Doctoral Degree Programs in Criminal Justice
Pursuing a doctoral degree in criminal justice is one way to reach the highest level of the profession and make a lasting impact on the field. People who pursue degrees at this level are interested in expanding our understanding of criminal behavior and how to deal with it. Graduates with this degree often achieve high-level academic positions or work in research, consulting firms, or public policy groups. They make significant contributions to a wide variety of criminal justice-related organizations.
Types of Criminal Justice Doctoral Degrees
There are a variety of doctorates in the field of criminal justice, all of which serve different purposes. In fact, the primary thing they have in common is that they could all lead to a career in academia, as you would be researching or teaching college-aged learners within your field of study. Below, you can find examples of some of the more common doctoral degrees in criminal justice along with typical concentrations—though these concentrations aren’t your only choices.
Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Criminal Justice
This degree tends to focus on research and academia. Ph.D. candidates in criminal justice fields often study theories, policies, and educational methods. Ph.D. programs typically end in a dissertation or capstone project, both of which are research-intensive and result in either a paper or full-scale study, respectively.
Doctor of Criminal Justice (D.C.J.)
D.C.J. is the newest accredited doctoral degree in criminal justice. This degree is for people who already have extensive practical experience in the criminal justice field to help them become leaders in their area or focus on a new one.
Common D.C.J. concentrations: homeland security, criminal justice policy
Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Criminal Justice
Psy.D. candidates in criminal justice fields focus on the environmental and mental challenges that lead to criminality. Criminal activity isn’t black and white; many perpetrators come from abusive environments, experience high poverty, suffer from mental health issues, or have other challenging situations. The job of someone with a Psy.D. is to figure out why people commit crimes and try to find solutions to problems on an individual or widespread level.
Doctor of Public Administration (D.P.A.)
D.P.A. programs allow you to learn about, analyze, and plan for improvements in policy and program administration in a variety of fields, including criminal justice. These programs focus on topics such as government and nonprofit administration, leadership, and program planning and management.
Common D.P.A. concentrations: policy, administration of justice
Juris Doctor (J.D.)
While not a doctoral degree in the traditional sense, a J.D. is a terminal degree for people who wish to work as a lawyer. Those with this degree don’t typically refer to themselves as doctors.
How to Get Your Doctoral Degree in Criminal Justice
Students pursuing a doctoral degree in criminal justice typically complete 40–60 semester credits, which takes around two years of study, plus an additional two or so years to complete a dissertation or capstone project. Some programs also require a residency, in which you will work in a criminal justice field under a mentor for approximately one year. If you’re taking an online program, you may be required to attend one or more residencies or colloquia (conferences or seminars with your specific graduating class) at different stages of the program.
Juris Doctors spend more time in school—around 90 credit hours, or three years, in law school. Though you typically won’t need to complete a dissertation or capstone project, you will generally need to get hands-on experience through an internship or practicum. To become a lawyer, you will need to pass your state bar exam.
Criminal Justice Doctoral Program Entry Requirements
While entry requirements will vary by institution, the following are some typical admission requirements:
Criminal Justice Doctoral Curricula
Though each doctoral program will have a unique curriculum, certain types of classes are relatively universal:
For all these doctoral programs (not including law school), you will need to complete a dissertation or capstone project. While a dissertation is research-based, a capstone project is about the practical application of knowledge. You will complete hands-on work in an attempt to solve a problem in the criminal justice field and ultimately write a paper or create a portfolio or other product and report, sharing and defending your findings.
Completing a dissertation requires you to research a significant problem in criminal justice, such as domestic violence, illegal immigration, incarceration rates, or juvenile crime, then write an extensive paper on your findings. A capstone project requires you to focus on a problem or health issue and complete a full-scale study on it, with a paper, portfolio, or presentation—or combination thereof—at completion. A faculty advisor will provide guidance and mentor you throughout the process. Upon completion, the student will submit and defend their work before a committee. The committee has the final say on the acceptance and publication of the work.
Online Doctoral Degrees in Criminal Justice
Doctorates in criminal justice are frequently available exclusively or almost exclusively online. Accredited online degrees can be just as prestigious and high-quality as accredited on-campus programs, as they’re taught by fully qualified professionals and have the same rigor. You’ll also have access to an academic advisor and financial aid opportunities, just as you would in a brick-and-mortar school.
Pros of Online Doctorates in Criminal Justice
Cons of Online Doctorates in Criminal Justice
One frequently cited drawback to online learning is the need to be self-motivated to create your own structure and discipline. However, success at the doctoral level requires these traits of students even in on-campus programs, because structured coursework is not the primary focus of the program as with the undergraduate or master’s levels.
Paying for Your Criminal Justice Doctorate
Doctorates in criminal justice will vary widely in cost based on the type of degree and specific institution. As of the 2019–2020 school year, full-time doctoral candidates across all areas of study paid an average of $11,380 per year at public institutions and $45,380 at private, nonprofit institutions. However, this is the “sticker price” and doesn’t factor in scholarships, grants, or teaching assistant funding.
You have a variety of options, including federal aid, for assistance in paying for your degree. Before exploring these options—particularly any that need to be paid back—you should discuss funding opportunities through your current place of work to see if they provide any tuition assistance or reimbursement in exchange for agreeing to years of service.
Types of Financial Aid for Doctorates in Criminal Justice
Criminal Justice Doctorate Scholarships and Fellowships
Common Fields and Salary Ranges for Doctoral Graduates in Criminal Justice
There are many career possibilities for those with doctorates in criminal justice. You may work in high-level governmental positions, teach and conduct research in your area of interest, or provide consulting services. While some of these careers don’t require a doctorate to get started, you may rise through the ranks quicker and potentially earn higher pay with this terminal degree. Some of the most common fields for those with doctoral degrees in criminal justice are:
Career Options with a Doctorate in Criminal Justice
Resources for Criminal Justice Doctoral Students and Graduates
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia