Find the Right Criminal Justice PhD Online Program for You

Interested in reaching the top of the criminal justice profession? Looking for a quality criminal justice doctorate program that offers the convenience of distance learning? This guide will help you find the online PhD in criminal justice that’s right for you.

Written by Staff

Last updated

Aug 11, 2022

You need only read the headlines to know that there are few careers today as demanding as those in criminal justice, but are criminal justice professionals in demand? In general, job demand in criminal justice varies depending on factors such as specific job title and geographic location. Due to the increasing complexities in our criminal justice system, the demand for well-educated criminal justice professionals, including those who have completed a PhD in criminal justice, is robust. If you are currently working in the criminal justice field and seeking to move your career into the top echelons of your profession, there are several questions you should answer when considering a PhD in criminal justice, including:

Do I need to earn a doctorate in criminal justice to move up the ladder? Can I fit a degree program into my already busy work and life schedules? Just exactly which online PhD in criminal justice program is right for me?

You’ll find the answers to these questions and a whole lot more in this guide. Discover the best online PhD in criminal justice programs currently available and how earning a doctorate in criminal justice can help you reach your highest career goals.

Best Online PhD in Criminal Justice Programs for 2022

The right PhD in criminal justice program is the one that best suits your unique academic preferences and professional goals. To help with your program search, we’ve surveyed all of the fully accredited online PhD in criminal justice programs currently out there and have spotlighted three of the best. We’ve vetted these programs based on a number of important factors, including affordability, study options, curriculum comprehensiveness, and more.

Type: Public
Cost: $$

California University of Pennsylvania’s online doctor of criminal justice program was the first regionally accredited program in the United States. It’s designed for senior professionals in the criminal justice system seeking special training on current policy issues and concerns. The coursework is completed fully online, but students must travel to campus during the summer for a five-day residency. Coursework will cover topics such as applied criminal research methods, crisis management, and civil liability of criminal justice practitioners. Besides the coursework, students must complete a comprehensive exam as well as a doctoral research portfolio. This portfolio is an opportunity for students to apply the concepts they’ve learned to real-world situations in their specific field, whether it be in correction, a prosecutor’s office, or a law enforcement agency.

Doctor of Criminal Justice

  • Credits: 42
  • Cost: $516.00/credit (in-state); $774.00/credit (out-of-state)
  • Length: Two years
  • Mode: Partially online
Faculty Ratio

Highlighting Online Criminal Justice PhD Programs


Liberty University

Liberty University’s online PhD in criminal justice degree is offered 100% online with no on-campus residency, dissertation defense, or other in-person requirements. Didactic coursework includes core criminal justice-related courses (theories of crime, advanced juvenile justice, and corrections policy), research core courses (methods of research and research design), and advanced focus courses (transnational organized crime and stress management). Specialization options are available in leadership and homeland security, or students can choose the general criminal justice track. This 60-credit-hour program is designed to be completed in as little as three years.

  • Credit hour rates are $595 for full-time students and $650 for part-time students.
  • Up to 50% of the required credit hours can be transferred upon program approval.

Nova Southeastern University

The online PhD in criminal justice degree from Nova Southeastern University offers an interdisciplinary approach to criminal justice study and is designed to prepare current and prospective criminal justice professionals for advanced roles in management, research, and academia. Students in this 60-credit program choose one of three concentrations in organizational leadership, behavioral science, and juvenile justice. The entire program can be completed in as little as 2 ½ years by taking three courses each semester.

  • The current tuition cost is $1,170 per credit hour.
  • Admissions requirements include a master’s degree in criminal justice or closely-related major, earned with either a minimum 3.0 GPA overall or on the last 60 credit-hours of master’s coursework.
  • Admission is competitive and typically limited to 20 new students annually.

Walden University

Study flexibility is the key to Walden University’s partially online PhD in criminal justice degree. The program offers students a choice of seven specialization options along with a general studies curriculum, with several specializations available in both regular and fast-track formats. Additionally, students can complete their degrees in a little as 2 ½ years (depending on specialization), but may take up to eight years to finish. All didactic coursework is completed online. However, students are required to participate in four short-term residencies throughout their courses of study, two of which must be attended in-person.

