Best Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Programs

Criminal justice offers a vast array of career opportunities, including law enforcement, victim advocacy, correctional counseling, and policymaking. We've ranked the top online doctorate in criminal justice programs. Compare schools by cost, convenience, and academic quality.
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Criminal justice careers integrate psychology, public safety, and the law. A doctorate in criminal justice cultivates the highest-level of research and leadership skills. These skills prepare students for advanced positions in fields including education, forensic research, and policymaking. Doctoral candidates often enjoy accelerated courses and set tuition rates through online programs.

Among doctoral-educated criminal justice professionals, political scientists earn an especially high salary of more than $125,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Graduates of an online doctorate in criminal justice can also pursue careers as postsecondary educators, forensic scientists, or sociologists. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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This guide highlights an online doctorate in criminal justice and its vast career possibilities.

What Can I Expect From an Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Program?

An online doctorate in criminal justice explores advanced research and analysis techniques. The curriculum focuses on skills in advanced criminological theory, criminal justice forecasting, and behavioral science and the law. Doctoral candidates can tailor their degree to their interests with a specialization. Common concentrations include:

  • Juvenile Justice
  • Forensic Science
  • Criminology
  • Homeland Security
  • Criminal Justice Policy

While programs vary significantly, students can expect to spend 4-8 years earning their online doctorate in criminal justice. Most programs require 40-60 credits to graduate. Online programs often offer more flexibility than a traditional degree. Distance learners may choose from full- or part-time enrollment options and synchronous or self-led learning formats.

Schools most commonly offer Ph.Ds or doctor of criminal justice (D.C.J.) degrees. Generally, a Ph.D. emphasizes research, and a D.C.J. focuses on theories and policy. Ph.Ds often include concentrations such as criminology and forensic science, ideal for aspiring criminal justice professors or scholars. A D.C.J degree with a concentration in homeland security or criminal justice policy suits mediators, counselors, and policymakers.

Most doctoral programs culminate in a capstone or dissertation and a comprehensive final exam. Doctoral candidates can enjoy various professional development opportunities. Examples include publications in scholarly journals, mentorships, and peer reviews.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

Featured Online Programs in Criminal Justice

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Program?

Advanced Criminological Theory

This course explores the common causes of crime and criminal behavior. The coursework teaches crime theory from a scientific and philosophical perspective. Topics include theoretical construction and integration, and formal theory and policy evaluation.

Criminal Justice Forecast and Policy Analysis

Criminal justice forecasting relies on statistics and data management tools like SPSS and Excel spreadsheets. The course explores various statistical bootstrapping methods including moving averages, systems simulations, and line fitting.

Research Methods for Criminal Justice

Social surveys are a critical part of a criminal justice career. This course trains students to create phone, mail, and in-person surveys using advanced methods of question formulation, question scaling, and metrics evaluation.

Race and Ethnicity in Crime and Criminal Justice

Students in this course explore issues involving race and ethnicity and their effect on the criminal justice system. Topics include the disproportionate prosecution and sentencing of racial minorities and policy disparities. Students also learn about policing, probation, and rehabilitation issues.

Law and Behavioral Science

Criminal justice professionals must hold expert knowledge of criminology, including where the law and human behavior intersect. This course explores victimology, the media's role in the criminal justice system, and civil commitment. Coursework also covers diminished responsibility.

What are the Admission Requirements for an Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Program?

Most online doctorates in criminal justice follow similar admission requirements. These requirements often include transcripts, recommendation letters, and a resume. Online learners may need to sit for a virtual entrance interview. Most doctoral programs in criminal justice require a master's degree for admission. However, some programs waive education requirements for students with work experience.

Some doctoral programs require Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores. The following sections expand on common application requirements.


Most doctorates in criminal justice require applicants to hold a master's degree in criminal justice, sociology, or a related field. But some programs accept applications from applicants with only a bachelor's degree. Doctoral programs often also require applicants to hold at least a 3.0 GPA and meet master's-level prerequisites. Most doctoral programs require entrance interviews.

Test Scores

Some online doctorates in criminal justice require test scores from entrance exams such as the GRE or GMAT. GRE or GMAT scores are to graduate programs as SAT or ACT scores are to an associate or bachelor's degree.

