Studying Criminology

I’m interested in pursuing criminology. What can you tell me?

Criminology is a social science that is concerned with the scientific study of crime. Students in a criminology program look for ways to understand and explain the root causes of crime and the effects that it has on society. If you are interested in studying criminology, you should know that it will most likely lead to employment behind a desk rather than patrolling the streets. However, criminologists play a valuable role in stopping crime by using statistical data to determine factors that influence people to break the law. Criminology is usually studied at the graduate level and bachelors degree programs in criminology are rare. Students who are interested in this field usually study psychology or sociology at the undergraduate level before earning a masters degree in criminology. But even if you don’t end up working directly in criminology, you can use your background to work in social services or law enforcement.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview with Angel Joiner

Angel Joiner

Student, Associate of Applied Science in Criminal Justice,Oconee Fall Line Technical College

“I don’t think that studying online will affect my job prospects. I only took some of my classes online in my associates degree program for criminal justice, but I think that the courses were as comprehensive as my in-person classes.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Anthony Madias

Anthony Madias

Student, Master of Arts in Criminology,University of South Florida

“Everyone loves to procrastinate, but the less you do so, the easier it will be for you to succeed.”Read the Full Interview

Criminologist Overview

Criminology Professor,Robert CrutchfieldWatch His Story

What exactly is a criminologist?

A criminologist is a social scientist who specializes in the study and control of crime. They are not on the front lines fighting crime like police officers. Instead, criminologists gather and analyze statistics about crimes and the people who commit them in order to identify patterns of criminal behavior. Criminologists use this information to develop theories that explain the causes and effects of criminal behavior so that it can be prevented. Criminology careers can be divided into 3 broad categories:

Law Enforcement Criminologists

These criminologists use statistical analysis to identify patterns in behavior in order to create profiles of criminals. For example, police ask criminologists to look for similarities in unsolved cases. Similarities could include elements like timeframe, location, the method of assault or victim profiles. These criminology professionals work for law enforcement agencies like the FBI or CIA as well as state and local police departments.

Professors and Academic Researchers

Criminologists who earn a doctorate usually become teachers. They teach criminology classes to college students who are pursuing degrees in subjects like criminology, sociology, psychology and criminal justice. Professors often divide their time between teaching, conducting their own academic research and publishing papers.

Correctional Officers and Social Workers

Correctional officers and social workers both work directly with criminal offenders and the public. Correctional officers work directly with criminal offenders who are either currently serving jail time or who have been released on parole or probation. They create education plans to provide offenders with job skills so that they can be productive in society. On the other hand, social workers link people who struggle with problems like abuse, addiction and unemployment to the social services that are in place to help them. For instance, social workers often work with agencies like Child Protection Services. They may also work with offenders who have been recently released to help them become reintegrated in society.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview with James Fox

James Fox

Professor of Criminology,Northeastern University

“But I would caution criminology students about the misconceptions surrounding crime that are reinforced by popular culture. The media and entertainment industries give an exaggerated view of violent crime especially and reinforce myths about the nature of offenders.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Wendell Shirley

Wendell Shirley

Captain of Police,Santa Monica Police Department

“I grew up in a very poor neighborhood where we did not have access to many resources. As a young man, I knew that the only way to get myself out of that situation was through education and hard work. When I decided to join the police force, I told myself I was going to work as hard as I possibly could each and every day, take advantage of every opportunity and take nothing for granted.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Mike Hawkins

Mike Hawkins

Private Investigator,Hawkins Group

“The most important traits for a successful private investigator are people skills and the ability to think logically.”Read the Full Interview

Personality Quiz

How do I know if criminology would be a good fit for me?

Here is a quick quiz to help you decide if you have the personality it takes to succeed as a criminologist. Rate, on a scale from 1 to 5, how well each of the following statements describes you.

I care about improving my community.

Criminologists create policies that are meant to reduce crime. You should be committed to making the world a better place if you want to work in criminology.

I like to solve problems and puzzles.

Criminologists study complex issues related to the role of crime in society, which can be tough to understand. If you are frustrated by complicated problems that don’t have clear answers, you may find it difficult to work as a criminologist.

I am comfortable working with numbers.

