What's the Difference between Criminology and Criminal Justice?

What's the Difference between Criminology and Criminal Justice?

criminal justice vs criminology
criminal justice vs criminology

If you’re passionate about maintaining social order, understanding and mitigating patterns of crime, and keeping communities safe, you’re a great candidate for a career in the criminal justice system. In the United States, the criminal justice system spans across many career paths in three main areas: law enforcement, the court system, and corrections. 

Regardless of which job you hope to pursue, earning a degree in criminology or criminal justice is the first step toward a career in this field. Perhaps you’ve been wondering, “What is the difference between criminology and criminal justice?” These fields do overlap in some ways, but they each offer a unique value to students who study them.

What is criminology?

Criminology is a social science dedicated to studying crime and criminal behavior. By studying crimes from every angle, criminologists can draw psychological, economic, and social conclusions about why crimes happen on a systemic level. From these conclusions, they build policies and procedures that can predict, prevent and reduce crime. 

Criminologists are not typically “in the field” responding to specific crimes. Instead, they study patterns of crime to determine why a certain issue continues to arise. Criminologists also seek to understand criminals themselves, learning what social and psychological traits are contributing factors in someone’s decision to break the law. Many people who study criminology become forensic psychologists, victimologists, or criminal profilers, using their social science expertise to help solve cases.

What is criminal justice? 

While criminology studies the reasons for crime, criminal justice focuses on the systemic response to crimes. Criminal justice professionals are typically the ones who enforce the law, either as law enforcement or corrections officers, or as members of the court and legal system.

When you think of the criminal justice system, you may associate this career path with becoming a police officer. While it’s true that officers play an important role in this system, there are many other jobs in this arena, including detectives, federal agents, correctional officers, wardens, lawyers, and social workers.  


Criminology vs. Criminal Justice

In today’s world, there is an increasing overlap between these two fields, which many see as a positive outcome. As criminologists learn more about criminal patterns and systemic crime, they can help to create better policies for criminal justice employees to enforce both on patrol and in court. Similarly, as law enforcement officers, corrections officers, and detectives can offer valuable “real world” feedback that helps criminologists in their research.

In fact, some careers in the criminal justice system can be pursued after earning a degree in either field. For example, a social worker may have a criminology degree that helps them identify patterns for underserved youth so that they can serve their communities well. However, they may also have a criminal justice degree that gives them a firm understanding of the legal system, so that they can help juvenile offenders who need a case worker.

However, highlighting the differences between these two fields could help future students decide which track is the best fit for their professional plans after graduation. 

Criminology Criminal justice
Studies the reason for crime Serves as the response to crime
Considers overarching patterns Responds to specific situations
Concerned with offenders themselves Concerned with policies and systems
Emphasis on sociology Emphasis on structure
Often studies crimes in the past Often reacts to crime in the present
Focuses on concepts and theories Focuses on application and enforcement


What do you learn in a criminology degree program?

As a criminology major, you’ll study crime as a theorist and a researcher. Your coursework will cover a wide range of studies, as this degree program pulls from sociology, law, psychology, and scientific research. In your classes, you’ll likely dive deep into the causes behind crime, looking at social, economic, psychological, and biological factors. You’ll also learn about the criminal legal system, social science, and public policy.

Criminology Career Paths

After graduating with a criminology degree, you’ll have a variety of career options available to you. These include: 

  • Forensic science technician
  • Clinical social worker
  • Criminal profiler
  • Private investigator
  • Criminal psychologist
  • Criminal lawyer (after law school)
  • Jury consultant
  • Public policy lawmaker

What do you learn in a criminal justice degree program?

If you enroll in a criminal justice program, you will study all three elements of the criminal justice system in the United States: policing, corrections, and the courts. You’ll learn the foundations of criminal law, study the prison system, dive into the minutia of criminal processes and procedures, and discuss ethics, sociology, and psychology as they pertain to crime. 

Here are just a few of the courses you can expect to see within your degree program: 

  • Police Administration 
  • Ethics in Criminal Justice
  • Criminal Law
  • Victimology
  • Terrorism and Counterterrorism 
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Crisis Management 

In addition to these foundational classes listed above, many programs also offer a variety of general electives to help you further your education in specialized fields. Here are just a few of your potential elective choices:

  • Drugs and Criminal Justice 
  • Serial Killers
  • Investigations and Evidence
  • Community Corrections 
  • Abnormal Psychology

A criminal justice degree prepares you for a career in enforcing the law, which takes many forms. You could be patrolling the streets as a police officer, solving cases as a detective, keeping information safe through cybersecurity, or stepping into a courtroom as a lawyer. A criminal justice program equips you to keep others safe, whether you’re interested in national security or keeping your local community protected from danger.

Criminal Justice Career Paths

After graduating with a criminal justice degree, you can pursue many employment options, depending on your individual interests and hopeful career path. While some law enforcement careers require further education or specialized training, a degree in criminal justice offers the foundational education you’ll need for any career on this list. You might become a:

  • Police officer
  • Paralegal or legal assistant
  • Correctional officer
  • FBI agent
  • Police detective
  • Forensic investigator
  • Probation or parole officer
  • Fingerprint technician 
  • Juvenile counselor
  • Security guard
  • DEA agent
  • Homeland security employee


Earning your criminal justice degree online

For students who are already pursuing their career path or living busy lives, an online criminal justice degree offers the perfect educational solution. At Central Christian College of Kansas, our online degree program is designed to be flexible while offering the highest quality of education. With multiple start dates and the ability to transfer credits from other institutions, you’ll be well on your way to a diploma on a timeline that works for you. 

At CCCK, you’ll take one online course at a time, designed to provide you with practical knowledge and skills to help you understand your chosen field and further your career. Each class takes six weeks to complete, which means you can fully focus on the topic at hand while moving through the program quickly. Without mandatory log-in times or live classes, you can complete assignments and view lectures when your coursework fits into your schedule. Each course is designed and taught by educators with real-world policing experience, so you know you’re learning from experts who have been where you hope to be in the future. 

CCCK takes a holistic approach to criminal justice, helping students pursue their careers with a focus on upholding human rights and caring for their communities. To do this, we aim to cultivate “the core four:'' heart, soul, mind, and strength. After completing your degree in criminal justice at CCCK, you’ll be ready to bring positive change through your chosen career path, fully equipped with the foundational knowledge and skills required to excel in the world of criminal justice. 

Learn more about CCCK’s flexible online Criminal Justice bachelor’s degree program.