The Best Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degree Programs


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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

#1 The Best Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Pennsylvania Western University

  • California, PA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

The online doctor of criminal justice program at Pennsylvania Western University ranks among the best in its field. At the public university, degree-seekers participate in virtual classrooms to earn a doctorate. Doctoral students work closely with faculty mentors and career advisors.

During the online criminal justice program, learners complete a set minimum number of credits of advanced coursework. After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates conduct research for their dissertation. As the highest degree in criminal justice, the doctorate meets requirements for research, academic, and leadership roles.

At the accredited institution, online doctoral students qualify for scholarships, federal loans, and other forms of financial aid. Reach out to the criminal justice program to learn more about admission requirements.

Pennsylvania Western University at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 4,367

Online Master's Programs: 13

Online Doctoral Programs: 2

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 18-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $9,288

Average Undergrad Tuition
Average Graduate Tuition
Retention Rate
Acceptance Rate
Students Enrolled
Institution Type
Percent Online Enrollment
64% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Yes Middle States Commission on Higher Education

#2 The Best Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Nova Southeastern University

  • Fort Lauderdale, FL
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Nova Southeastern University offers a top-ranked online doctor of philosophy in criminal justice program. At the private university, degree-seekers engage in online classes to earn a doctorate. Doctoral students also benefit from research support, career advising, and library access.

During the online criminal justice program, learners take a set minimum number of credits of doctoral courses to earn their degree. After passing comprehensive examinations, doctoral candidates complete an original dissertation that contributes to the field. Graduates with a criminal justice doctorate pursue roles in research, academia, and leadership.

At the accredited institution, doctoral students can use fellowships, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid to pay for their degree. Prospective applicants can contact the program to learn more about research support, financial aid opportunities, and admission requirements.

Nova Southeastern University at a Glance:

Online Student Enrollment: 9,298

Online Master's Programs: 46

Online Doctoral Programs: 9

Student-to-Faculty Ratio: 17-to-1

Graduate Tuition Rate: $19,665

Average Undergrad Tuition
Average Graduate Tuition
Retention Rate
Acceptance Rate
Students Enrolled
Institution Type
Percent Online Enrollment
45% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.
Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Best Online Programs

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

History and Contemporary Issues 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.

Policy and Analysis in Criminal Justice Systems

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.

Criminal Justice Leadership

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

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.

Research Theory, Design, and Methods

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 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

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

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.

Federal financial aid

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.

Scholarships and grants

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.

Teaching assistantships

Criminal justice colleges may offer assistantships for graduate students, including teaching or research assistantships. Many also provide a tuition waiver or a stipend.

Private student loans

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.

Corporate tuition assistance

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

What Is a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice?

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.

How Long Is a Ph.D. 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.

What Does a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice Cost?

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.

What Is the Best Online College for Criminal Justice?

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.

Can You Get a Degree in Criminal Justice Online?

Yes. Many criminal justice colleges offer online criminal justice degrees for students who prefer the flexibility of distance learning.

What Can You Do With a Criminal Justice Degree?

A criminal justice doctorate prepares graduates for academic positions, research and policy roles, and administrative roles working in law enforcement.

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