Earning a doctorate in criminal justice gives an understanding of research methods used to evaluate and develop criminal justice policy.

A Ph.D. in criminal justice gives students the skills and expertise needed to lead research initiatives. This degree creates new employment options, such as teaching at a postsecondary learning institution, directing research, or working as an administrator. A criminal justice background is also applicable for professions like forensic scientists or private investigators.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth in criminal justice-related positions. This includes a 7% increase in private detective and investigator careers, a 5% increase in protective service positions, and a 15% increase in postsecondary teaching jobs.

Should I Get a Doctorate in Criminal Justice?

Earning a Ph.D. in criminal justice involves rigorous training in criminological theory and research methods. Students examine data-driven metrics and statistics and take classes in sociology, social psychology, and juvenile justice. Course topics include law enforcement, homeland security, criminal behavior risk factors, and leadership theory. Students gain a strong understanding of crime, the criminal justice system, and data analysis techniques. Students often specialize in behavioral sciences, organizational leadership, and juvenile justice.

Students who prefer class flexibility can enroll in online programs. Web-based programs are a great option for working professionals and offer self-paced asynchronous courses. Distance-learning programs are ideal for students with personal commitments. Other students, such as those who just graduated from an undergraduate or graduate program, often prefer to attend courses on-campus.

Earning a criminal justice doctorate degree prepares students for a professional career in law, policy, or academia. Most high-level administrative, research, and teaching positions require an advanced degree. Doctorate programs help graduate students prepare for the workforce with employment resources, such as research assistantships, teaching opportunities, fellowships, and access to professional development events. Graduate schools typically offer students career resources, including job-placement assistance programs, resume writing, and interview training.

What Can I Do With a Doctorate in Criminal Justice?

With strong skills in theory and policy, graduates can work in criminal justice, administration, and academia. Some students pursue careers within government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Department of Justice. Others prefer to work in protective service positions such as police chief, detective, and emergency management director.

Professor of Criminal Justice

A doctorate in criminal justice prepares students for positions in postsecondary institutions, such as colleges and vocational schools. Instructors develop curricula, create learning outcomes, and work closely with students. Postsecondary teachers also conduct research and write scholarly articles.

Median Annual Salary: $92,360*

Forensic Scientist or Technician

Forensic scientists and technicians study the details of crimes. They collect and interpret evidence at crime scenes, take photographs, catalog evidence, and record observations. In a laboratory, forensic scientists analyze findings, and reconstruct crime scenes.

Median Annual Salary: $57,850*

Police Chiefs and Lieutenants

Police chiefs, detectives, lieutenants, and police captains are first-line supervisors of police officers and detectives. They manage police department personnel, assign cases, and train new employees. They are responsible for enforcing police procedures, coordinating criminal investigations, and writing reports.

Median Annual Salary: $87,910*

Private Investigator or Detective

Private investigators and detectives with advanced degrees may work as forensic investigators, private detectives, border patrol officers, or intelligence analysts. They collect evidence at crime scenes, conduct interviews, and perform surveillance. Investigators also have some administrative responsibilities.

Median Annual Salary: $50,700*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Choose a Doctoral Program in Criminal Justice

Students should look for programs that match academic and professional needs. In regard to career ambitions, students should consider concentrations or specializations. Popular criminal justice specializations include juvenile justice, policy and administration, organizational leadership, and behavioral sciences.

To determine if an on-campus program or online school is a better fit, decide how you will juggle personal and professional commitments while pursuing doctoral studies. Flexible online programs are best for working professionals. The self-paced and asynchronous components of a web-based doctorate in criminal justice requires independence and self-discipline. Although online colleges provide the most flexibility, both online and on-campus programs offer rigorous curricula and lead to the same credentials and job opportunities.

Most doctoral programs require between 50 and 75 credits, and necessitate research and dissertation credits. Programs can take between two and five years of full-time study to complete. Many schools expect students to complete their doctoral degrees in five years and require them to finish within eight years.

Programmatic Accreditation for Doctoral Programs in Criminal Justice

Accreditation is an extensive review of an academic program. The accreditation process demonstrates a school's commitment to high-quality education. It shows the program's ability to meet rigorous standards, and can be granted by a regional or national agency. The U.S. Department of Education established six regional accrediting agencies and recognizes several reputable national accrediting agencies.

A school's accreditation status can impact unforseen components of a degree, for example, students are only eligible for federal financial aid if they attend an accredited school. Students who want to transfer credits or apply for tuition reimbursement are typically only able to do so if they earn credits at an accredited program.

