Criminology is the study of the causes and prevention of criminal behavior. For fans of investigations of dramatic events, criminology might be the right career. Few colleges, however, offer an undergraduate degree in criminology. Alternative degrees that offer related skills exist, and you will find these majors most often in social science departments.
Criminologists are essentially trying to understand the human mind. Questions about the causes of criminal behavior center on dysfunction within a criminal's mind. So psychology is a natural fit for a future criminologist. This degree will help students understand the emotional, rational and social structure of the brain. Additionally, psychology helps explain why the brain sometimes malfunctions. Significantly, criminal behavior is frequently associated with major mental disorders, so a criminologist would find psychological knowledge useful.
According to the American Sociological Association, many sociologists actually consider criminology to be a subfield of sociology. Criminology as a subfield overlaps with the sociology of deviance, where sociologists study what societal forces compel people to act in deviant ways. Since crime is a deviation from "normal," sociology is a good place to study what social factors might cause people to do criminal things. Some of the most influential sociological theories, for example, propose that weak civic social structures in a community often lead to more crime.
Though distinct from sociology, anthropology shares much in common with sociology when it comes to criminology. While anthropology might seem to be all about cave dwellers and archaeology, it actually provides much insight into modern human behavior. Anthropologists look at symbols and rituals from the past and try to find parallels in the present. For many social anthropologists, crime and criminal behavior is simply a modern equivalent of past rituals. Like sociology and psychology, anthropology can offer an interesting perspective on criminology.
Criminal justice is an obvious choice for a would-be criminologist. Unlike many other majors, this degree focuses entirely on crime, including causes and prevention. This major presents multiple perspectives on the issue of criminal behavior, so criminologists will come away with a well-rounded understanding of such issues as law, psychology and social justice.
The study of economics concerns the examination of how humans make choices in conditions of scarcity. For future criminologists interested in the study of poverty's relationship to crime, economics might be the right choice. To economists, criminal behavior is completely rational because it probably provides the best opportunities for people living in conditions of poverty. The solution to crime, therefore, is to alter the incentives available to people in poverty so that their most rational choice is something other than a life of crime.
- American Society of Criminology: About ASC
- San Diego State University: Criminal Justice
- MedScape: Psychiatric Disorders Associated With Criminal Behavior
- American Sociological Association: Report of the ASA Task Force on Sociology and Criminology Programs, Pg 16
- The American Journal of Sociology: Community Structure and Crime: Testing Social Disorganization-Theory, Pg 774-775
- European Economic Review: What Causes Violent Crime?, Pg 1324-1325
Kevin Wandrei has written extensively on higher education. His work has been published with Kaplan, Textbooks.com, and Shmoop, Inc., among others. He is currently pursuing a Master of Public Administration at Cornell University.