5 Best Grad Schools with Online Doctorate in Criminology

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Updated: March 14, 2024, Reading time: 16 minutes

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The fascinating area of Criminology explores the intricate relationships between crime, criminal behavior, and the whole criminal justice system. If you want to be equipped with the information and abilities to influence and shape policy-making processes, consider pursuing a doctorate in criminology.

The highest educational degree one can earn in criminology is a doctorate. As a terminal degree in the study of crime, criminal conduct, and the criminal justice system, doctoral programs in criminology denote extensive knowledge, research proficiency, and skill. The ideal candidates for this degree level are individuals who desire to work in academia or research.

Quick audio summary:


An online doctoral degree in Criminology is a degree that can be through online learning environments. It allows people to balance a Ph.D. program with other personal or professional obligations.

The curriculum, research, and dissertation requirements for online criminology Ph.D. programs are frequently the same as those for conventional on-campus programs. However, most course materials, lectures, and assignments are delivered online, giving students access to them via digital media.

We’ve also included some on-campus degree programs that have the potential to offer flexibility as online programs.


The following criteria were used to rank each of the Best Online Doctoral Degree Programs in Criminology:

Please read our Methodology to learn more about our ranking process.

Grad School Center is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Top 5 Online Doctorate in Criminology

Arizona State University

Arizona State University - School of Criminology and Criminal Justice

PhD in Criminology & Criminal Justice

ASU’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice is one of the best schools for students seeking to study more about criminal law and the criminal justice field.

SCCJ offers an online Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Criminology and Criminal Justice education. While some courses can be completed via online learning, online doctoral students must still report on campus for several intensives.

The program aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of crime and justice. As a result, the curriculum adopts an interdisciplinary approach, integrating information from criminology, sociology, psychology, public policy, and law. With this method, students can investigate a variety of viewpoints and gain a thorough comprehension of the subject.

Students will be required to finish 72 credit hours of coursework plus 12 credit hours of dissertation. Students may transfer up to 30 credit hours of coursework earned from their master’s degree. Additionally, students can customize their degrees by choosing their electives in sociology, political science, public administration, psychology, and more.

University of Arizona Global Campus

University of Arizona Global Campus

Doctor of Psychology – Criminology & Justice Studies

When it comes to online/distance learning, one of the most common schools you’ll read about is the University of Arizona Global Campus. UAGC offers an online Doctor of Psychology that can be completed in four years as a full-time student. The doctoral program offers three concentrations, including Criminology and Justice Studies, that allow students to explore the psychology behind crime.

Doctoral students will explore several concentration courses, such as the Juvenile Justice System, Mental Health and Crime, and Drug Addiction and Crime. The program’s concentration courses prepare students to study the criminal justice system, criminal behavior, and the correctional system.

It aims to assist students in applying psychological concepts to solve challenging problems in crime and justice on a practical level. Students will complete scholarly arguments, capstone seminars, and applied doctoral projects.

While assignments, lectures, and other coursework can be completed online, students must complete three non-credit residential workshops. They must also maintain a minimum of 3.0 cumulative GPA on all coursework to earn the 62-credit doctoral degree.

For their dissertation, students can select a topic that responds to specifically defined research questions, which they then explore through quantitative or qualitative research, meta-analysis, program design, or program evaluation.

Washington State University

Washington State University

PhD in Criminal Justice and Criminology

Washington State University’s hybrid Ph.D. in Criminal Justice and Criminology strongly emphasizes intellectual investigation. Students with an MA and MS can enroll in the program, participate in cutting-edge research, work on research studies with faculty members, and create independent research agendas. The course offers scholarly writing, data analysis, and research design instruction.

WSU’s PhD program is dedicated to its students’ professional development. Graduates of the doctorate will be equipped to confront and resolve security and justice issues locally, nationally, and worldwide.

Developing theoretical, methodological, and policy-related knowledge and skills as they apply to criminal justice and criminology helps to attain this goal. Additionally, the program provides research and teaching assistantships to help its participants’ professional development.

