Fill in the blank: To fight crime, we must first ________.
If you said, “understand it,” then you are absolutely correct. That’s where criminology comes in.
To put it simply, criminology is the study of crime. The field is fascinating and involves understanding why crimes are committed, what society has to do with it, and the best ways to prevent future crimes.
If these types of questions intrigue you, then you may be a great fit for criminology. Criminology majors study “whys” behind crimes and they also have various careers to choose from when they graduate!
So, where should you start? The top criminology and criminal justice degree is just what you need to succeed in this industry.
What is a Bachelor’s in Criminology?
Earning a bachelor’s degree in criminology opens the door to entry-level jobs in criminology and can be a great starting point for a successful career. A bachelor’s in criminology is a four-year multidisciplinary undergraduate degree that involves social sciences like:
- political science
The subject of criminology emphasizes the theory, causes, effects, and application of crime rehabilitation and prevention,
Criminology undergraduate degrees may be offered as either Bachelor of Arts or Science, letting you decide. Additionally, some programs allow you to select an emphasis area like juvenile delinquency, criminal justice, cyber criminology, psychology, and more.
An average undergraduate program in criminology requires 120 credit hours that is broken down into general education requirements, criminology major courses, electives, a capstone course, and often, an internship. Although many bachelors are offered on-campus, you will find many high-value online criminology degrees to add flexibility and accessibility. You may also find that some schools offer a part-time criminology degree that you can finish at your own pace.
Careers for Criminology Majors
Criminology majors have an array of options as to how they want to translate their degree into a future career. Because the basic focuses of criminology are studying and analyzing research and data, criminology majors may choose to pursue careers in the following:
- Criminal or private investigation
- Forensic science technician
- Law enforcement
- Corrections officer
- Probation officer
- Community service workers
Some of these careers, like criminologists, require a master’s degree. Criminologists are sociologists who study crime data and trends and are likely to work in an academic setting, teaching, conducting research, and reporting findings. Likewise, many criminology majors pursue careers in law and earn a law degree after graduating with a bachelor’s.
Whether you desire to jump into a career after graduating or go to school an extra year or two for a master’s degree, criminology is an excellent field that opens doors to various careers in exciting environments.
Bachelor’s in Criminology Salary Potential
The median pay for criminology professionals ranges greatly depending on where you are located. It makes sense that if you are a police officer working in New York, you will make more than if you are working in a rural town in Kansas. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the following salaries:
- Correctional officers and bailiffs: $47,440
- Probation officers: $55,690
- Forensic science technician: $60,590
- Police and detectives: $67,290
- Criminologist: $86,110
- Criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, postsecondary: $74,740
- Lawyers: $126,930
With a bachelor’s degree, you can start earning approximately $50K depending on what specific field you choose. However, with more education, your salary potential will increase, which is why many criminology majors decide to pursue a master’s degree as well. Many of our rankings include joint bachelor’s/master’s degrees that save you time and money. If you know you want to become a criminology professor or lawyer, you will need a master’s, so it’s a great idea to plan ahead.
What are the Best Bachelor’s in Criminology?
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University of Florida
The University of Florida consistently ranks among the best universities in the nation, and for good reasons. UF serves nearly 58,000 students each semester across 16 colleges, including the College of Liberal Arts and Science, where you will find the largest interdisciplinary program on campus: the Department of Sociology and Criminology.
UF’s Department of Sociology and Criminology is a thriving department with over 1,000 undergraduate students. Through this best BA in criminology, you can take criminology classes online or on campus, and both tracks lead to careers within the criminal or juvenile systems. Some graduates begin careers right away and others pursue law school or find an affordable criminal justice master’s program.
You will complete 34 credits of criminology major courses like:
- Law and the Legal Process,
- Advanced Principles of Criminal Justice
- Research Methods
At least 18 criminology electives, as well as Statistics 1, are also required. Another graduation requirement is an exit exam on crime, criminal justice, law, and theory.
