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5 Criminal Justice Doctoral Degrees

Criminal justice doctoral degrees lead to higher-paying roles in research and leadership in the field, and they typically take around four years to complete. Applicants may be required to hold a bachelor or master's degree in criminal justice for admission (among other requirements to qualify). Earning your doctorate degree takes hard work and a considerable monetary investment into your education, so it's important to consider where your interests lie to make sure the time and money you spend on your degree is worth the effort.

While the most common criminal justice doctorate program is a criminal justice PhD, there are many specialized areas in the field, including social work and homeland security. You can complete your PhD in criminal justice online while you work your way up through on-the-job experience, leading to higher pay and management positions. Explore the other top criminal justice doctoral degrees to learn which career is right for you.

Criminal Justice Textbook and Doctoral Graduation Hat

Criminal Justice PhD

A criminal justice PhD leads to higher paying career opportunities with varying types of jobs in the field, from research and teaching to policy writing, lobbying for change, and investigating with government agencies like the IRS.

The coursework includes 48-53 credit hours of study that heavily focuses on research methodologies and issues in criminal justice. You may need to complete exams and a dissertation to graduate. Classes often include:

  • Criminal justice ethics
  • Administration and policy
  • Research methods
  • Advanced criminological theory

You will also need to complete classes to expand knowledge in your specialty. If you want to move into academia, for example, and teach criminal justice to college students, you may need a well-versed history of the field and in-depth current information on trends. In this role, your doctorate degree can lead to administrative positions if you want to influence the future education of the field.

Most students earn their Doctor of Philosophy in Criminal Justice to focus on research in criminal justice, teach college students at the university level, or consult on policy development. However, other job opportunities exist that involve careers working for private companies or a government agency like the FBI or NSA. With a PhD in criminal justice, you may also find roles in:

  • Public safety
  • International relations
  • Environmental and criminal law
  • Social services

Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) in Criminal Justice

Another popular doctorate degree option, the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) in Criminal Justice was designed for students who want to become potential business leaders or senior managers in both public and private sectors of criminal justice. This allows you to earn a career managing large organizations or full departments in government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security or the FBI.

In a DBA program, students explore leadership roles and how to transmit theory into practice. Unlike the PhD, it is a research-based degree focused on the application of theoretical knowledge into the field. The coursework for a Doctor of Business Administration will focus on teaching students how to work in law enforcement, and classes may include:

  • Policing
  • Criminology
  • Cybercrime
  • Corrections
  • Border security
  • Ethics
  • Administration

In this role, you're likely to spend time researching and providing valuable insights to the organization you work for, offering advice based on case studies, replicating studies, and creating special training programs or curriculum - anything that takes theoretical knowledge and impacts the field to solve practical problems.

Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)/PhD in Homeland Security

A DBA or PhD in Homeland Security focuses on areas that work to protect our nation, including border protection, cyberterrorism, terrorism, and national disasters. These programs typically take seven years to complete and include a thesis to prepare you for high-level careers in intelligence, security, and operations.

Courses at the doctorate level are similar to a master's, with topics focused on the following:

  • Military operations and tactics
  • Strategy
  • Intelligence
  • Law enforcement
  • Emergency management
  • Government
  • Other critical security issues relating to the national infrastructure

Homeland security roles in the government have grown since 9/11. Graduates with a DBA or PhD in Homeland Security find roles in academia or senior leadership positions in public administration, public safety, emergency medical care and disaster preparedness agencies, or law enforcement. If you already hold a degree in criminal justice or national security, a doctorate-level homeland security degree may prepare you for a management career in emergency planning, and you may find director and manager roles in the field.

PhD in Social Work

Social workers who want to help clients in the criminal justice system like inmates, recently released offenders, and their families often earn a PhD in social work. In this role, you are responsible for rehabilitative services and offering support for families impacted by an offender's actions. You will work to address and identify the underlying issues that led to criminal behavior and help offenders develop life skills. You may help families find resources, conduct research, and supervise other

There are two doctorate-level degrees, The Doctor of Social Work (DSW) and the Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work (PhD). The DSW is intended for students who want to deepen practical skills and enhance the quality of their social work whereas PhD candidates focus on engaging in research to further the field. For either, you may need to hold a master's in the field. All programs are different, and some may emphasize administrative work while others focus on clinical work.

Students need around 72 credits and must complete a research project or dissertation to graduate with a Ph.D. Courses in social work typically include:

  • Statistics
  • Theory development
  • Research methods
  • Social policy analysis
  • Social welfare history
  • Perspectives in clinical theory
  • Economics and social change
  • Conceptual foundations in social work

You may also be required to complete a research internship to gain real-world training. Hands-on experience is vital in social work.

A prestigious PhD in social work allows you to reach advanced career opportunities and receive higher pay. Jobs range from probation and parole officers, diversion program managers, sex offender clinicians, transitional case managers, conflict mediators, or mitigation and arbitration specialists. There is also a specialized subset of victim advocates who work with local law enforcement to help victims through the legal process and trial proceedings. You may also find a role in teaching social work at the university level.

Criminology PhD

Some of the most popular criminal justice doctoral degrees fall into the field of criminology, which explores the prevention of crime and studies criminals to develop theories on issues like how to deal with punishment. Criminology PhD programs often focus on studying research and theories in the field to apply these ideas in practice. Although a bachelor or master's degree in criminology can lead to a career in criminal investigations or corrections, a PhD prepares you for research, policymaking, consultation, and government or academic roles. Graduates become top scholars and leaders in policy.

At least 72 credit hours are required for a criminology PhD. The courses focus on the theory and research surrounding crime and the criminal justice system, including courses on research methods and analytical techniques. A dissertation and thorough examination are typically required for graduation. Students study topics similar to traditional criminology, including the following:

  • Public health
  • Economics
  • Biology
  • Statistics
  • Sociology
  • Demography
  • Law

With a PhD in criminology, you can find a career conducting criminological research to prevent future crime, helping the government create laws to help regulate behavior, effectively enforce laws, or teaching as a criminology professor. This degree will also allow you to enter analytic and administrative roles within the array of various research and policy institutions, criminal justice organizations, or private sector jobs (nonprofit and private consulting organizations). Possible careers also take place at the state and federal level, including:

  • Criminologist
  • Policy advisor
  • Research officer

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