Criminology is the social science of crime and deviance. It is an academic specialty with an emphasis on criminal research and analysis. Criminologists are the thinkers behind the criminal justice system. Some work in pure research, conducting social and behavioral studies to help resolve crime- and justice-related problems and advance criminological scholarship. Others have an applied orientation, working in specialized areas like high-level criminal investigations, justice system policy analysis, or legal administration.

Multidisciplinary criminology lies at the cross-section of sociology, psychology, policy analysis, public administration, and the law. Practitioners investigate quantitative and qualitative evidence to identify criminal motivations and the best preventative approaches. They may study DNA evidence, drug crimes, political reform, or police brutality. No matter the topic, criminologists spend a lot of time writing reports and interpreting statistics.

Most criminologists work in research and are qualified at the doctoral level. Although there is no prevailing organization that accredits criminology programs, the best criminology schools are accredited by an entity recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Degrees in Criminology

Bachelor Degrees

To become a criminologist, it's necessary to first earn a bachelor's degree after finishing high school. At schools without a criminology major, students usually study a related area like sociology, psychology, anthropology, or criminal justice. For future criminologists, any of these majors can be a ready, topical springboard toward graduate criminological research. Regardless of the major, bachelor students are advised to establish a broad-based liberal arts foundation, taking classes in statistics and the behavioral and social sciences.

There are undergraduate programs with specialized criminology tracks in areas such as Corrections, Law Enforcement, or Forensic Behavioral Science. Where programs lack formal specialized tracks, students can tailor their courses towards an anticipated specialization, although it is not required. For those planning a career in forensic science, for example, courses in cognitive neuroscience or clinical psychopathology would prove useful.

Bachelor-level coursework in Criminology typically includes:

  • Sociology of Deviance
  • Substantive Criminal Law
  • Criminal & Civil Procedure in U.S. Courts

What can you be with a Bachelor of Science in Criminology?

  • Private Investigator
  • Correctional Counselor
  • Probation & Parole Officer

Master Degrees

Professional criminologists are usually expected to have a graduate criminology degree. Almost a third, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), have a terminal master's degree. Others earn a master's en route to a doctoral program, gaining valuable research experience that will shine on doctoral program applications. Aspiring criminologists often earn a degree in criminal justice or criminology at this level.

The main concern of graduate school is mastery of the research process, especially population-level data analysis. Students also learn practical skills in technology applications, human resources and management, and behavioral intervention. Master criminology programs may be general in nature or highly specialized. Common areas of specialization are biocriminology, feminist criminology, penology, criminal psychology, and environmental criminology.

Dual master programs are available at many of the top criminology schools, pairing criminology with areas like public administration or psychology. There are also programs combining a Master of Science in Criminology with the Juris Doctor (J.D.) from law school or the Master of Business Administration (MBA) from business school. Others offer an accelerated '4+1' path for those who know early on they will ultimately go on to graduate school.

To get into graduate school, students will need a bachelor's degree and Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores. Applicants usually need to write a personal statement discussing their interest and intentions in the field. Once admitted, many programs let students choose whether or not they will complete a thesis for graduation.

Master-level coursework in Criminology might include:

  • Theory in Criminology and Criminal Justice
  • Survey of Criminological Theories
  • Modern Administrative Theory

What jobs are available to master-qualified criminologists?

  • Corrections Case Manager
  • Internal Investigations Officer
  • Research Analyst

Doctoral Work

More than 60 percent of criminologists have a doctoral degree, according to the U.S. BLS. Why? As theorists and researchers, criminology experts are most commonly employed by government, nonprofits, think tanks, and universities. In these settings, the doctorate is the standard, qualifying one to conduct independent research and earn optimal pay and benefits.

Doctoral candidates generate high-quality research on the measurement, causality, and consequences of criminal behavior and crime-related public policy. They become immersed in sophisticated research methods, statistical analyses, and theories of criminology for modern populations. Many doctoral candidates work while they finish school, since advanced positions open to professional criminologists frequently require prior work experience.

Doctoral programs typically require a lengthy dissertation approved by a committee. They may administer comprehensive or 'preliminary' exams to students before they can be admitted to candidacy. Students usually need to complete core coursework in areas like:

  • Cultural & Global Criminology
  • Victimology
  • Race, Ethnicity, Crime & Social Justice

A Ph.D. in Criminology can lead to a career as a:

  • Professor of Criminal Justice
  • Forensic Psychologist
  • Civic Policy Research Coordinator

We found 67 schools offering criminology degree programs in the U.S.

>> See all 67 Criminology Colleges in the U.S.

