Criminology vs. Criminal Justice Degrees

Criminology and Criminal Justice are two commonly confused yet distinctly different degree and career fields.  Both areas are ideally suited for those with backgrounds or interests in law enforcement, criminal behavior, forensic sciences, counseling, social work, sociology or psychology, to name a few.

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Criminology and Criminal Justice are two popular career fields that offer fulfilling opportunities for individuals who have a wide variety of backgrounds and personal and professional interests. Though Criminology and Criminal Justice are often grouped together, there are distinguished differences between the two professions.

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Criminology vs. Criminal Justice


Criminology and Criminal Justice are two commonly confused yet distinctly different degree and career fields. Both areas are ideally suited for those with backgrounds or interests in law enforcement, criminal behavior, forensic sciences, counseling, social work, sociology or psychology, to name a few.

Criminology & Criminal Justice: An Overview
Criminology is the study of criminal behaviors, ethics, leadership, and crime causes. Criminology is an increasingly popular interdisciplinary field that incorporates aspects of sociology, psychology, and biology as well as other disciplines such as law and anthropology. Criminology has a long, formative history stemming from the late eighteenth century. At the time when an almost purely legal stance was taken to approach the subject with leading theorists arguing the hedonistic or ‘pleasure vs. plain' axiom, "let the punishment fit the crime." The notion that people would behave to avoid the penalty of pain later gave way to biological and medical theory, at which point case studies became incorporated into the field.

Progressively, both philosophical and sociological schools of thought were applied to criminology. What ultimately emerged was a unique field that differentiates itself from the otherwise relevant and influential field of sociology and psychology. The American Society of Criminology was formed and still exists to advance the field of criminology.

Modern criminologists study criminality --which is the rate in which a type of crime occurs among a particular group -- and crime rates, which is how often a particular crime occurs. Additionally, criminologists' studies include working with individuals, reviewing case studies, and conducting interviews. Professionally, criminologists might engage in various forms of counseling, psychology or social work, helping criminals become functioning members of society.

Criminal Justice is the study of all aspects in the justice system on a national and international scale. This includes the study of police, court and prison systems – the 3 Cs of cops, courts and corrections. Criminal Justice studies involve psychology, statistics, business and sociology. Historically, the field of criminal justice is rooted from Biblical times referring to Adam and Eve's original sin as the first known incident of crime and punishment. Subsequent eras of influence to this field included the New Covenant, Greco-Roman times and the Colonial period, to name a few. Former criminal justice concepts, such as that a crime consisted of only a guilty deed, have been exchanged in modern theory for the idea that an act is a choice and the state of mind is subject to question.

The Main Difference
It is in modern theory that one can most clearly differentiate between criminology and criminal justice given that criminology deals predominately with the understanding, interpretation, and analysis of motive in various criminal activities; criminal justice deals with crime from a systematic standpoint.

Common Misconceptions
While both degree fields often conjure images of popular legal-themed television programs such as CSI or Law & Order, the reality is that criminology and criminal justice efforts do not necessarily result in the solving of specific crimes. Rather, such degrees enable professionals to be engaged with various aspects of interpreting the legal system and those who are processed through it. Criminology degree holders can segue into careers involving forensic and criminal psychology, for example, with additional years of study in biological and/or chemical sciences.

Criminology & Criminal Justice Careers


Career options in Criminology and Criminal Justice vary depending on whether or not the degree holder has a two-year, four-year, Master's, or Doctorate degree. With jobs requiring an academic background in criminology becoming increasingly popular career choices, many institutions offer quality online degree programs in addition to traditional options. Employment opportunities are available for such degree holders at the private, state and federal levels.

Examples of Criminology career options include:

  • Counselor: Assists people dealing with complex issues, like substance abuse, daily coping, etc. 
  • Forensic Psychologist: Assesses verbal and nonverbal cues of litigants and makes determinations based on those observations, such as if an individual is fit to stand trial.
  • Criminal Psychologist: Studies case files, serial killers, and crime scenes to develop criminal profiles of individuals and scenarios.
  • Social Worker: Works with individuals to help people solve mental and emotional issues in their daily lives.
  • Contemporary Criminal Investigators who rely on the advantages of advanced educations for understanding the criminal mind to investigate and identify criminal offenders.
  • Professor of Criminology: Educates those interested in obtaining degrees in criminology

A sample of Criminal Justice career options include:

  • Correctional Officer: Works with and monitors offenders to help prevent them from committing crimes.
  • Law enforcement officers: Upholds current legal standards by protecting the lives and property of citizens.
  • Detective or investigator: Specialized investigative individuals who gather facts and other evidence to help resolve criminal activities.

Because there is a constant, growing need for research, support and able-bodied professionals in the various legal fields, Criminology and Criminal Justice are relatively stable career-paths that also provide substantial incomes. In addition to competitive salaries with room for growth, local, state and federal agencies as well as large companies offer desirable retirement benefit packages.

A career in criminology is within reach. Whether you're looking to create the foundation for a new career or advance your current one, the Regis University Criminology degree program offers an education trusted by employers in criminology's many relevant fields.

To learn more, explore Regis University’s Master’s of Science in Criminology degree program.

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