Criminologists analyze numerical databases to compare statistics about crimes and criminals. You must understand relationships between numbers so that you can use statistics to support your ideas.

I enjoy interacting with people.

Criminologists interview many different sources to gather information, including law enforcement officials, criminals and victims. You must be able to communicate with many different kinds of people in order to succeed in criminology.

I do not judge others.

Criminologists examine why people commit crime. In order to be effective researchers, they need to remain neutral and unbiased when they are studying people to see why they become criminals.

I communicate effectively in writing.

Many criminologists are academics who write reports and publish papers. If you can summarize your theories clearly, other professionals in the criminology field can benefit from your research.

I work well on my own with little direction.

Sometimes criminologists work in structured environments where their job expectations are clear, but that is not always the case. You should be able to work independently and still produce large volumes of quality work.

I pay close attention to detail.

Criminologists may be asked to help police solve cases by creating profiles of criminals based on their patterns of behavior. You must be able to notice small clues that others overlook, which can indicate similarities between cases.

I can make difficult decisions.

The decisions and policies that criminologists make can have drastic consequences for people in the correctional system. As a criminologist, you will need to recognize the importance of your choices and conclusions.

I think creatively to find solutions to problems.

Criminologists are expected to answer complicated questions, like why some criminals turn back to crime and others do not. As a criminologist, you will need to look past simple answers and explore all possible solutions.

Get My Score

*Note that this is not a scientific quiz. The result is simply my rough estimate of how well I believe your personality matches that of a successful criminologist.

By my assessment, a career as a criminologist is probably not a good fit for your personality. Please go to the Admissions Advisor homepage for a listing of other careers you may want to consider.

By my assessment, although a career as a criminologist may not be an ideal fit for your personality, if you are willing to adapt in a few areas, you can still find success in the field. Please see the list to the right for information on the areas that you may need to work on.

By my assessment, your personality is a good fit for a career as a criminologist. Scroll through our site to gain valuable insight into what it will take you to earn the necessary credentials.

Making the Right Choice

Is there anything else I should consider in deciding if criminology is the right choice for me?

Educational Requirements

If you want to become a criminologist, you need to prepare yourself for many years of schooling. Few criminology jobs require less than a masters degree, and those that do are highly competitive. In most cases, you need a masters degree to work in the field or a PhD to teach at the university level.

Criminology vs. Criminal Justice

It is also important to note the difference between criminology and criminal justice. These subjects are related, but distinct. Both subjects are concerned with the prevention of crime. But criminologists are social scientists, which means that they examine the causes of crime and the effect that it has on society. Their jobs are usually academic. In some jobs, criminology can also be used in other fields like law enforcement and social work that don’t always require advanced degrees.

On the other hand, criminal justice professionals are more directly involved with the criminal justice system. They typically work as police officers, corrections officers, lawyers and judges.

Criminology Professions

What criminology professions can I choose from?

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years) plus experience in law enforcement (2 – 3 years)

Average Salary:

$43,440 base pay; increases according to location and experience

Work Environment:

Government agencies, fieldwork

Job Description:

FBI special agents work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They conduct investigations into matters like threats to national security, organized crime, murder, kidnapping, public corruption and drug trafficking. Related agencies include the Central Intelligence Agency, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years)

Average Salary:


Work Environment:

Jails, prisons, correctional facilities

Job Description:

Correctional counselors work in jails, prisons and probation agencies to monitor the behavior of inmates and criminal offenders who are on parole or probation. They write case reports that discuss how likely an offender is to commit another crime. Finally, corrections counselors work with offenders to create treatment plans and improve their job skills so that they can be productive members of society.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years)

Average Salary:


Work Environment:

Healthcare facilities, government agencies, rehabilitation centers

Job Description:

Social workers help people cope with serious problems in their lives like abuse, disability and addiction. They connect people who struggle with personal problems to social services like counseling, welfare and child protection services that can help them improve their situation.

Education Required:

Masters (2 – 3 years of graduate school)

Average Salary:


Work Environment:

Government agencies, think tanks, police departments

Job Description:

Criminologists collect and analyze statistics about criminals and crime so that they can spot patterns of behavior. They use the conclusions that they draw from statistical analysis to help police narrow down the field of suspects in a crime. They also create theories about why people commit crimes to help prevent future criminal behavior.

