Top 5 Best Online Criminal Justice Doctorates (PhDs) 2024


We rank the best online doctorates in criminal justice.

Key Takeaways

  • A doctorate in criminal justice or criminology can help you secure a career in criminal justice research, leadership, or post-secondary education.

  • There is a growing demand for advanced research and leadership in the criminal justice system.

  • Criminal justice organizations often seek candidates with an advanced criminal justice degree.

Featured Programs

Many working criminal justice professionals will complete the online doctorate in criminal justice program. Criminal justice and criminology students seeking leadership and research opportunities in the criminal justice system can choose from a growing number of advanced criminal justice online programs.

The online doctorate in criminal justice is largely reserved for criminal justice professionals with an interest in policy consultation, research, or post-secondary education. A number of criminal justice PhD programs make it possible to earn this degree online.

For most criminal justice careers, the PhD is considered a terminal degree, which means it is the highest degree that you can earn in your field. This means that online doctoral in criminal justice programs can lead to opportunities for leadership, public consultation, research, and post-secondary education in the criminal justice field.

Online criminal justice PhD candidates are typically already working at a high level in their field. This means that students seeking their doctorate must balance existing work and personal responsibilities with a challenging course of education. For many graduate students, criminal justice online degree programs provide a way to achieve this balance.

For a look at how the criminal justice online program stacks up against traditional on campus programs, check out the Best Research Universities for Criminal Justice Degrees.

Or see the full List of College Rankings.


Otherwise, read on and learn more about how you can complete a doctorate in criminal justice program online.

Man with glasses studying in a library

About Accredited Online PhD in Criminal Justice Degree Programs

Quality and credibility are important when it comes to finding online PhD in criminal justice programs. The best online doctorate programs will have proper accreditation:

  • Institutional Accreditation: Accreditation is vital for online doctoral programs. It signifies that the online programs offered by the graduate school are in compliance with the standards of a Department of Education-approved accrediting body.
  • A school must also be accredited in order to offer federal financial aid to its online doctorate candidates. When looking for an online doctoral program, seek out options with accreditation from a colleges and schools commission in your region. This stamp of approval is critical for ensuring the quality and credibility of your online program.

  • Programmatic Accreditation: In addition to institutional accreditation, be sure that you are only considering online doctorate degree programs with programmatic accreditation. For instance, if you seek a doctor of nursing practice, be sure that your online doctoral degree program has accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
  • If you seek a PhD in business administration, be sure you only consider online degrees with programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP). Programmatic accreditation ensures you only select from online PhD programs respected in your field.

  • Carnegie Classification: The Carnegie Classification of Institutions of Higher Education, or as it is more commonly known, the Carnegie Classification, is a framework for categorizing all accredited, degree-granting institutions in the United States. Originally formulated in 1970 by The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, and administered through the University of Indiana’s Center for Postsecondary Research since 2014, the Carnegie Classification is “the leading framework for recognizing and describing institutional diversity in U.S. higher education.”
  • Under this classification, top research universities for doctoral and PhD candidates are identified as either R2: Doctoral Universities for “high research activity” or R1: Doctoral Universities for “very high research activity.” Look for these classifications when considering options for your online Phd options.

Key Point: The best online criminal justice programs will have both institutional and programmatic accreditation.

Admission Requirements for Doctoral Level Criminal Justice Programs

Schools that offer online doctorate programs have different admission requirements. However, most online criminal justice PhD programs will carry the same basic threshold for admission:

  • A completed online application
  • Official undergraduate college transcripts
  • A cumulative GPA of at least 3.0
  • GRE scores, MAT scores, or GMAT scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal interviews
  • Personal statement or essay
  • Plan of study

Key Point: In most cases, you’ll be eligible to enter a doctoral degree online after earning a bachelor’s degree. However, some specialized online PhD programs may require you to have earned a master’s degree as well.

Criminal justice professionals

Criminal Justice Program Curriculum and Courses

As with other advanced degree and graduate programs, research is the central component of your online criminal justice doctoral degree program. This is true for fully online doctorate degrees as well as hybrid degrees combining online education with traditional on-campus courses. Regardless of whether you complete a traditional, hybrid or online doctoral program, the typical time to completion is five to seven years.

The typical components of your online PhD program may include:

Foundational Courses

Foundational online doctorate courses will usually focus on your area of concentration. Popular areas of concentration include juvenile justice, homeland security, international crime, criminal justice administration, and more.

