Best Online PhD in Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Oct 20, 2021

What is an Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Program?

Criminal justice is a generic term for the system through which illegal actions are identified, charged, and tried. It can include ways to find criminals or methods to determine the legal consequences of crimes. It is generally split into three parts: law enforcement, the court system, and the corrections infrastructure. By obtaining a doctorate in criminal justice, students can conduct in-depth research and become experts in this field. Students who prefer a more flexible approach may also consider an online degree option.

In a functioning society, many would say that a justice system is essential. It helps to enforce good behavior and apply consequences to those who act outside of acceptable boundaries. Additionally, studying this field can also help organizations to improve their legal enforcement skills and better serve their communities.

Criminal justice is an ever-evolving field. Justice has been a societal concern going back thousands of years. As a community's values grow and change, these alterations are often reflected in the legal infrastructure. Therefore, there is a good chance that the field will continue to grow and be shaped by those who work within it.

Why Should I Get an Online PhD in Criminal Justice?

An online PhD in criminal justice can open many opportunities for students. For example, one may find that they are betters suited to gain employment with local, state, or federal police agencies. Furthermore, they might also find jobs with juvenile justice agencies, campaigning on behalf of young people. Students might also become part of an investigative unit of a district attorney's office.

However, careers aren't the only reason to pursue this degree. Students may enjoy the rigorous academic requirements of the program if they're interested in the concept of justice. This is because courses often require high amounts of research, critical analysis, and thorough writing. As such, students have the opportunity to learn a great deal of information about the field. Usually, this is even more intense than an online master's degree in criminal justice.

Furthermore, the online element of this program may also be attractive to students. Online education tends to have less specific requirements regarding full-time attendance. Additionally, it may also have looser specifications when it comes to where students must be to take the course. As such, students interested in criminal justice but requiring a more flexible option may prefer an online PhD.

Admissions Requirements for Online Criminal Justice Doctorate Programs

Like many other advanced degrees, an online criminal justice doctorate generally has a few prerequisites. Generally, this includes a master's degree in a related field. A master's degree in turn, also typically requires a bachelor's degree. Thus, a student must often hold two degrees to pursue a doctorate. For example, a student may choose to obtain a bachelor's degree in criminal psychology, followed by a master's degree in criminal psychology before pursuing their doctorate.

Furthermore, there are often other requirements as well. Most programs will require a number of letters of recommendation. There may also be a minimum grade-point average included. Finally, students can also reasonably expect to submit a personal statement that explores their desire to pursue the degree.

What Should I Expect from an Online PhD in Criminal Justice?

An online PhD in criminal justice is a large commitment. Students can reasonably expect to undertake 42-84 credit hours. As educational requirements vary from institution to institution, there is no general rule of thumb. Therefore, students should try to closely examine their chosen program to ascertain the exact number of credits they will need to complete.

The nature of these courses will also vary. However, there are some general types of educational undertakings that students can expect. For example, there are often advanced courses regarding criminal justice theory. These are often complemented by practical study.

Additionally, students will invariably have to complete a doctorate dissertation. This is a heavy undertaking of independent research meant to expand the student's knowledge in a specific area of criminal justice. Students may also want to choose a few of their own courses. If they know what they'd like to pursue for their research interest, they may want to tailor their course load to assist them in that project.

How Long is an Online Doctoral Criminal Justice Program?

As previously stated, the exact length of individual programs will vary depending on the school in which it occurs. This can even further change depending on a student's part-time or full-time status. Some programs can be completed full-time in only two years of education. Others may take a minimum of 2.5 years. However, some may have no strict time requirements. Nevertheless, students can reasonably expect there to be a ceiling of 10 years on most programs. Thus, they must complete their course of study within ten years of the start date or risk not completing the degree.

Of this time commitment, a portion will be devoted to classwork. This can include theoretical discussions, practical case studies, and resources dedicated to a certain study track. The rest of the degree's time will often be committed to the dissertation. However, there may be even more time required for such a lengthy project, and students should try to be aware of the time their personal work is likely to require.

Common Courses for Online Criminal Justice Doctoral Programs

A criminal justice doctoral program will, understandably, be very focused on concepts relating to justice and the enforcement of legal consequences. There are likely to be both theoretical and practical courses covering topics such as ethics, corrections, and the courts. Furthermore, students may also have the opportunity to choose their own courses as electives. This can be useful for tailoring education to a certain career goal. For example, if a student has earned an online bachelor's degree in forensic psychology, they may also choose to take courses in the same subject during their doctoral degree. Regardless of individual focuses, most online doctoral degrees in this field will strive to educate students on a wide variety of field-relevant subjects.

Research Design

Doctoral degrees often require a heavy amount of independent research. Criminal justice is no different. As such, students are expected to conduct a large amount of high-quality research. Furthermore, the research may involve human subjects, making it particularly important to complete correctly. A graduate-level class in research design will help them to conduct studies that are careful, ethical, and effective.

Theories of Criminal Behavior

There are many different ideas of why an individual commits a crime. These motivations may impact sentencing. For example, a jury may feel differently about a man who steals to feed his family than one who does so as an act of revenge. Because the motivation of a crime is to impact its societal implications, doctoral students can expect to study this course as a way to further understand their field.

Criminal Law and Procedures

When it comes to criminal justice, the laws are an integral part of the system. Therefore, most doctoral programs covering the subject will require students to thoroughly understand legal theory in this area. Furthermore, the procedures - such as how an arrest is made or how a criminal trial is conducted by the state - are also vital. Students can also reasonably expect to study this in-depth over their course of study.

Police and Corrections

Criminal justice is closely tied, by nature, to those who enforce it. This often means police offers and corrections offers, those who investigate crimes and apply the consequences for those actions. Nevertheless, these individuals are not above scrutiny. As such, students of criminal justice can expect to study their behavior and examine how to better leverage their work. This may include examinations of successful officers as well as those who have committed heinous crimes.

Online Criminal Justice Doctorate Degree Specializations

Criminal justice can be a broad field. As such, most doctoral programs will offer specialization. Choosing such a focus can help students learn more information about their preferred area of study. Some examples of criminal justice doctorate degree specializations include:

  • Organizational Leadership, which gives students the opportunity to learn proper techniques included in the design, application, and reform of criminal justice organizations. This can also be a wise choice for those interested in a corrections career after a criminal justice degree.
  • Behavioral Science, in which students can learn about the motivations and cautions behind criminal behavior and develop ways to counter negative developments.
  • Juvenile Justice, where students have the opportunity to study the delicate and essential matter of countering criminal behavior in individuals under the legal age of adulthood.

Students are typically only required to undertake a single specialization. However, this does not prevent them from learning more about other fields. Students who are interested in coursework outside of their individual focuses may want to consider a program that will allow them a lot of freedom in choosing their electives.

Doctoral Dissertation for Criminal Justice

A dissertation can be a difficult undertaking. Additionally, there are usually a few universal steps to completing it. Requirements will vary between schools and programs, but there are a few elements that most students can expect to encounter.

Oftentimes, the process begins with a course. This helps guide students through what will be expected of them. Those who have completed a previous graduate degree, such as a master's degree in criminal justice, may recognize some of these steps from a previous academic project.

Students can then expect to submit a proposal. Proposals are often quick overviews of the topic in hand, related to what students intend to study and how they intend to do so. This option must then be sent to a committee. A committee is a group of faculty members who help to support the student's research, as well as critique it and ensure it is up to a certain academic standard.

Students are then likely to begin studying their topic in earnest. Throughout the process of drafting, they will likely be expected to check in with their committee regularly with updates. Finally, students may be required to defend their dissertation before the committee. This includes presenting the data as well as answering questions about the results or methodology.

Students can pass or fail this defense. If they fail, many programs will allow them to add edits and resubmit their work. However, students should strive to be in constant contact with their committee to ensure that miscommunications that could lead to a failing grade do not occur.

How to Choose the Right Online Criminal Justice PhD Program 200

Different online criminal justice doctorate programs will doubtless serve different students. However, these courses are not terribly common. As such, it becomes even more important for prospective pupils to carefully explore their options and make the best decision for their future.

Firstly, students may want to investigate the career outcomes for other graduates. This can be an indicator of how high-quality the courses are. Additionally, it may suggest if a school's criminal justice doctorates are well-respected by reputable employers.

This can also provide some career advice. For example, if a student sees that graduates from their school have more success in their desired job when pursuing a doctorate degree in criminal psychology, this may indicate if criminal justice is a viable concentration with that institution.

The accessibility of the program is also essential. Online courses often have basic technology requirements such as a computer, internet, and webcam. However, some may also require software for their coursework. Students who are not willing or able to meet these requirements may want to consider a different school.

Finally, affordability is also a vital part of this decision. If a program is lengthy, this may limit a student's opportunities to earn income during the period. Additionally, a longer program can mean a later entry into the field. As such, students should try to consider these issues when applying.

Accreditation for Schools with a Criminal Justice Doctorate Program

When students are selecting an online doctorate program, they may want to consider accreditation. Accreditation is the process through which a private regional organization examines an academic institution. This organization then determines if those offerings are of suitable quality.

These regional groups are approved by either the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the governmental Department of Education, or both. Thus, there are many standards to pass in order to earn accreditations. Students may want to select an accredited program to help make sure that their degree is valuable and recognized in the larger job market. Furthermore, students are only eligible for federal aid if they're attending an accredited organization.

Those who are interested in viewing a list of accredited schools can visit the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to check the status of their preferred course. However, while the site is run by the U.S. Department of Education, it is only a database. As such, it is not necessarily an endorsement of the school. Students are encouraged to use this as a resource alongside other research on the institution.

Job Outlook for Criminal Justice

Students who pursue an online PhD in criminal justice have many job options available to them. For example, they could better their communities through important research initiatives. They might investigate the mental health of officers and how it can impact their performance within departments. Alternatively, an online PhD could also lead to a position as an online instructor in the field. Job outlooks often at least partially rely on the student's interests as well as the current needs of their academic communities. As such, pupils may want to consider pursuing a specialization that they would be happy to continue working within for at least the initial portion of their career. For example, a student who is interested in pursuing a career involving psychology may want to center their doctoral thesis around the subject.

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers are instructors who operate beyond the high school level. Within the criminal justice focus, they can teach courses that focus on their area of study as well as more rudimentary information. While educational requirements will differ between institutions, most postsecondary teachers must hold a PhD in order to be considered.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the demand for this position will grow 9 percent between 2019-2029. While this is much faster than average, demand for criminal justice specifically may vary depending on the location. The median wage for this position was $80,790 in May 2020. For criminal justice specifically, wages can expand as high as an annual mean of $123,990 in the state of California. Students interested in other wages, such as those for political science, may want to investigate the differences in average earnings. Students may also want to consider safety studies


A sociologist is a person who studies society and social behavior. They often use their findings to benefit social policy or the understanding of their communities. Many positions often require a PhD for the position. As such, students with a PhD in criminal justice may find that they are uniquely positioned to be a criminal justice researcher

The BLS predicts that demand for the job is predicted to grow an average 4 percent between 2019-2029. However, students may also want to note that this is a very small field, with only 3,200 jobs nationally in 2019. The median annual wage for sociologists was $86,110 as of May 2020. Job data is limited, but sociologists can potentially earn up to $109,930 in states such as North Carolina.

Criminal Investigator

A criminal investigator is a person who seeks information regarding legal matters. They might work closely with law enforcement. Alternatively, they might also work as private detectives, working specifically on personal matters. While a PhD is not required for many opportunities, it may provide more information for the job or facilitate future job progression.

The BLS predicts that private detectives and investigators will experience job growth of 8 percent between 2019-2029. This is much faster than normal, but they also warn that it will come with increased competition. The median annual wage for this profession was $53,320 in May 2020, but can get as high as $77,980 in states such as Arkansas.

Financial Aid and Scholarships for Online PhD Criminal Justice Programs

Students attending an accredited institution may want to consider completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA is a process through which American students can obtain federal financial aid for college as well as graduate schooling. However, as it is only available to those attending an accredited institution, students may want to consider this fact when applying.

As for criminal justice PhD programs specifically, students have a few options for scholarships. These are often designed specifically for the field and to support students in pursuit of topics related to enforcing legal expectations. For example, students attending may want to consider the Melissa Linville Criminal Justice Scholarship. This is an award available to students pursuing post-secondary education in criminal justice. They must also have a minimum GPA of 3.0 and apply with a personal essay, as well as an application. Given that this application may take some time, students are encouraged to begin the process as soon as it is convenient.

Certifications for Criminal Justice

Students may need a certification based on their career path after completing their PhD. For example, criminal investigators may require certification from a relevant police academy. This helps departments ensure that employees are performing up to acceptable levels and using their advanced education for the betterment of their communities. However, students may also find that certification is unnecessary. As such, individuals may find that the best use of their time includes discovering the official requirements of their intended career path.

Nevertheless, students who have obtained a PhD in criminal justice do not generally require certification for multiple job options. This is partly because the degree is has a lot of potential job opportunities. As such, there is a possibility that some career paths will require certification of some kind. Students are thus encouraged to speak with their advisors about potential credential requirements before entering a certain field. This will help them pick fitting courses and be well-prepared for their ideal job.

Licensure for Criminal Justice

Licensure is a similar issue towards certification. While certification is usually meant to imply a certain amount of skill from a private organization, licensure is typically a governmental body. As such, it might be more relevant for the criminal justice field. This is because those who work to enforce the laws are often operating within a legal context. As such, the consequences of someone's investigative decision may end up having a serious impact on another's life.

Therefore, students who earn an online PhD in criminal justice may have to obtain licensure through their relevant law enforcement agency. This is not through a federal organization. Rather, it's often through the local agency which is in control of the local police station. As such, students may want to carefully analyze the licensure requirements for their intended location of employment. This can help them prepare for any licensure needs well before the application comes due.

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