15 Best Online PhD in Criminal Justice Programs [2021 Guide]

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Explore online PhD in Criminal Justice Programs for 2021. Compare doctoral specializations, career paths, and salaries.

Online PhD in Criminal Justice

Maybe you want to help protect your community and your country from crime, or maybe you want to help find ways to make the criminal justice system more equitable for people of all races and socioeconomic statuses—or maybe both?

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Either way, an online PhD in Criminal Justice may be just the credential you need to get in that ball game.

Online PhD Criminal Justice Programs

Select the online criminal justice degree program that most interests you to jump to that section of the guide:

Regardless of the specialty you select,  pursuing this degree can help you build a strong foundation in criminal justice and related courses.

Criminal Justice

politician being interviewed by press

The study of Criminal Justice covers all aspects of the justice system, from arrest to court proceedings to punishment. With a doctorate in Criminal Justice, you may be able to impact one or all of those stages at a level that you simply can’t achieve without one.

A doctorate in Criminal Justice may also open doors to academia or prepare you for a career in law enforcement, corrections, politics, or advocacy.

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Being smart and studious can help you earn any advanced degree. With Criminal Justice, being tough-minded and resilient can also be helpful. It can be emotionally difficult to deal with violence and crime every single day.

Homeland Security

Security Analysts working in government facility

With a PhD in Homeland Security, you can help defend our nation from threats of all kinds.

People generally think of the Department of Homeland Security as the folks who battle foreign terrorists, but the institution also deals with domestic terrorism, cybersecurity, natural disaster management, and border protection. It includes the Transportation Security Administration, the Coast Guard, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

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Earning your doctorate in Homeland Security may qualify you for leadership positions in the private sector or at a number of government agencies. Depending on your past skills and experience, potential job titles include Senior Executive Officer, Cryptology Supervisor, and Foreign Language Expert.

Criminal Justice Careers & Salaries

Criminal Justice Careers & Salaries

A PhD in Criminal Justice may lead to a career in corrections, law enforcement, academia, private security, juvenile justice, or even politics.

The direction that the PhD can take you will largely depend on which specialization you select. Focusing on something like organized crime can help you get into the law enforcement field, while focusing on behavioral science may get you a research position in academia.

Most of the jobs are related to government to some degree, but there are private industry opportunities, as well. Private security firms are often on the lookout for qualified consultants.

All of the potential Criminal Justice career paths may offer the chance to make a meaningful contribution to society while doing stimulating work. Many of them can also be pretty lucrative.

Careers Annual Median Salary
Administrative Services Managers $98,890
Detective Lieutenant $92,970
Police and Detectives $67,290
Police and Sheriff’s Patrol Officers $65,540
Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers $63,560
Forensic Science Technicians $60,590
Private Detectives and Investigators $53,320
Correctional Officers and Jailers $47,440

The table above shows only a portion of the career fields potentially available to you if you earn a PhD in Criminal Justice. All salary and career data are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Criminal Justice Specializations & Concentrations

PhD in Criminal Justice student studying on his laptop

Criminal justice doctoral programs have many specializations and concentrations, and the one you choose may go a long way in determining your career path following graduation.

  • Behavioral Sciences: The behavioral sciences include the fields of sociology, anthropology, and psychology. This concentration involves studying why people do what they do and learning how to help people make better choices.
  • Corrections: The study of Corrections deals with the punishment and rehabilitation of criminal offenders. While there’s some nuance to the term, corrections generally deals with prisons, jails, and related topics.
  • Criminology: Criminology is the study of criminals and criminal behavior.
  • Juvenile Justice: Juvenile justice deals with the incarceration and rehabilitation of offenders less than eighteen years old.
  • Organizational Leadership: This specialization involves how to apply managerial sciences to the criminal justice industry. This includes things like running a prison or being a police chief.

All of these specializations may lead to interesting, fulfilling careers in the field of criminal justice.

Choosing a Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degree

Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degree students studying online at home

When choosing a doctoral program in criminal justice, a number of factors should be taken into consideration.