Students who plan to teach criminal justice may also take common core courses in areas like criminal law, criminal justice policy, the structure of the American criminal justice system, competing theories behind criminal behavior, and the history of criminal justice systems. Students will also typically complete courses on research methods and experimental design. You may be able to complete many of these requirements through online classes.

Examinations for PhD Candidacy

Many online doctoral students are required to complete certain examinations to enter into online PhD candidacy. This will typically occur after you’ve completed one to two years of foundational courses.


In most cases, the central component of your online criminal justice degree will be the completion of your dissertation. After gaining status as an online PhD candidate, you will typically work closely with a professorial advisor or mentor to develop an original research question.

This research question will form the basis of your dissertation—an ongoing project designed to address this research question through applied research. While you will work closely with your advisor or mentor, much of your dissertation will be rooted in independent research. This is especially true for students pursuing an online PhD.

Oral Defense

Upon completion of the written portion of your dissertation—which will typically present the findings from your original research project—you will be expected to defend your findings. This “oral defense” will typically be conducted by a commission of professors and experts in your field. PhD candidates in some online degree programs may be able to conduct this defense via teleconferencing.

Teaching Requirements

Some PhD programs will also include a teaching component, which will require you to work as an adjunct professor or teacher’s assistant in an undergraduate or graduate school. It may be possible for students in the online doctoral degree program to also serve teaching requirements by instructing online students.

Key Point: The online criminal justice PhD is a research-focused degree. Your dissertation will be a central part of your online doctoral degree program.

Back to Top

Careers in the Criminal Justice System Criminal Justice PhDs

The doctoral-level online criminal justice program is a terminal degree. This means that students who complete the doctoral level criminal justice degree online are generally eligible for top positions and opportunities in their field.

These opportunities, and the pay scale, may differ from one field to the next. That said, there is a growing demand in the field of criminal justice for professionals with a background in behavioral science, comparative criminal justice systems, emergent criminal justice policies, and more. This means that opportunities for high paying roles in organizational leadership, homeland security, post-secondary education, and policy research are growing.

For instance, the BLS notes that the mean annual earnings for post-secondary criminal justice and law enforcement educators was $81,730.

Woman studying criminal justice

These higher earnings are reflective of the rarified professional opportunities that await those with a PhD or doctoral degree in criminal justice. Working professionals who complete an accredited doctoral level online criminal justice degree program may be eligible to work in the following areas.

  • Policy Consultation
  • Homeland Security
  • Forensics
  • Criminology Research
  • Post-Secondary Education
  • Law Enforcement Training
  • Organizational/Agency Leadership

Key Points: A growing number of law enforcement agencies are seeking out criminal justice professionals with advanced training, knowledge, and degrees.

What’s the difference between online doctoral programs and online PhD programs?

Technically, a PhD is a type of doctorate degree. This means that all online PhD candidates are doctoral students. By contrast, not all doctoral students are PhD candidates.

The primary distinction is that doctoral students are primarily focused on putting existing theories into practice. Depending on your chosen field, your online doctoral degree may require participation in an educational leadership program, engagement in clinical practice, work as a resident in a nursing program, and much more.

By contrast, online PhD students are focused on creating new knowledge in their area of study. This usually means that online PhD candidates are focused on introducing new theories, creating research projects around these theories, and presenting new findings that demonstrate a mastery of existing knowledge and the insight to introduce new ideas into the field.

Today, more working professionals than ever before are pursuing both online doctoral degrees and online Phd programs.

What’s the difference between a PhD in Criminal Justice and a PhD in Criminology?

Criminal justice degree programs are typically focused on the practical application of justice. This means that your focus will be on the administration of justice through law enforcement, corrections, or through various roles in the court systems. Doctoral in criminal justice graduates will qualify you for a variety of criminal justice leadership roles.

Prospective students with an interest in the psychological and sociological dimensions of criminal behavior may be prefer a PhD in criminology. This advanced degree offers a research-driven exploration of both the intrinsic and extrinsic reasons that people engage in criminal activities. This includes an emphasis on behavioral science, criminal psychology, and more. Graduates with a doctoral in criminology will often go on to provide postsecondary education, conduct research, and consult on criminal justice policy in important areas like juvenile justice, domestic violence prevention, rehabilitation legislation, and more.

Back to Top

The Best Online Criminal Justice Doctorates (PhDs)

The online criminal justice doctorates and PhDs identified here are ranked based on influence, with weighting for graduation rate and full-time online enrollment.

  1. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    What do we love about Arizona State University?

    Arizona State University was founded in 1885 but is recognized today for its incredible strides in making online degree programs available to both undergraduate and graduate students. The public research university offers more than 350 undergraduate degree programs across 17 colleges.

