Most Affordable Online PhD in Criminal Justice Programs

Most Affordable Online PhD in Criminal Justice Programs

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Updated June 3, 2021 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Criminal justice encompasses many specializations and careers in the law enforcement, legal, and correctional system fields. Criminal justice careers usually involve preventing or solving crime, determining guilt, advocating for victims or offenders, or rehabilitating victims or offenders.

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Studying an online Ph.D. in criminal justice prepares students for jobs such as private detectives or forensic psychologists. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), police and detectives earned a median annual salary of $65,170 in 2019. Salaries for Ph.D.-level jobs, such as postsecondary teacher and forensic psychologist, often pay at least $80,000 per year.

Depending on a student's educational background, criminal justice Ph.D. programs usually entail 50-75 credits and take 3-5 years of full-time attendance to complete. Some Ph.D. programs require enrollees to enter the program with a related master's degree. Use this guide to help you find affordable online P.h.D. programs, as well as career paths and salary outlooks.

Explore these promoted online degree programs.

These top, accredited schools offer a variety of online graduate degree programs. Figuring out where to apply? Consider one of these online Master’s or PhD programs.

Top Affordable Online Ph.D. in Criminal Justice Programs

  • California University of Pennsylvania

    California, PA



    Learners pursuing an online doctorate in criminal justice at Cal U complete 42 post-master's credits. Part-time students typically earn the degree in two years. Doctoral students attend a mandatory five-day residency during the summer between their first and second years.

    The curriculum includes courses in advanced criminal law and procedure, contemporary forensic science and technology, improving juvenile justice administration, and crisis and management in corrections. After completing coursework, students must pass a comprehensive exam. The program culminates in a professional dissertation. Through the doctoral research project, students demonstrate their ability to apply research constructs in areas directly related to their field.

    The program follows a cohort model. Applicants must hold master's degrees in criminal justice or related fields, such as anthropology, public administration, or psychology. Applicants must have a minimum 3.5 GPA. Cal U holds regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

  • Nova Southeastern University

    Fort Lauderdale, FL



    NSU offers an online Ph.D. in criminal justice through the Abraham S. Fischler College of Education and School of Criminal Justice. The program consists of 60 post-master's credits. Learners complete 33 credits of core coursework, 15 concentration credits, and 12 dissertation credits. Most students take three courses per semester and graduate within 2.5 years.

    Students earning the Ph.D. in criminal justice online can pursue concentrations in organizational leadership, behavioral science, or juvenile justice. The core curriculum includes courses in theories and crime; police and society; criminal law, procedure, and individual rights; and applied statistics.

    Applicants must hold master's degrees and each submit a 300-word essay describing their research goals and qualifications. Applicants must also submit their master's thesis, a capstone research project, a piece of published work from a peer-reviewed journal, or recent GRE scores. NSU holds regional accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

What does it mean to have a Ph.D.?

A Ph.D. indicates advanced expertise, preparing professionals for leadership roles in their field.

How much does a Ph.D. in criminal justice cost?

Grad School Hub tuition data indicates that the total costs of criminal justice doctoral degrees typically range from $10,000-$14,000 for online programs per year.

How many years is a Ph.D. in criminal justice?

Most criminal justice Ph.D. programs require about 3-5 years of full-time enrollment, but program lengths often differ based on prior graduate coursework. Accelerated or part-time programs may require less or more time.

What is the highest paying job in the criminal justice field?

Forensic psychologists make around $80,370 per year, according to the BLS. Criminal justice administration positions, such as prison warden, often pay even higher salaries.

While achieving your doctorate in criminal justice, you’ll become an expert in criminal justice policy evaluation and implementation, research into specific issues related to criminal justice, and build a foundation to become a leader in the field. Depending on the type of program you enter, an online Ph.D. criminal justice program can take you up to four years or even two years to complete. These programs usually require that you finish 40-60 credit hours in the program to graduate. Some programs, like California University of Pennsylvania are flexible enough to allow students to attend part-time and still finish within two years. Expect to take courses that involve ethics, sociology, and law.

