Earning a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice Online

Job growth in law enforcement, corrections, and security has spurred the demand for criminal justice educators, researchers, and policy analysis. Traditional or online Ph.D. in criminal justice programs prepare graduates for rewarding and highly paid career paths. An online criminal justice Ph.D. strengthens analytical, research, and leadership skills for careers in higher education, administration, research, and policy analysis.

The flexibility of distance learning may appeal to recent graduates seeking further training before entering the workplace, or working professionals interested in career advancement and leadership roles. Graduates of online criminal justice Ph.D. programs often find faculty positions, teaching at the undergraduate and graduate levels and conducting research that advances the discipline. Most postsecondary institutions seek faculty who have earned a doctorate. A Ph.D. also enhances professional opportunities for those seeking high-level administrative positions in law enforcement and federal agencies.

What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice?

The training acquired in an online criminal justice Ph.D. program qualifies graduates for rewarding careers as college professors, researchers, policy advisers, forensic scientists, security analysts, and consultants. These degree holders gain the essential critical-thinking, research, and analytical skills required for well-compensated positions in higher education, research, and policy analysis. A Ph.D. also provides a competitive edge for those seeking high-level administrative positions in law enforcement, correctional organizations, state and federal government, and private businesses.


Annual Median Salary: $79,650
Projected Growth Rate: 11%

Criminologists who have earned doctoral degrees often find employment in postsecondary institutions, government agencies, and policy institutes, conducting research into the causes and consequences of criminal behavior. Rather than focusing on individual instances of criminal behavior, these scientists gather and analyze data, looking for causation and patterns, and report and publish their findings to advance the discipline.

Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary

Annual Median Salary: $60,400
Projected Growth Rate: 12%

These educators teach undergraduate and graduate level courses at community colleges, four-year institutions, and professional schools. While educational requirements vary by program, most postsecondary teachers must hold at least a master's degree; tenured college and university faculty typically hold doctoral degrees.

Director, Research and Analytical Services

Annual Median Salary: $106,245
Projected Growth Rate: N/A

These professionals conduct research and develop analytical tools and applications in many settings, including higher education and the upper divisions of government. For example, the Office of Intelligence and Analysis of the Department of Homeland Security relies on these researchers to plan and coordinate data analysis for the purposes of gathering intelligence and monitoring security threats.

The Top-Paying Industries for Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary

Colleges, Universities, and Professional Schools

  • Employment: 6,950

  • Percent of Industry Employment: 0.23

  • Annual Mean Wage: $67,650

Junior Colleges

  • Employment: 7,370

  • Percent of Industry Employment: 0.98

  • Annual Mean Wage: $66,860

Technical and Trade Schools

  • Employment: N/A

  • Percent of Industry Employment: N/A

  • Annual Mean Wage: $57,110

State Government

  • Employment: 80

  • Percent of Industry Employment: N/A

  • Annual Mean Wage: $51,940

Source: BLS

Traits of a Successful Criminal Justice Professional

A Ph.D. represents the highest level of academic achievement in its field. Students pursuing an online criminal justice Ph.D. should enter the program with a strong interest in the judicial system and the discipline to work independently as distance learners. The best online criminal justice Ph.D. programs provide academic training in social sciences, ethics and law, and specialized areas such as juvenile justice, policing in society, law and public policy, and homeland security. They also emphasis critical thinking, problem solving, and the inductive reasoning and analytical skills necessary for research and policy work. Students acquire statistical and technological expertise and cultivate superior written and oral communication skills.

Technology and Information Retrieval
Technology and Information Retrieval: Educators, researchers, and policy analysts must keep current with technological applications relevant to their professions. They must be familiar with database software and programs, as well as presentation, publishing and word processing packages.
Researching, Updating, and Using Relevant Knowledge
Researching, Updating, and Using Relevant Knowledge: Graduates of Ph.D. programs conduct independent research, using appropriate methodologies and statistical analysis. They must incorporate new research developments in their professional areas of specialization.
Training and Teaching Others
Training and Teaching Others: Whether employed in postsecondary education or administration, these professionals convey information to multiple audiences in appropriate and accessible ways. They need active listening skills and the ability to understand the educational and training needs of their constituencies.

Salary by Experience Level

While salary generally increases with advanced graduate training, the job outlook for graduates of online criminal justice Ph.D. programs depends on specialization, location, and experience. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 12% job growth for criminal justice postsecondary educators by 2026, which is higher than the national average for all occupations. The top-paying employers for these educators include colleges, universities, and professional schools, with the highest compensation levels reserved for those with over 10 years of experience.