    Arizona State University currently enrolls an estimated 150,000 students online and across its four Arizona campuses. This makes it one of the very largest schools by enrollment in the nation.

    Among ASU’s areas of specialization is its highly rated Criminology & Criminal Justice PhD, which emphasizes criminal justice theory, research, and policy. and is designed to produce highly skilled criminology and criminal justice faculty and agency researchers and administrators.

    ASU has a

  2. Photographer at a crime scene
  3. Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    Median SAT/ACT


    What do we love about Florida International University?

    Florida International University was founded in 1965 and has rapidly grown into the fifth largest public university in the United States. FIU serves more than 56,000 students at both the graduate and undergraduate level across 11 colleges.

    FIU is based in Miami-Dade and reflects the region’s emphasis on college athletics. FIU’s intercollegiate teams have secured five athletic championships across various sports.

    FIU draws a large number of PhDs due to its very high research activity level. This distinction has earned FIU classification among R1: Doctoral Universities. FIU is also noted for its wide range of excellent online doctoral programs.

    Florida International University offers an online Ph.D. in International Crime and Justice.

    • FIU is great for students who:

      Like to get the best bang for their buck. FIU ranks tops in the state for “performance funding.”

    • FIU might not be the best fit for students who:

      Prefer a small campus and an intimate learning experience.

  4. #3

    Liberty University

    Lynchburg , VA
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    Career Outlook for Criminal Justice degree at Liberty University

    Cost of Degree: $8,405
    Expenses: $19,987
    Starting Salary: $68,692
    Cost Recoup Time: 13 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary

    What do we love about Liberty University?

    Liberty University is one of the largest Christian universities in the world as well as one of the largest private non-profit universities in the U.S. Much of this size is based on its online enrollment.

    Liberty University enrolls roughly 15,000 residential students across its 17 colleges, and an additional 80,000 through its extensive online course and degree offerings.

    Liberty University is noted for the sheer volume of advanced degrees and online degrees earned by its student body. With more than 47,000 students pursuing advanced degrees, Liberty University offers an extremely wide range of online doctoral programs, including online PhD programs in many different disciplines. For students pursuing advanced degrees in criminal justice, Liberty University offers an array of options.

    Liberty offers a PhD in Criminal Justice.

    • Liberty University is great for students who:

      Wish to attend the world’s largest seminary—Liberty University’s Rawlings School of Divinity.

    • Liberty University might not be the best fit for:

      Students who do not identify with Evangelical Christianity.

  5. #4

    Nova Southeastern University

    Fort Lauderdale , FL
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    Median SAT/ACT


    Career Outlook for Criminal Justice degree at Nova Southeastern University

    Cost of Degree: $23,911
    Expenses: $20,570
    Starting Salary: $92,253
    Cost Recoup Time: 14 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
    What is Nova Southeastern University known for?

    Nova Southeastern University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

    What do we love about Nova Southeastern University?

    Nova Southeastern University was formed as the Nova University of Advanced Technology 1974. The Davie, Florida-based private-nonprofit university is noted today for its excellence in business, healthcare, education, and more.

    In its first year of operation, Nova Southeastern University enrolled 17 students in graduate-level degree programs in the social and physical sciences. Today, Nova Southeastern University serves more than 20,000 students across four Florida campuses and various learning centers outside of the state.

    NSU is particularly noteworthy for the wide variety of doctorate degrees offered, including its PhD for criminal justice students through the university’s College of Education & School of Criminal Justice.

    Nova Southeastern offers an online PhD in Criminal Justice degree.

    • Nova Southeastern University is great for students who:

      Are still deciding on their discipline. Nova Southeastern offers more than 150 graduate and undergraduate degrees across 14 colleges.

    • Nova Southeastern University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Have financial constraints. Some students note that even with financial aid, the cost of attendance remains comparatively high.

    Students in a classroom
  6. #5

    University of New Haven

    West Haven , CT
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    Career Outlook for Criminal Justice degree at University of New Haven

    Cost of Degree: $18,610
    Expenses: $22,198
    Starting Salary: $90,594
    Cost Recoup Time: 13 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
    What is University of New Haven known for?

    University of New Haven’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

    What do we love about the University of New Haven?

    University of New Haven was formed in 1920 as the New Haven YMCA Junior College. For the first 40 years of its history, New Haven was a part of the Northeastern University system, and actually shared lecture halls, laboratories, and professors with its prestigious nearby neighbor, Yale University.

    University of New Haven earned its own university accreditation in 1948 and opened its graduate school in 1969. Today, the private university with campuses in West Haven and Orange, Connecticut serves roughly 7000 students at the undergraduate and postgraduate levels.

