Online Criminal Justice Doctoral Programs

Online doctorate in criminal justice programs are a flexible option to expand your legal, criminal justice, and criminology expertise. They are designed to hone advanced investigative skills and legal knowledge and may result in a PhD, JD, SJD or PsyD degree. Through a combination of online coursework and independent research, students may delve into specific aspects of the legal and justice system, matching their online criminal justice doctoral program to their goals. Possible concentrations include Criminalistics, Homeland Security, Law Enforcement and Legal Studies.

Why earn a doctorate in Criminal Justice

Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Program Basics

Online doctorate in criminal justice programs are fairly wide-ranging. After all, criminal justice impacts different types of communities in different ways and has many applications. What they share in common is a focus on law, crime and public safety. While curriculum will vary depending on area of interest, most require students to complete a foundation of core coursework, followed by electives to further tailor programs to student interests.

As these are doctoral programs, they may also require some amount of independent research and inquiry. This research element might be supported by coursework in statistical analysis and field-specific research methodologies. Some programs may ask students to complete a dissertation, while others culminate with a capstone project. The type of final project may depend on whether the program focuses on academic or practical applications. Typically, a full time student might complete their coursework in 3-4 years, with additional time for final projects.

Most programs ask applicants to hold a masters degree, though this might not have to be in criminal justice or legal studies. GRE scores, professional experience and a relevant bachelors degree may be also required. Each program may have their own requirements so contact an admission advisor to ensure your application is complete.

Types of Online Criminal Justice Doctoral Programs

Online doctorate in criminal justice programs may offer several unique concentration options or specialties. Often, these are designed to support specific career paths, with a focus on leadership roles. For example, one online criminal justice doctoral program could focus on the operations of law enforcement agencies. Another might aim toward practicing law. Still more might look at community leadership or policy development.

Below are listed several examples of the types of subject area concentrations you might pursue.

Online Criminal Justice and Online Criminalistics PhD Programs

The broadest category, online criminal justice and criminalistics programs generally center on how to apply and enforce the law in different kinds of communities. Students might develop expertise in how the criminal justice system works and pursue research in how criminal justice issues impact different people and social groups. Courses could also look at the court system, or different ways to punish or rehabilitate criminals. What all these programs have in common is a central emphasis on keeping communities safe, preventing crime, and helping victims of crime.

Some online doctoral programs in criminal justice or criminalistics offer students the option to further specialize their curriculum. That may include the following examples.

  • Online Criminal Justice PhD Programs: Also the name of the overall category, criminal justice doctoral programs look at how the justice system works in itself. Often, they discuss how to study and analyze its efficacy. That could entail looking into research methodologies. Courses may also talk about how to design, perform, and utilize research to better understand how different criminal justice practices and systemic issues impact communities. The goal, in this case, would be not just to develop expertise about the criminal justice system, but to use that expertise to help the field make strides in helping communities and people remain safe, happy, and crime-free.
  • Online Criminology Doctoral Programs: Sharing some aspects with criminal psychology, online PhD in criminology programs center on crime in and of itself. That means discussing why it occurs, why people repeat offend, how crime affects people and communities, and most importantly, how to use all of that knowledge to prevent crime and enforce the law effectively. As with criminal justice, some of these programs discuss research methodologies and aim to develop criminology thought leadership. However, other programs may be practice-oriented and emphasize applying research findings productively in the field.

If you choose to pursue any of the above concentration options, remember that individual programs may vary. That means that while many programs may align with the descriptions above, it’s possible that the one you choose may be different. For more information about this and other potential concentration options, contact your online criminal justice doctoral program of choice.


Homeland Security & National Defense

Interested in earning a PhD in Homeland Security Online? This unique specialty focuses on understanding how intelligence, the military, technology, and leadership come together to address crucial national security concerns. Some online homeland security doctoral programs may look toward research roles—that is, using scholarly expertise to study and understand why these homeland security issues arise, measure the effectiveness of countermeasures, and examine the impact on communities across the country. Other programs may look more at leadership roles within homeland security, leading defense programs and making strategic decisions. Studying homeland security at the doctoral level may also share some course topics with related programs, such as public administration, crisis management, military history, and international relations.

Law Enforcement, Policing & Investigation

Online law enforcement doctoral programs go by a few different names, depending on how they approach the topic of maintaining order. For example, you could find some called Strategic Security, and others called Policing and Investigation. In general, this topic focuses on investigating crimes, keeping the public safe, and and how to manage teams in those contexts. Programs may also discuss how to lead a security firm to protect people and areas. Or they could look at applying investigation skills in areas like counterterrorism, intelligence operations, and more.