  • Total program costs vary significantly (from the mid-$40,000’s to approximately $140,000) based on specialization choice, total program length, and number of previously-earned credits transferred in.

Benefits of the Online PhD in Criminal Justice

The benefits of earning a degree online are numerous and include the convenience and cost savings from not having to regularly travel to and from campus to attend classes. Here are two other distinct and substantial benefits to pursuing your PhD in criminal justice online:


Full-time and part-time study options.
Most students taking on the challenge of pursuing a PhD in criminal justice do so while maintaining their regular jobs. Colleges and universities are keenly aware of this and tailor their degree curriculums to help make the learning process easier. That’s why you’ll find most online criminal justice doctorate programs offer flexible program lengths that allow students a great deal of leeway when it comes to the time needed to complete their degrees. In many cases, students may be able to take anywhere from three to seven years to complete all curriculum requirements.


The flexibility of asynchronous coursework.
Whether the program you’re in is fully online or partially online, you’ll have the benefit of asynchronous coursework. Asynchronous courses are those with content (lectures, readings, assignments, etc.) you can access at anytime and anywhere that best fits your busy schedule. You’ll still have deadlines for completing assignments and taking tests, but you won’t have to login online and attend classes on specific days or at specific times.

Types of Online PhDs in Criminal Justice

Every online PhD in criminal justice program is different, each with its own particular academic perspective and specific requirements. Be sure you have a clear understanding of the details of any program you’re considering before enrolling. One of the most crucial factors to pay attention to is whether a program can be completed entirely online or includes some elements requiring on-campus attendance. Some programs that advertise themselves as “100% online” may actually include in-person components, such as short-term on-campus residencies, orientation meetings, or in-person dissertation defenses.

100% online

Many excellent PhD in criminal justice degree programs today are offered in 100% online formats. That means, depending on specific program and specialization options, you may be able to complete your doctorate in criminal justice entirely online without any residency, orientation, or other in-person requirements. These programs also typically provide online access to important support services like academic, personal, and career counseling, research materials, and more.

Partially online

When it comes to doctorate in criminal justice programs described as partially online, the “partially online” component typically refers to non-coursework components including residencies, orientations, and dissertation defenses. You’ll likely find that practically all online PhDs in criminal justice programs feature didactic coursework that is accessed and completed entirely online. If you do run into courses described as “blended” or “hybrid,” be sure to note that they will include some form of on-campus or other in-person participation.

Timeline: Online Criminal Justice PhD

The time allowed to complete an online PhD in criminal justice degree varies substantially from program to program (from 2 ½ years for fast-track students to six years or more for part-time students). The time you’ll take to earn your degree will depend on a whole range of factors, including your specific program and specialization choice, whether you enter the program with a previously-earned master’s or bachelor’s degree, the amount of research required for your dissertation, and whether you choose to study full time or part time. With that in mind, the following degree timeline is similar to what most students can expect to encounter in their doctorate studies:


The degree process begins with a first year devoted primarily to didactic coursework in core criminal justice subjects such as criminology and policing, criminal justice policy, juvenile justice, and corrections, and research-related subjects such as research design and methodology and statistics. Each student will also prepare and submit an individualized plan of study that details their academic intentions and courses of study. Students may be required to participate in faculty projects as research assistants. Virtual and in-person participation in residencies, seminars, and professional development conferences is also common. The year culminates with taking qualifying exams that must be passed to proceed on to year two.


Second-year study centers on the continuation of coursework, now with an emphasis on courses in advanced research and the student’s chosen specialization. Most programs also require second-year students to write a research paper for submission for peer review and possible publication. Students may additionally begin the preparatory stages of the dissertation process. Other activities may include residencies, teaching assignments, and the continuation of work as a research assistant. The year commonly culminates in preparing for exams to qualify for degree candidacy. Fast-track students will end the year by taking their qualifying exams.


If they haven’t already, students will complete their didactic coursework, usually in the first half of year three, followed by taking the exams that qualify them for degree candidacy. Those who have not already done so will complete and submit their research papers for peer review and possible publication. Third-year students also commonly work as teaching assistants preparing and teaching undergraduate-level courses. Third-year fast-track students will spend the bulk of the academic year working on their dissertations and possibly presenting and defending them by year’s end. Regular-track students will either start or continue in the early stages of dissertation preparation.