The program requires students to complete 72 coursework and 33 dissertation credit hours. As many as 39 credits can be transferred to the doctoral program.

University of Pennsylvania

University of Pennsylvania - Art and Sciences

PhD in Criminology

Students who want to study on-campus with flexibility can enroll at Penn Arts and Sciences’ Doctor of Philosophy in Criminology, offered by the Department of Criminology. This on-campus doctorate prepares students for cutting-edge criminology research and scholarship by strongly emphasizing the development of the theoretical and methodological abilities required for independent research.

Students with only a bachelor’s degree and a strong background in research are eligible to apply for the program. Admitted students will have their own mentors upon enrollment to help them create a customized curriculum.

Core requirements of the program include Pro-Seminar in Criminology, Pro-Seminar in Criminal Justice, Research Methods/Crime Analysis, Advanced Pro-Seminar in Criminology, Advanced Pro-Seminar in Criminal Justice, and Evidence-Based Crime Prevention.

After exploring coursework focusing on criminological theory, criminal justice policies and practice, and empirical methodologies, Ph.D. students will pursue extra advanced coursework congruent with their research interest. These extra classes could include criminology, sociology, demography, statistics, law, or another subject. Upon completing the dissertation, the program can be earned in four years.

The University of Texas at Dallas

University of Texas at Dallas

PhD in Criminology

Another flexible traditional, research-focused doctoral program in criminology is offered by the University of Texas at Dallas’ School of Economic, Political, and Policy Science. The program’s committed faculty members include criminology and justice studies experts. These academics support students as mentors and actively participate in research. They could also be dissertation and research project supervisors for students.

Through the school’s membership in several organizations and the library, data and reference materials are also accessible online.

PhD students will undergo rigorous academic training that prepares them for research in various criminology and criminal justice fields, depending on their specific interests and areas of specialization. Graduates of the program can apply as professors or work in a wide range of research and policy organizations, criminal justice organizations, and the private sector in analytical and administrative positions.

Students must complete 75 semester credit hours to earn the doctorate. After finishing the necessary substantive coursework, students complete at least 3-semester credits of independent study in the spring semester to prepare for the doctorate qualifying tests.

What You'll Study in Doctorate Degrees in Criminology 

What You’ll Study in Doctorate Degrees in Criminology

Here are some examples of criminology-related courses you can expect to explore when pursuing an online doctorate in criminology degree:

Advanced Criminological Theory

This course explores the social, psychological, and environmental aspects that influence criminal conduct by delving into advanced criminology theories and viewpoints.

Advanced Topics in Criminology

This course examines cutting-edge and specialized areas of criminology, such as terrorism, organized crime, victimology, and forensic psychology.

Criminal Justice Policy and Administration

The formulation, implementation, and evaluation of criminal justice policies and initiatives are examined in this course. Students explore how policies affect criminal justice, law enforcement, the courts, and corrections.

Crime and Social Justice

The connection between crime, inequality, and social justice is examined in this course. In addition to looking at the consequences of the legal system’s responses, it looks at the relationship between crime rates and socioeconomic characteristics such as poverty, race, gender, and social class.

Comparative and International Criminology

This course contrasts criminal justice systems and examines global crime patterns, philosophies, and laws. It examines the difficulties caused by international crime and the function of international organizations in combating transnational crime.

Quantitative Research Methods

This course focuses on criminology research design and sophisticated statistical analytic methods. Students learn how to use statistical techniques to analyze data and assess relevant research.

Qualitative Research Methods

This course covers common qualitative criminology research techniques like interviews, case studies, and content analysis. Students gain knowledge of qualitative data collection, analysis, and interpretation.

Advanced-Data Analysis

The advanced statistical approaches employed in criminological research—such as hierarchical modeling, multivariate analysis, or longitudinal data analysis—are emphasized in this course, which builds on the quantitative research methods course.

Ethics and Professional Issues in Criminology

This course explores criminological practice and research from an ethical and professional standard perspective. Confidentiality, conflicts of interest, and ethical decision-making are some of the subjects it covers.

