Top Online Criminal Justice Programs in 2023

An online PhD or professional doctorate 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: 04/27/2023

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Top Online Criminal Justice Doctorate Programs for 2023

In light of the vast array of online criminal justice doctoral programs currently available, it is critical to pinpoint those programs that offer the most significant return on investment and fit into your busy schedule. The following college rankings showcase this year’s top overall programs. Each of the four schools highlighted below is fully accredited, features affordable tuition rates, and offers flexible scheduling options to enable you to complete your PhD or Doctor of Criminal Justice (DCJ) at your own pace.

About the ranking

Methodology for the STEPS Best Online Programs in 2022

Generate List of Eligible Schools and Programs

To be eligible for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on government data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • At least one program in subject area offered partially or fully online.

Assign Impact of Data Points

After generating the list of eligible schools, the STEPS data team then assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of affordability, support services, and online program availability. Online program availability and overall affordability received the heaviest weightings.

Online Program Availability

  • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education. When unable to verify this number, a star-based system was used to signify the number of programs relative to peers.


  • Cost:
    Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
  • Students w/ Institutional Aid:
    Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

Support Services

  • Academic Counseling:
    Existence of this service on campus or online.
  • Career Placement:
    Existence of this service on campus or online.

About Our Data

All STEPS rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2021

Saint Leo University

Saint Leo, Florida

Total online programs: 5

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 17:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 100%
Online Students 130
California University of Pennsylvania

California, Pennsylvania

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 19:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 82%
Online Students 150
Liberty University

Lynchburg, Virginia

Total online programs: 2

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 17:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 78%
Online Students 477
University of North Georgia

Dahlonega, Georgia

Total online programs: 2

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 19:1
Tuition (In-State) $
Institutional Financial Aid 10%
Online Students 119

Inside the Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice

Pursuing an online PhD in criminal justice demands a substantial commitment, as these programs usually necessitate between three and five years of study, although part-time learners may require up to seven years to complete the program. However, because many of the topics translate well to online learning, students interested in this path need not be concerned that their program will be any less comprehensive or rigorous. Some schools provide the degree entirely online, while others offer hybrid options. Before making a decision, you should ask yourself the following questions.

Is an Online PhD in Criminal Justice Right for You?

Students pursuing a doctorate degree in criminal justice aim to secure top-level academic and research positions reserved for the brightest minds in the field. While a master’s degree allows students to delve into more complex topics than a bachelor’s program, only a doctorate degree offers access to the dedicated and extensive study required for such roles.

If you aspire to teach and educate the next generation of criminal justice professionals, most institutions will mandate that you hold a doctorate degree. This qualification provides you with the knowledge, skills, and credibility necessary to design courses, deliver lectures, and assist students in navigating the degree process.

If your goal is to advance the criminal justice field through cutting-edge research, most employers will require you to possess a Ph.D. in criminal justice. This level of education provides you with the skills in quantitative and qualitative research, analytics, statistical analysis, and study design to address challenging questions and introduce novel methodologies and frameworks to the discipline.

If you require a degree that offers maximum flexibility without compromising on the quality of education, an online program could be an excellent fit. However, pursuing an online program demands significant self-discipline to submit assignments and complete projects when not visiting a campus multiple times per week. You also need to feel comfortable using online technologies. If you nodded your head in agreement while reading about these requirements, pursuing an online program may be an ideal 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 you are interested in both distance and traditional learning, a partially online hybrid program may be the best fit for your needs. These degrees may be split between online and on-campus learning (50% online, 50% on-campus) or may require only a few campus-based weekend intensives each year. If you opt for this option, you may want to ensure that the school is not too far away to avoid having 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 institutions set similar criteria for applicants. Some programs require candidates to hold a master’s degree in criminal justice, while others accept those with unrelated graduate degrees. Schools also request official transcripts from all schools attended to ensure that applicants meet minimum GPA requirements. In addition, they require 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 are also required to 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 the time to delve deeper into any prospective program to gain a better understanding of the specific details of what is being 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?

Due to the academic emphasis, online criminal justice doctoral degree programs require students to research and write a dissertation to graduate. Initially, learners write a proposal outlining their intended topic. After receiving approval, they commence data collection and research to support their thesis. Once they have sufficient material, they begin writing. Throughout this process, they will liaise extensively with their supervisor, requesting feedback and making comprehensive revisions. The student must then defend their thesis by answering any remaining questions and incorporating any changes based on the final review. Upon completion, 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 is a significant factor for many degree seekers when deciding on a program, as most cannot afford to pay for these programs out of pocket and do not want to accumulate substantial student loan debt. Fortunately, there are many different price points available to help students find a program that aligns the cost with the potential benefits of completing the degree. Generally, schools offering in-state tuition tend to charge the lowest tuition, while private schools usually 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