Pay by Experience Level for Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary

  • Entry-Level (0-5 Years):

  • Mid-Career (5-10 Years):

  • Experienced (10-20 Years):

  • Late-Career (20+ Years):

Source: PayScale

Certifications and Licenses a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice Prepares For

  • Certified Criminal Justice Addictions Professional Certification: The certification provides advanced training for criminal justice professionals in law enforcement, probation, and corrections who work with drug offenders or oversee others working in this area. While state requirements vary, certification usually requires 6,000 hours of work experience in criminal justice or drug rehabilitation fields, 270 hours of coursework, and a supervised practicum.

  • Legal Investigator Certification: This credential appeals to graduates interested in using their research skills in law enforcement, government, or the corporate sector. This certification establishes expertise in interview and surveillance techniques and familiarity with legal guidelines governing the profession. Licensing typically requires five years of job experience, a background check, and a written examination.

  • Certified Protection Professional: Security management professionals acquire this certification to demonstrate competency in key security domains, including risk management, information systems, and security controls. Requirements include a bachelor’s degree or higher from an accredited institution and seven years of security experience, including three years in a supervisory role.

Steps to Earning a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice Online

Online Ph.D. programs in criminal justice vary by delivery format, tuition costs, and graduation requirements. Before applying to any program, you should make sure it suits your needs. Graduate applications require a lot of time, so make sure you gather important documentation well in advance of school deadlines.

number one

Find the Right Program for You

Earning a Ph.D. in criminal justice online requires 40-80 credits depending on the format. Some schools offer a fully online curriculum, with asynchronous courses accessible day or night. Others use a hybrid format consisting of both online and on-campus courses. Online cohort formats require groups of students to progress together by taking their coursework at fixed times each term. Some degrees include residency requirements for pre-dissertation research guidance or the dissertation defense.

number two


You should start the application process approximately six months before you plan to begin your studies. Applicants with a master’s generally do not need to submit GRE scores; those applying with only a bachelor's usually need to supply them. Most schools require a personal essay describing your educational and career aspirations and letters of recommendation. Some programs may request a writing sample and an in-person interview.

number three

Dissertation or Capstone

Most online Ph.D. in criminal justice programs require a dissertation, although some may offer the option of completing a capstone project. The dissertation process begins after completion of coursework and qualifying exams. Ph.D. candidates submit a proposal that must receive approval from a faculty dissertation committee. Students may spend one or more years conducting original research on an issue in criminal justice, such as juvenile violence, global terrorism, or prison reform. They must present their work in a public dissertation defense.

number four

Fellowship or Internship

Online criminal justice Ph.D. programs, like their brick-and-mortar counterparts, may offer doctoral students fellowship or internship opportunities. Fellowships, usually merit-based awards, provide tuition assistance for graduate students working with faculty on research projects. Some fellowships provide graduate students with funding in exchange for work as teaching assistants. Internships, either paid or unpaid, enable graduate students to acquire practical, real-world experience in various criminal justice settings, gaining policy and research skills under the supervision of experienced professionals.

Curriculum for an Online Ph.D. in Criminal Justice

  1. History and Contemporary Issues in Criminal Justice: These courses present an overview of the discipline that charts the history of criminal justice and surveys contemporary issues. Common themes include the history of crime and criminal justice systems, the philosophy and scientific analysis of crime and criminal behavior, problem-oriented and community-based policing, terrorism, and transnational crime.

  2. Research Methods in Criminal Justice: Criminal justice administrators, educators, and policy analysts must possess competency in research methodology and data analysis. Students explore the philosophy of science, principles of social science inquiry, quantitative, qualitative, and mixed-methods research designs, data collection, and reporting. Coursework emphasizes the ethical implications of designing and conducting research.

  3. Victimology: Criminal justice professionals working in advocacy, education, and applied research and policy have begun to focus attention on the study of victimology. This course examines the nature of criminal victimization, victim-offender relationships, theories of victimization, the victim’s role in the criminal justice process, the restorative justice model, and the contemporary victim rights and victim services movement.

  4. Crime Mapping: Law enforcement and government agencies rely on investigators, researchers, and consultants with expertise in computerized crime mapping to conduct tactical, strategic, and administrative crime analysis. Students learn to create and interpret maps to conduct spatial analysis and understand crime incident patterns using geographic technologies and other applications.

  5. Criminal Justice Organizations and Leadership: Criminal justice administrators must possess an understanding of organizational behavior and models. This course explores the role of leadership in shaping organizational responses and the major components of effective justice administration, including organizational theory, human capital, policy development, and collaboration with other public safety and community organizations.

Take the next step towards your future with online learning.

Discover schools with the programs and courses you’re interested in, and start learning today.

Man working at desk