Dissertation Research

Writing a dissertation and performing original research make up a sizable component of an online PhD program in criminology. This entails conducting individual studies while receiving advice from a faculty advisor.

These courses offer a broad overview of the subject matter that a criminology doctoral program online might cover. For additional information on the courses offered, see the program’s website or get in touch with the university directly, as the precise course titles and curricula can differ between colleges.

Criminology VS Criminal Justice

Doctorate in criminal justice degrees and doctorate in criminology both study crime and various facets of the criminal justice system. Despite the connection between a criminal justice degree and a criminology degree, the two disciplines are very different. 


The social science field of criminology investigates crime, criminals, and criminal conduct. It aims to comprehend the reasons behind the crime and its effects through various theories and research techniques.

Key aspects of Criminology programs:

Causes of Crime: Analysis of the psychological, social, and environmental elements, including societal institutions and economic situations, that influence criminal conduct.

Criminal Behavior: Study of criminal behavior’s patterns and traits, including what drives it, how it manifests, and how common it is.

Theoretical Perspectives: Examination of many criminological ideas, such as the strain theory, social learning theory, or rational choice theory, that attempt to explain why people commit crimes.

Research Methods: Data collection, study design, and analysis of crime-related phenomena using quantitative and qualitative research approaches.

Victimology: Study of victimization’s effects on people and communities, as well as the experiences, vulnerabilities, and repercussions criminal victims endure.

Criminal Justice:

Criminal justice programs are broad. Law enforcement, courts, and corrections are all included in the curriculum of a PhD in criminal justice. It entails examining the systems and organizations responsible for upholding social order, enforcing the law, and delivering justice.

Key aspects of Criminal Justice programs:

Law Enforcement: The study of police departments, including their functions, methods, and methods for preventing and pursuing criminal activity.

Courts: Study of the judicial system, including trials, hearings, and the functions of juries, judges, and attorneys.

Corrections: Analysis of penal institutions, probation, parole, and rehabilitation programs that treat offenders and attempt to avoid recidivism.

Criminal Procedure: Study of the constitutional safeguards, due process rights, and legal rights accorded to people by the criminal justice system.

Policy Analysis: Examining the creation, application, and evaluation of criminal justice policies, as well as how they affect society.

Online Doctorate in Criminology - fact

Licensure and Certifications for Criminology Graduates

Licensure and certification are less prevalent and not extensively necessary in the field of criminology than they are in certain other professions. However, a few professional designations and qualifications can improve your knowledge, abilities, and stature in the industry.

Certified Protection Professional (CPP)

The CPP certification, provided by ASIS International, is for people working in security management. Despite not being confined to criminology, it may be pertinent for experts in loss prevention, corporate security, or risk assessment.

Criminal Justice Addictions Professional (CCJP) 

This certification is provided by the National Association of Forensic Counselors (NAFC). It honors people who have fulfilled particular education, training, and experience requirements in criminal justice. It exhibits a thorough knowledge of morality, professional norms, and criminal justice systems.

Forensic Mental Health Evaluator Certification

This certification is aimed at evaluating people involved in the criminal justice system pertaining to mental health difficulties and is provided by organizations like the National Board of Forensic Evaluators (NBFE). Professionals in forensic psychology or criminal justice-related mental health assessments may find it useful.

Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)

This credential, provided by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), focuses on identifying, preventing, and investigating fraud. People who work in financial crime, white-collar crime, or fraud investigation may find it helpful.

Ensure the certification will further your job objectives and aspirations by extensively studying its requirements, advantages, and recognition before seeking it.

How to Finance Your Doctorate in Criminology

Depending on the university and the particular program you’re interested in, financial assistance and scholarships for online doctorate programs in criminology can vary. You might look at the following typical sources of financial support:

Financial Aid from the University 

For PhD students, several universities provide financial aid choices like fellowships, grants, and scholarships. These may be determined by academic merit, potential for future research, or financial need. 

