Study Criminology: Bachelor's, Associate & Online Degree Info

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What kind of job can you get with an associate or bachelor's degree in criminology? Find out degree requirements, online options and info on courses and criminology programs.
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Criminology Associate and Bachelor's: Degrees at a Glance

An associate degree in criminology can be an asset when you're applying for entry-level law enforcement and social service jobs, although in many cases only a high school diploma is required. A bachelor's degree in this field will help you qualify for careers in social work and corrections, and it can also prepare you to pursue an advanced degree in criminology. It's important to know that most law enforcement careers have strict age and physical fitness requirements, and you'll have to pass a background check and complete recruit training as well. Some positions in investigations, social work and counseling require state licensure, and you may also need an advanced degree. Although pay is relatively low in many social service and criminal justice career fields, job growth for social workers, social service assistants and private investigators is projected to be above average between 2010 and 2020.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Students who plan to work in law enforcement, or those who plan to transfer into criminology bachelor's degree programs Those who want to work in the social service, law enforcement or corrections fields; students preparing for graduate studies in criminology
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) An associate degree is not always required for the following positions, but it may be preferred:
- Police officer ($54,000 - must also pass a rigorous selection process and complete recruit training)*
- Private detective or investigator ($44,000 - state licensure and experience are usually required)*
- Substance abuse counselor ($39,000 - certification or licensure and a master's degree may be necessary for some positions)*
- Social service assistant ($29,000)*
Same career paths that are open to associate degree holders, as well as the following:
- Social worker ($41,000 - a master's degree and state licensure are required for higher-level positions)*
- Correctional treatment specialist or probation officer ($48,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Prerequisites - High school diploma (some programs require students to take remedial courses if they cannot demonstrate basic skills in areas like math and writing) - Same as for associate degree (some programs require students to complete liberal arts courses with a minimum GPA before they can apply directly to the criminology degree program)
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011).

Associate Degree in Criminology

In an associate degree program in criminology, you may study topics ranging from juvenile delinquency and criminal psychology to law enforcement and forensics. This degree may help prepare you for entry-level positions in fields like law enforcement, social services and corrections; however, many of these positions are available to high school graduates as well, and you may need to meet other criteria, such as passing physical evaluations and background checks, to qualify. Some programs are designed so that you can transfer to a 4-year criminology degree program after graduation.

Pros and Cons


  • Completing this degree program may improve your prospects in career fields where postsecondary education is preferred, but not required
  • You may qualify to transfer to a 4-year institution upon graduating, which could increase your career options
  • You'll gain an understanding of the criminal justice system that may be helpful to you in your daily life


  • Postsecondary education is unnecessary for some law enforcement careers
  • You'll need to obtain additional education for some careers in social work and corrections
  • Some law enforcement careers require you to meet strict physical and psychological requirements and pass a background check - you may find that even with an associate degree, you still don't qualify

Courses and Requirements

Associate degree programs typically require you to take both general education classes and core courses. Your general education classes may cover topics such as English, math and government, and you may also choose some electives in the humanities and social sciences. Core courses are the classes you take for your major, and they'll include both required and elective courses. For criminology, required core courses usually cover the following topics:

  • The criminal justice system
  • Evidence and forensics
  • Juvenile delinquency
  • Sociology

Online Course Info

Some associate degree programs in criminology can be completed entirely online. Coursework is comparable to that required for on-campus programs. Students may receive course materials like CD-ROMs and textbooks via the mail, and course lessons and assessments are online. You must complete course activities in a specific order and meet completion deadlines for certain activities, but you'll have significant flexibility in choosing when you study. You'll usually be required to supply your own computer and Internet access.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Since an associate degree isn't required for many entry-level law enforcement careers, simply earning one may help you stand out for some jobs. In addition, the BLS reports that knowing a foreign language can be a plus if you plan to work in an area with a diverse population. For those interested in working as a private investigator or detective, courses in finance and accounting may be helpful. Also, once you've gained specialized experience as an investigator, industry certifications from organizations like the National Association of Legal Investigators can help with career advancement.

Bachelor's Degree in Criminology

A bachelor's degree program in criminology will provide you with a broad understanding of crime, the criminal justice system and the motivation of criminals. You'll study topics such as social deviance, theories of criminal justice and the impact of crime on the community. The curriculum is generally multidisciplinary, requiring coursework in law, social sciences and the humanities. Most programs encourage students to complete an internship that's relevant to their career interests. A bachelor's degree in criminology can prepare you to go straight into the workforce or pursue an advanced degree.

Pros and Cons


  • You'll qualify for certain careers that aren't open to associate degree holders
  • It's likely that you'll have the chance to gain valuable work experience through an internship
  • A bachelor's degree program can prepare you for the advanced study that's necessary to become a criminologist


  • This degree is unnecessary for many careers in the criminal justice system
  • You'll spend at least 4 years in college, which means you'll miss out on the experience and income you could have received if you'd entered the workforce right away
  • Since bachelor's degree programs in criminology require you to gain a broad background in the liberal arts, you may need to take courses outside of criminology that aren't very relevant to your interests

Courses and Requirements

In addition to your core criminology classes, you'll enroll in humanities courses ranging from science and math to philosophy and literature. Some schools also require you to take foreign language classes. Although it's not required, most schools strongly encourage you to complete an internship. Your criminology classes will cover many of the same topics that associate degree students learn about, but you'll also venture into the following areas:

  • Sociology research methods
  • Social deviance
  • Cultural anthropology

Online Course Info

Accredited online bachelor's degree programs in criminology are available. There are completely online programs that are designed for the working professional, allowing you to schedule your class time around existing work and familial obligations. Coursework is similar to what's available to on-campus students, and internships are also available. In many cases, they may be completed on a full-time or part-time basis, depending on your needs.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

The steps you'll need to take to stand out depend on your career goals. If you'd like to go on to advanced study after completing your bachelor's degree, you'll need to focus on academics. You can stand out with a high GPA and strong GRE scores. It's also a good idea to build strong relationships with your professors, since you'll need letters of recommendation for your grad school applications.

If you'd like to go into law enforcement, simply earning a degree can be enough to help you stand out. If you're interested in a career as a correctional treatment specialist or probation officer, related work experience in the form of an internship can give you a leg up.

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