Hardly a day goes by where we don’t turn on our televisions and see some type of criminal-based or legal show, whether it’s NCIS, CSI, FBI or some other similar show. These shows are not only interesting to watch, but they also make criminology and criminal justice careers look extremely exciting and rewarding.

In most of these shows, you’ll find the characters hard at work either investigating crimes, profiling criminals or trying to prevent further crimes. Many of these jobs are possible with graduate degrees in criminology. Earning criminology degrees can open many doors for an interested individual. Here is an overview of criminology, criminal justice (CJ)and the various benefits of a criminology major.


Criminology vs CJ

We often see or hear the words criminology and CJ used interchangeably. While there are some similarities between the two, they are actually quite different. Criminology and CJ are both fields that offer many excellent career opportunities. It all comes down to what interests you most and what your career aspirations may happen to be.

CJ is a field that deals with law enforcement, the court system and corrections. Unlike criminology, CJ deals with directly confronting the acts of criminals in society. Students in a CJ program will learn about investigations, profiling, legal administration, the judicial process, system reform and legal organizations who enforce laws.


CJ professionals work in almost all stages of a criminal’s behavior. When crimes are committed, legal agents go to the scene of the crimes, obtain evidence, search for the perpetrator and often make an arrest. Once an arrest is made, CJ continues to play a part in the process, which includes taking the suspect to court, sentencing convicted criminals and sentencing the criminals.

If and when perpetrators are sent to jail or a prison, it’s a CJ or professional, such as a jailer or corrections officer, who is in charge. When criminals are released from prison, they are under the supervision of a parole office. If they’re not sent to prison, they must see a probation officer. Both probation officers and parole officers are occupations you can obtain with CJ training.

In summary, CJ degrees prepare you for careers dealing with enforcing laws from the time crimes are committed and right through to the post-incarceration period.


Completing a CJ academic program prepares you for the following career options:

  • Police officer
  • Deputy Sheriff
  • Corrections counselor
  • Probation officer
  • Parole officer
  • FBI agent
  • State trooper
  • Federal air marshal
  • Customs and immigration officer
  • Detective
  • Investigator

Criminology is a field that deals with the why, where and how of illegal behavior.

Professionals who work in criminology see crimes as a social phenomenon and a social problem. They study and research all aspects of illegal behavior and the effects it has on society as a whole. While CJ professionals focus on the CJ system, criminology professionals focus on why it happened and ways to prevent it from happening again.

Although there is some overlap between the two fields, criminology careers are more academic in nature. Criminology studies every aspect of crimes.

Criminology experts focus on the following:

  • Gathering and analyzing data to determine what causes illegal behavior
  • Where most crimes are committed
  • How crimes impact victims and their families
  • The government’s response to crimes
  • How to use data to prevent crimes

Because criminology is such a vast field, graduates of criminology master’s programs may find work beyond just the CJ field or with legal agencies. They may find criminology jobs in social services, colleges, government, judicial systems and even as consultants to legal enforcement agencies.

Students in a criminology program may take courses in statistics, computer science, culture and crimes, crime analysis, the economics of crimes and social problems, victimology, theories of social order, drugs and crimes, white collar crimes and psychology of illegal behavior.

Here are a few of the many criminology jobs possible with a criminology major:

  • Criminologist
  • Forensic psychologist
  • Profiler
  • Private investigator
  • Police officer supervisor
  • Loss prevention specialist
  • Corrections officer supervisor
  • Forensic science technician
  • Forensic accountant
  • Intelligence of cybercrime analyst
  • Police detective
  • FBI agent
  • Insurance fraud investigator
  • College professor
  • Security specialist

Despite the fact that many believe a CJ degree is the better of the two degrees, earning a master’s in criminology will prepare you for not just criminology careers but some CJ careers as well. It’s been said that these two fields focus on different sides of the same coin.


Why Earn a Master’s in Criminology?

Although many excellent careers can be obtained with bachelor’s degrees, earning a master’s in criminology can open even more doors for you. Even if a certain position does not require a master’s, having the master’s degree is generally looked upon favorably by potential employers.

An applicant with a more in-depth understanding of criminology and the CJ system typically is considered a better hire because less training is involved. Earning the master’s not only prepares you for many exciting career opportunities within the area of CJ but also provides the training to branch out into areas like teaching or research. It’s also a solid stepping stone towards a doctorate in criminology.

It typically takes about two years to complete a master’s in criminology if you already have the bachelor’s. Some aspiring criminologists earn a bachelor’s in CJ followed by a master’s in criminology. In addition to completing coursework, criminology students also complete an internship working in an area of criminology or law enforcement to obtain real-life experiences.


Benefits of Criminology Degrees

Here are just a few of the many benefits of criminology education:

  • Stimulating Work – Whether you choose to become a profiler, a criminologist or an FBI agent, you’ll never have the worry of doing the same thing day after day because every day will bring something different. You may find yourself working in a lab one day and at a crime scene the next.
  • Job Satisfaction – If you’ve earned a criminology master’s, you have an interest in working at a job where you can study how perpetrators work and solve crimes. Few things can be as satisfying as knowing you played a role in solving crimes, possibly preventing future crimes and helping out your community.
  • Wage Outlook – Although different wages come with different jobs, you’ll find that most criminology jobs pay very good wages. Earning a master’s typically offers higher wages.
  • Various Career Options – Criminology is a field that offers so many different career options. You can work at one job for a few years and switch to another if you want a change with needing additional education.
  • Steady Work – We seldom hear criminology specialists being laid off because of a slow economy because they’re always in demand.


Career Outlook for Criminology Majors

The job outlook for a criminology major is very good with these professionals constantly in demand. As long as we continue to have crimes committed, we’ll continue to need criminology professionals.

Another reason the career outlook is so good is that there are so many different settings in which a criminologist can work:

  • Local and state police force
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • Homeland Security
  • Research and profiling
  • Prisons
  • Academia
  • Assisting in autopsies

Sociologists are similar to criminologists in that they both deal with the study of human behavior and what makes people behave in a certain matter. Sociologists earned an average annual wage of $86,130 with wages ranging from $38,710 to $141,450 as of May 2017 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

It’s important to remember that these wages are for sociologists and not specifically for criminologists. The field of criminology offers various different careers, and their wages can vary by experience, training, employer and location.


Here are the five top-paying states for sociologists as reported by the BLS:

  • Massachusetts – $110,170
  • Pennsylvania – $103,280
  • California – $95,550
  • Oregon – $93,150
  • District of Columbia – $92,040

Earning master’s degrees in criminology can be the beginning of an exciting career. With so many colleges offering online programs, you may even have the option of earning it while continuing to work. This bodes very well if you’re currently working in legal or criminology positions. You already have your foot in the door, and the criminology master’s degree will open up even more doors.