University of South Florida
Some of the best universities were founded more than 100 years ago, so don’t let it fool you that the University of South Florida is still fairly young. Established in 1956, USF is ranked by the U.S. News & World Report as the fastest-rising university in America, educating more than 50,000 students across 13 colleges.
USF’s Department of Criminology offers a top Bachelor of Arts in criminology that can be taken through its Tampa, Sarasota-Manatee, or Petersburg campuses or entirely online. This flexible degree program provides students with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in careers revolving around the criminal justice system:
- law enforcement
- juvenile justice
At USF, you will develop critical thinking skills and gain knowledge in theory and crime through courses like Theories of Criminal Behavior, Research Methods in Criminal Justice, and Patterns of Criminal Behavior. Along with 36 general education hours, you will complete 42 credits of upper-level coursework in sociology and criminology courses, a capstone course, and an internship.
University of Maryland-College Park
The University of Maryland-College Park is not only the state’s flagship university but one of the nation’s most distinguished public research institutions. Located just outside of Washington D.C., UMD is home to more than 40,7000 current students and offers a combined 301 academic programs across 12 colleges and schools. For an exciting academic program with lots of opportunities, check out UMD’s Criminology and Criminal Justice (CCJS) degree.
UMD’s degree is a Bachelor of Arts in criminology and criminal justice focuses on three pillars of the criminal justice system:
You will understand crime through political, economic, and social viewpoints as you study both theory and applying research to criminological concepts.
Additionally, you have opportunities to earn credits and gain experience by conducting undergraduate research, as well as getting involved through internships and other experiential learning opportunities. If you’re interested in UMD’s CCJS program and all it has to offer, check out this link for prospective students.
University of Minnesota
The flagship university of the Minnesota system, the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, is known as “one of the most prestigious public research universities in the nation.” Currently, there are more than 485,000 UMN alumni, which include former vice U.S. Presidents, a Nobel Peace Prize recipient, inventors, journalists, athletes, and more.
At UMN, you can earn either a high-value Bachelor of Arts or Science through the sociology of law, criminology, and deviance program. You will study not only criminology but how it relates to the sociological investigations of law and deviance. The BA requires foreign language credits, while the BS focuses more on statistics, calculus, and data analysis.
Additionally, with the BS degree, you can tailor your degree by choosing one of these four tracks:
- Health care and careers
- Organization, business, or non-profit
- Policy analysis
- Quantitative emphasis
BA students may choose one of these tracks too, but they are not required to do so. They may choose a minor in sociology or population studies. For more information on UMN’s sociology of law, criminology, and deviance degree, check out this video where a current alumni explains his experiences in the program.
Florida State University
Founded in 1851, Florida State University is the oldest higher education institution in the state. With 43,953 students from all around the globe and 276 degree programs, FSU is thriving. The College of Criminology and Criminal Justice is one of the nation’s best at producing “critical, independent thinkers,” so if you’re interested in pursuing either an on-campus or online bachelor’s in criminology, you won’t want to miss this one.
FSU’s affordable Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in criminology and criminal justice is offered both on campus or online and is adaptable to meet an array of career options. Aside from general education requirements, you will earn 36 credit hours in criminology courses and either earn a minor, second major from another department or complete an internship.
FSU’s criminology program is not only known for its accessibility and adaptability, but for its partnership with some of the best criminal justice agencies. Additionally, FSU offers one of the best-value master’s degrees in criminology—a joint degree for “ambitious students seeking a more hands-on career in the field of criminal justice.” More information about FSU’s criminology programs can be found on this FAQ page.
Ohio State University
Ohio State Buckeyes are part of one of the nation’s largest and most comprehensive universities, complete with a top-ranked medical center, cancer hospital, and research center. Within the College of Arts and Sciences, you will find 38 academic departments and schools with more than 80 majors. Through the Sociology Department, you will find our #6 ranking: a Bachelor of Arts in criminology and criminal justice studies.
OSU’s criminology program is offered from the Columbus, Marion, and Mansfield campuses. To begin this program, you must first complete Sociology 1101: Introduction to Sociology. You will then work through core courses such as:
- Research Methods in Sociology
- Statistics in Sociology
You will also complete either a research project, a study-abroad trip, or an internship.
