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Criminal justice offers a vast array of career opportunities, including law enforcement, victim advocacy, correctional counseling, and policymaking. A doctorate in criminal justice prepares graduates for leadership positions in law enforcement agencies, conducting advanced research and training the next generation of criminal justice professionals.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that postsecondary criminal justice instructors, a possible career path for doctoral graduates, earn a median annual salary of $62,860. The BLS projects 9% growth for postsecondary teachers in all fields between 2019 and 2029.

This guide ranks the top doctorate in criminal justice and details potential career paths for professionals with this high-level credential.

2020 Accredited Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Programs

School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

California University of Pennsylvania

California, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 53%

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.

Nova Southeastern University

Fort Lauderdale, FL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 50%

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.

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

The curriculum often draws from law, sociology, history, and management.

A doctorate in criminal justice provides in-depth study of criminal justice policy and sociological research methods. Degree-seekers must thrive in deductive reasoning and critical analysis, as well as active listening and communication.

Earning an online doctorate in criminal justice requires a commitment of four or more years, with 40-60 credits required. Online programs offer flexibility for working professionals, especially options with self-paced or asynchronous courses. The curriculum often draws from law, sociology, history, and management.

Learners can choose from a Ph.D. or a doctor of criminal justice (D.C.J.) degree. Typically, a Ph.D. focuses on research, while a D.C.J. focuses on the practical application of theories and policy. Students interested in research or teaching may prefer a Ph.D., while consultants, policy analysts, and criminal justice practitioners often find that a D.C.J. best aligns with their goals.

Doctoral programs allow students to tailor their study and research to their areas of interest. Common concentration options include juvenile justice, policy and administration, and criminology and crime analysis.

Most programs feature a capstone experience, such as a dissertation. Some programs may require candidates to publish their academic writing. Comprehensive exams also ensure that students master the material.

Admission Requirements for Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Programs

Applicants need a master's degree in criminal justice or a related field, such as sociology or psychology, often with a minimum 3.0 GPA. However, some programs accept students with only a bachelor's if they agree to complete additional coursework.

Test requirements vary by school, but prospective students may need to submit GRE scores. Most colleges require a writing sample, which should demonstrate research and academic writing ability. Applicants also need at least three references from professors and supervisors.

A resume can complement the application, highlighting practical, professional experience. Many colleges design their doctorate in criminal justice to meet the needs of mid-career criminal justice professionals. Some schools also interview applicants.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

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

Criminal justice is an interdisciplinary field that draws from history, law, sociology, and psychology. Criminal justice curricula often allow for a great deal of customization through independent research courses, seminars, and special projects. The following list covers common courses in an online doctorate in criminal justice.

Philosophy of Law, Justice, and Social Control

This course incorporates sociological research and covers theories regarding the law's function in society. Students discuss contemporary criminal justice issues and think critically about procedural justice, capital punishment, and alternative dispute resolution. The course also discusses cybercrime and terrorism in the global context of society, culture, economy, and politics.

Law and Public Policy

This course focuses on administrative law and effective public policies and regulations. Students evaluate legal instruments and processes through economic, political, and social contexts. They also discuss contemporary challenges.

Comparative Criminal Justice Systems

While most doctoral students are already familiar with the U.S. criminal justice system, this course examines criminal justice systems worldwide. Learners identify each system's strengths and weaknesses and consider the systemic challenges in adapting strategies to new cultures.

Sex Offenders: Theory, Research, and Policy

This course provides an overview of sexual abuse and explores contemporary issues related to sex offenders in the criminal justice system. Students review research on why people commit sexual assaults and analyze their impact on the victims. The course asks students to evaluate best practices for assessing, treating, and managing sex offenders.

Race and Ethnicity in Crime and Criminal Justice

Students research and evaluate the sociological, economic, and political reasons for the overrepresentation of racial minorities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Learners discuss the data available on ethnic and racial differentials in criminal proceedings, the relationship between realities and media portrayals, and other social interactions influenced by the criminal justice process.

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

Earning a doctorate in criminal justice prepares graduates for careers in research, policy development, and academia. An advanced degree can also lead to promotions in law enforcement agencies and legal professions.

The BLS projects 9% job growth for postsecondary teachers between 2019 and 2029. You can read more about popular career paths below.

See where a doctorate in criminal justice degree can take you. Learn more about criminal justice careers here.

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers teach undergraduate and graduate courses in criminal justice. Teachers help students develop critical knowledge and competencies to use in the workplace. Some postsecondary teachers also conduct research and publish academic articles related to criminal justice.

Postsecondary criminal justice teachers earn a median annual salary of $62,860.

Management Consultant

Consultants help organizations identify potential improvements in organizational structure or processes. They often provide an outside opinion on organizational culture, helping management craft alternative practices and implement changes. They may work with a team of analysts. In criminal justice, consultants may develop new policing programs, implement disciplinary procedures to reduce recidivism, or reallocate resources for improved community safety.

Management consultants earn a median annual salary of $85,260.

Policy Analyst

Policy analysts, a subset of political scientists, evaluate current and proposed policies and events using economic data, opinion surveys, and other sources. They anticipate new policies' impact and suggest changes. They may work in government agencies, legislative offices, or nonprofit organizations. About half of political scientists and policy analysts work for the federal government.

Political scientists earn a median annual salary of $122,220.

Forensic Scientist

These crime scene investigators collect and analyze evidence, carefully documenting their observations and findings. They provide evidence for criminal prosecutions, as well as testify to explain the procedures and processes used and the results of tests or analyses. They may specialize in scientific disciplines, such as digital forensics or biological forensics.

These professionals make a median annual salary of $59,150.

Arbitrators, Mediators, and Conciliators

These professionals help parties reach a mutual agreement to resolve disputes. Arbitrators act more like a judge, while mediators facilitate discussions and agreements. They help reduce the need for formal court proceedings. Specific educational requirements vary by position and state, and some states require certification to take particular cases.

These professionals earn a median annual salary of $63,930.

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

Frequently Asked Questions About Doctorate in Criminal Justice Programs

Is a doctorate in criminal justice worth it?

Although most jobs in criminal justice require a bachelor's degree, dedicated professionals who want to engage in policy analysis, law-making, high-level administration, research, or academia may find a doctorate well worth it. Earning a doctorate in criminal justice allows you to delve into complex criminal justice topics, such as the impact of community policing or the most effective rehabilitation methods. Graduates can take on leadership roles and pursue new careers that require high-level understanding of the criminal justice system.

What can I do with a doctorate in criminal justice?

A doctorate in criminal justice prepares you for a variety of roles. You can find work in federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies and correctional facilities. You can also take on research positions with state or federal governments or nonprofit organizations.. Many graduates with a doctorate in criminal justice work in academic fields, conduct research, and teach courses.

What's the difference between a doctorate in criminal justice and a doctorate in criminology?

Criminal justice focuses on applying the law, from the identification of a crime through prosecution and punishment. Criminology focuses on the sociological and psychological aspects of criminal behavior, considering why people commit crimes and the societal impact of crime and punishment. Criminologists collect and analyze a variety of statistics related to criminal behavior.

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

Salary expectations vary by career, industry, education, experience, and location. Postsecondary criminal justice teachers earn a median annual salary of $62,860. Forensic scientists earn a median annual salary of $59,150, although professionals who work in state government agencies report slightly higher wages at $60,830.

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

Political scientists and policy analysts report the highest median annual salary at $122,220. Virginia ($130,070) reports the highest mean wages for political scientists and Illinois ($71,920) reports the lowest.