What is the Difference Between Criminology and Criminal Justice?

Those who want to be involved in the criminal justice system can confuse criminology and criminal justice. Even those who are currently in school for one of those careers can use the terms interchangeably, but there are distinct differences. When you’re in school to become a police officer, you’re not in a program for criminology, and if you’re looking to have a career as a crime scene investigator, you’re not taking criminal justice courses.


Those who are studying criminology are not always involved in catching criminals. They perform vital functions like investigating cases, profiling suspects of crimes and researching the history of crime.

Criminologists can work in an educational or research capacity without being involved with criminals in person. They’re often a stepped removed from the apprehension of a suspect, but someone who has a degree in criminology can interview or interrogate a suspect once they’ve been apprehended.

Related Resource: 20 Best Online Schools for Criminology 2017

A person who has a degree in criminology will often study the theories behind crimes, and why people commit these crimes, which involves profiling. They might also deal with other law enforcement agencies as well as journalists and news programs.

Career Path

  • Correctional treatment specialists
  • Clinical psychologists
  • Crime investigators
  • Research psychologists

Criminal Justice

While criminology focuses on studying and analyzing crime, criminal justice is part of the system that investigates crime and punishes criminals. It includes officers who are out on the street capturing criminals as they commit crimes as well as corrections officers who make sure that criminals stay behind bars once they’re caught.

A person with a degree in criminal justice can become a part of the court system too. They might be tasked with keeping criminals in line while they’re in the court house, or as part of their parole out of prison. They are part of the system of justice that puts people behind bars. It could start on the street with arrests, continue to the court system and end with the person in prison. Anyone along the path from the streets to jail could need to have a degree in criminal justice.

There are also other kinds of officers that are tasked with keeping order in the world. They might be an air marshal, immigration officer or border patrol officer. Whether it’s a patrol officer on the streets or a prison guard, the person who studies criminal justice will be dealing with criminals and crimes in an intimate way.

Career Path

  • Court clerk
  • Bailiff
  • Parole officer
  • State trooper

Criminology and criminal justice are part of a system that works to keep criminals from committing crimes, yet they come at it from different angles. The person involved in criminology is trying to figure out why someone commits the crime, as well as investigating the scene of the crime while the criminal justice major is tasked with removing the criminal from society by arresting him or her and placing that person in jail.