Getting Your Doctorate in Criminal Justice Online

An online PhD in criminal justice can give you a flexible way to earn an advanced degree and increase your earning potential. From admissions to completing your dissertation, find the top schools and get all the information you need on cost, quality, and accreditation.

Last Updated: 08/14/2020

Top Online PhD in Criminal Justice Programs for ‘20

With so many online PhD in criminal justice programs now available, students can take their time finding an option that best meets their personal, professional, and academic needs. But with so many options, making the right choice is crucial. This guide helps students find the best, flexible, and most affordable criminal justice doctorates available online. You can find details on common program components and learn how to isolate the most important ones to create a personalized ranking of your top choices.

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School Rank Number School Name City, State PROGRAM INFORMATION Total online programs Get Info School Information AmeriCorps match Top Peace Corps School Online Students Academic Counseling Career Placement Students Institutional Aid Total Cost (In-State) Median Earnings 10 Years Post-Entry
1 Capella University Minneapolis, MN ONLINE DOCTORATE CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROGRAM INFORMATION Total online programs1 Get Info

Through its School of Public Service Leadership, Capella University offers this online PhD in Criminal Justice designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to create and employ innovative strategies and policies as criminal justice administrators and educators. Students are able to customize their curriculums by choosing from among seven concentrations: Continuity Management, Corrections, Criminology, Critical Infrastructure and Key Resources, Higher Education, Human Resource Management, and Project Management. All coursework for this degree is presented and completed 100% online. However, students must attend three 4-day dissertation research seminars offered at alternating pre-scheduled locations throughout the U.S. Students can save on tuition costs by transferring in up to 20 credits of previously-earned coursework. Active duty and their spouses, and veterans, may be eligible for a tuition discount of up to 10%.

School Information AmeriCorps MatchNo ×Participates in the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award Matching Program. Gives a minimum of $1,000 in matching financial aid or other benefits to at least one AmeriCorps alumnus each year. Top Peace Corps SchoolNo ×Ranked among the highest-producing colleges of Peace Corps volunteers in 2018. Online Students36,284 Academic CounselingYes Career PlacementYes Institutional Financial Aid50% ×Percentage of students with scholarships or fellowships awarded and funded by the college. Only applies to full-time, first-time undergraduates. Total Cost
(In-State)$$ ×Tuition and fees charged per academic year to full-time students qualifying for in-state residency.
Post-College Earnings$63,600 ×Median earnings of former students 10 years after entering the college. Only represents earnings of students who received federal financial aid.
2 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA ONLINE DOCTORATE CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROGRAM INFORMATION Total online programs1 Get Info

Liberty University's online PhD in Criminal Justice degree program teaches advanced knowledge and skills in a wide range of issues to prepare graduates for senior leadership positions at all levels of government. Students are required to select from among three specializations. The Leadership specialization focuses on the practices and principles related to the administration of large criminal justice organizations. The Homeland Security specialization covers risk assessment and leadership response in connection with the threats created by terrorists, cyber attacks, and weapons of mass destruction. The General specialization allows students to customize their studies to meet their specific criminal justice education needs. All three degree programs require completion of 60 credit hours of coursework that is presented 100% online. Up to 20 previously-earned credits can be transferred in. Students in the program earn their degrees in an average of three years. A 25% tuition discount is available to qualifying first responders.

School Information AmeriCorps MatchNo ×Participates in the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award Matching Program. Gives a minimum of $1,000 in matching financial aid or other benefits to at least one AmeriCorps alumnus each year. Top Peace Corps SchoolNo ×Ranked among the highest-producing colleges of Peace Corps volunteers in 2018. Online Students67,312 Academic CounselingYes Career PlacementYes Institutional Financial Aid89% ×Percentage of students with scholarships or fellowships awarded and funded by the college. Only applies to full-time, first-time undergraduates. Total Cost
(In-State)$$$ ×Tuition and fees charged per academic year to full-time students qualifying for in-state residency.
Post-College Earnings$36,700 ×Median earnings of former students 10 years after entering the college. Only represents earnings of students who received federal financial aid.
3 Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL ONLINE DOCTORATE CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROGRAM INFORMATION Total online programs1 Get Info

Nova Southeastern University’s interdisciplinary PhD in Criminal Justice is designed to provide graduates with top-tier employment opportunities in management, research, and academia, as well as prepare them for changes in their careers. Students are required to choose one or more of three concentrations: Behavioral Science, Juvenile Justice, and Organizational Leadership. The program consists of 11 core curriculum courses (33 credits), five concentration courses (15 credits), and 12 credits of dissertation-related coursework. Students selecting more than one concentration must additionally complete all courses for the extra track(s). NSU’s PhD in Criminal Justice program is available 100% online with no campus visits or other in-person activities required. Admission into the program is competitive and enrollment is typically limited to 20 students per year.

