Criminology Degree

The study of criminology examines different facets of crime, including why crime occurs and why it continues to happen in society. It is a field closely related to sociology, so there is some overlap in the courses for each of these degree programs. Pursuing a criminology degree trains the analytic abilities of students and gives them the basic foundation necessary to gain employment in criminal justice-related careers. A bachelor’s degree in criminology sets students up for work in the criminal justice system, including law enforcement, crime labs, private investigation and other similar fields. Gaining a bachelor’s in this field is also the starting point for pursuing advanced degrees in criminology, including a master’s degree and a doctorate.

Career Path Options for Criminology Majors

With a degree in criminology, you can pursue a number of different career paths in criminal justice and criminology related fields. Those careers in criminal justice tend to offer a strong sense of satisfaction that comes from working to assist communities and society as a whole. These careers can be found in numerous law enforcement agencies and government agencies, including homeland security.

The careers that focus more specifically on criminology, such as those in academia, offer the satisfaction of sharing valuable knowledge that is inherent in the field of education. Teaching criminology students sometimes requires the highest level of education, but the job satisfaction for college and university professors is often worth the hard work necessary to reach such levels.

Whether you choose criminal justice, academia, law or some other field may largely depend on your passions and interests. Fortunately, job growth is strong for many of these fields, so you can move forward with your career in confidence.

Some careers in criminal justice may not require a bachelor’s degree, but having one generally helps with career advancement and earning a higher income that comes with such advancement. Working in academic fields in criminology, however, typically requires having at least a bachelor’s degree – and possibly an advanced degree as well. Here are some of the different career paths that having a criminology degree may qualify you for.

Criminal Profiler

Working as a criminal profiler puts you in a position to use your extensive knowledge of how criminals behave to solve crimes. Criminal profilers combine statistical analysis, criminal investigation, and behavioral analysis to identify the individuals behind serious crimes like serial killings and terrorism. They examine the evidence left behind after a crime was committed and work to determine who the most likely suspects are.

At this time, the FBI is the only employer that offers a program for the training and development of criminal profilers. There are other organizations that employ profilers, but to get the full training necessary to be a full-time criminal profiler you need to apply and be accepted to the FBI’s program.


A criminologist examines the data available concerning crime, either broadly in society or specifically for a certain crime, to figure out the reasons crimes are committed. By discovering the reasons for criminal behaviors, they hope to be able to predict when similar crimes will happen and to ideally prevent such behaviors in the first place.

Some criminologists may spend time out in the field on actual crime scenes, but more often the job is done in offices and research labs. Many criminologists work for government organizations, such as local or state agencies, while others work for private organizations, colleges or universities. You could be involved in examining local crime statistics for the area police department, or you could be helping the government agencies develop policies to prevent crime on a local, state or federal level. It all depends on what type of job you get and where you choose to work as a criminologist.

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists apply the discipline of psychology to the minds of criminals and those affected by criminals. They can work in various capacities in the criminal justice system, although probably the most well-known position they hold is in the courtroom. When a criminal trial is held and the offender needs to be examined to determine their mental capacity and ability to stand trial, it is forensic psychologists that conduct the examinations.

As a forensic psychologist, you could use your skills to determine if witnesses are credible if criminals are likely to re-offend, provide consultations for attorneys regarding mental health, and many other tasks related to psychology and the criminal justice system. Some criminal psychologists work with children in child custody cases, help determine the best way to provide correctional guidance for offenders, and even work with survivors of trauma. The field of forensic psychology is broad and offers many avenues to use your knowledge to help society.

Forensic Science Technician

Forensic science technicians apply scientific analysis to evidence from crime scenes. They tend to work with members of law enforcement and law enforcement agencies to examine evidence in the lab. Things like bullet fragments, fingerprints, hair, and other evidence can provide valuable insight into what happened at a crime scene. But to understand what such evidence shows about a crime often requires in-depth scientific knowledge, something that forensic science technicians are well-qualified to provide.

As a forensic science technician, you will apply your skills in a laboratory setting. Crime scene investigators will collect evidence from crime scenes and bring that evidence to you in the lab. Once you have the evidence, you can use a variety of techniques to glean information.

