The Best Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degree Programs
| TBS Staff
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Professionals at the highest level of the criminal justice field often have doctoral degrees. A Ph.D. in criminal justice prepares graduates for career paths like criminal justice professor, criminal justice administrator, or county, state, or federal judge. These fields offer increased responsibilities and above-average salaries for criminal justice professionals.
Earning an online criminal justice degree offers more flexibility than an on-campus program, which appeals to working professionals seeking career advancement. At the doctoral level, criminal justice colleges offer online programs that prioritize accessibility. Rather than quitting their jobs or relocating to earn a doctorate, students can enroll in a top criminal justice program online.
Our ranking lists the best online doctoral programs in criminal justice to help prospective students find the right programs for their professional goals. This page also explores criminal justice careers, the requirements for earning a doctorate, and tips for paying for a Ph.D. in criminal justice.
Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degree Programs
Founded in 1852, California University of Pennsylvania grants degrees at its 92-acre rural campus and through its online programs. At Cal U, graduate students can earn an online doctorate in criminal justice. The online criminal justice degree prepares graduates for leadership roles in the criminal justice system, including in juvenile justice, district attorneys' offices, and corrections departments.
The program includes coursework, a comprehensive exam, and a doctoral research portfolio. The 42-credit curriculum strengthens analytical, policy implementation, and policy evaluation skills. During the program, graduate students explore real-world concerns like wrongful convictions and police use of force, developing leadership skills.
Rather than completing a research-based dissertation, doctoral students create a doctoral research portfolio in which they apply criminal justice theory and research to their careers. The program requires a five-day summer residency. Distance learners complete all other graduation requirements online.
Prospective students must hold a master's degree in criminal justice or a closely related field from a regionally accredited institution. Cal U also admits students with a juris doctor and professional experience in criminal justice. Applicants need a minimum 3.5 GPA and must submit two letters of recommendation, a personal statement, a current resume, and a writing sample. Cal U may consider candidates who do not meet all requirements for provisional admission.
California University of Pennsylvania is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
A private university in southern Florida, Nova Southeastern University serves over 20,000 students annually. NSU offers an online Ph.D. in criminal justice that takes an interdisciplinary approach to the field. The 60-credit curriculum includes core courses, a concentration, and a dissertation. The degree prepares graduates for criminal justice careers in research, academia, and management.
Doctoral students must complete 33 credits of core courses at NSU. The curriculum covers theories of crime, criminal law procedure, and police and society. Students also complete statistics, qualitative methods, and research methods courses to prepare for their dissertations.
In addition to core coursework, doctoral students complete 15 credits in a concentration area. The program offers concentrations in organizational leadership, behavioral science, and juvenile justice. By taking three courses per semester, online doctoral students can complete the degree in 2.5 years.
Prospective students must hold a master's degree from a regionally accredited institution with a minimum 3.0 GPA. NSU also requires three letters of recommendation, a current CV, and a personal statement explaining each applicant's research interests and goals. The program also requests a copy of a master's thesis, GRE scores, a sample of work published in a scholarly journal, or successful completion of a law degree. All applicants must complete an interview during the admission process.
Nova Southeastern University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSOC).
Online Criminal Justice Programs Ranking Guidelines
We selected these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.
What Is a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice?
A Ph.D. in criminal justice provides focused, advanced training in law enforcement. The degree prepares graduates for positions of authority within the justice system or careers as professors of criminal justice.
An online criminal justice degree at the doctoral level builds research and analytical skills through coursework, doctoral examinations, and an original dissertation. Learners study topics like criminal justice policy development, criminal justice leadership, and program evaluation. They also take courses in research methods and design, which prepare them to conduct original research for their doctoral dissertations.
Criminal justice programs may offer concentrations. While concentration options vary by program, they may include policy and administration, criminology, or juvenile justice. Doctoral students conduct research in their concentration areas, building expertise for careers in research or academia.
Admission requirements for a doctorate in criminal justice may include a bachelor's degree or master's degree in criminal justice. Some programs offer an accelerated track for students with prior graduate experience in criminal justice. After earning admission, doctoral students generally take several years of coursework before passing comprehensive exams and writing a doctoral dissertation.
What Else Can I Expect From a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice Program?
A doctorate in criminal justice prepares graduate students for positions that require advanced training. During a doctoral program, criminal justice students focus their studies to become experts in their areas of interest. By designing an original research project and writing a dissertation, doctoral students contribute to scholarship in criminal justice.