Legal Studies

Online legal studies doctoral programs may come in several forms but are all concerned with the theories and institutions that form the backbone of the legal system. Generally, courses vary based on the objective. For example, some programs focus on developing one’s credentials to practice law in the courtroom. These might focus on prosecutorial or defense roles; however, some programs may apply to judicial ones as well, or legal analysis. Other programs, meanwhile, may concentrate on analyzing the legal system and its impact on people and communities from a scholarly standpoint. That could, for example, entail an examination of how the law is enforced in urban communities versus suburban or rural ones, or the rate of conviction of certain crimes in different populations. Online legal studies doctoral programs may also be found to help you work toward lecturing about law in a college setting as a professor. Or you might focus on developing expertise on a certain type of law. While many of these types of legal studies doctoral programs online may focus on criminal law, some may look closely at constitutional issues, corporate law, or even international law. Due to the wide variety of programs, it is important to read descriptions carefully. Contact schools directly with questions.

Types of Doctorate in Criminal Justice Degrees

Online criminal justice doctoral programs may confer any of several different degree types. Each one of these types of doctorates could tell you something about how that program’s curriculum is put together and the types of skills they may emphasize. Additionally, the options available could depends heavily on the concentration you choose to study.

Below are listed some of the more commonly awarded degree types in criminal justice.

  • Online PhD in Criminal Justice: This option is probably the one you’ll see most often. PhD programs include a pretty wide range of program types, so this degree, while probably the most familiar, also might tell you the least about the nature of your studies. However, in many cases, criminal justice PhD programs are more academic or scholarly in nature, rather than being practice-oriented. This may mean your program entails more research, though this isn't always the case.
  • Online Criminal Justice PsyD (Doctor of Psychology): Frequently, you’ll find a Doctor of Psychology degree in a program like criminal or forensic psychology. A PsyD degree is typically awarded by a school of psychology, and is relatively practice-oriented. PsyD programs may aim not only to develop expertise about the psychology of crime in general, but also therapeutic skills that might be used to practice as a psychologist. That said, while less common, some research-focused PsyD programs may also be offered.
  • Online JD in Criminal Justice: Also called a Juris Doctor or Doctor of Jurisprudence, generally a JD degree indicates that you studied in a school of law. As such, in most cases, these degrees are designed to help students work toward a career practicing law in the courtroom. One unique aspect of JD programs, compared to the similar SJD degrees, is that JDs typically don’t ask students to complete a dissertation.
  • Doctor of Juridical Science (SJD): This terminal degree, usually offered by law schools, focuses on scholarly research into criminal justice and related legal issues. Some universities may actually consider this a postdoctoral degree. Like the PhD, a SJD program generally requires a dissertation at the culmination of the program.

As you search for your potential online doctorate in criminal justice programs, keep in mind that, while the above list might be a useful guide, it may not be comprehensive. Over the course of your search, you may encounter programs that vary from these descriptions, or even degree types not listed here. If that’s the case, reach out to that school for more information.

Why Consider Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Programs?

Studying in an online doctorate in criminal justice program may be an attractive option for those who need to balance their education with outside responsibilities. Coursework is typically delivered through a digital learning platform, with assignments, lectures and other resources available 24/7. Some programs are self-paced. That would mean you’d have additional freedom to decide how much coursework you can handle at any given time, and the ability to work at different times to accommodate your schedule. 

For those seeking a more traditional classroom experience, synchronous programs could be offered. This type of online criminal justice doctoral program may enable you to participate in real time, attending a streaming or interactive lecture from the comfort of your home - or wherever you have internet access.

Studying online also removes geographic barriers. Not only does that mean you could apply to programs across the country. It also means you could study alongside criminal justice students and professionals from all walks of life and different types of communities. That kind of learning experience—getting to hear about these issues and how they impact real communities and people outside of your area, could enhance your educational experience.

Potential Criminal Justice Careers

Studying criminal justice may support a wide range of potential career paths, including criminal law enforcement, criminal investigations, rehabilitation, and more! Because many entry level employment could be found with prior degrees like bachelors or masters, many doctoral candidates have already begun their criminal justice careers by the time they enroll. (One notable exception to this rule is practicing law.) An online doctorate in criminal justice program could help these professionals enhance their career and pursue leadership or research positions.

Below are listed several example criminal justice career paths, with additional salary information.

  • Detectives and Criminal Investigators: $79,120 (2016 Median Annual Salary)i
  • Lawyers: $118,160 (2016 Median Annual Salary)ii
  • Judges and Hearing Officers: $109,940 (2016 Median Annual Salary)iii
  • Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Postsecondary Teachers: $59,590 (2016 Median Annual Salary)iv

Search for Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice Programs

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