Letters of Recommendation

A student's letters of recommendation are critical to their admission into a doctoral program. Applicants may need to request at least three recommendation letters. They should do so months in advance of submitting their application. Appropriate sources for doctoral recommendation letters include current or former professors or employees, academic advisors, mentors, coaches, or counselors.

Resume and Work Experience

Online doctorates in criminal justice tend to attract mid-career professionals with experience in criminal justice, sociology, or public services. Doctoral programs typically require many years of professional experience for admission. An applicant's resume or CV should reflect current and recent professional skills and achievements in criminal justice.


Graduate essays express a student's plans for doctoral research in an area of expertise. If an application does not require an essay, applicants should write a cover letter that briefly outlines their qualifications and enthusiasm for that particular program.

Official Transcripts

Admission into any college program requires applicants to submit official transcripts. Students may need a master's degree for admission into a doctorate in criminal justice. Programs that do not require a master's degree may include graduate or postgraduate prerequisites. Applicants should check their school's credit-transfer policy to apply credits for life or work experience.

What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degree?

Career Outlook

Criminal justice professionals fill essential positions in the criminology, law enforcement, and public policy fields. Most entry-level jobs only require a bachelor's degree. However, employers in high-level occupations in academia, research, and administration prefer graduates with a doctorate in criminal justice.

Criminal justice doctoral degree-holders may pursue careers as college professors, sociologists, or mediators. Other roles include forensic scientists. The BLS projects job growth between 5-16% from 2020-2030 for these occupations, with earnings between $60,000-$86,000.

Doctorate in criminal justice graduates may also qualify for advanced positions in law enforcement or corrections, private investigation, or psychological profiling.

Explore the possibilities for doctorate in criminal justice graduates.

Career Paths

Postsecondary Instructor

Doctorate in criminal justice graduates can become college professors in subjects like criminology, forensic science, and criminal justice. While some community colleges accept candidates with a master's degree for teaching positions, most postsecondary institutions require a doctoral degree to teach criminal justice at the college level.

Median Annual Salary: $80,560

Political Scientist

Aspiring political scientists can benefit from a doctoral degree in criminal justice. These professionals research and analyze governments and political systems, policies, and trends. Like criminal justice, the political science field combines many disciplines including public policy, public administration, and public affairs.

Median Annual Salary: $125,350


Sociologists study people, society, and human behavior. Professionals with a master's or Ph.D. in criminal justice can pursue jobs in sociology or related careers in corrections, social services, or public policy. Sociologists may specialize in a criminal justice or juvenile justice field.

Median Annual Salary: $86,110

Forensic Scientist

Forensic scientists help investigate crimes by collecting and analyzing crime scene evidence. While most forensic scientists study natural or forensic science, professionals with a doctorate in criminal justice can provide consulting services involving criminology or criminal law.

Median Annual Salary: $60,590

Arbitrator, Mediator, or Conciliator

Arbitrators, mediators, and conciliators provide conflict-resolution services. These professionals act as a third party to help disputing parties resolve their issues through legally binding (arbitration) or non-legally binding (mediation, conciliation) settlements.

Median Annual Salary: $66,130

Criminal Justice Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

Earning a doctorate in criminal justice demonstrates the highest level of commitment toward a formal education in the field. While students can reach the heights of academia and research with a doctoral education, some choose to enhance their employment opportunities with professional certification.

As a field with broad career applications, criminal justice occupations offer diverse certifications. Organizations including the Association of Certified Financial Crime Specialists and the International Association of Crime Analysts offer optional credentials to supplement doctoral-educated experts in criminal justice fields.

How Do I Choose an Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Program?


Since a doctorate in criminal justice exceeds the minimum education requirement for entry-level jobs, most graduate programs cost more than an undergraduate degree. The Education Data Initiative calculated the average cost of a doctorate at $114,300 in 2021. However, online programs may offer benefits such as set or in-state tuition rates. Additional online program benefits may include accelerated completion times and generous credit-transfer policies.

Program Format

Online doctorates in criminal justice can accommodate a variety of learning styles through synchronous (live) or asynchronous (pre-recorded) course delivery. Some programs enable students to choose one style or the other. Other programs let students complete courses through hybrid study, which combines online and in-person learning. Doctoral candidates may choose between full- or part-time enrollment.