Education Required:

Doctorate (4 – 7 years of graduate school)

Average Salary:


Work Environment:

Colleges, universities

Job Description:

Criminology professors teach classes in criminology and related fields to undergraduate and graduate students. They are responsible for designing courses that challenge students and for evaluating their students’ progress. In addition, professors often serve as advisors who supervise graduate student work. Many criminology professors also conduct and publish their own academic research in the field.

Job Outlook

What is the job outlook for criminologists?

Few statistics are available about the job outlook of criminologists because it is such a specialized profession. Keep in mind that criminology is a branch of sociology. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for sociologists is improving. In 2008, there were about 4,900 sociologists employed in the United States. Job growth for sociologists is expected to increase by 22% through 2018, which is faster than the expected growth for all occupations. Finally, job prospects will be best for sociologists who hold masters degrees and PhDs.
Profession Employment Projected Average Growth

Average Salary Growth 2006 - 2011

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Education Requirements

How long would it take me to become a criminologist?

If you want to practice criminology, you should plan to earn a masters degree, which usually takes 2 to 3 years. If you want to advance in the field or qualify to conduct research and teach at the university level, you need to earn a PhD. This typically takes 4 to 7 years of schooling. Finally, a bachelors degree in criminology takes about 4 years to complete, but you will only be qualified for jobs in related fields like social work or law enforcement. You will not be able to work as a criminologist without a graduate degree.

Areas of Study

What can I expect to learn while pursuing criminology?

Criminology draws from a wide range of academic disciplines, including sociology, psychology and criminal justice. As a criminology student you can expect to gain knowledge and skills in many areas.



Sociology analyzes the structure of groups, organizations and communities by studying human relationships. This subject also investigates the factors that affect how people interact within these social institutions. Some of the topics that are covered in sociology include gender, ethnicity, religion, family and social class.


Psychology studies the reasons that people think and behave in the ways that they do. This branch of science investigates topics like personality, motivation, perception and memory. Specific examples of the types of psychology that are relevant to criminology include abnormal psychology and the psychology of crime.

Theories of Crime

Social scientists have devised theories of crime as a way to explain why people commit crimes. Crime theories explore what motivates people to behave in ways that society considers deviant or abnormal. Some examples of crime theories are social control theory, rational choice theory and labeling theory.

Criminal Justice System

The American criminal justice system has 3 branches: lawmaking, courts and corrections. Study of the criminal justice system includes an understanding of how laws are formed and what happens if people break those laws. It also includes knowledge of police responsibilities and the role of correctional facilities like jails. The criminal justice system is meant to reduce crime by removing lawbreakers from society and rehabilitating them.

Forensic Science

Forensic science uses scientific techniques to uncover evidence of criminal acts. A forensics course provides instruction on investigating a crime scene and preserving evidence that can be used in court. This subject area draws from many scientific disciplines including biology, chemistry and genetics.


Research Methods

As you study criminology, you will learn to use scientific research methods like experimenting, interviewing and observing. Research methods will help you to develop projects and studies that measure and predict criminal behavior. Your training will show you how to gather information from different sources and judge whether it is valuable to your own research. You will also learn to combine existing research with your own insights to add new ideas and theories to the field of criminology.

Statistical Analysis

Your criminology program will help you understand and interpret the meaning of numerical data. You will learn about the factors that can affect the reliability of statistical data. You will also learn how to gather valid statistical data that you can use to support your own criminology research. Finally, you will learn computer science skills so that you can create computerized models to explain your data.

Social Advocacy

Criminology classes will teach you about the victims who are affected by crimes. Your coursework will train you to work in nonprofit organizations that provide support to victims. You will learn how to relate to victims of crime and help them find justice. With these skills, criminology students commonly find careers in social work and child welfare.

Critical Thinking

While you are studying criminology, you will learn to see the world from the perspective of a sociologist. Your coursework will challenge you to set aside your assumptions about the people who commit crimes so that you can question the evidence in front of you. You use logic and reasoning to consider many possible answers to a problem.

Interpersonal Communication

A degree in criminology will give you tools to communicate with victims and suspected criminals. You will learn counseling skills like active listening, interviewing and intervention techniques. In addition, you will learn how to interact with people in related professions like law enforcement officials, corrections officers and other social scientists.

