Masters in Criminology | Top Universities

Ideal for those of you with a keen interest in exploring why people commit crimes, criminology is an interdisciplinary field which merges anthropology, sociology, psychiatry and law to explore the complexities of criminal behavior, punishment and victimization. Read on to find out about common Masters in Criminology degree types, entry requirements, specializations and career options. 

Masters in Criminology courses aim to give students an advanced critical understanding of the following:Study criminology

  • How and why certain types of behavior are classed as criminal (criminalization);
  • How societies respond and how crime is experienced by victims and society as a whole;
  • How crime is represented (or misrepresented) in the media and popular culture;
  • The control, prevention and management of criminal behavior;
  • How punishment is carried out in criminal justice systems.

Most Masters in Criminology degrees will be made up of a range of optional and core modules to develop your knowledge in the topics mentioned above, whilst also gaining a deeper understanding of quantitative research methods in criminology. You’ll typically be assessed by a mix of essays and exams, and the final assignment you’ll complete is likely to be a dissertation that demonstrates the research and analytical skills you’ve acquired during your degree.

Depending on where you study, your Masters in Criminology degree may be one or two years long. Although primarily based on theory, some Masters in Criminology courses combine theory with practice, particularly those which also cover criminal justice. This may involve completing a relevant work placement within the criminal justice system.  

Entry requirements

You’ll need a good undergraduate degree to study a Masters in Criminology – some universities will require or state that they prefer graduates from the social sciences (such as psychology or sociology), but many will accept students with a degree in any discipline. Some universities will also accept students who don’t have a bachelor’s degree but have relevant practical work experience that demonstrates their ability to study at master’s level. You are likely to be asked to submit a personal statement and perhaps attend an interview. 

Criminology specializations

Many universities offer students the chance to tailor their Masters in Criminology degree by selecting from a range of optional modules. Some of these are also available either as separate specialized degree programs. Options you may choose include:

Criminal law Criminal law

Often offered alongside criminal justice degrees, a Masters in Criminal Law (a type of LLM) is of course suited to students interested in gaining a deeper understanding of the key concepts and theories behind criminal law. This will include looking at recent issues and debates, such as the legality behind euthanasia. You’ll also study the penal process, issues in global crime, global criminal law, human rights, philosophy and theory behind criminal law, criminalization, organized crime and corruption, cyber law and more.

Global criminology

If you have an interest in gaining a comparative, international view of criminology, a specialization in global criminology could be for you, covering topics such as comparative penology, global policing, international human rights laws, international criminal justice and genocide. You may be able to specialize further from this course – for example, Utrecht University in the Netherlands begins with three compulsory modules, and then students are able to choose either the global crime or penology and forensic criminology tracks.

Penology Penology

Penology is the branch of criminology concerned with the philosophy and practice of societies in repressing criminal activity, dismissing the appropriate punishments and the treatment and rehabilitation of convicted criminals. A specialization in penology will therefore allow you to gain a deeper understanding of prison management and the ethics and reasoning behind criminal justice systems.

Forensic criminology/psychology

Forensic criminology crosses over into the study of psychology to look at the behavior of criminals and psychological considerations in the justice system. This specialization will therefore look at issues such as child protection, investigative journalism, community safety, the ability to stand trial (including what constitutes insanity), and current issues and debates in this area.

Criminology careers

Your criminology degree will have provided you with strong critical thinking, analytical and communication skills, amongst others (see the key skills box for more). These skills will make you highly attractive to employers both within the criminal justice system and across a wide range of other sectors. Read on to find out what criminology careers you could aim for after your degree.

Probation officer Probation officer

Probation officers aim to protect the public and reduce crime by managing offenders and helping with their rehabilitation after release. To do this, they work closely with police and prison service colleagues, as well as the relevant agencies. Although you’ll primarily work with offenders before, during and after they are sentenced, you will also work with victims and listen to their concerns. For this reason, you’ll need strong interpersonal skills, a caring and non-judgmental approach, and an ability to relate to people from all walks of life. The route to becoming a qualified probation officer varies between countries, but in the UK you will need to complete a Professional Qualification in Probation. To apply for this, you’ll need relevant experience of working with challenging behavior. This is likely to be the case when applying for probation officer roles elsewhere.

Prison governor

The next of the many possible criminology careers you could explore is also within the legal justice system, and involves working to ensure the management and security of prisons. Tasks could include carrying out inspections, writing reports and supervising security. You’ll need strong leadership skills, as well as confidence and a genuine interest in the welfare of others. To become a prison governor, you may need to either work your way up in a prison officer role, and a relevant master’s degree would be an asset.

Criminal intelligence analyst

Criminal intelligence analysts work closely with the police to research and analyze crime information and identify patterns and find links in criminal activity. The data they find can then help officers in their fight against criminal activities such as organized crime and anti-social behavior. This criminology career could be ideal for you if you’ve enjoyed the investigative and research aspects of your degree. You’ll need a good attention to detail, a strong memory, communication and presentation skills.

Police officer Police officers

Police officers work within the community to keep law and order, investigate crime and support the prevention of crime. This is a challenging yet rewarding career which could suit you if you want to make a difference in the community. The skills and personal qualities you need include teamwork, an assertive, responsible attitude, tact when dealing with sensitive issues, and good judgment. To become a police officer, you’ll need to pass background and security checks, and undergo a period of training whilst on probation.

Community development worker

Another criminology career which involves helping others, community development workers help communities to bring about social changes to improve their quality of life.  They work closely with people from disadvantaged backgrounds, empowering local people to make positive changes to solve problems.  To gain entry to this role, you’ll need practical work experience in the community or voluntary sectors. Your postgraduate degree in criminology could allow you to progress to senior positions in this field.

Other criminology careers you could consider include roles in social and youth work, the government, social research, charities, the legal sector, public administration, journalism, public relations and more.

Key Skills

  • Analytical skills, including statistical analysis
  • Ability to interpret complex data sets
  • Research skills, including in generating and assessing evidence
  • Critical thinking and reasoning using your judgment
  • Report-writing skills
  • Specialist knowledge in certain areas of criminology
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Interdisciplinary knowledge in related fields such as politics and psychology
  • The ability to develop and present a sound argument
  • Team-working skills
  • Communication skills
  • IT skills
  • Time management