Focused on the causes and social effects of crime, criminology also explores the theoretical and practical aspects of law enforcement, the structure of the criminal justice and court systems, and effective methods for addressing and reducing criminal activity.

Criminology attracts inquisitive professionals who want to make a difference in this growing field. In fact, many criminology careers show an increased demand throughout the country. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 6% employment growth for probation and correctional officers, 7% for police officers, and 11% for private detectives and investigators by 2026.

This guide explains how to pursue an associate degree in criminology that includes choosing a school, preparing your application, determining program costs, and researching future career paths.

Should I Get an Associate Degree in Criminology?

An associate in criminology degree might be right for you if you want a career in law enforcement, security, or criminal investigation. In the past, security guards, private investigators, and police officers did not always need college degrees. Today, employers display a strong preference for candidates with postsecondary schooling. While academic disciplines like sociology and criminal justice prepare you for jobs in these fields, a criminology degree remains one of the most relevant academic disciplines you can pursue before applying for work.

Associate in criminology programs help you build field-specific skills and give you a thorough understandings of the criminal justice and court systems.

On-campus criminology programs take advantage of traditional class structures to emphasize the development of teamwork skills in this highly social and interactive field. Hybrid and online programs remain a valuable alternative to students with daytime commitments who need the flexibility that comes with self-directed study.

Beyond putting yourself at an advantage in a competitive job market, pursuing an associate degree in criminology leads to excellent networking opportunities, particularly if you choose a traditional, in-class program structure. As you approach graduation, you can also participate in volunteer programs, internships, job placements, and mentorship programs. These options ease your transition into your professional career and can open doors for motivated graduates seeking to take charge of their job prospects.

What Can I Do With an Associate in Criminology?

An associate degree in criminology can lead to a rewarding career that empowers you to make a positive difference in your community. The day-to-day duties in criminology occupations change frequently, creating both a challenging and rewarding work environment.

Police or Detective

Police officers protect the public and their properties, upholding the law to maintain order and safety. They also respond to calls for assistance, issue fines for minor offenses, and arrest criminal suspects. Detectives rank higher among police officers and lead complex investigations. You can qualify to become a police officer with an associate degree in criminology and later advance to detective work with field experience.

Median Annual Salary: $62,960*

Security Guard

Hired by both public agencies and private companies, security guards protect specific sites, public and private properties, and outdoor areas by conducting routine patrols, monitoring surveillance assets, controlling site access, and intervening against intruders. Unlike police officers, security guards usually maintain their civilian status. A criminology associate degree will likely fulfill the educational requirements for these entry-level positions.

Median Annual Salary: $26,960*

Probation Officer

Probation officers work with criminal offenders sentenced to probation, or monitoring, rather than incarceration. These officers maintain regular contact with offenders to ensure the reprobate's compliance with the probationary terms. Probation officers also facilitate the offender's reintegration into society by referring them to rehabilitation, job training programs, and by working with other law enforcement agencies involved in the offender's case.

Median Annual Salary: $51,410*

Correctional Officer

These professionals work exclusively within the correctional system, supervising prison inmates and ensuring their adherence to the rules of the correctional institution. Correctional officers also maintain facility standards and conduct searches for contraband or other prohibited items. Holding an associate degree in criminology will help you get ahead in this field, as educational requirements for candidates in most jurisdictions include only a high school diploma or GED.

Median Annual Salary: $43,510*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Choose an Associate Program in Criminology

For many students, choosing a criminology program represents one of the most difficult aspects of the application process. Successfully evaluating the relative merits of each program requires a systematic approach. Generating a chart or similar tracking system that creates direct, at-a-glance comparisons between programs can help with overall assessment. Consider the following program features for each school on your list.

  • Length: Most associate programs in criminology can be completed in two academic years.
  • Curriculum: You will likely encounter significant variation in each offered program, so look for programs with courses that directly relate to your preferred career path. For example, to become a corrections officer, seek out criminology programs that offer courses in the criminal justice and correctional systems.
  • Cost: To reduce your tuition costs, consider in-state programs first. Studying criminology online also allows you to continue working while you earn a degree, easing the financial burden.
  • Practicum Opportunities: In addition to earning hands-on experience, practicums and internships help you forge valuable professional connections.
  • Accreditation: Only consider schools with universally recognized accreditation standards.
  • Scheduling: If you plan to continue working while in school, you may want the built-in flexibility that part-time programs offer.
  • Graduation Requirements: Does the program require a thesis or capstone project for degree completion? These intensive assignments reward students by challenging their capabilities and applying knowledge in creative ways.
  • Location: Beyond factors like the cost of living and available job opportunities, consider licensure possibilities. Will your education be recognized if your profession requires a license? Are you planning to work in another state or jurisdiction that affects licensure?

Associate in Criminology Program Admissions

Reviewing admissions applications can take administrators weeks or months to complete. As a prospective student, you must first submit a full and comprehensive application that meets all requirements and deadlines. Counselors then evaluate materials and offer admission to those that best meet the program's criteria. Online programs have increased in popularity, often requiring a more thorough admissions process. Schools will notify you with a decision, but you can also contact the school directly to inquire about the application's status.

Admission Materials

  • Application: In addition to completed personal information forms, colleges commonly require applicants to submit essays explaining their personal and professional interest in the program, along with letters of recommendation from recognized authorities.
  • Transcripts: Admissions to criminology associate programs usually require high school transcripts and SAT scores for evaluation. Submit your transcript request through your guidance office by filling out an application and paying required fees. SAT scores can be sent directly to colleges if you already have schools in mind. Otherwise, use a recognized service like Score Choice to submit scores. Your SAT testing fee includes four transcripts, with further transcripts available at an additional fee.
  • Application Fee: Most colleges charge less than $100 in application fees. Students with limited monetary resources can apply for a waiver through the National Association for College Admission Counseling.