Doctorate in Criminal Justice Program Admissions

Applications for on-campus programs are similar to admissions for online programs; however, the process may be more involved for online programs.

Prospective doctoral students should start researching and collecting information about various programs as early as one year in advance. Applicants should talk with other students, professors, and admissions counselors at each school. Graduate school admissions are competitive, so applicants should apply to at least five programs. Students who are accepted to more than one institution should choose the program that best matches their career goals.


  • Degree: All Ph.D. programs require a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution; however, only some programs require a master's degree.
  • Professional Experience: Some background in criminology, criminal justice, or sociology is preferred, but not required.
  • Minimum GPA: Most schools expect applicants to have a minimum 3.0 GPA.
  • License: There are no license requirements to apply for a doctorate in criminal justice program.

Admission Materials

  • Application: Applicants must complete a college application which can be found on a school's website.
  • Transcripts: Applicants must submit official transcripts from all colleges. Transcripts can be requested through the admissions office and can cost a small fee.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Applicants should submit one to three letters of recommendation written by professors, mentors, or supervisors.
  • Test Scores: Many doctoral programs require applicants to submit official GRE scores; however, some schools will accept a master's thesis as a substitute.
  • Application Fee: College application fees range from $40 to $150. Some schools waive fees for alumni, employees, service members, veterans, and military spouses.

What Else Can I Expect From a Doctoral Program in Criminal Justice?

Ph.D. criminal justice classes include juvenile justice, international criminal justice, social psychology, terrorism, sociology, and policy analysis. The details of each doctorate degree depends on the specific program requirements.

Concentrations Offered for a Doctorate in Criminal Justice
Concentration Description Careers
Organizational Leadership Organizational leadership examines the role of ethics in criminal justice policy. Topics include ethic and morality issues, information and communication, policy and politics, accountability and power, and finance and budget. Professor, research director, and criminal justice administrator
Behavioral Sciences This concentration focuses on mental health, violent behavior, methods of assessment, ethical issues, domestic violence, and sexual abuse crimes. Topics include victim testimony, psychological symptomatology, prosecution, treatment programs, and restorative justice courts. Professor, research director, and criminal justice administrator
Juvenile Justice This concentration focuses on the challenges of the juvenile justice system. Topics include violence, gangs, racial issues, gender disparity, childhood abuse, and drugs. Students explore restorative justice, institutional values, ethical decision-making, law enforcement, criminal culpability, and rehabilitation. Professor, research director, and criminal justice administrator
Policy and Administration A specialization in policy and administration explores the causes of criminal behavior and the response of police, courts, and corrections. Topics include key policy, oversight, and administrative theories. Students learn how to assess the risk of crime and corruption. Professor, research director, and criminal justice administrator
Criminology & Crime Analysis A concentration in criminology and crime analysis focuses on various types of crime, sociology, and criminal justice theory. Topics include research, data analysis, policy, national security, international crime, technology crime analysis, and digital forensic investigations. Professor, research director, criminal justice administrator, and criminologist

Courses in a Doctoral Program in Criminal Justice

Students pursuing a Ph.D. in criminal justice take courses in criminology, criminological theory, policy and analysis, and organizational leadership, as well as research and dissertation work. Doctoral coursework varies depending on each program's unique requirements; however, a few sample courses are listed below.

Research Methods in Criminal Justice

In research method courses, doctoral students learn to organize research initiatives within the criminal justice system. Topics include inquiry, theory, question development, observation, hypothesis, sampling, data, statistics, ethics, and contemporary issues. Research courses help prepare students for their dissertation.

Juvenile Justice

Juvenile justice courses explore laws, theories, and the psychology of juvenile delinquency. Topics include contemporary legal and ethical issues, organizational leadership, juvenile criminal culpability, punishment, police handling, the juvenile court, and juvenile rehabilitation. Students discuss issues of ethnicity and racism in policing as related to juvenile delinquency.


Criminology courses explore topics such as the role of law enforcement, socioeconomic influences of crime, and criminal behavior patterns. Students discuss crime rates, crime prevention methods, crime typology, and public policy.


Corrections courses examine historical and contemporary views of correctional practice and offender management. Topics include correctional institution laws, system operations, treatment of prisoners, effects of institutionalization, alternatives to incarceration, correctional policy, rehabilitation, restorative justice, and privatization of correctional facilities.

Criminal Justice Organizational Leadership

This course provides students with an understanding of the demands, principles, and practices of leading large, diverse organizations. Topics include organizational theory, leadership models, techniques for leading management initiatives, policy and politics, power and influence, decision-making, and conflict resolution.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Doctorate in Criminal Justice?