Criminology Schools Ranked By US News and World Report

University of Maryland - College Park
College Park, MD  |  Total Enrollment: 33189

Degrees Offered: One but less than two years, Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
Suny at Albany
Albany, NY  |  Total Enrollment: 16751

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's
University of Cincinnati - Main Campus
Cincinnati, OH  |  Total Enrollment: 27327

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
University of Missouri - St Louis
Saint Louis, MO  |  Total Enrollment: 15397

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree
University of California - Irvine
Irvine, CA  |  Total Enrollment: 20211

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree
Pennsylvania State University - Main Campus
University Park, PA  |  Total Enrollment: 40571

Degrees Offered: Less than one year, One but less than two years, Associate's, Two but less than 4 years, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Doctor's
Florida State University
Tallahassee, FL  |  Total Enrollment: 33971

Degrees Offered: Associate's, Bachelor's, Postbaccalaureate certificate, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
Michigan State University
East Lansing, MI  |  Total Enrollment: 43366

Degrees Offered: One but less than two years, Bachelor's, Master's, Post-Masters certificate, Doctor's, First-professional degree
Rutgers University - Newark
Newark, NJ  |  Total Enrollment: 9352

Degrees Offered: Bachelor's, Master's, Doctor's, First-professional degree
Cuny John Jay College Criminal Justice
New York, NY  |  Total Enrollment: 10612

Degrees Offered: One but less than two years, Associate's, Bachelor's, Master's

Browse All 67 Colleges With Criminology Programs

Title City State Enrollment
Wharton County Junior College Wharton TX 4571
Western Michigan University Kalamazoo MI 28657
Virginia Union University Richmond VA 1538
Valparaiso University Valparaiso IN 3614
Valley Forge Military College Wayne PA 214
Upper Iowa University Fayette IA 4859
University of Utah Salt Lake City UT 24948
University of the District of Columbia Washington DC 5358
University of St Thomas Saint Paul MN 11288
University of Southern Maine Portland ME 10820
University of Northern Iowa Cedar Falls IA 14106
University of Nevada - Reno Reno NV 13149
University of Missouri - St Louis Saint Louis MO 15397
University of Minnesota - Twin Cities Minneapolis MN 45481
University of Minnesota - Duluth Duluth MN 9087
University of Maryland - College Park College Park MD 33189
University of La Verne La Verne CA 6603
University of Delaware Newark DE 19072
University of Central Oklahoma Edmond OK 14099
The University of Texas of the Permian Basin Odessa TX 2224
The University of Texas at Dallas Richardson TX 10945
The University of Tampa Tampa FL 3452
The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Pomona NJ 6312
Texas A & M University - Kingsville Kingsville TX 5948
Texas A & M University - Commerce Commerce TX 7508
Suny College at Old Westbury Old Westbury NY 2995
Suny College at Buffalo Buffalo NY 11399
Suffolk University Boston MA 6908
Sam Houston State University Huntsville TX 12358
Saint Leo University Saint Leo FL 8720
Saint Josephs University Philadelphia PA 6961
Saint Edward's University Austin TX 3824
Paine College Augusta GA 163
Old Dominion University Norfolk VA 18969
Ohio University - Main Campus Athens OH 19920
Ohio State University - Main Campus Columbus OH 47952
Oglala Lakota College Kyle SD 1174
North Carolina State University at Raleigh Raleigh NC 28619
Mount Aloysius College Cresson PA 1297
Midland Lutheran College Fremont NE 1025
Midamerica Nazarene University Olathe KS 1717
Marymount University Arlington VA 3422
Lees - Mcrae College Banner Elk NC 712
Lambuth University Jackson TN 979
Indiana University of Pennsylvania - Main Campus Indiana PA 13410
Indiana State University Terre Haute IN 11051
Grace College and Theological Seminary Winona Lake IN 1331
Gallaudet University Washington DC 1689
Eastern Michigan University Ypsilanti MI 23561
Drury University Springfield MO 4348
Dominican University River Forest IL 2317
Delaware State University Dover DE 3103
Cuny John Jay College Criminal Justice New York NY 10612
Coker College Hartsville SC 1002
Chapman University - University College Orange CA 6145
Chapman University Orange CA 4353
Central Connecticut State University New Britain CT 12252
Capital University Columbus OH 3899
Canisius College Buffalo NY 4814
Cameron University Lawton OK 4629
California State University - Fresno Fresno CA 19056
Bridgewater State College Bridgewater MA 8839
Barber - Scotia College Concord NC 543
Auburn University Main Campus Auburn University AL 21860
Arkansas State University - Main Campus State University AR 10429
Albright College Reading PA 1728
Adrian College Adrian MI 1081