Criminal justice is a rapidly growing and dynamic field. A PhD in criminal justice is the ideal choice of degree for those individuals who are looking to secure academic excellence and become leaders within this particular field. The degree will provide students with a strong command of criminological theory, advanced research methods, as well as the essentials of criminal justice policy. Since most candidates choose an area in which to specialize, they will also acquire in-depth understanding and knowledge of that aspect of criminal justice.The doctoral program in criminal justice is intellectually stimulating and demanding. Students can expect to carry out extensive research, read vast amounts of course materials, and apply all of what they have learned to a culminating dissertation paper.

Featured Programs and Schools

PHD in Criminology Programs

Benefits of pursuing a PhD in criminal justice

  • Expertise In the Field: A PhD in criminal justice signifies a deep understanding of the field, giving graduates the knowledge and skills needed to conduct high-level research and analysis.
  • Career Advancement: Earning a PhD can lead to higher salaries, greater job security, and opportunities for leadership positions within academia, research institutions, and the government.
  • Influence Policy: With advanced knowledge in criminal justice, PhD holders can become experts in policy analysis and play a key role in shaping criminal justice policies at the local, state, and national levels.
  • Professional Networking: Pursuing a PhD can provide opportunities to build connections with other academics and professionals in the field, leading to collaborations, job opportunities, and access to resources.
  • Personal Growth: Pursuing a PhD requires dedication, perseverance, and a willingness to challenge oneself. This journey can lead to personal growth and self-discovery, along with the satisfaction of achieving a significant academic accomplishment.

Entry requirements

  • Bachelor’s Degree: Most PhD programs require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree, often in criminal justice or a related field.
  • Minimum GPA: Typically, a minimum GPA of 3.0 is required for admission to a PhD program in criminal justice.
  • GRE Scores: Many programs require GRE scores, with minimum scores varying depending on the institution.
  • Personal Statement: Applicants are often required to submit a personal statement detailing their academic and professional background, research interests, and career goals.
  • Letters Of Recommendation: Applicants are usually required to submit letters of recommendation from professors or professionals in the field who can attest to their academic ability and potential for success in a PhD program.
  • Research Experience: Many programs prefer applicants who have some research experience, either through previous academic work or through professional experience in the criminal justice field.
  • Interview: Some programs require an interview with the applicant, either in person or via video conference, as part of the application process.

Top PhD Programs in Criminal Justice and Criminology in the USA

ProgramLocationCoursesDurationJob Opportunity


1. University of MarylandCollege Park, MDCrime Theory and Policy, Criminal Justice Data Analysis, Law and Society4-6 yearsResearch, academia, policy analysis
2. University at Albany, SUNYAlbany, NYCriminal Justice Theory, Research Methods, Comparative Criminal Justice Systems4-6 yearsResearch, academia, government, private sector
3. University of CincinnatiCincinnati, OHCriminal Justice Policy Analysis, Criminological Theory, Quantitative Research Methods4-5 yearsResearch, academia, government, law enforcement
4. Michigan State UniversityEast Lansing, MICriminal Justice Research Design, Criminological Theory, Criminal Justice Policy5-6 yearsResearch, academia, government, private sector
5. Rutgers UniversityNewark, NJAdvanced Criminological Theory, Quantitative Methods in Criminal Justice, Crime and Justice Policy5-6 yearsResearch, academia, government
6. University of Missouri-St. LouisSt. Louis, MOAdvanced Criminological Theory, Crime and Justice Research Methods, Criminal Justice Policy Analysis4-5 yearsResearch, academia, government, law enforcement


The curriculum for a PhD in Criminal Justice typically includes a mix of core courses, electives, concentration courses, and dissertation requirements. The purpose of the curriculum is to provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to conduct independent research and analysis in the field of criminal justice. The outcome of the program is a completed dissertation, demonstrating the student’s mastery of the subject matter and ability to contribute to the field.

Core Courses

Course TitleCredit Hours
Advanced Criminological Theory3
Criminal Justice Research Methods3
Criminal Justice Policy Analysis3


Students can select from a range of electives to build their knowledge and skills in specific areas of interest. Examples include:

Course TitleCredit Hours
Quantitative Research Methods in Criminal Justice3
Comparative Criminal Justice Systems3
Crime and Justice Policy3

Concentration Courses

Many PhD programs offer concentration courses in specific areas of criminal justice, such as law and society, policing, or corrections. These courses allow students to gain in-depth knowledge in their chosen area of concentration. Examples include:

Course TitleCredit Hours
Law and Society3
Policing and Society3
Corrections and Rehabilitation3


The dissertation is the culmination of the PhD program, demonstrating the student’s ability to conduct independent research and contribute to the field of criminal justice. The dissertation typically involves original research and analysis, and can take several years to complete.

Practical Training

Many PhD programs also offer practical training opportunities, such as internships or research assistantships, to provide students with hands-on experience in the field of criminal justice.

Skills Acquired

Upon completion of a PhD in Criminal Justice, graduates have acquired a range of skills, including:

  • Advanced knowledge of criminal justice theory and research methods
  • Critical thinking and analysis skills
  • Strong communication skills, both written and verbal
  • Leadership and project management skills
  • Expertise in policy analysis and development

Professional Associations

There are a number of professional associations for individuals in the field of criminal justice, including:

  • American Society of Criminology
  • Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences
  • National Criminal Justice Association
  • International Association of Chiefs of Police

These associations provide opportunities for networking, professional development, and advocacy for the field.

Job outlook and salary

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual mean wage for Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary was $78,980 in 2021. The annual mean wage of National estimates for Detectives and Criminal Investigators was $91,610 in 2021, and Forensic Science Technicians was $69,260.

The job outlook for individuals in the field of criminal justice varies depending on the specific career path but overall, the field is expected to see steady growth in the coming years. With a PhD in Criminal Justice, individuals can pursue a range of careers in academia, research institutions, government, and the private sector. Advancement opportunities include leadership positions, research directorships, and policy analysis roles.