Jul 28, 2023
As our criminal justice system becomes increasingly complex, the need for highly educated professionals in this field, including those with a PhD in criminal justice, remains strong. 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 2023
Selecting the right PhD in criminal justice program is crucial in achieving your academic aspirations and professional objectives. To assist with your program search, we have surveyed all of the fully accredited online PhD in criminal justice programs currently available and have highlighted the three best options. Our selection process is based on several key factors, including affordability, online study options, student services, and more.
Seasoned law enforcement professionals looking to shift into leadership positions will appreciate the Doctor of Philosophy in Criminal Justice degree from Liberty University. The program is fully online and has eight-week courses, meaning students can fit their education around their professional and personal responsibilities. Students choose from three academic pathways for students to choose from. First, there's the homeland security specialization for those interested in protecting the United States from threats. Second, there's the leadership concentration, ideal for individuals thinking about a future in law enforcement administration. Third, there's the general pathway, which allows students to create their own specialization by creating a unique combination of elective courses.
PhD in Criminal Justice
- Credits: 60
- Length: About 3 years
- Cost: $595/credit (full-time) and $650/credit (part-time)
- Mode: 100% online
- Accreditation: SACSCOC
Nova Southeastern University's PhD in Criminal Justice provides multiple avenues for growth in the criminal justice profession. The program offers three areas of specialization: Organizational Leadership, Behavior Science, and Juvenile Justice. What's unique about this program is that students aren't tied to just one specialization and can take two or more, as long as they complete the required five courses for the given specialization. The program is fully online and most of the coursework is offered asynchronously, meaning students can complete their coursework from anywhere and at any time. Despite the independent and self-paced learning options, students can expect their professor's full attention because each incoming class is usually limited to just 20 students. Students interested in applying should note that a master's degree is required for admission.
PhD in Criminal Justice
- Credits: 60
- Length: About two-and-a-half years
- Cost: $1,277/credit
- Mode: 100% online
- Accreditation: SACSCOC
Unlike many other similar programs, the PhD in Criminal Justice and Criminology offered by Keiser University admits students whether they have a bachelor's degree or a master's. However, students with just a bachelor's will need at least a 3.0 minimum undergraduate GPA and must have their degree in criminal justice or a related field. Another way this program stands out is that it can be completed in as little as two years. This is made possible by the 54-credit curriculum and the fact that Keiser University accepts up to 18 transfer credits. The program is well-suited for students interested in continuing to work while in school, as the classwork can be completed 100% online and students can take a reduced course load if they desire. Despite the fully online classwork, students will need to complete one in-person residency during their first year and a second in-person residency just before they begin the dissertation process.
PhD in Criminal Justice and Criminology
- Credits: 54
- Length: 24-40 months
- Cost: $29,360/year
- Mode: Partially online
- Accreditation: SACSCOC
Highlighting Another Top Online Criminal Justice PhD Program
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
There are numerous benefits to earning a degree online, including the convenience and cost savings associated with not having to commute regularly to and from campus for 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
It is important to note that each online PhD in criminal justice program is unique, with its own academic approach and specific requirements. Before enrolling in a program, it is crucial to have a clear understanding of its details. One of the most important factors to consider is whether the program can be completed entirely online or if it includes any in-person components. Some programs that advertise themselves as “100% online” may still require on-campus attendance for short-term residencies, orientation meetings, or in-person dissertation defenses.
Timeline: Online Criminal Justice PhD
The time to complete an online PhD in criminal justice degree can vary greatly, depending on factors such as program type, specialization choice, and study pace. Some programs offer fast-track options that take as little as 2 ½ years to complete, while others may take six years or more for part-time students. Your previous education level and the research required for your dissertation can also affect the time needed to earn your degree. Ultimately, it’s important to carefully consider all of these factors to determine the timeline that best suits your goals and lifestyle. With that in mind, the following degree timeline is similar to what most students can expect to encounter in their doctorate studies:
PhD in Criminal Justice Learning Outcomes
Learning outcome statements are a crucial element of any high-quality degree program, and this is certainly the case for online PhD in criminal justice programs. These statements describe the fundamental knowledge, skills, and larger concepts that you’ll obtain by completing the program’s curriculum, and they serve as the academic foundation for your degree. It’s essential that you carefully review the learning outcome statements of any program you’re considering to ensure that the education you receive aligns with your goals and objectives. 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.
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
Specializations, also known as concentrations, within degree programs are highly valuable at the graduate level because they enable students to customize their studies based on their unique interests within the broader field of criminal justice. Specializations are particularly useful as they provide students with an advantage over other job seekers who may lack the particular skills and knowledge 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:
Accreditation & Online PhD Degrees in Criminal Justice
Accreditation is crucial when selecting any postsecondary degree program, online or otherwise. If a program you’re considering lacks accreditation, it is best to remove it from your list of potential programs. Accreditation is the process through which PhD in criminal justice students can ensure that both the institution and the degree program it offers have met the necessary 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:
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.
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 payscale.com, 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.
To offer another comparison, Payscale’s current estimated average salary for MS in criminal justice degree holders is $56,370.