Difference Between Criminology vs Criminal justice vs Forensic science

Difference Between Criminology vs Criminal justice vs Forensic science

What distinguishes criminology from criminal justice?

You probably wouldn’t get the same answers if you asked 100 students what they thought criminology was. Due to the popularity of shows like CSI, many people associate criminology with contemporary forensic investigations and drug cartels. But criminology existed long before these empirical methods.

What distinguishes criminology from criminal justice?

When Cesare Beccaria argued in his book On Crimes and Punishments (1764) that because criminal laws restrict individual freedoms, those who are accused should be presumed innocent, the field of criminology was born in the eighteenth century. Criminology was initially a legal critique and is as old as the current legal system. Criminology takes a critical stance toward both the law and how it is applied, placing less emphasis on how the criminal justice system is run.

The University of Law’s Criminology program is a legal analysis, whereas Criminal Justice is a study of how the law is put into practice in the criminal justice system. Criminal justice studies focus on how the system works rather than the law itself. It focuses on issues like gathering evidence and forensic science that is evidence-based.

Students who study criminology and criminal justice are prepared for careers in a variety of fields, including those outside of the criminal justice system. A career in probation might result from a degree in either field. However, a criminology student may see it as a way to intervene in the lives of people who have been harmed by the same system, while a criminal justice student may see it as a way to support the criminal justice system.

What kinds of jobs can you get with a degree in criminology or criminology justice?

Should they choose to stay in academia, both courses also prepare students for future postgraduate study. The list of possible careers that can be pursued with a degree in criminal justice or criminology is provided below; it is by no means comprehensive, but serves to highlight the variety of options that these degrees enable.

  • Community safety
  • Crime prevention
  • Youth offender teams
  • The Home Office
  • Fraud investigation
  • Investigative data analyst
  • Police officer
  • Probation officer
  • Youth offending support officer
  • Emergency planning officer
  • Offender case administrator
  • Adult guidance worker
  • Charity officer
  • Data scientist
  • Forensic computer analyst
  • Housing manager/officer
  • Local government officer
  • Paralegal
  • Social researcher
  • Solicitor
  • Customs
  • Immigration

The law is a very strong tool, but like all tools, it can be dangerous if it is used by people who don’t respect it or who use it for their own purposes. Anyone who wants to make changes or work in the criminal justice system must have an understanding of the law and how it is applied unfairly to some communities and marginalized groups.

A working understanding of the system is necessary to bring about change to make the criminal justice system more equitable, as it has an increasing impact on our daily lives.

What is a forensic science degree?

A forensic science degree program is a field of study in higher education that combines fields like biology, chemistry, and physics to instruct students on how to investigate crimes scientifically, find the criminals, and investigate the causes of crimes.

With a degree in forensic science, candidates can gain the skills necessary to examine physical evidence recovered from crime scenes as well as conduct chemical analyses of biological evidence such as DNA, fingerprints, and bodily fluids.

Additionally, a degree in forensic science can prepare students to gather evidence at crime scenes, evaluate evidence, report pertinent data, and examine crimes using specialized scientific methods.

Criminal justice vs. forensic science degree

Law enforcement, the justice system, and criminal investigation are all professions that graduates of forensic science or criminal justice degree programs can pursue. However, despite their general similarity, these two areas of study are distinct from one another due to a few significant differences. To help you better understand the differences between forensic science and criminal justice degrees, here is a side-by-side comparison:


A four-year degree program in criminal justice or forensic science is available to students at colleges and universities. Graduates from this program can obtain a bachelor’s degree in either discipline, which is typically the minimum educational requirement for those seeking to work in the fields of criminal justice or law enforcement.

Through accelerated programs, which may run for two or three years without significant summer or holiday breaks, students may be able to speed up their academic progress.

Comparatively, some institutions offer associate degree programs in criminal justice or forensic science that last two years. Candidates seeking a foundation of skills to enter entry-level roles in either field frequently choose these programs.

Despite this, it’s important to remember that the majority of employers favor hiring applicants with bachelor’s degrees because a four-year degree program can give applicants more in-depth knowledge and a higher-level set of competencies. This is especially true for applicants in the field of forensic science, who might face competition from applicants with master’s degrees in the subject.


Students who pursue degrees in criminal justice learn about criminology theoretically. Students who major in criminal justice typically study various perspectives on crime, including topics like its causes and effects on the individual as well as the larger society.

