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Criminology Subject Guide

Thinking about studying criminology at postgraduate level? This guide is your one-stop-shop to everything you need to know about whether you should take on a criminology master’s, which one to pick, and how to get a place. 

Whether you’re a criminology undergraduate or coming from a related field, like psychology or law, criminology can give you the tools you need to build a successful career in everything from social policy to criminal law. 

There are lots of different course options to explore in criminology, so it’s important to understand your options and make the best choice of criminology university. 

Read on to find out everything you need to know about studying a criminology postgraduate degree, why you should do one, the entry requirements, and where you could study. 


Why do a criminology degree? 

Criminology is a highly popular postgraduate subject that affects everyone in society. The science and study of crime, its focus is on understanding, preventing or punishing criminal activity in order to protect people and communities. 

Students may choose to study this field in order to help play a role in creating a safe, empowering society to live in. Beyond criminal justice, graduates in this subject go on to contribute in areas such as education, social policy, rehabilitation and community services—to name a few. 

With crime and its perpetrators always changing and developing, studying towards criminology jobs is a great way to have a fast-paced and interesting career. Graduates of criminology are sought-after due to their skills in analytical thinking, research, problem solving and driving effective change. Their ability to understand complex situations or technical data, before converting it into practical suggestions or actions, is invaluable. 

What qualifications can you get? 

There are various criminology qualifications open to you as a prospective postgraduate student. Depending on what kind of criminology jobs you want, your academic interests or existing level of knowledge in the field, you might choose between several taught and research qualifications. 

Taught master’s degrees are a popular choice for undergraduate criminology students, or graduates of other fields who want to move into criminology. There are both MA and MSc degree types available, with MA courses typically focusing more on the policy, philosophy, theory and methodology of criminology, while MSc courses tend to focus more on relevant social science and research.  

Shorter taught courses, like the PGCert and PGDip, are a suitable option for students looking to build expertise in criminology quickly in order to progress their career or prepare for further studies in the field. 

Research qualifications, ranging from the MRes to the MPhil and PhD, prepare students for academic or research-focused roles—giving them the opportunity to evaluate, design and deliver research that drives progress in the sector. 

What jobs can you do with a criminology degree? 

Completing a postgraduate degree in criminology opens up a wide range of career opportunities. While many graduates will work in the justice and crime prevention systems, they aren’t limited to that sector. 

Criminology postgraduates are valued in many industries due to their research skills, social science knowledge and understanding of social and cultural influences, critical thinking and communication skills. 

Some of the criminology jobs you could move into include: 

  • Charity worker 
  • Crime analyst 
  • Crime scene investigator 
  • Criminology 
  • Criminal lawyer 
  • Forensic scientist 
  • Police detective 
  • Policy officer 
  • Policymaker 
  • Prison officer 
  • Private investigator 
  • Social researcher 

What are the criminology degree entry requirements? 

Each criminology master’s or postgraduate research degree will have its own entry requirements, which may vary according to the university and level of study. 

Students applying for a taught master’s in criminology will typically need an undergraduate honours degree at 2:2 level or above. This is usually in a relevant subject, such as psychology, but students from other backgrounds may also be considered. 

Prospective doctoral students will usually need to have a master’s degree with a significant research element, an MPhil qualification, or equivalent international qualification. 

What criminology courses are there? 

There are a wide range of criminology postgraduate programmes, developed to suit the varied backgrounds and academic objectives of prospective students. Some of the possible courses available at UK universities include: 

  • MSc Criminology and Criminal Justice Practice 
  • PGDip Criminology and Criminal Psychology 
  • MA Criminology 
  • MSc Social Research Methods (Criminology) 
  • LLM Criminology and Criminal Justice 

What topics does a criminology degree cover? 

Each criminology degree may have a particular curriculum depending on the expertise of its faculty, industry links, and ongoing development of teaching in response to changes in the field. However, you may expect to study topics such as: 

  • Criminal justice: theory and practice 
  • Applied research in criminal justice systems 
  • Global criminology and criminal justice 
  • Offender management, policing and crime reduction 
  • Crime, community and neighbourhood 

What do you learn in a criminology degree? 

Studying a criminology degree at postgraduate level will equip students with a broad range of skills that will prepare them for success across a range of academic or professional settings after they graduate. Most importantly, criminology courses focus on cultivating a thorough understanding of crime, criminal behaviour and criminal motivations. Going beyond the individual, students will learn about the wider social, economic and cultural factors that cause crime. 

Criminology students will hone their analytical, research and problem-solving skills throughout their studies. This can include critically evaluating recent or historical criminal law-making, planning policy implementation, or conducting their own research into a chosen topic. 

Oral and written communication of findings and recommendations is a key transferable skill for criminology graduates, as well as working independently and drawing effective conclusions from data. 

How will you be taught and assessed? 

Postgraduate criminology courses are generally similar to other social science degrees in terms of their teaching and assessment methods. As a student, you’ll typically learn through a blend of lectures, seminars and tutor discussions, helping you build a solid understanding of the principles and processes involved in the study and prevention of crime. Practical learning in laboratory sessions may also be a feature of many courses. 

In terms of assessment, you can expect to be evaluated through a combination of written exams, essays and research reports, oral presentations and group projects. A dissertation is a common component of many taught and research master’s courses. 

Postgraduate research students will be graded entirely based on their research project and resultant thesis. 

How long is a criminology degree? 

The length of your postgraduate criminology degree will vary depending on the type of course being completed. Taught courses can last as little as two semesters, in the case of a postgraduate certificate qualification, or up to a year for a taught or research master’s degree if studied full-time. A part-time master’s course can take up to two years. 

Studying a postgraduate research degree will typically take longer than a taught course. Completing an MPhil will usually take two years, while undertaking a PhD qualification can take up to four years. For part-time students, these timespans will typically be doubled. 

Where can you study criminology? 

There are more than 200 postgraduate programmes in criminology universities across the UK. With more than 85 higher education institutions to choose from, you can use our university search tool to find and apply to the best universities for criminology. 

What similar subjects are there to criminology? 

Other subjects worth considering for postgraduate study alongside criminology include: 

  • Forensic science 
  • Psychology 
  • Sociology 
  • Law 
  • Anthropology 

Next: Search for criminology courses


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