Criminology Degrees

Criminologists are the masterminds behind cracking cases. Beyond evidence and clues, a key facet of solving and preventing crime lies in understanding what makes the culprits tick. A criminologist learns about the behavior of a criminal, how they think and uses this knowledge to predict outcomes and the impact left on society.

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A career as a criminologist is one for the thinkers, those who have a strong interest in the human mind and all of its inner workings and idiosyncrasies and their relation to criminal behavior. Their job isn’t to chase after the bad guys in a car, but instead learn about them from observation and intense study and thus become able to predict patterns, tendencies and help detectives crack codes the criminal may not even be aware they’re leaving behind.

The path to a criminology career begins with an accredited program, and there are criminology degrees offered all the way from associate’s to Ph.D. Whether you’re just exploring a piqued interest in the field or already have a bachelor’s and are considering an advanced degree, the following page will guide you through the types of courses and subject matter you can expect, as well as spotlight some of the top programs in the country.

Featured Criminology Programs

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What is a Criminology Degree?

A degree in criminology focuses on the sociological and psychological aspects of crime more than forensics. Those who choose to study criminology have a strong interest in criminal justice, as well as human services and wish to combine these two in order to find a suitable career in law enforcement.

Undergraduate criminology programs introduce students to the broad concepts of sociology, psychology and human behavior, as well as offer courses that strengthen research and analytical methods that are critical to achievement in future careers.

Many criminology degrees combine criminology and criminal justice into one major and cover subject material such as violence, terrorism and constitutional law. Combined with a multitude of psychology and sociology courses, a criminology degree will illustrate the diverse faces of today’s criminals and render students capable of understanding these criminals’ minds, predicting their behaviors and assessing the impact it has on society.

Criminology Degrees

There are criminology degrees available for all levels of higher education students. You can study criminology whether you’re just out of high school, or if you’ve worked in law enforcement for years and want to return to build upon your academic credentials. There are several branches of criminology that one can choose to study, such as:

  • Penology: The study of prisons and the prison system.
  • Biocriminology: The study of criminology’s biological roots and links to behavior.
  • Feminist Criminology: The study of women and their roles in crime.
  • Criminalistics: The study of crime scene detection.

With bachelor’s and graduate degrees, you may choose to deviate from a general criminology and focus on a specific concentration.

Associate in Criminology

This is a two-year undergraduate program that can be started right out of high school and allows students to pursue some entry-level jobs and/or transfer seamlessly into a bachelor’s of criminology degree program. This degree covers the fundamental aspects of criminology and ideal for students who want to get their foot in the door with careers while continuing their education in criminology after they’ve earned their associate’s.

Many who wish to enter the police force, private security and some aspects of law will find job opportunities with an associate’s in criminology, but a higher degree is needed for those who wish to work in forensics or federal law enforcement.

Bachelor of Criminology

A Bachelor of Science or Arts in Criminology is a four-year undergraduate program that prepares students to obtain an entry level position across a variety of security and law fields post-graduation. It also lays the foundation they will need to continue their studies in a graduate program if they so desire.

Bachelor’s degrees in criminology can focus on the subject of criminology as a whole, or be focused on a particular division, such as justice studies or forensic psychology. Some may even choose to earn their bachelor degree in psychology or sociology and minor in criminology.

The core curriculum for all bachelor degree programs in criminology include courses such as Introduction to Criminology, Introduction to the Criminal Justice System, Constitutional Law, Introduction to Sociology, Contemporary Psychology, Philosophy courses and more.

Masters of Criminology

Many students who complete a bachelor’s degree in criminology decide to immediately follow up with a graduate program, or go to work and return later in order to increase their knowledge and gain new insight and mastery of a particular division of criminology through extensive research. A master’s degree in criminology is required for many upper-level positions, so it provides professional advancement opportunities as well as intellectual growth.

A Master of Science in Criminology is also a stepping stone for students striving toward a doctoral program, and will give them the advanced knowledge and research-oriented experience they will need to earn their Ph.D.

Most master degrees in criminology focus on exploring the latest theoretical and practical advances made in the field, as well as offer students the opportunity to explore upper-level subjects such as international criminology, criminal justice research and evaluation and criminological theory and practice.

Doctor of Criminology

A Ph.D. in Criminology is the highest degree a student can earn, and opens the doors for executive-level positions in criminal justice, law enforcement and the private sector. The doctoral programs in criminology are rigorous and challenging, intended to elevate students to new levels of understanding and practice of criminology while refining their underlying education and experience.

A Doctor of Criminology is taught by scholars who have dedicate their lives to the advancement of the field, and are best suited for students with very specific career goals in mind with concentrations such as Penology and Police Management available.

School Spotlight

The following three schools offer some of the best criminology degrees in the nation, having received both local and international acclaim for their programs.

University of California at Irvine

The University of California’s Department of Criminology, Law and Society combines an innovative curriculum across its several degree offerings that combines socio-legal studies with social, political, cultural and economic analysis to produce students who aren’t just well-versed in the concepts of criminology, but understand its connection to the world and factors that contribute to it.

Graduates usually find jobs in police work, probation and parole agencies, with a starting salary of $39,000 that can lead to a mid-career salary of $68,000.

University of Pennsylvania – Philadelphia

The University of Pennsylvania is an Ivy League school with a rich history of academic excellence in its interdisciplinary criminology program. The undergraduate criminology curriculum is comprised of a wide selection of liberal arts courses, all which ally around the social sciences. The socio-political aspects of criminology and criminal justice are explored over the duration of the program, as well as bio-psychological analysis of violent and anti-social behavior.

The University of Pennsylvania’s criminology major takes builds upon the construct of a criminal’s mind from the biological level all the way to sociological and political effects that crime has on the individual and community. Seniors all have the chance to demonstrate their knowledge and explore an aspect of their choosing through the development of a research paper that is a part of the mandatory senior capstone project.

Internship opportunities through the University of Pennsylvania as well as career guidance can set students on the road to professional achievement before they’ve even graduated. Those who wish to find research-oriented careers in criminal justice post-graduation will take away most from the school’s program.

The University of Florida – Gainesville

The University of Florida is a public research facility, so students who want to immerse themselves through analysis and investigation of criminology will find themselves right at home on campus. The undergraduate program in criminology is the largest interdisciplinary degree at the university and is a part of the Criminology & Law division of the school’s Department of Sociology, Crime & Law.

A liberal arts approach to a bachelor’s in criminology prepares students for future careers in human services. There are often special topic courses taught that allow students to gain further insight on a particular branch of criminology, such as Biosocial Criminology, Criminal Investigations, Media & Crime, Victimology and more.

For those who plan to earn a master’s degree, there is a combined BA/MA program option that enables students to complete their bachelor’s and master’s at an accelerated rate. When a student is accepted into the combined graduate program, they’re able to begin studying graduate-level criminology courses before they’ve even finished their bachelor’s. This not only saves them time, but also offers a competitive edge to future career applications.

There are internship programs offered to undergraduate students that allow them to work in law enforcement agencies and law offices to gain real-world experience that enriches their understanding of the program material.