Academic Degrees

What academic levels are available in the field of criminology?

Academic credentials in criminology are mainly offered at the graduate level, which means that you can earn a masters or a doctorate. Bachelors degree programs that focus only on criminology are rare. But some schools offer bachelors degrees that combine the disciplines of criminology and criminal justice, which are usually presented online. It is much more common for people who are interested in criminology to earn undergraduate degrees in related fields like psychology or sociology before applying to masters degree programs in criminology.

Select the degree level you are interested in:

  • Bachelor’s
  • Master’s
  • Doctorate

Bachelors Degree

Bachelors degrees in criminology are unusual, and you should keep in mind that these programs probably will not qualify you for a job in the field. Most people who enroll in bachelors degree programs in criminology do so in order to advance their careers in fields like law enforcement, where you often do not need a bachelors degree to qualify for a job.

What are the different types of bachelors degrees that I can earn in criminology?

Bachelor of Arts BA

A BA degree in criminology will allow you to explore other disciplines outside of sociology. A BA is a good choice for students who are not interested in pursuing criminological research at the graduate level.

Bachelor of Science BS

A BS degree in criminology offers more classes with a scientific and mathematical focus. You will spend time learning research methods and applied sociology. This option is best for students who want to pursue a graduate-level education that leads to a career in criminology.

How long will I have to study to earn my bachelors degree in criminology?

A bachelors degree in criminology or a combined degree in criminology and criminal justice typically requires students to complete between 120 and 180 credit hours. It takes about 4 years to complete a bachelors degree in this field.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my bachelors degree in criminology?

To earn a bachelors degree in criminology or criminology and criminal justice, you will take a number of social science classes in areas of study including sociology, psychology and social deviance. You will also take classes on subjects that will teach you about how the criminal justice system functions, like juvenile delinquency, victimology and the legal process. Finally, you are likely to take classes in research and investigative methods like statistics and forensic science.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a bachelors degree in criminology?

You will probably not find a job working in criminology with only a bachelors degree, but you can find a job in a related field like criminal justice or social work. A bachelors degree would qualify you to work as a social worker, police officer, criminal investigator, corrections officer and corrections counselor. Keep in mind that most of these positions require additional training.

What should I consider when deciding on a school to earn my bachelors degree in criminology?

If you want to earn a bachelors degree in criminology or a combined degree in criminology and criminal justice, you should look for programs that offer internships. An internship will provide you with practical experience in the field, which may boost your career opportunities or enhance your graduate school prospects. And remember that you do not have to earn a bachelors degree in criminology in order to study it at the masters level. Most masters in criminology students earn their bachelors degrees in sociology or psychology.

What about getting an online bachelors degree in criminology?

You need to consider your career goals when you decide whether or not to earn an online bachelors degree in criminology. For instance, if you are pursuing this degree in order to advance your career in social work or law enforcement, earning a bachelors degree in criminology online is a viable option. For these careers, you do not need to develop lab skills or research methods, so an online program will provide you with valuable knowledge.

On the other hand, if your goal is to go to graduate school so that you can work as a criminologist, an online bachelors degree in criminology may not be a good idea. Masters degree programs in criminology are competitive and the best applicants have solid research skills and experience with applied sociology. If you want to go to graduate school in criminology, you should only pursue a bachelors degree in criminology online if the program includes an internship component where you can develop hands-on skills.

Masters Degree

A masters degree is required for criminologists to work in the field. Keep in mind that some schools call their criminology programs by a different name, such as criminal justice, law and society or crime and justice. You should look into the classes that these programs offer to see if they will prepare you for a job in criminology.

What are the different types of masters degrees that I can earn in criminology?

Master of Arts MA

An MA in criminology emphasizes research methods, sociological theories and the psychology of crime. It typically requires completion of a thesis. This degree prepares students for careers as criminologists or for graduate study.

[degree degree_name="Master of Science" initial="MS"]
An MS in criminology technically focuses more on scientific research methods, but there is not much difference between this program and the MA. It also requires a thesis or special project and prepares students for professional or graduate work in criminology.

How long will I have to study to earn my masters degree in criminology?

