Getting Your Doctorate in Criminal Justice Online

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: 05/11/2022

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Top Online Criminal Justice Doctorate Programs for 2022

With so many online criminal justice doctorate programs now available online, it’s crucial to isolate those that provide the best return on investment and can easily fit into your busy life. The following college rankings highlight this year’s best overall programs. Each of the four schools we’ve featured below is fully accredited, offers affordable tuition rates, and has flexible scheduling options that let you complete your PhD or Doctor of Criminal Justice (DCJ) on a timeline that works for you.

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

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