Because a doctorate is the highest level of educational achievement in criminal justice, earning a Ph.D. requires a significant time investment. This section covers common courses during a criminal justice degree and how long it takes to earn a Ph.D. in criminal justice.
Curriculum for an Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice
Courses on the history of criminal justice trace the evolution of crime response while also introducing graduate students to current issues in law enforcement and corrections. Doctoral students learn about community policing, terrorism, and crime in societies. This course introduces students to critical texts and theories while drawing connections between historical and current challenges.
In this course, graduate students learn how to develop and evaluate criminal justice policies, often using case studies from the real world. Doctoral students delve into policy analysis, research in criminal justice, and trends in policy development and analysis.
Many doctoral programs incorporate a course on criminal justice leadership to help students develop the knowledge and skills required for leadership roles in the justice system. Students learn about strategic thinking, effective justice administration, and organizational thought. This course may also cover policy development, collaboration between public safety organizations, and current challenges in criminal justice administration.
Program evaluation courses prepare doctoral students to critically evaluate criminal justice programs. Coursework covers the evaluation process, including designing evaluation questions and applying evaluation techniques in practice. Students also learn to write evaluation reports and provide written feedback on a program's performance.
At the graduate level, courses on research theory, design, and methods provide advanced training in analyzing and designing criminal justice research projects. Students learn about quantitative and qualitative research designs, data collection methods, and other research components. This course prepares doctoral students to research and write a dissertation.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice
Earning an online Ph.D. in criminal justice can take up to five years. During an online criminal justice degree, doctoral students complete coursework requirements, take comprehensive examinations, and write a doctoral dissertation.
Students may take coursework on a synchronous or asynchronous schedule. Programs that deliver coursework synchronously require set meeting times, while asynchronous courses let students complete assignments at any time within set deadlines.
In most programs, students complete 2-3 years of coursework before taking doctoral exams and moving on to the dissertation phase, which can take 1-2 additional years. During the dissertation, students conduct research in their subfield and write an original piece of scholarship. A faculty committee evaluates the dissertation and decides whether to award doctoral candidates their degrees.
Some programs offer an accelerated route to a doctorate. In particular, programs that require a master's degree to gain admission may offer a faster path to a criminal justice doctorate.
Accreditation for Online Criminal Justice Degree Programs
Prospective criminal justice students should always consider a school's accreditation status before submitting an application. Accredited universities meet the highest standards for academic excellence. To earn accreditation, schools undergo a voluntary review of their student learning outcomes, faculty qualifications, and graduation requirements. Regional accreditation provides the best measure of quality for liberal arts and research institutions.
Accreditation benefits students in several ways. An accredited degree meets the requirements for most professional licenses and certifications, and students at accredited institutions qualify for federal financial aid. Many employers prefer to hire candidates with an accredited degree.
In addition to institutional accreditation, prospective students can also look at programmatic accreditation. While most criminal justice programs hold accreditation through their universities, some specialized agencies, like the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission, grant accreditation for criminal justice degrees.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation maintains a list of accredited colleges and universities.
Criminal Justice Professional Organization
Professional organizations help criminal justice graduate students transition into the workforce. These organizations support students and practitioners through professional development resources, networking opportunities, scholarships, and career centers. They also help criminal justice professionals stay up-to-date with changes in the field.
National Criminal Justice AssociationA nonprofit professional organization dedicated to criminal justice, NCJA represents law enforcement, corrections, and court professionals. Members receive regular updates about policies and practices. NCJA also hosts an annual conference to connect criminal justice professionals. The association's professional development resources include a forum on criminal justice that showcases research and technologies in the field.
American Probation and Parole AssociationAPPA represents probation and parole professionals. The association offers up-to-date information on the field through newsletters, research reports, and webinars. Members can attend training institutes or leadership institutes to strengthen their professional development. APPA also provides best practices resources for probation and parole organizations.
American Society of CriminologyASC is an international professional organization for the field of criminology. Membership include criminal justice students, practitioners, and academics. The society hosts an annual meeting with networking opportunities, provides a career center with job postings, and publishes professional journals. In addition, ASC keeps members current with developments the field through two newsletters.
Criminal Justice Jobs
The field of criminal justice includes jobs in law enforcement, corrections, and the court system. A criminal justice degree leads to career paths like crime analyst, criminal justice administrator, and federal law enforcement agent.
A Ph.D. in criminal justice provides advanced training in criminal justice, preparing graduates for academic, research, and management careers. For example, most criminal justice professors hold a doctorate.