Criminal justice as a discipline frequently looks at crime through a sociological, philosophical, or legal lens to better understand it. Students can then examine various court processes, law enforcement practices, the effectiveness of particular law enforcement systems, policing tactics, the morality of law enforcement and corrections, and the most effective ways to stop crimes from happening.

Comparatively, forensic science degrees are intended to instruct students in the scientific analysis of evidence used to investigate crimes after they have occurred. Candidates can learn about specialized techniques for gathering, protecting, and evaluating evidence to better understand why and how a crime occurred by majoring in forensic science.

Students may learn how to infer inferences about criminal offenders and their intentions using this as a foundation. In order to create a more efficient method for processing criminal evidence, forensic science as a field integrates various techniques from other disciplines like biology, genetics, chemistry, physics, and criminology.

Areas of study

Both criminal justice and forensic science degrees typically cover different fields of study and coursework because they serve different purposes in terms of what they offer to students. For instance, students pursuing a criminal justice degree may enroll in courses in the following subject areas:

  • Criminology
  • Sociology
  • Legal theory
  • Philosophy and ethics
  • Law enforcement
  • Corrections
  • Psychology

Comparatively, the following fields of study might be covered by students in a forensic science degree program:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Toxicology
  • Forensic anthropology
  • Forensic pathology
  • Crime scene investigation
  • Case reporting
  • DNA and biological analysis
  • Criminology


Students have the option to focus on a specific area of specialization with both criminal justice and forensic science degrees. Students pursuing a criminal justice degree may have the option of specializing in areas such as corrections, intelligence, prison reform, policing, emergency management, cybercrime, criminal behavior, homeland security, law enforcement policy, or advocacy. By allowing students to take a specific set of classes, each of these concentrations may inspire them to pursue careers in various industries.

Even though these options typically only offer a broad overview of what forensics is and the value it adds to criminal investigation proceedings rather than in-depth scientific training, schools occasionally offer forensic science as a concentration for students pursuing criminal justice degrees.

As an alternative, students majoring in forensic science can choose to focus on topics like DNA, genetics, serology, toxicology, pathology, and death investigation. The majority of these concentrations give students a thorough understanding of particular scientific procedures that they can apply to a variety of career paths.

Possible career paths

Graduates with degrees in either criminal justice or forensic science have a wide range of career options. Candidates who earn a degree in criminal justice can work in advocacy, law enforcement, government, security, or corrections. Following completion of their degrees, criminal justice students might pursue the following positions:

  • Police officer
  • FBI agent
  • Criminal investigator
  • Immigration officer
  • Border patrol officer
  • Parole officer
  • Probation officer
  • Security guard
  • Public safety officer
  • Detective
  • Victim advocate
  • Paralegal
  • Lawyer
  • Substance abuse counselor

Comparatively speaking, graduates with degrees in forensic science may go on to work in related fields but in different capacities. Following are a few career options for graduates of forensic science programs:

  • Crime scene technician
  • Forensic scientist
  • Forensic toxicologist
  • Intelligence officer
  • Pathologist
  • Evidence technician
  • Fingerprint analyst
  • DNA analyst
  • Polygraph examiner
  • Computer forensic specialist
  • Arson investigator
  • Forensic psychologist
  • Forensic accountant
  • Forensic nurse
  • Autopsy technician
  • Legal consultant
  • Medical examiner

Further educational opportunities

A graduate may decide to pursue advanced educational opportunities to build a more sophisticated knowledge base and advance their careers in accordance with their professional interests.

This is especially true for jobs where master’s and doctoral degrees are required for applicants to be considered. Graduate programs in criminal justice or other related fields, such as law, philosophy, sociology, or psychology, are options open to students who earn undergraduate degrees in the discipline.

These graduates may be able to work as attorneys or hold executive positions in the criminal justice system thanks to their legal education.

Graduates in criminal justice may also be able to work in research positions that look at crime, law enforcement, policing tactics, and corrections by studying philosophy, sociology, or psychology.

In contrast, graduates of forensic science undergraduate programs may benefit from a variety of graduate-level forensic science programs or related fields like cybersecurity, information security, or digital forensics to hone their skills. In addition, some forensic science students decide to enroll in medical school to become forensic pathologists, psychiatrists, or medical examiners.