One of the best parts of being an OSU criminology major is the opportunities to get involved through research projects, experiential learning, and student organizations and clubs. OSU criminology graduates start careers in:
- law enforcement
- delinquency prevention services
- crime prevention organizations
- probation and parole
This degree is also an excellent pathway to further education.
North Carolina State University
North Carolina State University is a leading public research university that is known as a “powerhouse in science, technology, engineering and math,” but excels across disciplines. NC State is a college that offers a BA in criminology.
Known for its affordability, NC State continuously ranks as “the Best Value for Students” by Money Magazine. NC State’s Bachelor of Arts in criminology is offered through the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, an excellent undergraduate program!
NC State’s low-cost criminology program focuses on understanding “the causes, correction, and prevention of crime and the agencies involved in criminal justice.” Of the 120 required credit hours, you will take required courses such as Social Research Methods and Theories of Social Structure before you complete electives such as:
- Violence, Terrorism, and Public Policy
- Juvenile Delinquency
- Community and Crime
Additionally, a 120-hour internship with a criminal justice field agency is required during your final year. Be prepared to get involved and network with like-minded peers with service opportunities and organizations, such as the Criminal Justice Club (CJC). If you’re interested in becoming part of the NC State Wolfpack, check out the admission requirements here.
Washington State University
Founded in 1890, Washington State University is known for its life-changing research and ranked among doctoral universities with “highest research activity” in the Carnegie Classification. Additionally, WSU is one of the best colleges that offer a B.A. in criminology. The Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice and criminology is a “policy-focused curriculum” that prepares students for careers in the criminal justice system, government agencies, and private sector organizations.
Through WSU’s criminology program, you will complete 45 credits in core classes like:
- Administration of Criminal Justice
- Criminology Theory
- Realizing Justice in a Multicultural Theory
Political science and research courses are also required. By the time you’re a senior, you will complete a seminar course in Ethical Issues in Criminal Justice and an internship.
As a WSU criminology major, you will get involved in student organizations such as the Criminal Justice Club and the national criminal justice honor society, Alpha Phi Sigma. If traveling out of the country excites you, check out the study abroad program to London. To add flexibility, WSU offers the BA in criminal justice and criminology both on campus and online.
Missouri State University-Springfield
Missouri State University is a public university with a “close-knit community of passionate and steadfast learners” who come from all over the globe. Currently, over 26,000 students, spread across four campuses (including one in Dalian, China!) call Missouri State home. Missouri State offers both a Bachelor of Arts and Science in criminology and criminal justice, along with five certificate programs you can add to customize your degree.
The BA and BS programs are flexible, and courses can be taken on campus, online, or both. The BS focuses on criminology and criminal justice, while the BA holds a liberal arts background and entails courses in foreign languages, fine arts, and humanities. Both the BA and BS include core criminology classes like:
- Introduction to the American Criminal Justice System
- Criminal Law and the Courts
You can also count your electives towards certificates in criminal investigation, terrorism and national security, criminal courts, family and juvenile support services, and/or conservation law enforcement. Missouri State criminology alumni work in different careers, such as:
- FBI agents
- police officers
- family and drug court administrators
- youth counselors
Pennsylvania State University
Penn State has been known as a leader in higher education and ground-breaking research for over 150 years. U.S. News & World Report ranks Penn State as #57 among the national universities (2020) and No. #18 among “Top Public Schools.” Additionally, Penn State’s criminology program ranks among the top ten programs in the U.S. and prepares you for a variety of careers, law school, or graduate school.
Penn’s State Bachelor of Arts in criminology focuses on criminal justice, crime, and social research while providing a strong liberal arts background. Students will understand how crime and justice are related to “human behavior, social environments, and government policy.” General education courses, electives, and BA degree requirements make up 40 required credits for this major.
Notable courses include:
- Criminal Theory and Evidence
- Research Methods in Criminology
- Social Problems
- Race, Crime, and Justice
Some Penn State criminology graduates work in criminal justice careers such as law enforcement, research analysis, or corrections. However, others start graduate or law school. Penn State also offers integrated bachelor’s/master’s programs; check them out here.