Educational Paths for Criminology Associate Programs

An associate degree in criminology can prepare you for further studies in related academic fields. Many colleges allow associate degree holders to seamlessly transfer into bachelor's programs, using the coursework completed in previous studies. This path can expand future career opportunities, as police departments and other criminology employers often require a bachelor's degree.

Bachelor of Criminal Justice

Criminology and criminal justice may sound interchangeable, but the two fields differ. Criminology includes strong theoretical components in the underlying causes and social impacts of crime. In contrast, criminal justice programs focus exclusively on institutional systems, including policing, the courts, and corrections. Criminology covers theory, while criminal justice takes a practical approach in preparing students for career paths that deal directly with the consequences of criminal behavior.

Bachelor of Arts in Law, Society, and Justice

Few colleges offer specific programs in pre-law. Instead, they award BA degrees in specially designated fields like law, society, and justice (or equivalent), indicating that the graduate intends to pursue a career in law or attend law school. An associate degree in criminology provides an excellent foundation for this educational path. Many law students also earn their undergraduate degrees in political science and sociology.

Bachelor of Forensic Science

While you need sharp science skills for this degree, you can often transfer into a bachelor's program in forensic science with a two-year criminology degree. Forensic science curricula typically include criminology or criminal justice components, and your associate degree may qualify your transfer credits to cover these requirements. Forensic science covers the recovery, preservation, and analysis of physical evidence collected at crime scenes, playing an important role in criminal investigations.

What Else Can I Expect From an Associate Program in Criminology?

Associate in criminology degrees typically teach students how to recognize the social causes and effects of crime, perform analyses of crime-related data, and develop job-ready fundamental skills and technical competencies required by employers. Details vary by program, but you can expect to develop solid foundational knowledge and practical capabilities with this degree.

Courses in an Associate Program in Criminology

The courses listed below provide a sample curriculum that closely matches the majority of associate programs in criminology. Exact course topics and descriptions vary among institutions.

Fundamentals of Criminology

This introductory course covers essential concepts in criminology, including the nature of crime and criminal behavior, victim impacts, and methods for rehabilitating offenders. These courses also typically include overviews of historical and current criminological theories, with a special focus on modern methodologies informed by scientific principles and contemporary ethics.

Fundamentals of Criminal Psychology

Examining various models and views of crime and the major causes of criminal behavior, this course considers various definitions of crime, how those definitions developed, and the psychological factors that prompt criminals to break the law.

Introduction to Constitutional Law

This study of constitutional law covers the nation's foundational documents and the theoretical concepts that led to their development. Students cover the U.S. system of separated judicial, legislative, and executive powers and broader philosophical issues surrounding constitutional law, such as international perspectives.

Introduction to Criminal Profiling

Drawing on foundational concepts covered in the fundamentals of psychology, this introductory course familiarizes students with the major methods and techniques law enforcement officials use to create profiles of criminal suspects. This course also examines ways police agencies identify subgroups within general populations that pose an increased risk of criminal activity.

Criminological Research Methods

This course addresses the formulation of research questions, research ethics, qualitative and quantitative research techniques, reasoning skills, and logic. Students also examine theoretical concepts in criminological research, including hypothesis formation and testing, causality, and common errors to avoid when analyzing data and performing studies.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Associate in Criminology?

In most cases, you can expect to complete your associate degree in criminology in the equivalent of about four full-time semesters. This allows you to graduate in as little as 16 months if you take full course loads in four consecutive semesters year round. However, the majority of graduates complete their degrees after about 20 months, assuming they attend full-time with one summer off.

Most associate in criminal justice programs require about 60 credits to complete the degree, and some allow students to exceed the full-time course load limit. This option appeals to students with no major professional or educational commitments beyond the program. Similarly, the majority of both online and in-class programs also permit part-time study on reduced schedules to lighten the workload. In either case, you will pay roughly the same amount of money for your degree, as the vast majority of schools calculate tuition on a per-credit basis.

How Much Is an Associate in Criminology?

As of 2018, most of the top-rated schools offering an associate degree in criminology charge $250-$400 per credit. Splitting the difference between the high and low estimates, and assuming a graduation requirement of 60 credits, you can expect to pay around $20,000 in tuition for your degree.

Many factors influence total education costs, including whether you study online or in class, your geographic location, and your lifestyle needs. The flexibility of self-directed scheduling attracts many cost-conscious students to online learning, as it allows them to keep their jobs while working toward degrees. However, you also need to consider technology costs, such as computer equipment and high-speed internet connections. Housing can also drive costs up, especially if you move to another city or travel out of state to attend the program. In-state programs offer comparatively beneficial tuition fees, as many schools charge more for out-of-state learning.

Be sure to apply to military-friendly colleges if you serve or have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, as you may qualify for tuition waivers and other financial benefits to lower costs.

Professional Organizations in Criminology

Professional organizations offer valuable resources to career-minded criminology graduates, providing networking opportunities through conferences and meetings. Members can also take advantage of professional development tools, which commonly include career services, access to job boards, and assistance performing targeted job searches. Many such organizations also foster long-term success by supporting continuing education programs.

Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences

Founded in 1963, the ACJS focuses on both professional and academic development in criminology. Beyond educational opportunities, the ACJS supports research programs and serves as a policy advocate.

American Society of Criminology

About 30% of this international organization's membership comprises students. The ASC also plays a leading role in supporting criminological research and teaching programs.

National Criminal Justice Association

The NCJA's membership includes both professionals and students who work together to address public safety needs at the community level.