Loss Prevention Manager

Businesses are always at risk of losing assets through undesirable activities on the part of employees and outsiders. Problems like fraud, theft, and mistakes can lead to substantial financial losses if businesses are not careful. These businesses hire loss prevention managers and related specialists to protect their assets.

As a loss prevention manager, you will examine the practices of your employer and their employees to identify potential problem areas. Your background in criminology will help you to understand why theft happens, how it may happen, and how to prevent it on a regular basis. Exactly how you will apply your knowledge depends on what type of business you work for. For example, serving as a loss prevention manager for a bank is significantly different than for a department store.

Gaming Surveillance Officer

A gaming surveillance officer is employed by casinos to help prevent theft, cheating, and other common concerns of gaming establishments. Studying criminology equips you to identify common problem areas in gaming establishments and common criminal behaviors in their customers. The better you understand these problems, the more effective you will be at providing solutions for your employer.

The demands employers have for gaming surveillance offers can vary significantly depending on the size and location of the establishment. While working in this field in a small casino has similarities to the same position in a major Las Vegas casino, the scale of the problems is substantially larger in major operations. If you want to advance in your career in the biggest casinos, it can be helpful to have a criminology degree.

Police Officer

Law enforcement officers devote themselves to caring for individuals, property, and communities. Their work is often split into three main areas, patrolling their assigned locations, completing reports on their activities, and filling out forms. They may also need to testify in court from time to time. They are responsible for enforcing existing laws, issuing citations for broken laws, responding to emergencies, and making arrests.

As a police officer, you will draw on your education in criminology to understand the challenges faced by the communities you serve. Your background in criminology will help you identify some of the possible causes for criminal activity in your jurisdiction and will give you valuable analytical skills to find effective ways to address the problems you encounter on the job.

Private Investigator

Private investigators provide investigative services to clients in the private sector. They use analytical skills and investigative techniques to uncover information that their clients need. Their job activities can vary considerably depending on their area of specialization and the customers they serve. Common duties include conducting surveillance of individuals, background verification, helping locate missing persons, conducting interviews, looking into white-collar crime, and other related tasks.

As a private investigator, you can dive deep into investigative work to uncover the truth of situations. Your criminology degree will equip you with sharp analytical skills to conduct proper investigations. It will also help you understand why people do what they do so you can better predict their next steps.

Courses in a Criminology Program

The courses you take in a criminology program are focused on helping you understand how the criminal justice system works and the way that individuals behave and operate in that system. They also teach you the basics of how criminal investigations function and how the prosecution of crimes progresses through the system. Many different educational disciplines play a part in criminology, including biology, sociology, law and psychology. Once you move through the basic foundational courses, you will have the opportunity to focus more intently on specific areas of criminology based on your interests and career goals.

You may have a strong desire to pursue a specific path, such as law enforcement or a master’s in applied criminology. Or, you may just have a general desire to find degree programs at a university that allows you to learn more about criminology. As you learn more about the field it will be easier to center in on what area of specialization interest you most. Some of the most important courses in a criminology program include those listed below.

Introduction to Criminology

Intro to criminology serves as the beginning of every criminology major. As the name suggests, the course gives you a bird’s eye view of what criminology is, the history of criminology and the potential areas of focus that you can pursue as a criminology major. It will teach you the fundamental theories that the discipline is built on, as well as the socioeconomic factors that contributed to the history of crime thus far. You will learn about the different core areas of the discipline, including law enforcement, prevention of crime and how the criminal justice system operates.

Foundations of Criminal Justice

The criminal justice system is built upon foundations that need to be understood by criminologists. Foundations of criminal justice gives you a broad perspective on how the justice system operates, both for adults and for juveniles. The course will give a general history of how the criminal justice system developed over the years and explain how it operates currently. You will learn about the corrections system, criminal law and the court system. As you study each of these areas, you will come back to the concepts of justice and crime and how they relate to the system as it developed and as it exists now.