University of Nevada
Founded in 1874, The University of Nevada was signed into law under the Morrill Act of 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln. Today, UNR is ranked a top National University by U.S. News & World Report, known for its transformative education, innovative research, and global impact. UNR’s best- value bachelor’s degree in criminal justice provides a well-rounded curriculum with hands-on application for those who aim to become working professionals in the field.
Through UNR’s low-cost BA in criminal justice, you can either earn a comprehensive degree or choose a specialization in law and justice. Both options involve major core requirements such as:
- Introduction to Administration of Justice
- Police in America
- Courts and American Legal System
- Research Methods in Criminal Justice
UNR offers internship opportunities so you can apply knowledge learned to on-the-job training. Graduates are well prepared to start careers, including law enforcement, law, and administration. Additionally, UNR is known for its affordability and reports that 46% of undergraduates receive financial aid and more than half of graduates leave with no debt.
University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
Known for its high value—the lowest tuition of universities in the UW system—as well as its commitment to equity and inclusion, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater offers award-wining academics and a strong sense of community. Once you see all UW has to offer, you may want to join the Warhawks while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in criminology.
UW’s Sociology, Criminology, and Anthropology department offers both a Bachelor of Arts and Science in criminology. Regardless of whether you choose a BA or BS, you can choose between tracks in law enforcement and investigation or adult and youth correction. Notable courses include Methods of Social Research, Sociology of Police and Courts, and forensic criminology courses.
As an undergraduate criminology student, you have the opportunity to participate in an independent undergraduate research project, a senior seminar, or an internship. Depending on your future career goals, you can also earn certificates in:
- applied research
- corporate social responsibility
- disability studies
- forensic science
If you’re interested in applying to UW-Whitewater, check out the admissions requirements here.
University of New Hampshire
The state’s flagship university, the University of New Hampshire, has produced proud Wildcat alumni like writer John Irving, filmmaker Jennifer Lee (the director of “Frozen,”), and Baseball Hall of Fame inductee. UNH features a justice studies dual major, an interdisciplinary academic program that combines social science, humanities, and professionally oriented departments like education and social work.
The goal of UNH’s justice studies undergraduate program is to produce graduates with expertise in law and justice in American society. If you are interested in both a criminology and forensics degree, you can choose to minor in forensics. You will study topics like racial justice, juvenile delinquency, and cybercrime. You will complete 32 credits in required courses like:
- Introduction to Justice Studies
- Research Methods
- Politics of Crime and Justice
As a senior, you will complete an internship in New England or Washington D.C. in an organization related to the justice system. You may also consider the study abroad program to Budapest, Hungary. UNH justice studies graduates start careers like:
- criminal investigators
- drug court directors
- human rights advocates
- police officers
George Mason University
The largest public research university in Virginia, George Mason University, holds the “strong ideals of academic excellence and service,” and those values translate into all 211 academic programs. Students come from over 130 countries to attend GMU, creating a diverse student body of approximately 39,000 students. You won’t want to miss GMU’s Bachelor of Science in criminology, law, and society.
GMU’s BS in criminology, law, and society focuses on the justice system and the social, moral, and human issues surrounding it. You may choose to pursue a concentration in criminal justice, homeland security and justice, or law and society. Through the B.S. in criminology courses, you study topics like criminal justice ethics, research methods and analysis, and constitutional law relating to the criminal process.
You can either choose between an internship in a justice organization or a minor in a related field, like computer science, data analysis, forensic psychology or intelligence studies. GMU criminology graduates are well prepared for careers in:
- law enforcement
- the courts
- private and homeland security
University of Northern Iowa
Ranked by U.S. News & World Report as #2 in “Top Public Schools Regional University (Midwest),” the University of Northern Iowa has been offering high-quality, affordable education since 1876. Among the 160+ majors is a Bachelor of Arts in criminology, one that has been offered at UNI since 1985!
