How to Choose the Best Criminology Degree

This article discusses why you would want to earn a degree in criminology. It will tell you the types of criminology degrees that are available, specialties, why you would want to earn this degree, as well as information about program accreditation.

What is a Criminology Degree?

This degree gives students the necessary knowledge and skills to work in public and private criminal justice, juvenile justice, and victim services agencies. Graduates can enter the workforce directly or continue their education to become lawyers, professors, and researchers in the criminal justice system.

Those who earn a bachelor’s degree in criminology can expect to work as a:

  • Corrections Officer
  • Forensic science technician
  • Loss prevention specialist
  • Police officer
  • Probation and community control officer

Criminology degree programs train students to understand why people commit crimes and teach pupils how to circumvent the negative effects crime has on society.

While they use many of the same skills as detectives, criminologists draw more on the fields of psychology and sociology than on forensic methods. Criminologists themselves do not arrest criminals but they do predict the movements of criminals and help law enforcement predict where criminals may appear.

Criminology programs systematically study crime as a sociopathological phenomenon, which means the classes help students understand sociopaths who have a general lack of regard for the moral or legal standards of a community. These programs provide insight into the behavior of criminals and the evolution of social institutions that respond to crime.

Criminology programs include instruction in the theory of crime, the social and psychological bases of criminal behavior, criminal law and criminal justice systems, social value systems and theory of punishment. Classes also cover penology, rehabilitation and recidivism, social attitudes and policy, studies of specific types of crimes, and their applications to specific issues facing law enforcement administration today.

Why Earn a Degree?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects career opportunities for sociologists, a field that includes criminologists, to remain steady between 2014 and 2024. Because it is so rewarding, criminology is a popular field. A degree helps an individual compete for job positions and move up the ladder.

The position pays well, with criminologists earning between $30,000 and $50,000 each year during the first four years of their career, according to Social Science Careers. Those working more than five years in the industry generally earn about $69,000 per year.

Some areas of the country offer better pay than do others, with criminologists in New Jersey, the Oakland-Fremont-Hayward Metropolitan Division in California, New York, the District of Columbia, Illinois and Virginia. New Jersey is the top-paying state, with experienced criminologists earning as much as $106,000 annually.

Choosing Your Degree Path

There are many health science degrees from which to choose. The most common are:

  • Criminology Certificate: A cost-effective way to establish credentials in criminology or to improve hire-ability of a candidate who holds a degree in another field
  • Associate’s Degree in Criminology: 1- to 2-year program that provides a basic education for a career in criminology
  • Bachelor of Science in Criminology: Students learn the social, political, and environmental factors behind deviant behavior. This degree is for criminal justice, social science, and public policy professionals who want to expand their understanding of the best ways to prevent and solve crime. This degree typically takes 3 to 3 ½ years to complete.
  • Master of Science in Criminology: An advanced analysis of crime and criminal behavior. The course prepares students for a number of career opportunities in the criminal justice and social services fields. This program typically takes 3 ½ to 5 years to complete.
  • PhD in Criminology: This degree typically takes 4 to 5 years to complete, depending on the amount of education the student has. Individuals with a PhD in Criminology degree are the top academic scholars and leaders in criminology policy.

Courses at the undergraduate level for criminology include classes in government, sociology, psychology, sociological psychology, criminal law, juvenile delinquency, criminal theory, and constitutional law. Studies may include abnormal psychology, forensics, statistics and corrections. Some students take additional courses that deal with the criminal justice system in general and prisons in particular. Writing, computer science, and logic classes round out most criminology courses.

Advanced degrees are usually necessary to achieve the top positions in the field of criminology. Many employers require the candidate undergo extensive background checks, multiple interviews, and drug screenings. Candidates must have no criminal history or drugs in their system. Employers may have additional qualifications, such as advanced education.

Online Degree Options

Students may pursue a degree in criminology online. Mount St. Mary’s University in Los Angeles, California, offers an accredited online course in criminology. The program uses a project-based approach that gives students the foundational knowledge and the real-world skills they need to enter the workforce as criminologists. The program has gained national recognition for its rigorous academic programs, focus on developing citizen leaders, and for empowering women.

Graduates find jobs with law enforcement, probation, crime prevention, homeland security, forensic research, rehabilitation, programs for at-risk populations, and more.


Accreditation assures students and employers that a program offers a rigorous curriculum in criminology. Degrees from accredited programs are relevant to criminology, and will continue to be relevant in the quickly changing field of criminology.

There are 129 accredited criminology schools in the United States, according to Career Index. Many accrediting organizations accredit programs in various regions of the country.


Criminology is an exciting field with reliable job growth and opportunity. The profession is right for anyone who is passionate about helping others and is interested in human behavior. Working in criminology require very good computer and science skills, excellent communication skills, and the necessary skills, knowledge, insight, and sensitivity to work in criminal justice, juvenile justice, and victim’s services agencies.