    University of New Haven’s doctoral programs include their top-ranked PhD in Criminal Justice degree, which places an emphasis on faculty-student mentoring and researcher-practitioner partnerships to prepare students for successful careers in the criminal justice system.

    The University of New Haven offers an online PhD in Criminal Justice degree.

    • University of New Haven is great for students who:

      Are seeking a welcoming and diverse school. Students note that the University of New Haven draws undergrads and grad students from all over the world. New Haven also offers local students access to an excellent study abroad program.

    • University of New Haven might not be the best fit for students who:

      Plan to seek on-campus housing. Students note that housing is not guaranteed, and that there are limited spaces available to students.

  7. #6

    Walden University

    Minneapolis , MN
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees


    Student body


    Career Outlook for Criminal Justice degree at Walden University

    Cost of Degree: $10,381
    Starting Salary: $103,702
    What is Walden University known for?

    Walden University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

    What do we love about Walden University?

    Walden University is a private online school with headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Walden operates on a for-profit business model.

    Walden University was established in 1970 with the goal of helping working adults—specifically those in education—earn their doctoral degree. Today, Walden serves nearly 50,000 students in countless areas of study.

    Walden University notes that among its groundbreaking advanced degree programs, its PhD in Criminal Justice is one of the first online criminal justice doctoral programs available to meet the needs of working professionals. Walden University has several online PhD degree programs in criminal justice available.

    • Walden University is great for students who:

      Are studying nursing, public health, and healthcare administration. Walden is one of the nation’s top degree providers in these fields.

    • Walden University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Plan to earn PhDs in psychology. Walden’s PhDs do not have accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA).

  8. #7

    Saint Leo University

    Saint Leo , FL
    Other Rankings

    Tuition + fees






    Student body


    Median SAT/ACT


    Career Outlook for Criminal Justice degree at Saint Leo University

    Cost of Degree: $18,436
    Expenses: $19,552
    Starting Salary: $83,791
    Cost Recoup Time: 13 years
    Paid back at 15% of annual salary
    What is Saint Leo University known for?

    Saint Leo University’s faculty and alumni have been influential in:

    Most Influential Alumni

    What do we love about Saint Leo University?

    Saint Leo University was formed in 1889 and was the first Roman Catholic college in the state of Florida. Today, it is one of the five largest Roman Catholic schools in the nation. Based in St. Leo, Florida, the private liberal arts school is noted today for the excellence of its online programs as well as its service to veterans.

    Saint Leo University is also nationally recognized for its Cyber Defense Education program. Today, St. Leo serves more than 11,000 students, the majority of whom are enrolled online.

    Keeping with its emphasis on Cyber Defense, Saint Leo is noted for its excellent Doctorate Degree in Criminal Justice with an emphasis on leadership careers in homeland security.

    • Saint Leo University is great for students who:

      Prefer an intimate learning experience. Students speak positively of the school’s generally small class sizes.

    • Saint Leo University might not be the best fit for students who:

      Are attending college on a budget. Students describe Saint Leo as a comparatively expensive school.

Career Outlook for Students with Criminal Justice Degree

Go to Degree Finder tool

Criminal Justice/Law Enforcement Administration

Degree Level: Doctorate

  • Location: The U.S. (Private Schools)
  • Avg. Cost of Degree*: $12,318
  • Avg. Expenses*: $18,605
  • Avg. Salary after 4 Years*: $104,278
  • Avg. Cost Recoup Time**: 7 years
  • Job Growth: 3.31%
  • Number of Jobs: 1,382,700
  • * denotes ‘annually’
  • ** denotes ‘at 15% of annual salary’

Career Salaries

CareerJob GrowthAvg. Salary
Managers, All Other3.35%$106,040
First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives3.12%$84,600
Transit and Railroad Police2.94%$75,399
Detectives and Criminal Investigators1.49%$73,715
Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary2.43%$70,208

Average Career Salaries

Bottom 10%MedianTop 10%

Promising Job Markets

StateCost of LivingAvg. Salary
#2 California26% higher than average$108,645
#3 Illinois7% higher than average$78,640
#4 New York5% higher than average$84,489
#5 Ohio14% higher than average$67,925
#6 Michigan15% higher than average$66,857

Top Industries

IndustryAvg. Salary
Managers, All Other$106,040
First-Line Supervisors of Police and Detectives$84,600
Transit and Railroad Police$75,399

Check out our complete guide to Online Degrees.

Do you have a question about this topic? Ask it here