criminology starts with a theoretical examination of criminology. In fact, it's not uncommon for students to spend the first two years of study addressing the theoretical aspects of the discipline while exploring the fundamentals of many supporting disciplines, including sociology, law, and anthropology. The last two years of the bachelor's degree program focuses on both theoretical and practical aspects of the discipline, and delves into more advanced subject matter.
Those who earn a bachelor's degree in criminology often pursue careers as law enforcement officer, federal agents, paralegal officers, social workers, private detectives, and criminologists.
Master's Degree in Criminology
Many positions in criminology now require candidates to possess a master's degree. Earning a Master of Science (MS) or Master of Art (MA) in criminology enhances a students understanding of the discipline and allows for additional career advancement opportunities. This degree is also serves as a stepping stone into post-graduate level study in various subjects, including criminology, law, and forensics, to name a few.
The typical master's degree in criminology takes anywhere from 2 to 4 years to complete, depending on the program. It can be completed on a part-time basis, on campus, or online. Most programs allow students to specialize in a particular discipline under the broader umbrella of criminology.
Earning a bachelor's degree in criminology, or a closely related field of study, is typically a prerequisite for entry into a master's level program.
Doctorate Degree in Criminology
The doctorate degree in criminology is reserved for those professionals preparing for higher-ranking career positions in the fields of law enforcement and criminal justice, as well as students seeking careers in research and education at the university level.
Upon graduation from this post-graduate program students will be awarded the PhD title of criminologist. The doctoral degree program entails a much more in-depth study in specific areas of criminology (e.g., education in criminology, victimology, applied statistics in criminal justice, forensic sciences, etc.) The PhD is the highest degree awarded within the field of criminology.
Below you can browse our database of colleges and universities offering career-oriented online and campus-based degree programs in criminology, as well as related fields of study. Many professionals who pursue careers in criminology will pursue degrees in related fields of study including criminal justice and/or psychology.
Criminology Degrees and Programs