5 Key Courses in a Criminal Justice Doctoral Program

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Updated August 4, 2020

Required Doctoral Classes for a Criminal Justice Degree

  • CJ Theory
  • Policy and Administration
  • Research Methods
  • Design and Analysis
  • Dissertation

Criminal justice doctoral programs give students the chance to earn a doctorate and often feature some of the same required courses. Colleges design these classes to provide students with the fundamental knowledge that they will need when working on a dissertation and when working in the field.

CJ Theory

One of the more important classes that students in these programs take is one on CJ theory. This type of class looks at all the popular and common theories behind criminal behavior. It goes over some of the environmental influences that may make a person act out and some of the risk factors that can lead to criminal behavior. Students learn how to use those theories to develop their own way of thinking and their own opinions on criminal behaviors.

Policy and Administration

While students with a doctoral degree in this field can work in a number of different positions, many choose to work in policy and administration, which is why this is a required course in most programs. Policy and administration covers the policies used in the field, including the penalties that courts can impose on those convicted of criminal activities and the treatment methods used to treat some criminals. It also focuses on administration and what administrators do. This provides students with useful information that can help them determine whether to start a career in administration.

Research Methods

One of the top requirements for finishing a doctoral degree is the dissertation, but before a student can work on that dissertation, he or she will need to take a class on research methods. While they'll take similar classes at the undergrad and graduate level, a doctoral course on research goes beyond just picking good sources. It also focuses on how students can conduct their own research, which is important for those who want to do their own experiments and research on CJ topics. Some colleges allow students to being their dissertation research while in this class and have their research approved by a supervising professor.

Design and Analysis

Design and analysis classes can focus on one of two things. Some schools offer these classes for students who want to learn more about the top theories of CJ work. These classes teach students how to analyze the date available to them and how to design that experiments used in prisons and other correctional facilities. Other schools use this class as a way to help students start their dissertation work. They learn how to design a final paper or project that sums up their work in the program and how to analyze the data that they use in the dissertation.


Criminal justice doctoral students must complete a dissertation before graduating. This is a type of final paper that is roughly the same length as a book, and many schools will publish and keep a copy of the dissertation in the campus library. Students take many courses designed to help them with the research, writing and overall design of their dissertations. Jia Guo of U.S. News & World Report recommends that students pick a subject they feel comfortable writing about and one that will keep their interest for a long period of time. Students can spend years doing research and working on a dissertation.

Those who want to work in academia typically need a doctoral degree, but those with a doctoral degree can work in other fields too. Criminal justice doctoral programs feature some required courses that help students as they work on their dissertations.

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