Graduate Assistantships

Research or teaching assistantships may be available through several online doctorate programs in criminology. In return for undertaking research or teaching duties, these roles frequently offer stipends or tuition reimbursements. Assistantships can be a great way to receive support while gaining necessary experience.

External Scholarships and Fellowships

There are external financing sources for criminology doctorate students, such as foundations, public institutions, or private companies. Do extensive study to find prospective external funding possibilities that fit your goals and interests in research.

Professional Associations and Organizations

Criminology-related professional groups and organizations may provide scholarships and grants for doctoral candidates. The American Society of Criminology (ASC) is a great example. 

Tuition Assistance from Employers

Your company might provide programs for tuition reimbursement or support if you work in a related field. If you want to know if your employer has such programs, check with the human resources division.


Although they should only be used as a last alternative, loans can be a way to pay for your doctoral program. Look into both private loan possibilities and federal loan programs like the Direct Unsubsidized Loan or Grad PLUS Loan. Before accepting any loans, carefully understand the terms and repayment requirements.

What Can I Do with an Online Doctorate in Criminology Degree?

What Can I Do with an Online Doctorate in Criminology Degree?

University Professor/Researcher

PhD programs in criminology are designed specifically for professionals who want to pursue careers in academia as professors or researchers. Criminology professors and researchers mentor students, conduct research, produce scholarly articles, and teach courses in the subject. At universities and colleges, tenure-track posts sometimes require a PhD degree.


Graduates of criminology Ph.D. programs can find employment as researchers or analysts in academic centers think tanks, or government organizations. They assist in planning and carrying out research initiatives, examine crime statistics, assess laws, and produce suggestions based on reliable data.

Criminal Justice Administrator

Some criminology doctoral graduates opt to work in managerial and leadership positions for criminal justice organizations like police forces, prisons, and probation offices. In addition to managing finances and overseeing operations, they create rules and help put evidence-based methods into practice.

Consultant/Expert Witness

Doctoral graduates with a specialty in criminology can serve as consultants or expert witnesses for law companies, courts, or law enforcement organizations. They deliver testimony, conduct evaluations, and provide expert advice based on their risk assessment, criminal profiling, or crime analysis knowledge.

Policy Advisor/Analyst

Graduates can find employment as policy analysts or advisors for governmental bodies, charitable institutions, or consulting firms. They provide their knowledge of criminological research to policy creation, evaluate the efficiency of current programs, and offer suggestions for change.

Government Positions

Graduates from criminology PhD programs can work for various municipal, state, or federal governments. These roles could entail working in law enforcement administration, program evaluation, criminal justice policy, or crime prevention.

Non-profit and Advocacy Organizations

Graduates can work for non-profit groups prioritizing community-based initiatives, victim advocacy, or criminal justice reform. They support efforts to develop programs, conduct research, advocate for policies, and engage the community.

Private Sector

Some graduates might decide to use their criminological knowledge in the business world. They might work in industries like corporate compliance, forensic consulting, security, and risk management, or data analysis.

Is a PhD in Criminology worth it?

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a PhD in Criminology worth it?

The answers depend on your personal goals. But if you want to advance in the criminology and criminal justice field, a PhD in Criminology is worth the investment. A doctorate can help you stand out as a top thinker and researcher in policy and criminal justice.

What’s the key difference between a criminal justice degree program vs. a criminology degree program?

A criminology degree adopts a more expansive viewpoint by researching crime as a social phenomenon and delving into the causes, trends, and theories surrounding criminal conduct. A criminal justice program, however, concentrates on the practical aspects of the judicial system and how it functions.

How much can I earn with a doctorate in criminology?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics disclosed that Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary earn as high as $129,640 annually. The salary of a criminologist may increase based on tenure, location, and years of experience.

Do I need a license to practice criminology?

Instead of being a regulated profession, criminology is primarily an academic and research discipline. Criminologists usually do not have a particular licensure requirement, unlike some careers like medicine or law that have.

Key Takeaways

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