  • Admissions. Ensure you meet the program’s admission requirements.
  • Transfer Credits. Check to see how many of your credits will transfer. The fewer credits that transfer, the more time you may have to spend making up for them.
  • Accreditation. Make sure the school is properly accredited. Regional accreditation is the gold standard.
  • Degree Requirements. Look at how long the program should take to complete. Also, make sure that any scheduled classes or requirements are doable in your work and life schedule.
  • Residency. Does the program require a period of residency?
  • Career Relevancy. Make sure the degree’s educational focus will point you in the right career direction you’re interested in going.
  • Cost. No matter how much you like the university and its programs, weigh the financial cost against the potential salary gains you can reasonably expect to earn. Also, remember that your state residency status may affect tuition cost.

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Deciding on a criminal justice doctoral program is a very personal decision. Choosing the best program will depend on variables that are unique to you.

Criminal Justice Curriculum & Courses

Police Detectives investigating a case

You’ll encounter a broad range of courses in your PhD studies, much of it dependent on which particular specialization you choose to focus on. These are some common courses included in criminal justice programs:

  • Criminal Justice Policy and Analysis: This course gives a comparative overview of the dynamics and effects of various policies and analyses in criminal justice systems at multiple levels.
  • Research Theory, Design, and Methods: This course can help prepare you to construct your own research plans and carry them out effectively.
  • Leadership in Criminal Justice Administration: This is for those who will be working in senior administrative roles.
  • Criminological Theory: This course examines theories as to why criminals commit crime and what creates criminals to begin with.
  • Criminal Justice Organization and Management: This course examines how the justice system if formed structurally and how it can be improved.
  • Criminal Justice Organizational Planning and Change: This course helps prepare you to understand and effectively manage large Criminal justice institutions like prisons and police departments.
  • Ethical Practices in Criminal Justice Leadership: Those with the power to enforce laws also have a unique power to break them. This course examines how to spot these pitfalls and how to act ethically as a Criminal Justice professional.
  • Organizational Trends in Criminal Justice: This course focuses on the most recent organizational developments in the Criminal Justice field.
  • Risk Assessment: This course examines both behavioral science’s role in predicting violent behavior and the controversy that that role faces.
  • Domestic Violence & Abuse: This course looks at the unique psychological and sociological factors that play into domestic and other types of abuse.

These are just some of the courses that you may encounter on your path to earning a PhD in Criminal Justice.

Admissions Requirements

PhD in criminal justice degree student studying on his laptop

Different schools are going to have slightly different admissions requirements, but most general requirements can be expected pretty much anywhere you go.

  • GPA (undergraduate and graduate): Most schools are going to look at the GPA you earned in your previous university work. They generally have sharp, minimum cut-off points that you have to meet at minimum to even be considered.
  • Work Experience: PhD programs are preparing you for leadership and top positions in the criminal justice field. Universities want to verify that you have the requisite experience to succeed in the program.
  • Graduate Exams: Some schools may require GRE or GMAT scores, but a growing number of universities no longer require exam scores for admission (or they offer waivers if you have a high enough GPA).


Online PhD in Criminal Justice Programs Accreditation

There are two kinds of educational accreditation—national and regional accreditation. Both serve the same purpose, but regional is the gold standard of university accreditation.

National accreditation is not insignificant, but it’s just not up to snuff with regional accreditation. If you’re investing your time and your money in a school, you almost certainly want to make sure they’re regionally accredited.

Criminal Justice Professional Organizations

Security Analysts attending a seminar

Joining a professional organization can help you network, find opportunities, and show everyone how serious you are about the Criminal Justice field.

Each organization has its own culture and focus, but joining at least one of them may provide opportunities to advance in the profession.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

financial aid for PhD in criminal justice students

If you’re like the vast majority of people, you don’t have the money to pay for your PhD out of pocket. Luckily, there are a bunch of ways you can fund your educational quest. You’ve likely come across these before in your previous degree-earning endeavors, but here’s a reminder for you.

The most obvious form of financial aid is the student loan, which comes in federal and private form. Most student loans in the United States are federal, and that’ll likely be the best route for you, as well.

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You may also qualify for grants and scholarships, which you don’t ever have to pay back (barring some stipulations). Multiple organizations award both items specifically for Criminal Justice studies.

Scholarships are generally awarded based on merit while grants have some specific purpose in mind, such as conducting meaningful research into an important topic.

What Can You Do With a PhD in Criminal Justice?

