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Criminology Major Overview

If you’re thinking about majoring in criminology, you’ve come to the right place. Whether you’re most interested in the law, research methods, sociology, psychology, or just crime itself, criminology covers it all. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about the criminology major, from what it is, to what you study, to what you can do with a degree in it!

Also read: How to pick a major

What is a criminology major?

Great question! A criminology major studies criminal behavior and the social, behavioral, and psychological causes that motivate it. They study crime in a variety of places, from local neighborhoods to foreign countries, and these crimes are studied over long periods of time. This way, criminology students can develop impressive research skills which will come in handy in their future careers.

Depending on their school, students who major in criminology may also receive an education in the law and criminal justice system. Some schools even combine criminology and criminal justice into a single major, educating students on how the criminal justice system works to combat crime.

Coursework to expect

So, we now know what criminology majors study, but what exactly is the coursework like?

Besides the introductory courses to criminology and criminal justice, criminology majors can also expect to take courses on the psychological and sociopolitical characteristics of crime, including deviant behavior, the death penalty, public policy, and more.

Related to this, you may also take classes on crime analysis, examining how crime is impacted by a variety of psychological, social, and even biological factors. While some of these courses may be more psychology-focused (like abnormal psychology), some will be more based in biology (think cognitive neuroscience, or any neuroscience classes for that matter!). You will take classes to hone your research and analysis skills, including statistics or research methods courses. Here are some sample criminology courses:

  • Culture and Crime
  • Victimology
  • The Police and Society
  • Criminal Procedures and Evidence
  • Drug Crime
  • White Collar Crime
  • Constitutional Law

For those of you in graduate school or in your university’s honors program, you may (this varies by school, so we highly recommend you check!) be required to complete a research thesis or capstone project of some sort. If so, you will have to write a paper and present on a specific topic or issue that you have thoroughly researched.

Opportunities after graduation

Luckily, if you’re not quite sure what you want to do with your criminology degree, you have many options! Whether you’re more interested in the “investigating crime” part of criminology, the criminal justice aspect, or something else, there’s likely an interesting position for you out there. Here’s just a few of them: 

  • Forensic science technician
  • Police officer
  • Private investigator or detective
  • Corrections or Probation officer
  • Criminologist (Ph.D. required)
  • Professor of criminology or a related subject (Ph.D. required)

Keep in mind that this is by no means a definitive list, and if none of these sound particularly interesting, there’s always something else you can do (just do some research on “jobs in criminology”!). 

Alternatively, if you find that you have a criminology degree but your interest in the subject has faded, remember that your job does not have to always be directly related to your degree! If need be, you can use your knowledge in psychology, sociology, or any other field you’ve learned about to secure a position in another industry. In addition, the critical thinking, empathy, inference, and problem-solving skills you learn while studying criminology are highly sought after in other industries, giving you more career options than you may realize.

Jobs you can get with a criminology degree

With all those jobs in mind, you may be wondering what the average salary of a criminology major is (after they graduate college). Well, while it does vary widely based on what specific position you find, we can give you a few “averages” for specific criminology-related jobs to give you an idea.

1. Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists

Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists work with current and formerly incarcerated people. They help rehabilitate clients and maintain order in jail facilities.

2020 Median Pay: $55,690 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 4% (slower than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Police and Detectives

Police and detectives maintain social order and enforce laws. While police are more involved in day-to-day enforcement, detectives work on a larger scale. They help investigate crimes that have already occured.

2020 Median Pay: $67,290 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 7% (As fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

3. Social and Human Service Assistants

Social and human service assistants provide a variety of services to those in need. These are typically counseling-based positions. They can include social workers, psychologists, and more. They can help support, rehabilitate, and counsel clients.

2020 Median Pay: $35,960 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029):17% (Much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

4. Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors

These positions provide counseling for people with mental disorders, drug problems, and behavioral issues.

2020 Median Pay: $47,660 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 23% (Much faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

5. Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers, or professors, teach at any level beyond high school. This includes colleges, universities, trade schools, and certificate programs.

2020 Median Pay: $80,560 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 12% (Faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 

Also read: What is the average starting salary out of college?

Frequently asked question about majoring in criminology

Is a majoring in criminology good for the FBI?

Yes! Criminology is definitely an acceptable major if you’re looking to join the FBI. However, while your criminology degree will help you out in terms of your law enforcement knowledge, you may have more trouble getting selected as a special agent. Also, keep in mind that criminal justice and criminology degrees are quite common for FBI applicants, so majoring/expertise in something like finance, accounting, computer forensics, or a foreign language may give you a better chance of being selected to join the FBI. However, as selection into the FBI isn’t guaranteed if you study one of these majors, we still recommend you study a subject you’re interested in (in case the FBI thing doesn’t work out!).

Can I be a lawyer with a criminology degree?

While a bachelor’s degree in criminology can give you a solid base for understanding the criminal justice system, it isn’t enough to become a lawyer. If you wish to become a lawyer after graduating with a criminology degree, you must also attend law school and pass the bar exam and receive a license from your state’s bar association. If you did not major in criminology, though, don’t worry! There is no specific major you need to have studied to get into law school. If you’re planning on going to law school soon, here is a useful list of law school scholarships.

Is this a competitive major?

Criminology is a major on the more competitive side – meaning that students will likely have to do more than just do well in undergrad to improve and increase their career opportunities. If you have the time, we highly recommend that you seek out practical, relevant experiences in criminology during your time at college (or even after you graduate!). Whether this is an internship, part-time job, research experience, or something else entirely, this will help you gain knowledge about working in the field and will look impressive to employers. 

Additionally, although not necessarily required, a larger number of criminology majors go on to graduate school to also pursue master’s degrees. This will largely increase your job opportunities and give you a deeper look into criminology and the criminal justice system.

How do I know if the major is right for me?

If you’re considering a major in criminology, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you highly interested in the way people think?
  • Do you find the relationship between the individual and society interesting?
  • Are you interested in how digressions from the norm affect society?
  • Do you enjoy sociology and psychology?
  • Are you competent with theory, research methods, and working with data?
  • Can you maintain your mental health while dealing with heavy subject matter?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then a criminology major could be right for you!

P.S.: If you do decide to pursue criminology, here’s a list of some of the top criminal justice scholarships available!