UNI’s BA in criminology includes an optional emphasis in criminal justice and prepares students for professional careers in:
- law enforcement
- probation and parole
- crime analysis
- crime research
You may also pursue a program certificate in crime mapping to further tailor your program.
Expect to study topics through a research-based knowledge lens, like criminal behavior, policing, community and institutional corrections, and law. Experiential learning is always an important factor of a strong undergraduate program, especially in criminology. UNI encourages its students to learn through internships in police departments, private security, defense attorney practices, and other criminal justice-related settings.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a criminology degree?
Criminology is the study of crime, and while that seems simple, there is so much more to this field of study. A criminology degree draws from social sciences, research methods, and law. Students who major in criminology learn the factors that cause crime—delving into biology, psychology, and social factors. A bachelor’s in criminology provides a well-rounded degree that includes general education courses, required criminology courses, electives, and a possible internship.
A master’s in criminology adds advanced training to an undergraduate degree through a blend of criminal justice and research courses. While a master’s in criminology is not typically a requirement for most law enforcement positions, it can certainly open up pathways to higher salaries and more opportunities.
If you’re looking for an affordable criminal justice master’s program, many universities, including most of the ones in our ranking, offer combined bachelor’s/master’s programs in criminology where students can earn both degrees in just five years. Combining the degrees will save you money in the long run and of course, allow you to receive both degrees faster.
What is the difference between a criminology and criminal justice degree?
The fields of criminology and criminal justice certainly overlap, but there are some key differences. Criminology focuses on the “whys” of crime, basically human behavior and how it relates to the crimes. There are plenty of subfields within criminology like forensic psychology, cyber criminology, and law.
While criminology emphasizes the biological, psychological, and sociological factors behind crimes, criminal justice focuses on the applications—in other words, the solutions. Criminal justice majors are heavily involved in the justice and law enforcement systems. Criminal justice majors become:
- police officers
- correctional officers
- probation and parole officers
They are the ones who carry out the justice of the crimes, while criminologists are the ones who study the crimes, the “whys,” and develop policies to prevent crime.
While the aims of criminology and criminal justice degrees are different, students will take both criminology and criminal justice courses through both bachelor’s programs.
Is criminology a good career?
Criminology is a fascinating major for those interested in studying the causes and effects of criminal behavior. The field of criminology is vast, which means majoring in criminology opens the doors to many careers.
Criminology is not only a good career choice but an important one. This field helps train people how to understand, control, and reduce crime, which is the ultimate goal. While certainly stressful at times, criminology careers can be fulfilling As a criminology professional, you will work towards identifying causes behind criminal behavior and working to eliminate crime and rehabilitate criminals, which is beneficial to your society.
What jobs can you get with a bachelor’s degree in criminology?
The criminology field brings with it a variety of job titles in various settings. While this list is not exhaustive, it covers many of the common career choices you can get with a bachelor’s degree in criminology:
- Law Enforcement
- Probation Officer
- Correctional Treatment Specialist
- Public Affairs
- Government work
- Community Services
While many criminology majors choose careers in law enforcement or corrections, some prefer to work for the government for agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Homeland Security, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the Immigration and Natural Services (INS).
Additionally, some criminology majors become criminologists, who are social scientists who analyze crime trends in academic settings like universities. Criminologists often work closely with police and policymakers. To become a criminologist or criminology professor, you need a master’s degree.
How much money can I make with a bachelor’s degree in criminology?
While considering whether you want to go into the field of criminology, you will certainly wonder how much money you can make. The answer isn’t an easy one—it depends on the specific career you choose, your geographical location, and your level of experience.
Payscale reports the average salary for those with a Bachelor of Arts in criminology to be $62,000 a year. However, the career you pursue will dictate how much you make.
With a bachelor’s degree in criminology, you could become a correctional officer and earn a median salary of $47,000. Similarly, probation officers earn around $56,000 annually. If you plan to become a police officer or detective, you can expect to earn $67,000, although your salary will vary depending on your location. For example, police officers who work in larger, more populated areas will naturally earn more than those who work in rural areas.
