Online PhD in Criminal Justice

Criminal behavior is constantly evolving, and with new technology, new societal demands, and other influential factors, criminal behavior has changed over time, continually adapting to new climates and utilizing new tools. As a result, the field of public safety needs leaders that can stay one step ahead of crime in order to maximize safety and minimize victimization. Online doctoral programs in criminal justice exist to shape those leaders by providing the coursework and research necessary for new innovations in correctional interventions and public policy. By providing students with fresh and relevant knowledge on the penal system, crime analysis and leadership, online PhD programs in criminal justice prepare students to establish themselves as experts of criminology. Online doctoral degrees in criminal justice take, on average, four years to complete. During enrollment, criminal justice PhD online students take classes, pass exams, including one comprehensive exam, perform research, write papers, and work on a dissertation. After earning their degrees, graduates go on to become special agents, policymakers, or professors – leaders that help pave the way for a safer world with less crime.

About Online PhD Programs in Criminal Justice

Criminal justice PhD programs online provide curricula that do not require students to attend class on the physical campus. As the criminal justice PhD does not require the utilization of laboratories or group work, it is easy for students to perform research from the comfort of their own homes, with the use of digital resources and books. However, most online doctorate degrees in criminal justice do have a residential symposium component that students must fulfill a certain number of times throughout enrollment. These symposiums allow students to connect with their professors and network with fellow students in person, making the online PhD in criminal justice more of a hybrid degree than a fully online degree. Despite these symposiums, online PhD criminal justice students take coursework over the internet. Capella University's PhD in Public Safety – Criminal Justice Specialization program exemplifies the coursework that online criminal justice PhD students can expect to take during their enrollment. Examples from the program are provided below.

Year One:

  • Advanced Research in Public Safety Issues, Theories, and Concepts. This course sets the foundation for the doctoral research in which students will engage during their enrollment, and explores the basic theories and methodology behind public safety.
  • Contemporary Public Safety Leadership. As an exploration of the skills necessary for effective leadership in today's society, this course overviews what it means to be a public safety leader in today's climate.
  • Theories of Leadership. Leaders have theories that they employed in order to help guide organizations to be effective and successful. By studying the theories employed by leaders today, students will be encouraged to develop their own theories of leadership.

Year Two:

  • Public Safety Incident Command Paradigms. When working in a field like public safety, incidents are an unfortunate part of the job. This course teaches students how to provide leadership when these inevitable incidences arise
  • Diversity Issues in Public Safety. As future leaders in the field of public safety, online PhD criminal justice students need to be culturally sensitive. This course prepares students to manage the diversity issues that may arise in public safety.
  • Epistemology of Practice Knowledge. In this course, students will analyze the link between theory and research within the human services field.

Year Three:

  • Sociological Theories of Crime. This course explores the theories behind crime – including the social learning and strain theories – and how different factors are theorized to cause, provoke or assist criminal behavior.
  • Psychological and Biological Theories of Criminal Behavior. As a counterpart to Sociological Theories of Crime, this course delves into other potential causes of criminal behavior, such as psychological disorders and physical impairments.
  • Criminal Justice Policy Analysis. In this course, students will be provided with contemporary correctional public policy and will be encouraged to think critically about the policies. Students will then brainstorm solutions to policy challenges.

Year Four:

  • Research Sequence. Students will take coursework that prepares them for the doctoral-level research their dissertations will require.

After the completion of coursework, doctoral students take a comprehensive examination, which reviews everything that they have learned. The criminal justice comprehensive exam will review the psychology behind criminal behavior, the relationship between law and correctional policy, and the theories behind an effective criminal justice system. Once students have passed the comprehensive examination, they propose, write and defend a dissertation, which is a thorough research paper over a topic relevant to contemporary criminal justice. Past dissertations in the field of criminology include Separate and Unequal Risks for Victimization? An Examination of City-level Conditions on Victimization Risks by Toya Like and The Adoption of Crime Prevention Technologies in Public Schools by Julie Coon. As new methods of criminal behavior are constantly emerging, due to the advent of new technology and other society factors, there are many new topics available for online criminal justice PhD students to research.

Value and Criticisms of a PhD in Criminal Justice

Online doctorate programs in criminal justice are an excellent path for individuals that have strong leadership skills and harbor an interest in comprehending criminal behavior. Individuals that hope to positively impact public safety by researching methods of intervention and the theories behind criminology could also benefit from an online doctorate in criminal justice. These programs are not, however, for individuals that have no interest in research, sociological studies or understanding the penal system, as this degree will require all three. For those candidates that are self-motivated leaders with the goal of improving safety and decreasing crime, online PhD degrees in criminal justice offer a viable alternative to campus-based programs. Candidates that work or have other daily obligations can benefit from an online curriculum, as they will be able to fulfill coursework requirements on their own time. However, students must keep in mind that most criminal justice doctorate degrees online have residential requirements that must be fulfilled. If these requirements can be met, online criminal justice PhD candidates will gain experience with the technology employed in many areas of public safety today. With such experience, graduates are sure to have the upper edge over their peers.

Application & Admission Requirements

Applicants seeking to earn their online doctorate in criminal justice should expect admission departments to adhere to thorough evaluative criteria. As this field requires background knowledge of human behavior, applicants should have a Masters degree in criminal justice, psychology or sociology. Applicants are expected to have maintained at least a 3.0 grade point average during their graduate education and will be required to submit transcripts. As resumes are part of the application package, experience in public safety or another area of human service could also be very beneficial. Some top programs ask applicants to take the GRE and submit their scores, but this criterion varies. The best PhD programs require students to submit a statement of purpose, also known as a statement of program goals. This will allow admission departments to get a sense of the applicant's academic writing abilities and motivation.

Career Options & Job Market

As criminal justice PhD-holders are considered experts in their field, they are equipped with the tools necessary for bringing about positive change in the area of public safety. Graduates from online doctoral programs in criminal justice can forge careers in many areas of human service as a result. Graduates can pave careers as special agents, positions that boast a favorable outlook, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Graduates also have the opportunity to become consultants or criminal justice professors. Applicants may also choose to work in law enforcement, with the goal of eventually becoming a deputy or police chief. There are other opportunities as well, such as in the field of policymaking, which calls upon an advanced understanding of the criminal justice system when faced with the need for change in correctional public policy and intervention.

Where to Find Information

How to Get Funding

Though online courses are often reputed to be more cost-effective than their on-campus counterparts, they can still be expensive. Online doctoral programs in criminal justice are no exception. For instance, Capella University charges $487 per credit hour for its online criminal justice doctorate. Most courses are at least four credit hours, and even the multiplied tuition cost does not include fees for books, registration, technology, and the residential symposiums that both schools require. With such accumulating expenses, most students wonder what financial aid options are open to them. Fortunately, many accredited universities provide opportunities for aid to enrolled students. There are also a number of outside aid opportunities – such as scholarships, fellowships and grants – for students enrolled in online PhD programs in criminal justice to explore. A few are listed below.

Essential Advice

  • Join a professional association to gain access to professional development opportunities that can enhance your resume.
  • Strengthen your academic writing skills prior to applying. A thorough and well-written personal statement can really make your application stand out.
  • Email professors to get a sense of their research interests. This will help you figure out if they will be a good match for your own academic interests.
  • Talk to current or former students to hear about their experiences with criminal justice PhD degrees. This will give you more insight into what will be expected of you as a student.