Even though students enrolled in an online doctoral program can study anywhere they choose, their location matters. For example, students may choose to earn an online doctorate in criminal justice in the same city as their dream job in law, public policy, or academia. Others may choose an online program in the same location as their current employer to accommodate both work and school obligations. Whether you choose an online or on-campus program, research the program's location beforehand.


Accreditation, or the process by which a school meets academic performance standards set by the Department of Education, is critical for any degree. Schools may hold national or regional accreditation, though the latter is more rigorous and more desirable. While some agencies such as the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences provide programmatic accreditation to bachelor's and master's degrees, doctoral programs are ineligible.

Student Support

Many doctoral candidates rely on student support services to reach their academic and executive goals. Students should select an online doctorate in criminal justice with comprehensive advising and mentorship options. They should also look for access to various continuing education, online student services, professional development, and networking opportunities.

2021 Best Accredited Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Programs

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#1 Best Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Programs

California University of Pennsylvania

  • California, PA
  • 4 years
  • Online + Campus

Cal U's doctorate in criminal justice program features a 42-credit curriculum with courses like using theory to improve criminal justice practice, understanding civil liability, and legal research methods. After passing a comprehensive exam, students perform original research and write a dissertation. The program uses a cohort learning model to foster professional relationships among peers.

Over 95% of graduates begin careers that align with their degree. Cal U's career center prepares graduates for success by providing Handshake software, career coaches, and an alumni network.

Admission requirements include a master's degree in criminal justice and a minimum 3.5 GPA. Applicants also submit a writing sample and a personal statement. Pennsylvania residents receive a significant tuition discount.

Average Tuition
Retention Rate
Admission 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 Best Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Programs

Nova Southeastern University

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

NSU's online doctoral degree in criminal justice awards a Ph.D. and offers three concentrations: organizational leadership, behavioral science, and juvenile justice. The 60-credit curriculum includes core courses in research methods, data analysis, and program evaluation. The program's dissertation process requires at least five semesters.

NSU's career development professionals help connect students with job opportunities. According to NSU, program graduates earn more than the average criminal justice professional with a doctoral degree.

Admission requirements include a master's degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA, three recommendation letters, and a 300-word personal statement. All degree-seekers pay the same per-credit tuition rate, regardless of residency. Incoming students may qualify for one of 12 departmental scholarships.

Average Tuition
Retention Rate
Admission 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

Frequently Asked Questions About Doctorate in Criminal Justice Programs

Is a doctorate in criminal justice worth it?

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Yes. A doctorate in criminal justice can lead to high-level jobs in policy-related administration, research, and academia. Advanced positions in fields like sociology, political science, and arbitration and mediation also require a graduate degree and experience. Doctoral candidates have expertise in advanced criminal justice policy analysis and theory, criminological research, and behavioral science.

What can I do with a doctorate in criminal justice?

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Graduates of doctoral programs in criminal justice can pursue careers in sociology, public policy, and forensic research. Professionals with a doctorate in criminal justice often become criminal justice professors, political scientists, sociologists, forensic scientists, or arbitrators or mediators. Graduates may choose to earn additional credentials to pursue a law, psychology, or judiciary career.

How long does it take to get a doctorate in criminal justice online?

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Doctoral degree completion times vary by school and enrollment status. Most students complete an online doctorate in criminal justice in 4-6 years. Students should consider curricula and residency requirements and whether they can transfer completed credits toward their degree. With accelerated coursework and set or in-state tuition rates, online doctorates can be more affordable programs than traditional degrees.

How much money can I make with a doctorate in criminal justice?

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Doctorate in criminal justice graduates can earn about $60,000-$126,000 annually, depending on the job. Like any terminal degree, a doctorate in criminal justice qualifies graduates for careers with earnings higher than peers who only meet their field's minimum education requirements. Many jobs for doctoral-educated criminal justice professionals greatly exceed the national median income of $41,950, especially professors, sociologists, and political scientists.

What are the highest paying jobs with a doctorate in criminal justice?

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Criminal justice doctoral degree-holder can earn a generous salary in various jobs, but political scientists are among the highest earners in their field. Political scientists earn a median annual wage over $125,000. These scientists earn the most if they work in the professional, scientific, and technical services and for the federal government. Professionals with expertise in public policy analysis also earn high incomes in this field.

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