Have you become a true crime fanatic? Or are you interested in examining questions such as what factors lead someone to commit mass murder or which preventative measures can best deter crime?
If so, seeking a criminology degree could prove to be a rewarding experience. Not only do criminology degree programs provide the opportunity to explore crime-related issues from a variety of perspectives, they also develop knowledge and skills vital to numerous occupations.
Your efforts to understand the causes of crime, the minds of criminals, and the outcomes for victims can truly make a difference to society. Think about the TV show, Criminal Minds. Read on to see what’s involved in obtaining a criminology degree and where one might lead you.
What is Criminology?
Simply put, “criminology” is the study of crime. However, students in criminology degree programs quickly learn that the field can prove quite complex.
Colleges and universities generally consider criminology a branch of sociology. After all, the heart of criminology involves looking at the causes of criminal behavior. Societal conditions and structures certainly play a huge role both in who develops into a criminal and how we as a society treat those guilty of illegal acts.
But criminology also draws heavily from other disciplines, especially psychology and biology, as it seeks answers to challenging questions:
- How does a criminal’s mind operate?
- How might a criminal rationalize his actions?
- Do certain people have a natural inclination toward crime?
- Do criminals have certain childhood experiences or biological traits in common?
By conducting research and scrutinizing data, criminologists hope to gain a clearer understanding of who commits crimes and why. Such knowledge can form the backbone of measures developed to reduce crime and handle criminals.
Wonder what types of courses students studying criminology take? While graduation requirements and electives differ by school, undergraduate criminology majors often take classes such as these:
- Introduction to the criminal legal system
- Crime statistics
- Research methods
- Criminal behavior
- Criminological theory
- Law enforcement
- Race, class, and gender in the legal system
- Communities and crime
- Crime prevention
- Juvenile justice
- Hate crimes
- Gangs and gang control
- Crime and the media
Online Criminology Degree
In addition to the option of studying criminology on-site at a college or university, plenty of opportunities exist to complete a criminology degree online. Many of these programs are offered by highly respected institutions using the same faculty and standards employed on-campus.
Students select online studies for a variety of reasons. Those who do not live near a college may not want the hassle or expense of relocating or commuting. Since online programs often provide great flexibility in terms of when and where learning takes place, students juggling education with personal obligations may find the arrangement more conducive to their lifestyle. Also, COVID-19 concerns remain top of mind for some people, making remote learning attractive.
How much does it cost to get a criminology degree?
Various factors influence how much it costs to earn an undergraduate criminology degree, and institutions vary widely in what they charge as well as in how much financial aid they offer. Attending a public university in your state of residency often helps to keep expenses down. Likewise, some students complete their general education credits at a community college before transferring to a four-year program to save money, especially if they can live at home instead of paying for room and board.
Data from U.S. News and World Report shows the average tuition and fees per year to earn a bachelor’s degree are as follows:
- Public, in-state: $10,338
- Public, out-of-state: $22,698
- Private: $38,185
Earning an online criminology degree can save money by eliminating housing and commuting costs, and some students hold a job while pursuing their education. Like on-campus programs, the cost of pursuing online studies varies considerably. The average online bachelor’s degree ranges from $38,496 to $60,593 in total program tuition cost. Some institutions offer accelerated programs that may help save money by letting students take as many courses as they want at once for one, flat price.
All students concerned about paying for a criminology degree should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This information is used to determine what you may qualify for in terms of student loans and grants.
Prospective criminology degree seekers also should investigate potential scholarships for which they might prove eligible. Scholarship money is highly desirable because it does not need repayment. Organizations interested in justice issues, public policy, social reform, and law enforcement may especially be interested in supporting students majoring in criminology.
How long does it take to get a criminology degree?
Earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology typically takes four years of full-time study. With a degree in hand, many students enter the job market at this point. Others decide to go onto graduate studies to acquire more knowledge, specialize in particular aspects of criminology, and conduct sophisticated research.
Completing a Master’s in Criminology Degree takes roughly two additional years of full-time study. Some institutions, especially online ones, offer accelerated studies where highly motivated students may be able to finish in about a year.
Those who wish to earn a PhD – the highest degree in the discipline – spend another 3-4 years in school after earning their master’s. The length of the doctoral program depends heavily on how long it takes a student to form, write, and defend his dissertation.
In total, if you hope to pursue all education levels for a criminology degree, you’re looking at up to 10 years of education.