There are many factors that affect the amount of time to complete a program, such as scheduling, personal commitments, assignments, transfer credits, and the nature of the dissertation.

Most doctoral programs in education require between 50 and 75 graduate credits. Each program has its own plan of study. It can take two to five years to complete a Ph.D. program on a full-time basis. One way to speed up the time it takes to complete a program is to transfer previously earned credits.

How Much Is a Doctorate in Criminal Justice?

When considering a Ph.D. in criminal justice, students should compare in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition. Most colleges charge a higher tuition rate for out-of-state students. Some schools allow online learners to pay in-state tuition, regardless of residency.

Higher education can cost anywhere from $350 to $1,200 per credit. Total tuition may land between $20,000 and $80,000. Total expenses include more than just tuition payments. Students must also consider the cost of books, learning materials, and housing. Students who attend traditional brick-and-mortar colleges must consider commuting and parking expenses.

Financial aid in the form of scholarships, loans, and grants are available to doctoral students. Students can apply for federal and state financial aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Keep in mind that some schools do not offer financial aid to students who enroll in fewer than six credits.

Certifications and Licenses a Doctorate in Criminal Justice Prepares For

Corrections Professional Certification

The American Correctional Association features a corrections certification program. There are several certification options related to adult corrections, including certified corrections officers, certified corrections supervisors, certified corrections managers, and certified corrections executives.

Juvenile Services Practitioner Certification

The National Juvenile Detention Association, in partnership with the National Partnership for Juvenile Services, offers a juvenile services practitioner certification which recognizes highly educated and experienced practitioners and program administrators. To earn certification and remain certified, individuals must work in a juvenile confinement setting and participate in training and professional development activities.

Board Certification in Forensic Psychology

The forensic psychology certification from the American Board of Professional Psychology requires that individuals complete a credential review process and pass a written and oral exam. The board also votes to accept each candidate into membership. Typically, licensed criminal psychologists must hold a doctoral degree and state licensure.

Private Investigator License

Individuals must meet state licensure requirements to become a private investigator. Requirements typically include at least a year of related work experience, a passing score on a private investigator examination, and a background check. Some states have a minimum age requirement.

Resources for Criminal Justice Doctorate Students

Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences

ACJS is an international association that promotes criminal justice research through policy analysis, education, and research. Members benefit from networking opportunities and an employment bulletin. Criminal justice doctoral students can enjoy a free one-year membership.

U.S. Department of Justice

The U.S. Department of Justice is a helpful resource for criminal justice doctoral students. The department offers an internship program, a recent graduates program, and several fellowship opportunities.

U.S. Department of Education

The U.S. Department of Education offers several resources for prospective criminal justice doctoral students, including a list of accredited schools and up-to-date information about federal financial aid.

The Crime and Justice Research Alliance

CJRA is a comprehensive resource for research on crime and criminal justice issues. Students will find the website helpful when conducting research for their dissertation.


Many criminal justice professionals work at the FBI. This website features current job listings and information on how to pursue various career paths in criminal justice.

Professional Organizations in Criminal Justice

Professional organizations offer support to students and professionals. With a sense of collegiality, professional organizations allow like-minded individuals to collaborate. Members have a variety of benefits, including access to member-only networking; professional development; and continuing education programs, events, and conferences. Professional organizations typically boast employment resources, such as job boards and career services.

National Criminal Justice Association

The National Criminal Justice Association is a nonprofit member association that works with various government agencies to support criminal and juvenile justice policies. NCJA offers training, networking events, advocacy, technical assistance, and strategic planning.

American Society of Criminology

The American Society of Criminology is an international organization that supports and disseminates criminological research and scholarship. Members benefit from annual conferences, a scholarly journal, a weekly newsletter, and an online job board.

National Institute of Justice

The National Institute of Justice is an agency of the U.S. Department of Justice. Dedicated to research, development, and evaluation, NIJ conducts social science research, hosts training seminars and workshops, and publishes scholarly journals.

The American Correctional Association

The American Correctional Association is the oldest association dedicated to correctional practitioners. The ACA offers progressive leadership with the goal of improving the justice system. Members benefit form professional development opportunities, certifications, publications, and more.

American Probation and Parole Association

The American Probation and Parole Association supports pre-trial, parole, probation, and community-based corrections professionals. Members benefit from a leadership institute, online trainings, and an online magazine. The goal of APPA is to reduce recidivism and keep communities safe.