Top Online PhD Programs in Criminal Justice

Online criminal justice PhD programs provide convenient career paths to top-level positions in criminology, such as law enforcement, law and order, homeland security, and even academia. These professionals can fit into various roles in government agencies and academic institutions, including forensics, investigation, college professors, policy analysts, and administrators. According to Payscale, the average base salary for a doctorate (PhD) holder in criminal justice is around 85,000 US dollars annually.   

The program provides students with a deep understanding of the criminal justice system, as well as research methods and statistical analysis. Students in the program also have the opportunity to specialize in areas such as criminology, victimology, or forensic psychology. The PhD program typically takes four to six years to complete, and includes coursework, comprehensive exams, and a dissertation. The dissertation is an original research project that makes a significant contribution to the field of criminal justice.

What does criminal justice entail?

Criminal justice is the system that serves the purpose of protecting citizens from crime and keeping the peace. It involves studying the nature of crime and criminals, developing ways to prevent crime and ensure public safety. The criminal justice system also includes the agencies and professionals charged with enforcing the law, such as police officers, prosecutors, and judges. It also encompasses the institutions where offenders are held accountable for their crimes, such as prisons and juvenile detention centers. Ultimately, criminal justice is about more than just punishment; it is also about preventing crime and protecting the rights of victims. 

Where can I earn an online PhD in criminal justice?

The field of criminal justice is vital to the health and safety of any society. It is a complex and ever-evolving field that requires dedicated professionals who are able to think critically and navigate the constantly changing landscape. Thanks to the widespread recognition of online learning, it’s now so easy to earn a PhD in criminal justice online. And because online programs are often more affordable than traditional on-campus programs, earning a PhD in criminal justice online is a great way to achieve your career goals without going into debt.

Here is a list of the top online PhD Programs in criminal justice:

1. Nova Southeastern University: PhD in Criminal Justice 

Founded in 1964, Nova Southeastern University has always been dedicated to education and research in technology. In the 1970s, the university’s innovative distance-learning programs attracted so many students and advanced quickly. Today, it is among the few universities to receive the Carnegie Foundation Community Engagement Classification for its community service.

This PhD in criminal justice online program takes a comprehensive approach to: 

  • Understanding patterns of criminal behavior, 
  • Developing solutions to solve crime, and 
  • Addressing issues in the criminal justice system. 

The coursework is entirely online and allows students to specialize in organizational leadership, juvenile science, and behavioral science. Graduates can pursue various career options in social policy administration, academia, or research. Other top-level career options include criminologists, criminal investigators, consultants, and correctional authorities. 

Here are the key application requirements:

  • A master’s degree from an accredited institution.
  • Transcripts from attended schools.
  • A GPA of 3.0 or higher.
  • Personal statement (300 words)
  • Three professional or academic letters of recommendation. 

This online PhD criminal justice program is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). The minimum program duration is two and a half years. The application deadline is May 31, and the program starts in August. 

2. Walden University: PhD in Criminal Justice

Founded in 1970, Walden University is a low-residency adult education institution that is well-known for its online higher education programs. It is a regionally accredited institution and was a pioneer in online programs, providing the first master’s of online education degree in 1995.

This PhD criminal justice online program allows candidates to pursue various career paths, including a career in criminal justice education or leadership roles in the field. It covers contemporary theory and practice,  international and national issues in criminal justice administration. 

The coursework includes topics such as:

  • Leadership theory,
  • Technology and law enforcement,
  • Factors for criminal behavior,
  • Human services,
  • Public management, and
  • Homeland security.

You must complete an online application and provide transcripts to be admitted to this online criminal justice PhD program. The program takes a minimum of two and a half years and a maximum of eight years. 

3. Colorado Technical University: Online Doctorate in Homeland Security

Colorado Technical University was founded in 1965 and has campuses in Aurora and Colorado Springs. It is a world leader in online and hybrid programs, and its Virtual Campus received the best award in the Computerworld Honors Program category. It is ranked among the best in online criminal justice programs.

The Doctor of Management – Homeland Security is a doctor of management degree specializing in homeland security. It is ideal for top managers who want to grow their knowledge of national security matters. 

