What is it that makes films like The Departed, Goodfellas, The Godfather, and Pulp Fiction so captivating to so many people? Alongside their star-studded casts, and near-perfect direction, many would argue that it is their portrayal of crime - the main subject matter of these cult movies - that make them so intriguing to us.

For many, an interest in crime doesn’t have to remain isolated to the realms of cinema and television – there is a whole field of study devoted to it. This field is known as criminology. So what is criminology? What does it entail? Who can study it? And importantly, what career opportunities can it open up for graduates? We explore all these questions as we conduct a close investigation into this fascinating field.

Introduction to criminology

Criminology is generally considered to be one of the many branches of sociology. It is the study of many aspects of crime and transgressive behaviour, such as its reasons, forecast, and control. It also studies the institutions, and social and individual mechanisms at work behind crime. Criminology is an interdisciplinary field, drawing from research conducted in fields like anthropology, psychology, economics, and psychiatry to explain criminal behaviour. Criminology focuses on several aspects, including:

  • Causes of crime;
  • Types of crime;
  • Occurrence of crime;
  • Social and individual consequences of crime;
  • Reactions to crime;
  • Impact of crime.

What’s the difference between criminology and criminal justice?

Although the two terms might sound like synonyms to some, the studies and practices of criminology and criminal justice are in fact quite different. The two fields share some similar concepts and theories, but are separate areas of study and practice. Here’s a few ways in which we can distinguish between the two disciplines:

Criminal justice focuses on the handling of crime and law enforcement. On the other hand, criminology focuses on criminal acts and their causes, consequences, and impact.

Criminal justice covers topics such as investigation procedures, gathering evidence, arresting criminals, conducting trials and sentencing and punishing criminals. Criminology studies topics such as understanding the reasons people commit crime, how to predict crime, and how it can be controlled.

Criminal justice is mainly practised in institutions such as courts, while criminology can be practised in laboratories, research centres, and social settings.

Careers in criminal justice include law enforcement officer, lawyer, investigator, crime scene technician, court administrator and customs officer. On the other hand, careers in criminology include crime management officer, community work, and drug enforcement agent.

Criminological schools of thought

Criminology is a vast subject area, constructed on different schools of thought, which are also known as criminological theories. Here’s just a few of them to give you an example:

Classical school: The driving force behind this school of criminology was Italian attorney Cesare Beccaria. According to him, crime theories were based on four ideas:

- Individuals have a free will and they act on their own accord.

- Individuals usually seek pleasure and avoid pain, and they generally analyse the costs and benefits involved, when deciding to commit an act.

- Punishment is a good deterrent to prevent the occurrence of crime.

- Certainty and swiftness of a punishment are key factors in preventing crime.

Positivist school: According to this school of thought, other factors are also involved in criminal behaviour apart from seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. Positivism assumes these factors may be beyond the control of individuals and can be internal or external in nature. These factors can stem from social, psychological, environmental, and biological causes. Using science to study human behaviour was first employed by the positivist school of criminology.

Chicago school: This school of thought came into existence in the sociology department at the University of Chicago in the 1920s. The main theory behind this school was that human behaviour is determined by social structure. It analyses psychological and environmental factors to ascertain the cause of criminal behaviour. After analysing the environmental aspect, the Chicago school came to a conclusion that having a destructive social environment is the key reason for the collapse of the social structure, leading to a crime mentality in a community.

Why is criminology important?

There are several reasons that explain importance of why criminology is important:

  • Reduction in crime: Criminology helps society understand, control, and reduce crime. Studying crime helps discover and analyse its causes, which can be used towards crime reduction policies and initiatives.
  • It helps understand the mindset of criminals: Criminology helps understand the mindset of criminals, why they commit crimes, and the factors that affect them. This helps in the proper allocation of resources to control crime.
  • Reform of criminals: As well as controlling and reducing crime, criminology can also suggest appropriate measures for the rehabilitation of criminals.

Career opportunities in criminology

If you want to establish your career in the field of criminology, you will be able to take up exciting job roles, such as:

  • Criminologist: This career requires at least a master’s or a doctorate degree, and they specialise in areas like environmental criminology or psychological criminology. They also help improve police functioning with predictive policing and community-oriented policing. Criminologists usually work in universities, NGOs, legislative bodies, public-policy organisations, and research facilities.
  • Forensic psychologist: In order to work as a forensic psychologist, you need to have an undergraduate degree in criminology and a master’s or doctorate in psychology. Forensic psychologists may also work in roles such as jury consultant, criminal profiler, and expert witness.
  • Community development worker: Working in community development will help you bring about social change and improve the quality of life in different communities. In this role, you will be the link between communities and authoritative bodies. Responsibilities in this job role include:
    • Identifying community needs and requirements;
    • Helping raise public awareness regarding prevalent issues in the community;
    • Preparing policies and reports;
    • Raising and managing funds;
    • Developing strategies;
    • Planning and coordinating events.
  • Probation officer: If you are working as a probation officer, you will be managing criminals upon their release from institutions to protect the public and to reduce their chances of committing a crime again. Working in this job includes responsibilities such as:
    • Managing high-risk offenders;
    • Carrying out risk assessments;
    • Managing and enforcing community orders;
    • Encouraging offenders to improve their attitude;
    • Attending and testifying in court.

Courses in criminology

There are several popular bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminology that are offered worldwide. Here are some of the topics these courses may approach:


  • Sociology theory;
  • Deviance and crime control;
  • Contemporary issues in criminology.

Criminology and Psychology:

  • Social and developmental psychology;
  • Crime and society;
  • Key studies in psychology;
  • Contemporary debates in criminology;
  • Policing and police powers.

Criminology and Law:

  • Criminal justice system;
  • Criminal law;
  • Research and ethics in action;
  • Civil and human rights;
  • Youth justice;
  • Crime prevention.

Criminology and Criminal Justice:

  • Criminology theory criticism;
  • International penal policies;
  • Social and political sciences;
  • Introduction to criminal justice;
  • Police powers in the criminal justice system;
  • International criminal justice.

Cost of criminology courses

The cost of a criminology degree can vary according to which country you study in, and whether or not you study online or on-campus. Here are the online criminology courses offered by Edology:

BA (Hons) Criminology & Psychology: £13,500(UK/EU) / £12,150 (International)

BA (Hons) Criminology & Law: £13,500 (UK/EU) / £12,150 (International)

LLB (Hons) Law Degree (Criminology): £27,750 (total fee)

Salaries earned by criminologists

According to PayScale, the salaries earned by criminologists range between £20,500 and £44,000; with the median salary being £26,500. The salary also depends on the position and seniority of the criminologist.

If you want to study criminology, Edology offers several online programmes in this fascinating field. You can find out more about these criminology courses here.

Recommended Programmes
BA (Hons) Criminology & Law

This specialised BA (Hons) programme focuses on the English legal system and its relationships with the political, psychological, and social aspects of criminology.

  • BA (Hons) Criminology & Law


  • i-LLM LPC


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