When considering a career in criminology, there are a number of options open to you for both criminology programs and career choices. A criminologist is also a sociologist who views and studies crime as a social phenomenon. This field often overlaps with other criminal justice fields, as criminologists often work with law enforcement and legislative bodies at local, state, and federal levels.
Degrees in criminal justice range from bachelor’s level to doctorate level and can be combined with those in related fields. For example, a student who has earned a bachelor’s degree in this field is generally eligible to seek a masters or doctorate in criminology, and vice versa. Specific career paths may require specific degrees or coursework completed within a related program.
At the lowest level, an associate degree in criminology will generally provide the basics in the field, such as theories behind criminal laws and justice administration. This works best as supplementary coursework to other more specific related disciplines within this field. An associate degree in this field can lead to entry level jobs working for local police academies or private security firms, while more advanced grade programs are needed for more specific areas such as forensics or federal law. The advantage here is the ability to have a degree and enter the workforce in a relatively short period of time, usually two years or less.
The next grade to consider is the bachelor’s degree, generally taking about four years to complete. A bachelor’s degree in criminology will include coursework in the sociology of law, theories of social structures, the justice system, juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice system, and cultural anthropology. A bachelor’s grade can lead to jobs as police or correction officers, probation officers, or forensic science technicians.
To advance further in a career as a criminologist generally requires an advanced grade, with many entering a master’s program after completing a bachelor’s degree in sociology, psychology, or criminal justice. The master’s in this field includes coursework in a specific area of criminology and opens the door to more advanced career opportunities. For example a criminologist at the higher level may choose to work in environmental criminology or as a forensic psychiatrist. He or she may also become an advisor to a state legislature or congress and be instrumental in forming law enforcement policy throughout the state. Depending on which career path is chosen within the broader aspect of this field, the curriculum in a master’s program will be tailored accordingly.
Finally, many criminologists end up working at colleges and universities. In order to pursue this avenue, however, a doctorate degree is required, and may be in criminology, sociology, or psychology. Within a PhD program in criminal justice, the specialization that began in the master’s program is carried to its fullest potential. Coursework will continue within the specific area of criminology that was chosen for the master’s program and will become more in-depth and advanced. Candidates with a PhD in criminal justice can find themselves working in special intelligence at the federal law enforcement level, in higher positions in forensic science, or in a career as a full criminal psychologist, as well as possibly pursuing a career in academia. Specializations can include criminal psychology, psychology of victims, and terrorist psychology or counter terrorism efforts.
Whatever your career goals within the criminal justice fields, a program in criminology can open doors to new possibilities and advancements. Whether you are currently working in a criminal justice position or considering entering this dynamic field for the first time, getting the appropriate program for your ambitions is a necessary step. And the more advanced the degree, the more initial options you will have and the more opportunities for career advancement.