School Information AmeriCorps MatchNo ×Participates in the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award Matching Program. Gives a minimum of $1,000 in matching financial aid or other benefits to at least one AmeriCorps alumnus each year. Top Peace Corps SchoolNo ×Ranked among the highest-producing colleges of Peace Corps volunteers in 2018. Online Students10,045 Academic CounselingYes Career PlacementYes Institutional Financial Aid99% ×Percentage of students with scholarships or fellowships awarded and funded by the college. Only applies to full-time, first-time undergraduates. Total Cost
(In-State)$$$$ ×Tuition and fees charged per academic year to full-time students qualifying for in-state residency.
Post-College Earnings$45,300 ×Median earnings of former students 10 years after entering the college. Only represents earnings of students who received federal financial aid.
4 Walden University Minneapolis, MN ONLINE DOCTORATE CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROGRAM INFORMATION Total online programs1 Get Info

The highly-flexible online PhD in Criminal Justice degree offered by Walden University is presented with two track options. The Track I option is for students who hold a master’s degree in criminal justice or closely-related subject, while students with a master’s in a subject other than criminal justice will select Track II. Students in either track may be eligible for Walden’s Fast Track Option that allows for quicker degree completion and savings on tuition by taking three courses per term instead of two, and by having dissertation courses spread throughout the program rather than grouped together at the end. Coursework for this degree is accessed and completed online. However, students are required to attend four 4-day conferences during the course of their academic studies, two online and two which are held in-person at various locations throughout the U.S. These conferences allow students to meet and network with faculty and fellow students, attend seminars and lectures, and consult on their dissertations. Dissertation presentations and defenses are done via conference call.

School Information AmeriCorps MatchNo ×Participates in the Segal AmeriCorps Education Award Matching Program. Gives a minimum of $1,000 in matching financial aid or other benefits to at least one AmeriCorps alumnus each year. Top Peace Corps SchoolNo ×Ranked among the highest-producing colleges of Peace Corps volunteers in 2018. Online Students49,680 Academic CounselingYes Career PlacementNo Institutional Financial Aid0% ×Percentage of students with scholarships or fellowships awarded and funded by the college. Only applies to full-time, first-time undergraduates. Total Cost
(In-State)$$ ×Tuition and fees charged per academic year to full-time students qualifying for in-state residency.
Post-College Earnings$50,100 ×Median earnings of former students 10 years after entering the college. Only represents earnings of students who received federal financial aid.

Inside the Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice

Earning an online PhD in criminal justice is a commitment. These programs typically require between three and five years of study, although part-time learners may need up to seven years to complete their program. Because so many of the topics translate well to online learning, students considering this path need not worry that their program will be any less rigorous or thorough. Some schools make the degree available completely online, while others offer hybrid options. Before making your decision, read through the following sections to get the answers to some commonly asked questions.

Is an Online PhD in Criminal Justice Right for You?

Students who pursue a degree at this level know they want to work in top-level academic and research posts reserved for the brightest minds in the field. While a master’s degree allows students to dig into more nuanced topics than a baccalaureate program, only a doctorate provides access to dedicated and extended study required for these roles.

If you’re interested in educating the next generation of criminal justice professionals, most institutions will require you to possess a doctorate. This qualification gives you the skills and authority needed to design courses, lead lectures, and help students navigate the degree process.

If you want to further the field through cutting-edge research, most employers will expect you to hold a Ph.D. in criminal justice. This level of education gives you the skills in quantitative and qualitative research, analytics, statistical analysis, and study design to tackle difficult questions and bring new methodologies and frameworks to the discipline.  

In terms of distance learning, an online program could be a great fit if you need a degree that offers maximum flexibility without sacrificing a quality education. You’ll need to possess significant self-discipline to turn in assignments and complete projects when not visiting a campus multiple times per week. You’ll also need to feel fairly confident about using online technologies. If you shook your head ‘yes’ while reading about these requirements, this could be a great path for you.

How do Criminal Justice PhD Programs Work Online?