P.h.D in criminal justice vs. a practical doctorate

If you’re looking for an advanced degree in criminal justice, you don’t necessarily have to go the Ph.D. route. You can instead get a doctor of criminal justice (DCJ) degree. The difference between these two degrees is that, in a Ph.D. program, you’ll typically focus on research, while in a DCJ program, you’ll work on practical application. Before you graduate, you may have to complete a final project to demonstrate your understanding of the material you’ve learned. Some examples might be creating and defending your dissertation, publishing an academic writing piece, or taking a comprehensive exam.

Online Ph.D. in Criminal Justice Admissions Requirements

In order to get admitted into online Ph.D. programs in criminal justice, you’ll need to accomplish a few things first. At the very least, you’ll need to get your bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Keep in mind that some programs require that you first obtain your master’s degree Many programs will also require you to have a minimum GPA of 3.0 in order to be admitted, while others would prefer that you come into the program with previous professional experience.

Courses in a Criminal Justice Ph.D. Program

Typically requiring around 50-75 credits spread across 3-6 years, criminal justice Ph.D. programs often feature concentrations in areas such as juvenile justice, organizational leadership, criminology, and criminal justice policy. Core courses often include criminology, research methods, and social psychology. Specialized courses may include computer criminology or crime mapping.

All criminal justice Ph.D. programs develop research skills. Enrollees learn how to analyze, utilize, and produce criminology theory and data. Course offerings vary by program and concentration. The sample curriculum below outlines some typical Ph.D.-level criminal justice offerings.

Criminal Law

Usually a core course, criminal law provides an overview of the U.S. criminal justice system. Enrollees examine law enforcement, legal, and correctional theory and practice from past to present. This course also explores criminal justice principles, including due process and the burden of proof. Students may analyze various law enforcement and legal decisions that determine the way a case moves through the criminal justice system.

Criminal Justice Research Methods

Students in this course learn and apply research methods to understand the causes of crime and develop crime prevention strategies. Enrollees practice collecting, analyzing, and applying criminology-related data. Research methods courses also highlight social issues that contribute to criminality and discuss the ethics of crime research and prevention. This course provides an excellent foundation for criminal justice research projects, including dissertations.

Computer Criminology: Cybercrime and Digital Security

Essential for aspiring information security and computer forensics experts, computer criminology courses provide advanced knowledge and training in cybercrime law and digital forensics techniques. Enrollees analyze criminology theory and its applications for computer and internet crimes, including fraud, child pornography, and identity theft. This course often appears as part of a concentration in cybercrime and digital forensics.


Integrating sociology and criminal justice theory, this course surveys diverse perspectives on crime causes and prevention. Students learn feminist, rational choice, and bio-social approaches and consider contributing factors such as economic and social stress, habits, and stage of life and life path. Enrollees also weigh the merits and shortcomings of each theory, exploring structural assumptions and logic.

Criminal Justice Policy

Often part of a concentration, criminal justice policy courses offer an overview of major theories informing criminal justice policy and administration. The course explores the various policies that shape law enforcement, the courts, and the correctional system. Major topics discussed include corruption and risk assessment in crime and criminal justice administration.

Common concentrations in online Ph.D. criminal degree justice programs 

Ideas for an overview: Are there any extra requirements for any of them? Give examples of potential careers for each one and the potential time commitment of each one (credit hours & how long it would take to complete).

Should you pursue an online Ph.D. in criminal justice, you can choose a specific area of focus or concentration during your studies. Choosing to specialize in a particular area of criminal justice may make it easier for you to land a position in an area that interests you. Some options include:

Behavioral sciences: If you choose a concentration in behavioral science, you’ll focus your studies on psychology and sociology. You’ll also utilize research methods in behavioral development, assessment, and observation.

Cybersecurity: With this concentration, you’ll focus on studying how networks are vulnerable to attacks and how to prevent them. You’ll take courses in cyber law, cryptography, and computer networks.

