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What is Criminology?

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Seeking to Understand and Predict Criminal Behavior

Criminology is the study of criminal activity and its effect on individuals and society. A blend of social science, psychology and criminal justice, criminology attempts to analyze illegal behaviors to determine causes, patterns and trends. It looks at law enforcement, past and present, to see what methods have been successful (or unsuccessful) in preventing crime and apprehending perpetrators. With full- and part-time opportunities to get a degree and a job in the field, you should be able to find what works for you and your family.

What's the Difference Between Criminology and Criminal Justice?

Though the two fields are closely related, criminal justice is more concerned with law enforcement, from policing to criminal courts and criminal corrections. Criminology aims to uncover the root causes behind crime. It is a research discipline that makes use of statistics and analysis.

Requirements for a Degree in Criminology

Criminology is a broad field with degree options at the associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctoral level. Coursework leading to degrees at all levels is available in residence and online. Talk to an academic advisor about your career goals, so you can plan your degree program accordingly.

An associate's degree typically requires 60 semester hours, which will take 18 months to two years to complete if you go to school full-time. Coursework includes introductory classes in criminology, along with English, psychology, communications, general education requirements and a few electives.

To earn a bachelor's degree in criminology, you'll need approximately 120 semester hours of coursework. Classes will be similar to those offered at the associate's level, but with greater depth.

The master's degree requires two years of study beyond the bachelor's degree. Students typically study crime prevention, applied statistics and ethics, and they also choose an area of specialization, such as cybercriminology.

Doctoral studies, which require two to five years beyond the master's degree, prepare individuals for careers in research, academia and policy-making. Specializations include criminal investigation, forensic science and criminal psychology.

Career Options for Degrees in Criminology

  • Associate's degree: Prepares you for the police academy or a job in private security. Earning an associate's degree puts you closer to a bachelor's degree and helps you decide if the field is right for you.
  • Bachelor's degree: Prepares you for law school or graduate studies in the field. For those who want to enter the workforce, positions are available as forensic science technicians, probation officers, loss prevention specialists, police officers and corrections officers.
  • Master's degree: Prepares you for a career as a criminologist, working for a local, state or federal law enforcement agency. Criminologists analyze data and prepare reports, create criminal profiles and compile intelligence reports. A master's may afford you the opportunity to teach introductory-level criminology classes at a college or university.
  • Doctorate degree: Prepares you for a position as a college professor or for high-level research and policy-advising at local, state and federal agencies.

What Do Criminologists Earn?

Salaries vary widely, depending on geographic location, employer, industry, level of education and years of experience. Entry-level salaries range from $30,000 to $50,000. With more than five years of experience, it's possible to earn between $75,000 and $106,000. As the population increases, it's expected that crime will also increase. For that reason, job growth for individuals with degrees in criminology is likely to remain steady.


Denise Dayton is a a freelance writer who specializes in business, education and technology. She has written for, Library Journal, The Searcher, Bureau of Education and Research, and corporate clients.

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