Criminal Justice PhD: Information for Doctoral Students

A Ph.D. in Criminal Justice is the highest degree in the field. Find out what you need to apply, what you can expect from the curriculum, and what most students do after graduation.

Essential Information

A Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Criminal Justice program provides interdisciplinary training that prepares students to conduct research and teach at the postsecondary level. Students complete a core curriculum of classes in criminological theory, criminal procedure, criminal law, public policy analysis, organizational behavior and psychology. Programs culminate in a dissertation, which is a book-length work of original research that must contribute to the criminal justice field. Students are usually allotted a set number of credit hours to complete the dissertation.

Applicants must possess at least a bachelor's degree to be considered for admission. Although most programs ask that applicants have a master's degree, some Ph.D. programs allow students to earn their master's along the way. The strongest applicants have demonstrated aptitude in psychology, computers or statistics.


Ph.D. in Criminal Justice

In a criminal justice doctoral program, students may be able to choose a specialization, such as criminology, chemistry, statistics and forensic science. Regardless of specialization, common courses in criminal justice programs include:

  • Criminal behavior
  • Group psychology
  • Criminal organizations and structure
  • Applied statistics
  • Inter-agency collaboration
  • Principles and theories of criminology

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Many graduates of Ph.D. programs in criminal justice become postsecondary teachers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that employment for criminal justice postsecondary teachers would increase by 21% between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. The BLS reports the median annual wage for postsecondary criminal justice and law enforcement teachers was $58,770 in May 2015. The lowest-paid teachers earned $33,060 or less, while the highest-paid teachers earned $103,260 or more, according to data from the BLS.

Students interested in college-level teaching or research positions can pursue a Ph.D. in Criminal Justice. These programs are typically dedicated to research and allow students to tailor the curricula to meet their needs. Job opportunities for postsecondary teachers specifically in criminal justice should be strong, with 21% growth projected from 2014-2024.


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