Juvenile justice: Juvenile justice courses will teach you how to navigate treatment plans and intervention procedures for children and adolescents. A juvenile justice concentration requires about 15 credits to earn.

Law: This concentration will offer you insight into the legal system, including constitutional, legislative, civil, and criminal law. A concentration on law could allow to get into law school or find a vocation in law. 

Forensic science: With a concentration in forensic science, you’ll focus on analyzing physical evidence using chemistry, biology, and technology. You’ll also learn how to analyze fingerprints, tire tracks, and body fluids.     

Career and Salary Outlook for Criminal Justice Majors

Earning a criminal justice Ph.D. can open doors to exciting and lucrative career paths. Ph.D. graduates interested in solving crimes often focus on criminology or forensics. They pursue careers as investigators, criminologists, or forensic psychologists. Other criminal justice Ph.D. students may focus on organizational leadership, criminal justice policy and administration, or emergency management. Meanwhile, graduates interested in research or teaching may pursue jobs as research directors or professors.

Career Median Annual Salary Projected Growth Rate (2019-2029)
Forensic Psychologist $80,370 3%
Postsecondary Teacher $79,540 9%
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialist $54,290 4%
Private Detective and Investigator $50,510 8%

Source: BLS

According to the BLS, there is positive projected growth for the criminal justice industry. If you choose to remain in academics and want to become a post-secondary instructor, the median annual salary is $80,790, and job growth is projected at 9% between 2019 and 2029, which is a much faster rate than most industries. If you go into protective services or become a police officer or detective, expect to earn an annual wage of $43,710 and $67,290, respectively. See below for descriptions of common careers paths for criminal justice graduates:

Forensic Psychologist
Often providing counsel and testimony during criminal trials, these professionals analyze situations and people involved in crimes. Tasked with diagnosing mental disorders and determining criminal agency, forensic psychologists may administer psychological tests and interview suspects, criminals, victims, and witnesses. These professionals may also present evidence in court and make sentencing and rehabilitation recommendations.

Postsecondary Teacher
These professionals work as professors at colleges and universities. They deliver lectures, grade student work, and perform various administrative tasks for their courses and department. Professors at research universities may also devote considerable time to conducting research studies and composing and presenting scholarly articles and books.

Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialist
Specializing in criminal rehabilitation, these professionals support offenders in building better lives and correcting harmful behaviors. Probation officers and correctional treatment specialists meet with parolees and families, administer testing, and fulfill case reporting duties. Correctional treatment specialists also design treatment plans and negotiate terms of release.

Private Detective and Investigator
Tasked with investigating crimes and suspicious activities, these professionals gather evidence and find answers. Employed by governmental agencies, police departments, and private clients, investigators may specialize in areas such as computer crime, missing persons, or background verification.

How to Become a Detective

Criminal justice students interested in analyzing and solving crimes often consider careers as detectives. Detectives may work at police departments or for government agencies, such as the

Federal Bureau of Investigation. Detectives usually begin their careers as police officers. Many police officers and detectives have at least a high school diploma and professional law enforcement training through the police training academy.

To obtain detective positions, candidates may need advanced training in areas like law, ethics, rights, and investigation techniques. Candidates also need good job performance records to qualify for a promotion to detective. Federal agents need at least a bachelor's degree, plus three years of professional experience and successful completion of specialized training at federal training centers.

Certifications and Licensure

A criminal justice Ph.D. meets or exceeds the minimum education requirements for most criminal justice careers. However, some positions require additional certifications and professional training. Criminal justice organizations such as the American Correctional Association (ACA) offer various professional certifications for criminal justice professionals.

This certification typically serves aspiring corrections executives, such as wardens, superintendents, deputies, and commissioners. To obtain CCE certification, candidates must study ACA's Corrections Certification Program Handbook and pass the corresponding examination.

this certification serves aspiring forensic psychologists. Candidates need a Ph.D. from an accredited school, a psychology license, and professional experience. To obtain certification, candidates must successfully complete written and oral examinations.