With further education comes more opportunities and increased salary potential. If you are interested in becoming a criminologist, you will need a master’s degree, but you can expect to earn over $86,000.
What types of courses can I expect in a bachelor’s of criminology degree program?
You can expect to take plenty of courses in the social sciences as well as courses in criminal justice, social issues, and law, whether they study criminology online or on campus. Sample criminology major courses include:
- Sociology Theory
- Abnormal Psychology
- Forensic Psychology
- Social and Developmental Psychology
- Policing and Police Powers
- Deviance and Crime Control
- Criminal Justice System
- Criminal Law
- Cyber Criminology
- Youth Justice
- American Law
- Civil and Human Rights
- International Crime Justice
- Research and Ethics
Can I earn a bachelor’s in criminology online?
Earning a bachelor’s of criminology and criminal justice online is more accessible than ever. If you want to study criminology online, you will be able to find a program that works for you. You will notice that many of our rankings include top online colleges for criminal justice and criminology.
Some of the best online universities and colleges for criminal justice include ones on our list, including ones below in the “Top Searched Programs” section. The best online criminology degrees are ones that allow you to work at your own pace, whether full or part-time. They also include the support you need and offer networking and experiential learning opportunities that you can take advantage of—no matter where you live.
How much does a bachelor’s in criminology cost?
The cost of a bachelor’s in criminology depends on factors such as in or out-of-state tuition, the specific university’s tuition policies, technology fees, and more. However, there are many low-cost criminology courses online and on-campus. The U.S. News & World Report estimates that online criminology degrees can range from $100-$500 per credit hour.
Additionally, many universities offer affordable criminal justice master’s programs, especially ones that are combined with bachelor’s degrees. Joint bachelor’s/master’s degrees will save you money!
If paying for college is a concern for you, research the specific school you are thinking about and see what types of financial aid, scholarships, and grants they offer.
Are there any professional organizations for criminologists?
There are plenty of professional organizations and associations for criminologists. These organizations are key resources for students interested in criminology and also look great on your resume! Check out the most common ones:
- American Society of Criminology (ASC)
- American Correctional Association (ACA)
- Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS)
- American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS)
- National Criminal Justice Association (NCJA)
Top Searched Programs:
While we covered the 15 best criminology and criminal justice degree schools, here are some others that are searched regularly and noteworthy:
Southern New Hampshire University
One of Southern New Hampshire University’s most popular majors is criminal justice. SNHU offers an on-campus Bachelor of Science in justice studies with concentrations in crime and criminology, law and legal process, policing and law enforcement, and terrorism and homeland security. Additionally, you can complete a Bachelor of Science in criminal justice online with seven areas of emphasis to choose from, generous transfer credit opportunities, and 24/7 access to the online classroom.
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania boasts “the longest continuous program of research and teaching in criminology of any American university.” Not only can students earn a bachelor’s in criminology that includes a research proposal as part of the senior capstone, but they can continue with a unique Master of Science in criminology that focuses on shaping criminal justice “change agents.”
Carlow University’s criminology major offers a cross-disciplinary approach to crime and includes a psychology concentration, making it one of the best criminology and psychology degree out there. Another perk at Carlow is that you can finish your bachelor’s degree in just three years with courses taken in the fall, spring, and summer.
Arizona State University Online
One of the best online colleges for criminal justice is Arizona State University Online. You can earn an online Bachelor of Science in criminology and criminal justice and gain the best of both fields. ASU also offers a policing concentration with this BS degree and optional minors to further customize your degree.
Regis University, a Catholic university in Denver, Colorado is well known for its criminology and criminal justice degrees. Regis offers both a Bachelor of Arts in criminal justice and a Bachelor of Science in criminology that can be taken either on campus or online. Classes are small to encourage low student-to-faculty ratios, meaning you will receive the support and attention needed to be successful.
If you’re interested in pursuing higher education, then you should check out 20 Best Online Masters in Information Assurance and Security Degree Programs and 10 Best Bachelor’s in Organizational Psychology