In addition to the following opportunities, an online criminal justice degree at the graduate level can also lead to other criminal justice careers.
Judges hear legal cases in court to resolve criminal and civil disputes. They research legal issues, rule on motions or applications, and preside over hearings. Judges must apply laws or precedents to reach a judgment in each case. They also write opinions and decisions on cases. Some judges preside over jury trials, where they must instruct jurors on applying the law, while other judges decide cases.
Typically, judges hold a law degree, particularly for positions in local, state, and federal courts. Judges may also need a current law license. However, some judges do not hold a law degree.
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Police and Detectives Police officers and detectives enforce laws and investigate alleged criminal activity. They respond to emergency calls, arrest suspects, and collect evidence from crime scenes. Police and detectives also interview suspects and witnesses, write reports on their cases, and testify in court. Federal law enforcement officers like FBI agents, CIA analysts, and federal criminal investigators do the same work, but on a federal level, which can include working in national security.
While many police jobs require only an associate or bachelor's degree for entry-level roles, a graduate degree in criminal justice prepares law enforcement officers for supervisory responsibilities and administrative or director jobs.
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Private Detectives and Investigatorsand investigators usually work for private clients, including individuals, attorneys, and businesses. They collect information by interviewing people, reading court records, and conducting surveillance. They can also conduct financial investigations, locate missing persons, and perform background checks. They must follow law and regulations, including privacy laws, when conducting investigations.
In many states, private detectives and investigators must hold a license to practice. A doctorate in criminal justice meets the requirements for the most advanced roles in the field, like legal investigator, forensic investigator, or case manager.
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College professors teach undergraduate and graduate courses in particular subject areas. They design course outlines, create lectures and teaching materials, and assess student learning through exams and papers. Criminal justice professors teach courses in corrections, research methods, and the criminal justice system.
In addition to teaching, professors often conduct research in their specialty area and publish their findings in scholarly journals. They also serve on committees, attend conferences, and participate in academic organizations.
Most tenure-track criminal justice professors hold a Ph.D. in criminal justice. They may also bring work experience in their field.
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College administrators manage academic and student services at colleges and universities. They specialize in several areas, including admissions, student affairs, and the registrar's office. College administrators with a doctorate can work as provosts or academic deans. In these roles, administrators oversee academic policies, manage budgets, and monitor faculty research. Academic deans also make faculty appointments and participate in tenure decisions.
Many college administrator jobs require a master's degree, and some positions also require a doctorate and prior experience as a college professor. Criminal justice professors can move into administrative roles as department chairs, deans, and provosts.
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Paying for Your Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degree
Many doctoral students pay for their degrees with a mix of scholarships, assistantships, and loans. Employers may also offer tuition assistance programs to help cover the cost of a criminal justice degree. While applying to Ph.D. in criminal justice programs, prospective doctoral students should research the following funding opportunities.
The federal government provides grants, scholarships, and loans to graduate students attending accredited programs. Doctoral students must fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) each year to qualify for federal financial aid. Learn more about filling out the FAFSA and applying for student loans.
Criminal justice doctoral students qualify for many scholarships and grants. Professional organizations often offer scholarships, as do criminal justice organizations. While doctoral students must pay back loans after completing their degrees, scholarships and grants provide free money toward a degree, making them one of the best ways to pay for a criminal justice degree.
Criminal justice colleges may offer assistantships for graduate students, including teaching or research assistantships. Many also provide a tuition waiver or a stipend.
In addition to federal loan programs, doctoral students can apply for private student loans to cover the cost of their doctoral programs. Rather than filling out a single form like the FAFSA, graduate students must apply to financial institutions individually to qualify for a private loan.
Many employers provide tuition assistance for current employees earning a degree. Corporate tuition assistance programs may include a requirement to work for the company for a certain amount of time after completing the degree.
Frequently Asked Questions
A Ph.D. in criminal justice is the terminal degree in the field. It prepares graduates for both academic positions and leadership positions in criminal justice.
Earning a doctorate in criminal justice typically requires 3-5 years, depending on the program and whether or not a student holds a master's degree in criminal justice.
The cost of a doctoral program in criminal justice varies depending on the school. Doctoral students may also qualify for assistantships to help pay for their degrees.
The best criminal justice colleges prepare graduates for leadership roles. Which program is the right program varies, depending on each student's interests and career goals.
Yes. Many criminal justice colleges offer online criminal justice degrees for students who prefer the flexibility of distance learning.
A criminal justice doctorate prepares graduates for academic positions, research and policy roles, and administrative roles working in law enforcement.
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