Criminology is a subject of study that is appropriate for anyone whose career plans include understanding the data and reasons behind crimes. Training in criminal justice may be common for those whose only goals are to identify motives and narrow down pools of potential suspects, but criminology delves deeper into the sociological causes and consequences of criminal activities. Your career options with a criminology degree are varied, ranging from strictly academic positions in teaching and social science research to hands-on work in criminal investigations, either as a police detective or a private detective.

Academic Roles in Criminology

One type of career path you will find in criminology that isn’t common with a criminal justice degree is a role in academia. Fitting under the category of sociology, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), criminology is primarily a social science. Criminologists who work in academic roles spend their time teaching at colleges and universities and, often, engaging in social science research at those institutions. Both teaching and research responsibilities allow you to contribute to the field of criminology in meaningful ways – such as by educating the next generation of professionals in sociology and criminal justice and by shedding light on previously undiscovered data about the relationship between social community and crime.

Research topics in criminology often include how matters like health care access and unemployment contribute to crime and how crime and incarceration affect the health and economic prospects of a community.

Criminology and Forensic Consulting Roles

Despite its academic nature, criminology has important applications in real-life crime situations. Criminologists may consult with law enforcement personnel to help guide their criminal investigations. They may testify at trials as expert witnesses, either for the prosecution or the defense. A criminologist may have some responsibility for criminal profiling, although this work often is not as exciting or as prevalent as is appears in television representations. In fact, the topics of consultation in the case of many consulting criminologist jobs are much more mundane, including security measure recommendations for private companies and policies for improving public safety and crime prevention initiatives.

Some students leverage an undergraduate degree in criminology to pursue further studies in forensic psychology, a discipline that involves applying the psychological principles involved in understanding thought and behavior to criminal and legal matters.  

Careers in Criminal Investigation

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IMAGE SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons, Adam Jones from Kelowna, BC, Canada by Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic

If you plan to work in a field involving criminal investigation, understanding the social factors that contribute to crime can make an impact in your daily work. Individual factors still matter, of course, but placing them in context of the social factors at work can help investigators understand a perpetrator’s motives, resources and potentially even whereabouts. You may benefit from choosing a degree in criminology if you aspire to work as a private investigator, a police detective, or even an insurance investigator, fraud investigator or compliance investigator. Some intelligence analysts also benefit from approaching criminal activities from a perspective of complex sociological factors. Of course, being able to understand statistical data trends and interpret the reasons behind them is no substitute for the skills of observation and deduction needed to solve a crime, or for the technical abilities to collect, preserve and analyze evidence.

Some students of criminology become criminalists – another word for forensic science technicians, or crime scene investigators (CSIs), who use the principles of natural sciences to analyze evidence from a crime scene.

Traditional Criminal Justice Careers

Thanks to the interdisciplinary nature of a criminology program of study, this degree is suitable for many different jobs for which a background in criminal justice would be expected. The subjects of study in criminology are relevant to law enforcement roles like police patrol officer and federal agent. Probation and corrections officers, too, may opt to pursue studies in criminology rather than criminal justice. Despite the field’s focus on the sociological principles the apply to crime, criminology programs include some coursework traditionally found in criminal justice curricula, including law and legal process, law and society, principles of criminal justice, law and legal process and criminal law and procedure.

Some aspiring criminal defense lawyers or district attorneys major in criminology as undergraduates before going to law school. Although criminology isn’t specifically sought after by law schools, the major provides a strong foundation in the study of crime.

Additional Resources

What Can I Do With a Criminology Degree?

What Does It Mean to Study Criminology?

What Classes Will I Take With a Degree in Criminology?

What Is the Difference Between a Degree in Criminal Justice and Criminology?