This program takes three years to complete with multiple start dates in October, December, and January. It aligns with the Center for Homeland Defense and Security, providing homeland security and management curricula.  

These are the core topics under this program:

  • Management theory,
  • Research methods and design,
  • Homeland security enterprise,
  • Security policy, innovation, risk, resilience, and
  • Emergency planning and public health.

Admission requirements:

  • Online admission application
  • Official transcripts 
  • Proof of English proficiency for Non-native English speakers
  • Entrance essay
  • Doctoral interview with a representative from the university. 

4. California University of Pennsylvania: Online Doctorate in Criminal Justice

The California University of Pennsylvania is among the best institutions of higher learning in the Northeast, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 18:1. It offers over 50 graduate and more than 100 undergraduate programs. In 2020, it awarded over 6.4 million US dollars worth of scholarships.

The university offers a 42-credit-hour criminal justice PhD online program that equips candidates for leadership roles in local, state, and federal police agencies, juvenile justice agencies, and correctional departments.  

The University of Pennsylvania’s online Doctorate in criminal justice is among the top criminal justice PhD programs online and covers numerous topics, including:

  • 21st Century policing.
  • Advanced criminal law for criminal justice leaders.
  • Legal research methods.
  • Criminal justice needs, problems, and solutions.

Entry requirements include:

  • Master’s degree from an accredited institution.
  • GPA of 3.50 or higher
  • Resume with professional and academic achievements
  • Personal statement and a writing sample
  • Proof of English proficiency for international students

5. Liberty University: PhD in Criminal Justice

Liberty University was founded in 1971 and currently has over 15 schools and colleges, with over 700 programs and 100,000 students. More than 450 programs are available online.

Liberty University offers a criminology PhD online program that takes an average of three years to complete. However, depending on the student’s availability, flexibility, and needs, it can take longer. This PhD degree has a total of 60 credits. Furthermore, you can choose the general Criminal Justice path or between two specializations i.e Leadership or Homeland Security.

This online PhD in Criminal Justice program covers numerous topics. Concentrating on either Leadership or Homeland Security provides more focused topics and courses. The core topics include:

  • Transnational organized crime.
  • Terrorism and intelligence.
  • Corrections policy.
  • Theories of crime.
  • Juvenile justice policy.

6. Doctor of Criminal Justice at Saint Leo University : Doctorate in Criminal Justice (Homeland Security)

Saint Leo University offers two PhD criminology online programs specializing in Homeland Security or Education. This doctorate program is ideal for individuals who want to further their careers in criminal justice by enhancing their professional practice and growing their knowledge base.   

The doctorate in criminal justice program covers 60 credit hours and takes three to four years to complete. It covers numerous topics, and the main ones include:

  • Transformational leadership.
  • Criminology theories.
  • Juvenile justice.
  • Critical issues in Criminal Justice.
  • International perspectives in Criminal Justice.

Admission requirements include:

  • A completed online application form.
  • Official transcripts from accredited institutions.
  • Statement of professional goals: 500-word essay outlining your professional goals.
  • A GPA of 3.0 and above

7. St. John’s University : Homeland Security

St. John’s University was founded in 1870 as a Vincentian and Catholic University to prepare students for professional success. It currently has over 21,000 part-time and full-time students. The institute boasts an alumni network of over 195,000. 

The online PhD in criminology at St. John’s University focuses on Homeland Security and covers 78 credit hours. It’s  flexible to allow students to continue working while studying. Graduates can pursue several career paths from mid to top-level positions in law enforcement, government agencies, academia, and non-governmental organizations.

Here are the key admission requirements:

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution.
  • GPA of 3.5 and above or its equivalent.
  • Three letters of reference, with one attesting to the student’s research abilities.
  • A 300-word personal statement describing the applicant’s goals, research interests, and professional experience.


Online education has come a long way in recent years, and thanks to this we now have many reputable programs that offer the same quality of instruction as on-campus programs. Online programs are the ideal solution for students who want to further their education in criminal justice while still working or attending to other commitments in their lives. These programs offer the flexibility to study from anywhere in the world and can often be completed at a faster pace than traditional on-campus programs. Hopefully this list gives you a great place to start and please remember to go for a program that aligns perfectly with your career goals.