Criminological Theory & Behavioral Crime Analysis Theory

Criminological theory goes deep to examine the different theories of why crime exists and how it occurs. It draws on different disciplines, including economics, psychology, biology and sociology to gain different perspectives on how criminal behavior develops and how and why different crimes occur in society. You will learn to understand what different types of crimes entail and why criminologists believe that they are committed. Part of your coursework will include analyzing crime statistics and putting them into different contexts to gain a clearer understanding of various criminal theories.

Crime, Public Policy, and the Criminal Justice System

Crime, public policy, and the criminal justice system examines how criminal law and policies in the criminal justice system are developed and then implemented. There are multiple layers to the criminal justice system due to the separation of local, state and federal law. Making policy and implementing those policies so they take effect in the different layers of society is a complex process. Ensuring that those policies are well-made and likely to create positive change is exceptionally challenging as well. This course will seek to help you understand the way that all these different elements come into play in the creation of policies for crime control.

Theories of Social Order

Theories of social order examines the different theories developed by the biggest social theorists throughout history. Social life is big and complex and not easily understood, which is why multiple theorists have attempted to explain it. These thinkers wanted to understand how the social world works and how to improve it. Their theories may have been popular at the time of their writings or they may have taken time to catch on. What is similar about all of them is that they have remained interesting and useful to readers and new thinkers year after year. This course will give you a general overview of both the major theories of sociological theory and some of the theories that were created to complement or contradict them.

Research Methods in Criminology

Research serves as one of the major foundations of criminology and criminal justice. Multiple research methods have been developed to address different concerns and challenges, all based on the scientific method. This course will teach you what these research methods are and how they work. You will come to understand the basics of each of these methods and how to examine research in criminology. Each method has strengths and weaknesses. Your coursework will help you learn to see these strengths and weaknesses so you can identify which research method is preferred for various situations.

Juvenile Delinquency

Juvenile delinquency examines how criminal behavior develops and manifests in juveniles from various angles, including sociological, psychological and physiological. There are many factors that can contribute to juvenile behavior. Each of the major contributing factors will be examined in the course, including peer groups, family groups and the education system. You will learn the basics of how juvenile delinquency develops and what ways society has attempted to address these issues through the criminal justice system.


Victimology is a course developed more recently than many other common courses in criminology. While most criminology courses focus on how criminals develop and how to prevent them from committing crimes, victimology instead examines the victims of crimes. You will look closely at how victims are treated by the criminal justice system, how the relationship between victims and criminals develops and how victims are viewed and treated by society at large. You will discover ways that the criminal justice system can improve its treatment of victims and how society can move toward a more supportive environment for crime victims.

Benefits of a Degree in Criminology

While there are some jobs that you can get in criminology and the criminal justice system that do not require a degree, the most promising career paths and the most benefits tend to come to those with at least a bachelor’s degree in criminology. You gain such a strong foundation in the field when you complete a four-year degree and employers are well-aware of this fact. They know that those with a degree have the tenacity to finish what they start and they know that degree holders have a basic understanding of criminology subjects and practices.

Getting your degree will ensure that you are equipped to understand, analyze and prevent crime to the best of your ability. Beyond just making you better at any job related to criminology that you want to pursue, there are numerous advantages that come from getting a degree in criminology. A degree in criminology may be right for you if you desire any of the following.

Better Employment Opportunities

Sometimes you can find jobs related to criminology that do demand that you have a four-year degree, particularly lower-level jobs in the criminal justice system. But the really desirable jobs often do require you to have a bachelor’s degree in criminology. The best jobs may require you to have an advanced degree in the field. To access the best employment opportunities in the industry, you need to have a degree.

In criminology jobs that require an in-depth understanding of the field, such as instructors in criminology programs and management positions in criminology, having a degree is a necessity. You need to know as much about your field as possible to serve in leadership roles and a degree demonstrates that you have the necessary knowledge.

Opportunities for Promotion & Career Advancement

You may be able to get the entry-level job you want in a field related to criminology without a degree. But to advance to the level that you really desire, you are probably going to need a degree. The opportunities for promotion and advancement tend to open up more and more as you improve your education credentials. With an associate’s degree, you are going to be able to get promotions and advance more readily than you would with no degree. With a bachelor’s degree, you will gain still more opportunities. And if you want to go to the very top of your field, you may benefit from getting an even more advanced degree.