Criminal Justice College Professor teaching his students

A PhD in Criminal Justice can help you get a job in academia or in numerous government bodies. It can also help open doors for consulting in the private security industry.

Some potential careers include professor, police chief, juvenile corrections officer, and prison warden.

Are Online PhD Programs Credible?

The answer to this depends on the school in question, but generally the answer is yes. Most online PhD programs are credible and respected so long as they come from regionally accredited programs.

In many cases, the same faculty that teaches in the physical classroom will teach in the virtual. Also, in many cases, the degree issued will be exactly the same as a degree issued by a physical classroom.

How Much Does a PhD in Criminal Justice Cost?

PhD in Criminal Justice student studying at a cafe

A PhD in Criminal Justice typically costs between $550 and $1,100 per credit hour. This will mean your total tuition costs will likely be from $22,000 to $66,000.

Remember that the status of your state residency may affect the cost. 

How Long Does it Take to Get a PhD in Criminal Justice?

Obtaining a PhD is similar to the length of a bachelor’s degree as it usually takes roughly four years, but may range from three to five years. An associate’s degree in criminal justice is worth it for many who want a degree in a shorter amount of time.

The time it takes will depend on both the school’s curriculum and on how much of a course load you can take on at a time. 

Are There Any Affordable Online PhD Criminal Justice Programs?

PhD in Criminal Justice student studying online

Yes, there are some affordable online PhD programs in criminal justice.

Some schools charge as little as $550 per credit hour, which will generally come out to about $22,000 of total tuition.

Is a PhD in Criminal Justice Worth it?

Yes, a PhD in Criminal Justice is worth it for many students. According to the Census Bureau, less than 5% of Americans hold a doctoral degree. Earning this credential can help separate you from the rest of the pack.

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Earning a PhD credential puts you in rare company and potentially opens the door for promotions and positions that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

How Much Money Can Criminal Justice Professionals Make?

Detective working in his office

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for police and detectives is $67,290 and criminal justice and law enforcement teachers is $63,560.

Universities Offering Online PhD in Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

American Public University

American Public University

Working to help students from all over the world to access higher education since 1919, American Public University is a private college that provides online instruction to support students in obtaining an undergrad, post-grad, and Ph.D. in many fields. Some popular study areas at APU include criminal justice, education, and healthcare.

  • Doctor of Global Security

American Public University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

California University of Pennsylvania

California University of Pennsylvania

Offering students an opportunity to advance their educational status since 1852, the California University of Pennsylvania has hundreds of academic areas for students to explore.

CUP has both campus-based programs and virtual learning opportunities that provide flexible options for students pursuing any level of degree, including Ph.D.’s. CUP strives to offer affordable public education for all who attend.

  • Doctorate in Criminal Justice

The California University of Pennsylvania is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Colorado Technical University

Colorado Technical University

Commenced in 1965 as a private institute, Colorado Technical University has more than one hundred programs that help students excel in higher education.

Students enrolled at CTU can complete their undergraduate, graduate, or professional degree at an accelerated rate by using CTU’s distance learning program options. Those who would rather attend in-person can do so.

  • Doctor of Management in Homeland Security

Colorado Technical University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Florida International University

Florida International University

Known as an esteemed research facility, Florida International University has been assisting students with their educational needs since it opened in 1965. As a public-school, FIT provides affordable online and in-class learning opportunities for those looking to gain a bachelor’s or post-baccalaureate education.

FIT has many academic options, such as criminal justice, education, and STEM.

  • PhD in International Crime and Justice

Florida International University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Florida State University

Florida State University

Florida State University began in 1851 and now gives students sixteen colleges and a dynamic distance learning platform, FSU enrolls over 40,000 students from across the world every year.

This public research university gives students the opportunity to gain a high education ranging from bachelor’s degrees to professional degrees in various academic areas.

  • PhD in Criminology and Criminal Justice

Florida State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Liberty University

Liberty University

Liberty University opened in 1971 and has been giving students alternative opportunities ever since by allowing hundreds of degree opportunities that can be obtained online or in person.

Based in beautiful Virginia Beach, this private college has several colleges and research center locations to help meet the needs of students enrolled in undergraduate, post-graduate, and professional degree programs.

