Criminology Vs. Criminalistics: What's the Difference?

Aug 17, 2018

Criminology and criminalistics are both centered in law enforcement. However, criminology explores the nature of crime and prevention, while criminalistics involves the collection and analysis of evidence.

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What's the Difference?

To understand the difference between criminology and criminalistics, it can be helpful to consider education options and career possibilities in each field.

Educational Options

Criminology is the study of crime and its prevention, as well as the exploration of criminals and their treatment. Programs are available at both the bachelor's and master's degree levels. Criminology students study the criminal justice system and develop new theories for dealing with crime and its causes. Typical course topics in a criminology program include deviance, juvenile delinquency, punishment, criminological theory, and social research.

Criminalistics, also known as forensic science, is the application of scientific principles to provide evidence in criminal cases. Students can earn either a bachelor's or master's degree in this field. Trained physicians also study the topic within fellowship programs in forensic pathology. Students in forensic science programs learn how to collect crime scene evidence, prove the causes of accidents, and test crime scene evidence in labs. General course topics include crime scene investigation, drug analysis, genetics, physics, organic chemistry, criminal procedures, and the U.S. criminal justice system.

Career Options

Criminology graduates are qualified for positions in government agencies, juvenile courts, and police services. On-the-job training may be required for positions in the field. Many careers only require a bachelor's degree, while others require an advanced degree. Career options include:

  • Drug enforcement agent
  • Litigation manager
  • Probation officer
  • Victim services specialist
  • CIA agent
  • Criminologist

Forensic science positions are available in medical examiners' offices, police departments, crime labs, and hospitals. There are several job options in forensic science, depending on each person's education and experience. For example, medical examiners must hold a Doctor of Medicine and complete a fellowship in pathology, whereas forensic science technicians only need a bachelor's degree in forensic science or natural science to collect and analyze evidence. Job titles may include:

  • Crime lab analyst
  • Crime scene examiner
  • Forensic scientist
  • Medical examiner
  • Forensic pathologist
  • Forensic science technician

Although both criminology and criminalistics are topics related to the criminal justice system, criminalistics is a more scientifically focused field, whereas studies in criminology help train individuals for positions in law enforcement.

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