Hilbert College Global Online Blog

Criminal Justice vs. Criminology: What’s the Difference?

Written by: Hilbert College   •  Mar 19, 2024
A Police Detective Standing Over a Desk and Looking at Documents.

Criminal Justice vs. Criminology What’s the Difference?

For individuals seeking legal career pathways, understanding criminal justice vs. criminology is an important first step. Criminal justice focuses on addressing procedural facets of law enforcement and legal systems, while criminology explores the social and psychological roots of crime, providing insight into how to prevent crime and the motives for illegal activities.

A criminal justice vs. criminology comparison also reveals notable intersections. For example, criminology practices can help shape criminal law, influencing and informing criminal justice policies. By delving into what the disciplines are and their career paths, those looking to enter these fields can determine which is right for them.

What’s Criminal Justice?

The criminal justice system, designed to uphold law and order, encompasses the legal mechanisms for managing crime and protecting the rights of affected parties, including suspects, convicts and victims. It consists of law enforcement officers, who enforce laws and arrest offenders; the court system, which prosecutes cases and protects participants; and corrections, which handles  the incarceration, punishment and rehabilitation of offenders. 

Criminal justice professionals benefit from critical thinking, communication and problem-solving skills for roles in crime reduction, rehabilitation and support. A background in crime theory, justice system operations, corrections, law and justice, research methods, ethics, and criminology theory can provide a broad foundation for various careers in the criminal justice field.

What’s Criminology?

Criminology, as the scientific study of crime, explores why certain individuals are more predisposed to committing crimes, incorporating analysis that delves into the social, psychological and legal factors influencing criminal behavior and its impact on society. Unlike criminal justice, which applies legal measures to crime, criminology seeks to understand the root causes. It examines the effects on victims and communities, as well as on law enforcement practices, and it’s useful for creating prevention strategies such as community-oriented policing. 

Criminology is a multidisciplinary field that focuses on the complexities of crime and contributes to an understanding of its resolution and prevention. It integrates psychology, sociology and law to explore the origin and effects of crime, criminal behavior, societal impact, victimology and correctional strategies. 

Criminal Justice vs. Criminology: Careers and Salaries

In exploring criminal justice vs. criminology, it’s clear that both fields offer a wide array of career opportunities, but with distinct focuses and potential earnings. 

Careers in Criminal Justice

Earning a degree in criminal justice provides a pathway into enforcement and prevention roles that can extend well beyond traditional roles. Graduates can explore various sectors, each offering unique job positions and responsibilities. For those investigating what to do with a criminal justice degree, below are some of the career paths and opportunities available.

Police and Law Enforcement

Police officers and law enforcement workers focus on maintaining public safety, undertaking various tasks, from patrolling and enforcing laws to collecting evidence and solving crimes. Their responsibilities extend to detailed report writing, case preparation and courtroom testimony. Police officers may work in special units depending on their experience and the size of their departments. For example, they may work as uniformed patrol officers, transit officers, mounted police officers, or Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) officers.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual salary for police officers was $69,160 as of May 2022, while law enforcement workers in general earned $61,680.

Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Detectives and criminal investigators delve into suspected legal infractions to prevent or solve crimes, employing diverse methods to gather information, solve problems and document their findings. Their investigative work includes interviewing witnesses and suspects, securing crime scenes and preserving evidence for further examination. This role demands effective communication with both internal teams and external entities, ensuring thoroughness in investigative processes. 

The BLS reports that the median annual salary for detectives and criminal investigators was $86,280 as of May 2022.

Forensic Science Technicians

Forensic science technicians are pivotal in criminal investigations, specializing in evidence collection and analysis. Their expertise spans both crime scene investigation and laboratory work, involving evidence documentation, preservation and analysis to aid in crime resolution. In addition to a degree in criminal justice, individuals can benefit from natural sciences or engineering coursework, especially for those focusing on digital forensics. 

The BLS reports that the median annual salary for forensic science technicians was $63,740 as of May 2022.

Careers in Criminology

Since criminology is a social science, a background in criminology can lead to careers centered on research and policy development. Criminology encompasses diverse career paths across law enforcement, research and academia, offering individuals a broad spectrum of opportunities beyond traditional roles. Here are some of the career pathways.


Criminologists leverage data and statistics to understand and prevent crime, drawing on sociology and psychology alongside criminal justice. The field’s multidisciplinary approach facilitates contributions to policy analysis, forensic psychology and more. 

The BLS reports that sociologists, including criminologists, earned a median annual salary of $98,590 as of May 2022.

Policy Analysts

Policy analysts scrutinize policies and their impacts for various stakeholders. In the field of criminology, they use studies and data to forecast policy effects. Their research supports government and organization efforts in criminal justice policy planning and execution. 

The BLS reports that policy analysts, which the bureau categorizes under the role of political scientist, earned a median annual salary of $128,020 as of May 2022.

Forensic Psychologists

Forensic psychologists collaborate with legal professionals to explore the psychological dimensions of legal cases. Through data collection and analysis, they provide courts with insights into psychological factors relevant to legal issues. This profession employs diverse methodologies for evaluation and therapy in criminal, civil and family court settings. 

The BLS reports that the median annual salary for psychologists was $85,330 as of May 2022.

Prepare for a Career That Prioritizes Equity and Justice

A criminal justice vs. criminology comparison reveals the impacts of both fields on law enforcement, policymaking and social order. For those interested in advancing equity and justice and making an impact on society, Hilbert College Global’s online Bachelor of Science (BS) in Criminal Justice program prepares individuals with skills in criminology, ethics, diversity and more. Graduates of the program develop critical thinking and leadership skills focused on equity and justice. 

Discover how to contribute to a just society through Hilbert College Global’s online BS in Criminal Justice program.

Recommended Readings

What Is a Victim Advocate?

Racial Disparities in Sentencing and Criminal Justice Reform

Self-Defense Techniques for Women


Indeed, 9 Different Types of Police Officers (With Job Duties)

Indeed, “10 Criminal Justice Majors and Jobs You Can Pursue”

Indeed, What Is a Criminologist? (With Sample Job Description)”

O-NET OnLine, Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Psychology Today, “What Exactly Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?”

ThoughtCo, “Criminology Definition and History”

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Detectives and Criminal Investigators

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Forensic Science Technicians

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Police and Detectives

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Political Scientists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Psychologists

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Sociologists

Learn more about the benefits of receiving
your degree from Hilbert College