A Psychology Major as Preparation for Criminology

Criminology is the study of crime, including those who perpetrate it and the conditions that encourage or discourage it. The College Board notes that the criminology major is not identical to the criminal justice major (https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/social-sciences-criminology). Criminal justice focuses more on the criminal justice system and may offer career preparation for roles within the criminal justice system.

Featured Programs:
  • Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers an Online Bachelor’s in Psychology. This program is modeled around the American Psychological Association (APA) Guidelines. APA does not accredit undergraduate psychology programs. Capella University, also offers several Online Master’s and Doctoral programs in Psychology including both clinical and non-clinical specializations. Visit School's Website.


  • Grand Canyon University (GCU) - offers an online Bachelor's in Psychology modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology and Performance and Sports Psychology. GCU also offers a variety of Master’s in Psychology programs modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology, General Psychology, GeroPsychology, Health Psychology, Human Factors Psychology, Industrial and Organizational Psychology and Life Coaching. Three Bachelor’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Visit School's Website.


  • Pepperdine University - Master of Arts in Clinical Psychology with an Emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy online - Prepare to pursue licensure as an LMFT or LPC in as few as 24 months. No GRE required. Visit School's Website.


  • University of Southern California - Online MSW - With options for both online and in-person field placement, USC's CSWE-accredited MSW program allows those with a BSW to earn their degree in as few as 12 months. Visit School's Website.


  • Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers online Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Visit School's Website.


Criminology can be considered a branch of sociology. It draws heavily from both psychology and sociology.

Criminology, in the world beyond the classroom, is not focused on rehabilitating or punishing individual criminals. It affects the criminal justice system, but generally on a macro level. Still, it’s not all academic. That is to say, criminologists don’t all work for academic institutions. Some work for organizations that set or shape policy. Among the employers posting for criminologists in 2014: the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs and the RAND Corporation, a nonprofit organization with the stated mission of using public policy to make communities safer.

This represents a small sampling of the field. Criminologists can focus on different sub-disciplines such as community corrections (probation, parole), developmental criminology, international criminology, or women and crime. You can browse the website of the American Society of Criminology and its divisions to get a sense of the breadth of research. Published articles explore questions like “Does having a relationship with a significant adult reduce the risk of delinquency for maltreated children?” (http://www.dlccrim.org/?page_id=213).

Grand Canyon University (GCU) offers an online Bachelor’s in Psychology modeled after the standards and recommendations set by the American Psychological Association with emphases in: Forensic Psychology and Performance and Sports Psychology. Several Master’s in Psychology programs are also offered. Click here to learn about GCU and their programs.

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers online Bachelor’s and Master’s in Psychology programs with several emphases to select from as well as a CACREP accredited online Master’s in Counseling. Click here to learn about SNHU and their programs.

Preparing for a Career in Criminology

Criminology can be considered a branch of sociology. It draws heavily from both psychology and sociology. A newer branch is neurocriminology. Neurocriminologists explore issues such as whether environmental contaminants promote violence or whether people are born with brains that predispose them to criminal activity. Neurocriminologists consider not only the minds of criminals, but the minds of those reading their research: How should information like this be used?

You can take coursework in criminology at the undergraduate level, and it can help you get a position that’s at least loosely related. It won’t necessarily make you a criminologist. To become an expert in criminology, you need what you need to become an expert in most other subjects: a lot of education. Most social science researchers have graduate degrees.

Can you begin by studying psychology? Sure! You may want to look ahead to see what graduate schools seek –even if grad school is still a few years off. Some, but by no means all, programs state preferences for students who did undergraduate work in fields related to criminology. The Penn State Department of Sociology & Criminology notes that all majors are welcome to apply to the PhD program, but that a majority of students have undergraduate degrees in the following fields: criminal justice, criminology, education, political science, psychology, or sociology (http://sociology.la.psu.edu/graduate/frequently-asked-questions).

You may consider programs in general psychology or social psychology. Psychology is both qualitative and quantitative. If you are going on to graduate study in a research field, you’ll want some preparation in quantitative subjects. You’ll need to understand statistics. It can be a good idea to have coursework in research methods and also some first-hand experience. Often the first place to turn is your own department.

Capella University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers several online bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in psychology including both clinical and non-clinical specializations. Capella University also offers three online CACREP-accredited programs: MS in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, MS in School Counseling, and PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision, as well as a COAMFTE-accredited program, MS in Marriage and Family Therapy. Click here to contact Capella University and request information about their programs.

Undergraduates can also compete for internships in the world beyond the university, as a recent posting for a criminal justice research/ administrative assistant in Yorba Linda, CA demonstrates. This particular position was open to sophomores and juniors. Among the qualifications: having had coursework in statistics and research methods.

Making Connections

You may also want to join a professional organization. You can join the American Society of Criminology during your student years (https://www.asc41.com/appform1). Student members can receive email mentoring. They also receive publications such as The Criminologist and Criminology and Public Policy.