Many students ask this question when researching programs, and for good reason. Learners want to make sure an online degree offers the same outcomes as those based in traditional brick-and-mortar classrooms. Given the nature of the topic, criminal justice classes work particularly well in online settings as most work includes reading, discussions, and completing assignments. At Liberty University, for example, students participate in fully online eight-week classes that allow them to interact with peers and professors, watch lectures, turn in homework, and complete weekly readings.

If both distance and traditional learning appeal to you, a partially online hybrid program may best serve your needs. These degrees may be half and half (50% online, 50% on-campus), or simply require a few campus-based weekend intensives each year. If choosing this option, you may want to ensure the school isn’t too much of a commute so you don’t have to purchase plane tickets multiple times per year.

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

Admission requirements for online PhD in criminal justice degrees vary by school, but most set similar mandates for applicants. Some programs require learners to possess a master’s in criminal justice, while others accept those with unrelated graduate degrees. Schools also request official transcripts from all schools attended to ensure applicants meet minimum GPA requirements. They also request GRE scores, letters of recommendation, a statement of interest outlining the reasons for seeking the degree at that school, and a completed application. International students must also provide TOEFL or IELTS scores.

Should I Specialize?

Plenty of specializations exist within PhD in criminal justice degrees to help students build their expertise in a given area. Common specializations include:

Organizational leadership

Students cover leadership and management theories that teach them how to be effective and efficient law enforcement leaders.

Behavioral sciences

With a focus on psychological factors, this specialization looks at some of the behavioral, emotional, and cognitive reasons behind why people commit crimes.

Juvenile justice

This specialization concerns itself with children and adolescents who commit crimes, and how to best handle them within the justice system.

Policy & Administration

This specialization prepares graduates to understand how historic and current laws influence criminal justice and how public policy can shape the future of the field.

Criminology & crime analysis

Students in this specialization focus on the study of crime, with special emphasis on understanding why some individuals commit crimes and how law enforcement can effectively respond.

A Closer Look at an Online PhD Curriculum

While all marketing materials for online PhD in criminal justice programs highlight the top features of the degree, students should take time to dig deeper into any prospective program to better understand the nuts and bolts of what’s offered.

DCJ vs. PhD in Criminal Justice

During their research, students may come across a doctorate in criminal justice (DCJ) and wonder about the difference between the doctorate and a PhD in criminal justice. As Saint Leo University explains, DCJs better prepare learners for professional roles while the PhD gives them the skills and knowledge needed to work in academic roles. DCJ programs are quite rare, but they do exist.

Is There a Research Project or Dissertation Involved?

Given the academic focus, online criminal justice doctoral degree programs require students to research and write a dissertation to graduate. Learners first write a proposal about their intended topic. After receiving approval, they begin collecting data and conducting research to support their thesis. Once they have enough material, they begin writing. During this time, they will speak with their supervisor extensively, ask her/him for feedback, and make comprehensive edits. The student must then defend their thesis by answering any outlying questions and making changes based on this final review. Once completed, the manuscript receives publication approval and the student is cleared to graduate.

What Accreditation is Needed?

Before selecting any PhD in criminal justice online program, learners must ensure the school and degree maintain proper accreditation. Institutional accreditation exists in two forms: national and regional. The former may sound like the more stringent of the two options, but in fact regional accreditation requires schools to go through a much more rigorous process and maintains higher standards for receiving and maintaining accreditation. Trade schools tend to seek national accreditation, while four-year institutions more frequently work towards regional accreditation. Within the field of criminal justice, programmatic accreditation also exists. The Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences provides certification, but currently only to bachelor’s and master’s level programs.

What’s the Cost of an Online PhD in Criminal Justice?

Cost plays an important role in the decision-making process for many degree seekers, as the majority cannot pay for these programs out of pocket and have no desire to take on substantial student loan debt. Fortunately, many different price points exist to help learners find a program that aligns cost to potential benefits of completing the degree. In general, schools offering in-state tuition typically charge the lowest tuition, while private schools typically charge the most. Check out the sample schools and their costs below, but be sure to conduct additional research to find one that meets all your needs.

School NameNo. of CreditsCost/CreditTotal Cost
Walden University83 quarter credits$620$51,460
California University of Pennsylvania42 credits$774$32,508
Nova Southeastern University60 credits$1,128$67,680
Florida State University45 credits$444.26 (in-state) // $1,075.66 (out-of-state)$19,991.70 (in-state) // $48,404.70 (out-of-state)
Sam Houston State University58 credits$698.50$40,513