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

There isn’t just one difference between a criminal justice and criminology degree. However, these two fields are often incorrectly presented in the media and misunderstood by the public. Despite the fact that they share certain characteristics, these two academic areas are quite different.

Image of fingerprints for our article about criminology programs

The Major Differences

Criminology is the social science that formally studies crime. It shares strong scientific foundations and characteristics with sociology. Criminologists ask questions and seek information about the reasons behind crimes, what motivates criminals and how crimes can be prevented. Criminology activities involve extensive research, statistical analysis and professional literature reviews. The goal of criminologists is to create more appropriate law enforcement responses and more effective social controls on crime.

On the other hand, criminal justice-based professionals focus on how laws are made, how enforcement occurs and how punishment is carried out. It involves all the separate stages of the justice system. This includes initial crime detection, police response, court processes, correction administration and rehabilitation activities. It involves legal responses to crimes, law enforcement activities, how the legal system enforces laws, how offenders are punished and how victims are treated.

Criminology Degrees

Criminology degrees are less popular because most students think that the other degree will prevent them from working in the field with the public. Criminology is the fascinating study of crime as a social phenomenon. Earning a criminology degree is ideal for students who want to find a job in the legal system, public administration and academic research. For example, a student could focus on the theoretical debates about the administration of justice in the country.

Courses in this degree study the types, causes and consequences of crime. Courses will explore criminal psychology and sociology. Students will learn about law, forensics, history, statistics, research and political science. There are many academic subdivisions within the field criminology. This includes bio-criminology, which studies the biological foundations of criminal behavior, and criminalistics, which is the statistical study of crime detection. Feminist criminology focuses on women, penology studies prison system and comparative criminology studies crime across cultures.

Criminal Justice Degrees

This degree is best for anyone who wants to work for courts, corrections or law enforcement organizations. This degree studies the governmental institutions that maintain social control, manage the occurrences of crime and enforce consequences for violators. Unlike criminology, this degree is only concerned with directly confronting criminal behaviors in society. Students will learn about criminal administration, investigation and profiling. They will also learn about judicial processes, system reforms and organizations.

Anyone who graduates with this degree will have better career options. Some of the most common careers for these majors include police officer, deputy sheriff, parole officer, corrections counselor and probation officer. Some of the more difficult jobs to obtain with this degree include State trooper, AFT agent, Federal air marshal, FBI agent, Customs and Immigration officer.

Anyone who wants a coveted Criminal Justice job with a federal law enforcement agency can search job listings for organizations like the Federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP), United States Marshals Service (USMS), Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

Maxim Sorokopud

Melissa Anderson

Julie McCaulley