  • PhD in Criminal Justice – Homeland Security
  • PhD in Criminal Justice – Leadership

Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

New Jersey City University

New Jersey University

Providing a small community feel in a large urban area, New Jersey City University has been offering public education since opening in 1927.

This liberal arts college has more than forty-five undergrad programs and thirty graduate programs to help students gain higher education in a variety of subject areas, including criminal justice, health care, and technology.

  • Doctor of Science in Civil Security – Leadership, Management and Policy

New Jersey City University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Northcentral University

Northcentral University

Offering students a flexible option to achieve their educational dreams since 1996, Northcentral University has a multitude of online learning options for learners who want to earn a bachelor’s, graduate, or Ph.D.

Students who choose Northcentral University are afforded a private education at an affordable tuition rate and can access their classes from anywhere in the world.

  • PhD in Business Administration – Criminal Justice

Northcentral University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.

Nova Southeastern University

Nova Southeastern University

With more than 150 academic study areas to chose from, students at Nova Southeastern University have had access to dynamic research facilities since 1964. Offering graduate, undergraduate, and doctoral programs, Nova Southeastern University is a private school that is known for excellence throughout the globe.

Some programs offered include criminal justice, technology, and psychology.

  • PhD in Criminal Justice

NSU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Saint Leo University

Saint Leo University

Providing a place for Christian students to obtain their educational needs, Saint Leo University has offered a diverse community of dedicated learners since 1889. Founded in liberal arts, SLU is a private school that gives students access to associate degrees, as well as undergraduate and graduate education in various fields of study.

  • Doctor of Criminal Justice – Homeland Security

Saint Leo University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

St. Johns University

St Johns University

Opening with the assistance of the Roman Catholic Church, St. John’s University found its beginning in 1870 and has been offering private education ever since. Students at St. John’s University can earn an undergraduate or graduate degree in many program areas. Some popular areas of study offered at SJU are criminal justice, liberal arts, and business.

  • Doctor of Professional Studies in Homeland Security

St. John’s University is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

University of Louisville

University of Louisville

1978 marks the beginning of a dynamic public education option when the University of Louisville opened its doors. Working to educate students throughout the world, UL provides research-based curriculums in an assortment of majors that lead to undergraduate, post-graduate, and doctoral degrees.

This university is also known for its revolutionary school of medicine.

  • PhD in Criminal Justice

The University of Louisville is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Massachusetts – Lowell

University of Massachusetts Lowell

Beginning in 1894 as a public school for higher education, the University of Massachusetts – Lowell helps students excel in their quest to earn an undergrad, grad, or advanced degree.

Students from around the globe have access to UML’s many academic options by way of online learning, but campus-based classrooms are also an option for those seeking a more traditional route.

  • PhD in Criminology and Criminal Justice

The University of Massachusetts Lowell is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.

University of the Cumberlands

University of the Cumberlands

Providing private education options since 1888, the University of the Cumberlands has serval paths to assist students in gaining a higher learning degree. Located in Kentucky, UC is dedicated to serving its community and gives students attending undergraduate, graduate, or post-graduate degree programs college credit for community service efforts.

  • PhD in Leadership Studies – Criminal Justice

The University of the Cumberlands is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Walden University

Walden University

Walden University opened its doors as a private educational facility in 1970. Offering classes through face-to-face and distance learning, Walden University is able to educate students from serval countries around the world.

It has many program options that can help learners achieve higher education in the form of undergrad, graduate, and professional degrees.

  • PhD in Criminal Justice

Walden is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.

G­etting Your Doctorate in Criminal Justice Online

Doctorate in Criminal Justice student studying online at home

If you find that there’s only so much you can do with a masters in criminal justice, a doctoral program may be the right fit for you.

A doctorate in criminal justice may be challenging, but if you want better (or maybe just different) opportunities than the ones you currently have, a doctoral program may be a good option.

Going the online route can be a little nerve-racking because online education is still relatively new, but there are many respected and accredited universities providing valuable skills and credentials.

Earning an online doctorate in criminal justice just may be the thing that helps you take your life to the next level.

Ready to start your journey?
Jeff Suwak
Jeff Suwak
Jeff covers online higher education programs and trends. He has a BA in English, as well as multiple certifications from the University of Pennsylvania, University of Michigan, and the University of California. Jeff's background is in technical communication, science writing, and music journalism.