Year 4 and beyond

Students who did not enter the candidacy stage of their studies in year three will likely be in it now, with the full focus of their work on conducting research and the writing, presenting, and defense of their dissertations. The process begins with the submission and defense of their dissertation prospectus to a faculty committee. Once approved, the student will begin conducting dissertation-related research. Working closely with a faculty advisor and dissertation committee, students will analyze their research and write their dissertation drafts. Finally, students will submit their dissertation papers and present and defend their dissertations orally (either virtually or in-person) before a faculty committee.

PhD in Criminal Justice Learning Outcomes

Any quality degree program you encounter will provide you with a learning outcome statement outlining the fundamental knowledge, skills, competencies, and larger concepts obtained through completion of the program’s curriculum. These learning outcome statements essentially act as the academic backbone of the degree program, so it pays to review them carefully to make sure you’ll be getting the education you’re looking for. Here are five typical learning outcomes similar to ones you’ll find in online PhD in criminal justice programs:


Criminal justice system and issues
A thorough understanding of the historical and modern criminal justice system and the current pressing issues (legal, social, political, and public) concerning criminal justice. Ability to evaluate the root causes of crime and how they relate to criminal justice practice, policies, and procedures.


Leadership and management
Develop knowledge of, and ability to integrate, established and cutting-edge theories of leadership and management into the practice of criminal justice. Ability to develop and enact policies, programs, and budgets in support of effective administration of criminal justice agencies and organizations.


Critical thinking and decision making
Develop foundational and advanced skills in critical thinking. Ability to apply those skills to the evaluation and synthesis of research studies concerning criminal justice and criminology, as well as both long-term and short-term criminal justice issues and practices.


Legal, professional, and ethical issues
Develop understanding of the role of the criminal justice system, and the professionals working in it, in the advancement of positive social change and social justice. Ability to identify and evaluate the policies, practices, risks, and opportunities to criminal justice agencies and organizations as they relate to legal, professional, and ethical issues.


Scholarly research
Deep understanding of foundational scholarly research in the criminal justice field and its historical and current influence on criminal justice practice. Ability to design, develop, and implement scholarly research projects and to analyze and apply the resulting data to real-life criminal justice issues and problems.

Specialization in Criminal Justice: Customize Your Degree to Meet Your Unique Needs

Degree specializations (sometimes referred to as concentrations), particularly on the graduate level, can be particularly valuable because they allow students to tailor their studies to fit their particular interests within the larger criminal justice field. Most importantly, degree specializations give students a leg up over others in an increasingly competitive market for jobs that require the particular skills associated with that specialization.

Along with a “general” program track, PhD in criminal justice degree programs often provide a variety of specialization track options for their students. Here are five of the most popular currently available:

Emergency Management

This specialization is for students seeking careers leading teams in preparing for and responding to natural and manmade disasters. The specialization additionally prepares graduates to apply for valuable professional certificates from FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute.

Homeland Security

The homeland security specialization focuses on issues of terrorism, cybercrime, and WMDs and the skills necessary to respond to them. Topics include risk assessment, public safety, protection of individual rights, and public policy as it relates to domestic and global terror threats.

Law Enforcement and Policing

Along with leadership skills, students in this specialization focus on topics such as police techniques and tactics and policing as it relates to the current and developing issues of multiculturalism and virtual crime.

Organizational Leadership

The organizational leadership specialization is designed to provide students with an interdisciplinary approach to leadership by combining coursework in education and business research and theory. Topics covered include strategic planning, building organizational capacity, and sustainability.

Public Administration

Students choosing this specialization develop knowledge and skills in analyzing and applying information and data to business decisions related to the administration of criminal justice organizations in areas like public policy, accounting, and human resources management.

Accreditation & Online PhD Degrees in Criminal Justice

The most important factor in selecting any postsecondary degree program, online or otherwise, is accreditation. If a program you’re considering doesn’t have it, scratch it from your list immediately. Accreditation is the process by which PhD in criminal justice students can confirm that both the school and the degree program it offers have been properly vetted to meet critical minimum curriculum requirements.