A masters degree in criminal justice usually requires students to complete 30 to 45 credits, or 2 to 3 years of study. In addition to your classroom work requirements, you may be required to complete a thesis project or you can opt to take a comprehensive examination.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my masters degree in criminology?

In a masters in criminology program, you will take classes that are designed to make you an expert in the social sciences, the criminal justice system and academic research methods. The exact courses that you will take vary by school, but you are likely to take classes in criminal psychology, criminal law, ethics and statistical analysis. You should also take electives like computer science, logic and writing to improve your analytical skills because many programs will also require you to complete a thesis.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a masters degree in criminology?

A masters degree in criminology will prepare you for most jobs in the field, including working as a criminologist or an FBI special agent, although the FBI requires additional specialized training. You will also be qualified for jobs in related fields like social work and law enforcement.

What are the requirements for admission to a masters degree program in criminology?

You do not need a bachelors degree in criminology to get a masters in criminology, but you should have a degree in a related field. Many students who study criminology at the masters level hold bachelors degrees in subjects like sociology, psychology or criminal justice.

What about getting an online masters degree in criminology?

An online criminology masters degree may be a good choice for you, but it depends on your academic and career goals. Some online criminology masters degrees do not require students to complete an internship, so you should consider whether an internship is important to you. Generally, professionals who are already working in a field related to criminology, like law enforcement or social work, do not need an internship to show them what real criminology work is like. If you are a professional in the field, earning your criminology masters degree online will help you to advance your career while you continue to work, so this route has few drawbacks.

However, if your goal is to attend graduate school so that you can pursue academic research or teach, an online criminology masters degree may not be a good choice. In general, an online degree is not recognized in the field of academia as a matriculated earned degree. However, this practice may vary from college to college. You should not enroll in a criminology masters program that does not require you to complete an internship. Degrees that are earned entirely online do not provide the same amount of applied research or professional experience that an offline program does, which will hurt your application to a doctorate program.

Therefore, if want to pursue a career in academia, be sure that your research of prospective colleges includes questions that pertain to the creation of professional opportunities in your chosen field.


A doctorate in criminology will prepare you for an academic career, where you will be teaching university students and conducting scholarly research. Some schools also offer a combined doctorate in criminology and criminal justice. If you plan to work professionally as a criminologist, you probably do not need to pursue a PhD.

What are the different types of doctorates that I can earn in criminology?

There is only 1 type of doctorate in criminology. A PhD in criminology will require you to complete intensive research that leads to writing a dissertation on a special topic in criminology. It prepares students to become professors and academic professionals.

How long will I have to study to earn my doctorate in criminology?

Students will have to earn 60 to 90 credits to earn a doctorate in criminology. It usually takes 4 to 7 years to complete this level of study.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my doctorate in criminology?

The exact courses that you take while pursuing a doctorate in criminology will vary depending on your program, but you are likely to take classes that expand your knowledge of the advanced theories of criminology. For example, you may take classes about criminal justice policy, policing and the role of women and minorities in crime. You will also take classes about research methods and design that will probably include coursework on academic writing and statistical analysis.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a doctorate in criminology?

A doctorate in criminology qualifies you to teach criminology at a college or university. You will also be trained to conduct academic research.

What are the requirements for admission to a doctorate program in criminology?

Some schools require you to have a masters degree in criminology or criminal justice to be accepted into their doctorate program. However, many criminology schools will accept students if they have masters degrees in related fields like sociology. In addition, some schools also accept outstanding students with just a bachelors degree.

What about getting an online doctorate in criminology?

Online criminology doctorate programs are not recommended. Even if you do find a rare program for a criminology PhD online, it is not a good idea to pursue it. Doctorate programs in criminology are designed to prepare students to become professors at colleges and universities, but you will not get teaching experience through an online criminology PhD program. Finally, an online criminology program will not provide you with an opportunity to apply your research in the field.

Questions & Answers

Select a category to find answers to your questions


What are some other resources that can help me learn more about pursuing a degree in criminology?

The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences

The American Society of Criminology

Criminal Justice Policy Association

Criminology Glossary

Critcrim – Critical Criminology Information and Resources

The Internet Journal of Criminology

Western Society of Criminology

World Criminology

United States Department of Justice