Criminology vs. Criminal Justice
Many schools offer criminology degrees while others conduct programs in criminal justice. Some institutions present both options. Though criminology and criminal justice sound alike and do contain some overlap, they aren’t the same. What’s the difference?
As mentioned earlier, criminology concerns itself with the study of crime. It aims to increase societal knowledge of who commits crimes and why. What criminologists learn through their research and analysis helps shape social programs, legal policies, and law enforcement actions.
Criminal justice focuses on enforcement. The discipline covers topics such as how to investigate a crime, how the legal system works, and what procedures are in place for punishment and rehabilitation.
What Can You Do with a Criminology Degree?
Crime remains a huge problem in the United States. Thus, people with a background in studying crime and those who commit it find a variety of employment options. Here are a few:
- Median annual wage in 2021: $92,910
- Projected job growth between 2020-2030: 5%
Criminologists are social scientists who specialize in studying crime. They conduct research and analyze results in an effort to better understand the causes and effects of crime. Their knowledge helps shape the penal system, laws, and public policies. They often work for institutions of higher learning or the government. Criminologists tend to possess a graduate degree.
2. Detective/Criminal Investigator
- Median annual wage in 2021: $83,640
- Projected job growth between 2020-2030: 7%
These officers – most of whom also graduate from a training academy – apply their criminology background to solving criminal cases. Through thorough collection and analysis of facts, records, and evidence, they try to determine what happened and bring about justice. Many work for state or local police departments. Others find employment with federal agencies such as the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) or the FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation).
3. Probation Officer
- Median annual wage in 2021: $60,250
- Projected job growth between 2020-2030: 4%
People who do something wrong sometimes get put on probation rather than serving jail time. Probation officers interact with these individuals on a regular basis in order to ensure they are not a danger to others. Probation officers also help with rehabilitation efforts and write reports on progress. Most probation officers find employment with state and local governments.
4. Case Manager
- Median annual wage in 2021: $60,250
- Projected job growth between 2020-2030: 4%
These professionals evaluate prisoners by examining their history, behavior, and psychological state. This information aids a parole board in determining what to do when the inmate is eligible for release. Case managers, sometimes known as correctional treatment specialists, also help parolees understand the terms of their release.
5. Victim Advocate
- Average annual wage in 2023 per Salary.com: $54,996
- Projected job growth between 2020-2030: 12% (all community and social service occupations)
Victim advocates work with people who have witnessed or experienced a crime. They provide emotional support as well as assist with things such as filling out forms, explaining rights, and seeking medical care.
6. Forensic psychologist
- Median annual wage in 2021: $81,040 (all psychologists)
- Projected job growth between 2020-2030: 8% (all psychologists)
Using their undergraduate criminology degree as a stepping stone, graduates may go on to earn a Master’s Degree or a Doctorate in Psychology and apply what they learn to the legal and criminal justice system. Forensic psychologists often work under job titles such as prison psychologist, criminal profiler, or jury consultant. They may be called to court as expert witnesses to help judges and others involved understand criminal mindsets and behavior.
7. Criminal lawyer
- Median annual wage in 2021: $127,990 (all lawyers)
- Projected job growth between 2020-2030: 9% (all lawyers)
A bachelor’s degree in criminology can serve as a useful springboard to gaining admission to law school and earning a law degree. Criminal lawyers defend someone charged with unlawful activity. They examine all the facts surrounding the incident and advocate for their client throughout court proceedings. Some work as public defenders, meaning they get assigned to represent individuals who cannot afford a lawyer on their own. Others find employment in private law firms. Salary differences between the two can be quite significant.
*Wage and job growth data pulled from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, unless noted otherwise.
Is it better to study criminology or criminal justice?
- The answer depends heavily on your personal interests and your career aspirations. Criminology focuses on the study of crime. The discipline examines who commits illegal acts and why. Many who earn an undergraduate criminology degree go on to graduate studies in order to work as researchers and policy shapers. Criminal justice concentrates on enforcing societal decisions on how it handles criminals. Aspiring police officers and detectives often choose to study criminal justice.
Why major in criminology?
- If examining the subject of crimes and who commits them sounds fascinating, you might make a good criminology major. Criminology degree programs typically encompass elements of sociology, psychology, and biology as they delve into why certain people break the law. Such knowledge sets up a graduate to pursue various careers dealing with law, policy, and human service.
Is a criminology degree worth it?
- The decision to pursue higher education is a highly personal one regardless of major. Factors such as interests, costs, time, and career aspirations must be taken into account. For someone looking to impact the criminal justice system, a criminology degree provides a rich background for occupations that shape practices.