Transferrable Skills Between Industries

A criminal justice program teaches you numerous skills that you can use in multiple industries. The research and analytical abilities you gain as you pursue your major are the kinds of abilities that can be used in just about any industry. Employers understand how the skill from a criminology degree can be used across many industries, which is why they are more likely to hire someone with a degree than they are to hire someone without one.

The skills you gain as a criminology major can be easily applied to all careers that fall under the umbrella of criminology and all careers in the criminal justice sector. You can use what you know in an academic setting, government, private sector, law enforcement, corrections and many other fields. Whether you seek to fight crime or study it, you will have the skills you need with a degree in criminology.

Better Compensation

Criminologists and others in the field of criminology and justice can earn significantly different salaries depending on their jobs. However, it is common knowledge that someone with a degree will often get paid more than someone without a degree in the same position. Getting a degree is an investment. Employers prefer those with degrees and are often willing to offer better compensation because they know that the employee is worth more money.

The improvement in compensation becomes noticeably better over the course of your career. While you could find that you do not get paid significantly more right after you get your degree, as you progress in your career you are very likely to experience an increase in compensation relative to your peers who do not have a degree.

Your ability to qualify for jobs that pay higher salaries will be improved by having a degree as well. The best-paying jobs in criminology tend to require a degree to get. Once you have your degree and the necessary experience, you can apply for these jobs and know that your application will be competitive.

Pursue an Advanced Field of Study

Pursuing an advanced field of study in a university is only possible if you have passed the hurdle of getting a degree. If you want to go on and pursue master’s degree programs, for instance, you will need to have a bachelor’s degree first. There are certain careers in criminology and criminal justice that may either require an advanced degree or that will be easier to pursue if you have such a degree. For example, if you want to become the head of a criminology department at a university, you will need an advanced degree.

For many interested in criminology careers, the decision on whether to get an advanced degree can wait until they have explored one or more career paths. This approach makes sense, but it is best to think strategically about your career goals as well. If getting a degree will make it easier for you to get hired in the first place, help you get paid more when you do get hired, and set you up to pursue an advanced degree on down the line, the multiple benefits may be too good to ignore.

More Opportunities to Improve Your Community

Having a degree opens up doors that remain closed without a degree. Typically, the bigger the career opportunities you can access, the more power you get to make significant changes for the betterment of your community. For example, if you get a degree you are more likely to gain employment in the government sector where your work could assist policymakers. Once you have the right job, you can conduct the necessary research to identify policies that are most likely to benefit those you care about and have those policies considered by individuals and organizations that can implement them. All of these steps are less likely to be accessible if you do not have a degree.

Top Criminology Degree Programs

Numerous schools offer criminology degree programs, ranging from those that offer two-year associate’s degrees to those that offer four-year bachelor’s degrees and onward – all the way up to those that offer doctorate’s in criminology. You can find programs both in brick and mortar schools and online.

Program Accreditation

The top criminology programs share some similarities. Most importantly, they are all accredited institutions, which means they have met the standards of accrediation set by various colleges, universities, and accrediting bodies. You want to get a degree from an accredited school because it ensures that employers and other educational institutions will respect your degree and treat you accordingly. Regardless of whether you want to stop violent crime directly, teach university students, or something else related to criminology, a degree from an accredited program is important.

Track Record of Graduate Success

The best programs also have a proven record of employment for their graduates. Granted, not every graduate can be guaranteed employment after earning a degree, but the school should have a strong track record of graduates gaining employment in criminology-related fields within a reasonable time frame.

A few decades ago, it was often possible to get a job in a criminology career field without a degree. It still may be possible for certain types of jobs. But increasingly, employers are requiring applicants to have a degree before they will consider their applications. They require a degree more often because they are facing increased competition and need to ensure that their employees are capable of doing their jobs as soon as possible. A strong educational background is a good indicator that an employee can hit the ground running.

Our School Rankings

There are plenty of options out there for those that want to pursue a criminology degree. Of course, you want the best available. That is why we have collected some of the top criminology degree programs available and listed them below. You can find the right program, one that fits your lifestyle and time restraints as well as your budgetary requirements. We are here to assist you in finding the perfect degree program for your needs.