CHSA certification goes to current and aspiring health managers tasked with directing and monitoring healthcare systems in corrections settings. This certification requires three years of relevant HSA experience plus RN licensure or a relevant health services degree.


Criminal Justice Associations

American Criminal Justice Association

Founded in 1971, the American Criminal Justice Association (ACJA) is an organization dedicated to informing criminal justice legislation. Groups or individuals from all parts of the field — attorneys, detectives, forensic scientists, and corrections — as well as graduates can become members of ACJA.

American Society of Criminology

The members of the American Society of Criminology (ASC) study and seek to understand the prevention, treatment, and consequences of criminal behavior. This international organization is dedicated to supporting the exchange of information between professionals across all criminal justice disciplines.

Justice Research and Statistics Association

The Justice Research and Statistics Association (JRSA) is a national nonprofit made up of members who research and practice in the field of criminal justice. The organization is focused on shaping policies for state and local governments and offers unbiased research and analysis.

What Are the Benefits of a Degree in Criminal Justice?

Studying criminal justice at the doctoral level often yields many personal and professional benefits, such as advanced research qualifications, career advancement, professional expertise, and salary increases.

Research Credentials
Through research methods courses and original dissertation research, Ph.D. students gain sophisticated knowledge of their field and advanced skills in criminal justice data collection, analysis, and applications.
Career Advancement
Many criminal justice professionals pursue Ph.D.s to improve their candidacy for promotion to administrative or research positions.
Professional Expertise
A criminal justice Ph.D. degree signals top-level expertise that can improve job performance and lead to leadership roles.
Salary Advancement
In most workplaces, advanced degrees qualify individuals for higher salaries.
Elite Professional Network
Typically composed of gifted, motivated, and successful individuals, Ph.D. programs lead to new professional connections with peers and professors.

How Can a Ph.D. Student Pay for College?

There are various scholarships for college students in all fields and levels, including criminal justice doctoral students. Professional, governmental, and nonprofit organizations often award scholarships to students demonstrating some combination of academic merit, leadership, financial need, and group membership. The following list outlines several scholarship opportunities for criminal justice Ph.D. students.

Pi Gamma Mu Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Eligible applicants must belong to Pi Gammu Mu and be within their first two years of a graduate program in political science, social work, or a criminal justice-related field. Application materials include three recommendation letters, a resume, and a purpose statement.
Amount: $1,000 to $2,000

Ritchie Jennings Memorial Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Offered by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners Foundation, this scholarship supports full-time students enrolled in criminal justice, finance and accounting, and business administration programs at accredited, four-year schools. Eligible applicants must plan to pursue anti-fraud careers. Application materials include two recommendation letters and official transcripts.
Amount: $1,000 to $10,000 and one-year of ACFE student membership

Ruth D. Peterson Fellowship for Racial and Ethnic Diversity
Who Can Apply: Criminal justice and criminology doctoral program enrollees from underrepresented ethnic and racial groups may apply. Application materials include a personal identity statement, a letter describing career goals, a curriculum vita, and three reference letters.
Amount: $6,000

The Davis-Putter Scholarship Fund
Who Can Apply: Activist students committed to economic and social justice enrolled in accredited schools may apply. Eligible applicants need an impressive activism history and submit recommendation letters, official transcripts, a personal statement, and FAFSA information demonstrating financial need.
Amount: Up to $15,000 per year, with the option to reapply annually

Women in Federal Law Enforcement (WIFLE) Regular Scholarship
Who Can Apply: Funded by the WIFLE Foundation, this scholarship goes to women enrolled full-time in on-campus criminal justice programs at accredited higher education institutions. Eligible applicants must hold a 3.0 minimum GPA and submit recommendation letters and a 500-word essay detailing their community involvement activities.
Amount: Varies

The Most Affordable Online Criminal Justice Programs? Here Our Top Picks:

California University of Pennsylvania California, PA
Nova Southeastern University Fort Lauderdale, FL

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