A doctoral-level graduate degree in criminal justice can provide you with the knowledge and ability necessary to bring about positive change at many levels of the justice system. Graduates with this degree most often find employment in research, consulting, management, public policy or higher education fields.

Choosing your doctorate program in criminal justice

The most common criminal justice doctorate is the Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., though some institutions offer doctoral degrees in a closely related field with a criminal justice concentration. While the criminal justice Ph.D. is preferred for academic positions, individuals yearning work in policy or criminology may benefit more from a Ph.D. in public safety or public policy that focuses on various aspects of the criminal justice sector. A Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree with a criminology and justice studies specialization can be more practical for those interested in forensic psychology or counseling occupations.

Full-time students can often complete the requirements for a criminal justice doctorate in four to five years. Working professionals might opt for part-time or online programs, which may take longer but allow for more balance during the academic year. Online doctoral degrees in criminal justice sometimes require students to commit to a certain number of on-campus residencies. Residencies can be spread out over several weekends or concentrated into a couple of weeks, and they may take place on a university campus or at an affiliated residential facility.

Core curriculum covers a wide base of subjects, interconnecting one facet of criminal justice to another:

  • Diversity issues in public safety
  • Crisis management
  • Quantitative and qualitative research methods
  • Sociology of crime
  • Public policy and leadership

Requirements to earn your doctorate

In many cases, doctoral programs in criminal justice require a master's degree. Having a master's in the field may also reduce the amount of coursework needed to complete the doctoral program, but every school has its own requirements, so be sure to check with your program representative.

Practically all doctoral programs require students to have completed the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) with an adequate score and to meet GPA requirements as well.

Online doctorates generally consist of coursework in core and elective areas as well as a dissertation. Your dissertation is the product of concentrated research on a specialization in the criminal justice field. Available specializations can vary from institution to institution but generally include distinct options:

  • Juvenile justice
  • Organizational leadership
  • Behavioral science

It can take anywhere from one to three years, on average, to research and write the dissertation.

If you're ready to consider program options for your doctorate in criminal justice, you can start with the schools below. Arrange to speak to a school representative to get more details about program structure, admissions and more.