There are two basic types of accreditation in the United States: institutional and programmatic. Programmatic accreditation concerns specific degree programs offered by a college or university. There are currently no professional organizations that specifically accredit U.S. criminal doctorate degree programs. Institutional accreditation, on the other hand, refers to accreditation of the school itself. Institutional accreditation of both traditional and online U.S. colleges and universities is administered by a number of Department of Education recognized regional and national accrediting agencies. You should only consider online PhD in criminal justice programs offered by schools with proper institutional accreditation.

Applying to a Criminal Justice PhD Degree Online

Every degree program has admissions requirements and processes that are overseen by admissions committees with specific selection criteria and methods. Requirements typically include a previously earned master’s (or bachelor’s degree, in some cases) in criminal justice or a closely-related field, a minimum GPA for previous undergraduate and graduate coursework, and letters of recommendation from professors, employers, and others who have personal knowledge of the applicant’s professional experience. International students may be required to provide proof of English language proficiency.

Admission into many PhD in criminal justice degree programs is competitive, and admissions committees often place particular emphasis on the following:

Current resume or CV

Most PhD in criminal justice degree seekers are professionals with formidable experience in the field as police offers, detectives, corrections officers or juvenile officers, or in the private security sector. Programs with competitive admissions value such experience heavily in their applicant selections. Your resume is where you’ll make your strongest statement about that experience.

Written copy of the applicant’s master’s thesis or capstone project

Criminal justice doctorate programs often require submittal of an applicant’s master’s thesis or capstone project. Some programs may accept one or more of the following in lieu of a thesis or project: an article written by the applicant and published by a respected publication in the criminal justice or related field, GRE scores meeting minimum requirements, or successful completion of a J.D. degree or doctorate in a field related to criminal justice.

Personal statement

Personal statements are required by most doctorate in criminal justice programs. Statements should include a description of the student’s background along with career goals and reasons for pursuing their degrees. As with the resume or CV, personal statements are highly weighed by admissions committees in making their candidate choices, so be sure your statement as powerful and convincing as possible.

Tuition & Fees

Pursuing a college degree is an expensive proposition in any situation, and costs are bound to play a major role in your criminal justice PhD program decision. Program costs vary significantly from program to program, but to give you an idea what you might expect to pay, we’ve compiled current tuition prices for online (and one on-campus) PhD in criminal justice programs. These figures are for tuition costs only and do not include additional charges and fees or the cost of books or supplies, so your total program cost will be higher.

SchoolCost per CreditTotal CreditsSubtotal
Liberty University$595–$65060$35,700– $39,000
Nova Southeastern University$1,17060$70,200
Walden University$620Varies$45,000– $140,000
Old Dominion University (on-campus)$557 (resident), $1,383 (out-of-state)48 (minimum)$26,736 (resident); $66,384 (out-of-state)

Note: Some colleges and universities offering doctorates in criminal justice provide substantial financial assistance to help make their degree programs more affordable. This assistance most often takes the form of tuition discounts for special interest groups (active military and veterans, full-time students, etc.), in-house scholarships and grants, and enrollment incentive discounts. Consider the above-listed tuition figures as a starting point when figuring out what your total program costs will be. Contact a program’s financial aid advisor for help, and take a look at our scholarship and grants guide to learn more about additional financial aid sources and how to apply to them.

Salaries for Criminal Justice PhDs

According to current data from, the estimated average salary for PhD in Criminal Justice graduates is $68,536. Actual salaries vary substantially depending on several factors, including professional experience (both before and after earning the degree), geographic location, and specific job title. We’ve listed current average salary figures for three job titles common to criminal justice doctorate holders. These figures do not include common additional income sources like bonuses and profit-sharing plans.

Job TitleMedian Earnings90th Percentile Salary
Training Supervisor$59,000$91,000
Assistant Professor, Postsecondary/Higher Education$69,000$106,000
Chief Security Officer (CSO)$146,000$231,000

To offer another comparison, Payscale’s current estimated average salary for MS in criminal justice degree holders is $56,370.