Doctorate in criminology program guide

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Introduction to criminology

A doctorate in criminology is the highest level of education you can obtain in this field. These programs typically attract those who want to pursue research into an aspect of crime. The field can be approached from many different angles. These include victimology, the role of corrections and rehabilitation, criminal behavior, ethics, community relations, and prejudice in the system.

As this is a terminal degree, it’s common for students to already have some experience in a related field. That could be through a master’s degree, internships, a job in law enforcement or the justice system. Holders of this degree are equipped to enter the workforce. They typically seek senior roles where their expertise and leadership skills can be utilized.

The majority of criminology Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs involve considerable research. You also need to complete a dissertation. The nature of this work prepares students to continue careers in academia as researchers, professors, and lecturers, as well as in positions in policy-making organizations.

Some graduate programs admit students without a master’s degree in the subject. In this case, they will complete additional coursework and submit a thesis to earn their master of arts (M.A.) in criminology while en-route to their Ph.D. It’s a multidisciplinary subject, so the titles and content of the programs often expand beyond criminology. You’ll usually find degrees that include law, criminal justice, society, and psychology.

About the degree

puzzle Requirements

Typically, you’ll need to supply the official transcripts of your previous degrees. In most cases, that will mean your undergraduate and graduate certificates. Some programs allow you to complete an integrated master’s, which means you’ll only need your transcripts for your bachelor’s degree. Generally, they’ll need to demonstrate at least a 3.0 GPA.

Alongside your transcripts, you’ll need to submit your graduate record examinations (GRE) scores. As part of your online application, you’ll be required to submit supporting documents. These could include an academic writing sample, such as a chapter of your master’s thesis and a statement of professional and academic goals.

Other requirements include 3 letters of recommendation, ideally from academic sources, and a resume. If English isn’t your first language, you’ll need to provide proof of proficiency. That could be a Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or an International English Language Testing Systems (IELTS) certificate.

Degree flexibility

Most criminology Ph.D. programs are taught in person at the university campus. Typically, programs only admit students on a full-time basis, although there are exceptions that accommodate part-time study. The primary reason for this is that many doctorate students take on graduate assistantships. They usually require around 20 hours of teaching or research commitment each week.

Doctorate degrees in criminology usually require considerable amounts of research, which require students to work with faculty members, attend research centers, and access materials from the campus library. For this reason, it’s common for courses to be taught in person. There are some online Ph.D. programs in criminology; most often, they’re offered by schools that specialize in online education.

Due to graduate assistantships, it’s not usual for students to balance their studies around other full-time work. However, upon graduation, students will generally have gained research and teaching experience, as well as the skills and knowledge necessary to enter the workforce at a more senior level.

alt"cog-1" Financial support

The cost of a doctorate degree in criminology varies among colleges, and can cost between $20,000 and $60,000. 

Begin your search for financial aid to support your doctorate program at the financial office of your chosen school and on the Federal Student Aid website.

Ph.D. level studies have many extensive scholarships available. To find out what specific Ph.D. scholarships a particular institution has, contact the finance office of that institution. Some doctoral positions may feature teaching positions or research positions after or even during the doctorate degree. These are often program-specific. In each of these cases, it is best to apply early. Grants are also a great way to cover degree costs in part, and it may be possible to receive multiple grants. It is a good idea to search for grants on both a state and federal level.


A significant part of a Ph.D. in criminology includes independent work and research. However, to prepare students for that, the first 2 years usually comprise several core courses and some modules on methods. Typical coursework that you can find as part of a criminology Ph.D. includes:

Criminological theories 

This course explores the main theories, debates, and issues around crime and criminality, including historical and contemporary approaches. It can draw on biological, psychological, social, and cultural explanations for criminal behavior.

Criminal justice

Typically offered as a proseminar, this course looks at how the system functions in theory and in practice. It examines the administration of justice through law enforcement, corrections, and the courts, as well as the responsibilities and purposes of people and agencies.

Law and policy

A course that covers the legal aspects of criminology and the justice system, including looking at the constitution and the Supreme Court of the United States. The policy element reviews the development and implementation of rules, procedures, and decisions.

Quantitative methods

Before students pursue their own research topics, this module prepares them to use the relevant methods and analytical strategies to find and evaluate information. It looks at sampling, probability, and hypothesis testing.

Research and data analysis

To continue a student’s education in research, this module looks at qualitative data analysis, including consideration of organizational decision models. It might also focus on multivariate analysis in administrative research.

Some Ph.D. programs provide the option to undertake an internship as an elective. This opportunity allows students to gain hands-on experience or work with other researchers at an institute to pursue a particular topic of study. Many degrees also require students to complete a second-year project or research practicum. It could result in a published paper or a group study.


Race and justice studies

This specialization often involves a mentorship with faculty, including workshops, discussions, and presentations that focus on inclusive excellence. Students complete coursework with cross-department perspectives on critical studies of race, law, and crime before completing their own research and paper.

Juvenile justice issues

An emphasis in this area explores delinquency and criminal behavior. Students will also explore historical, legal, social, and philosophical points when it comes to legal rights and the system’s approach to juveniles.

Law and social science

As a specialization, this area covers social aspects from anthropology and education, including human behavior. You might also explore community perceptions of crime and law enforcement, as well as social contract theory and ethics.


Choosing an accredited Ph.D. program is essential for a number of reasons. The accreditation process of a course or program usually involves peer review and evaluation of a program, including teaching methods, support resources, student experience, and the financial stability of a school. When you choose a university with accreditation, it means you can expect it to meet certain quality standards.

Another reason that we recommend checking for accreditation is that your degree and credits are more likely to be recognized and valued by other institutions and employers. Although your Ph.D. is a terminal degree, it’s likely that you’ll pursue positions in academia. In that case, a degree from an accredited institution is more likely to make you a strong candidate.

Since there isn’t an accrediting agency for criminology degrees, we suggest you look for general or regional accreditation commissions. One example is the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), which provides general evaluation for schools and their programs.

What you can do with a doctorate in criminology

A Ph.D. in criminology can open up many opportunities for you. You might wish to continue in your career in corrections, law enforcement, or elsewhere in the justice system but obtain a more senior role.

Typically, the most common path is teaching. Universities need professors at undergraduate and graduate levels to pass on knowledge and experience to criminology students. Those who have completed a teaching assistantship will already have gained some experience in this field.

Others choose to remain in academia or work for private institutes with a focus on research. In this case, statistical analysis, consideration of criminological theories, and specialization in a particular area will all help the candidate to progress. This path is suited to those who want to contribute to our wider understanding of criminology.

Another area where graduates can have a significant impact and use their expertise is in policymaking. Roles with government organizations and independent agencies require you to develop and implement policies regarding law, communication, and justice.

An area of specialization within the criminal justice field is criminal profiling, where criminologists utilize their skills of analysis and their detailed understanding of criminal behaviour and mindsets to predict upcoming movements and actions of repeat perpetrators. This gives crucial aid to the justice system in the spotlighting of suspects and in the apprehension of guilty parties.

The average base salary of a criminal profiler is $62,056, however holders of a doctorate degree in criminology will likely be in the higher percentiles of the salary range. For instance, detectives and criminal investigators have a median wage of $86,940.

As a senior academic professional in the criminal justice field you can direct research, develop college criminology curriculum for educational institutions, and prepare students to commence their careers in criminal justice and criminology.

Professors of criminal justice often compose their own academic works. Valuable scholarly output might for instance include analysing and questioning how the criminal justice system works, or researching at a foundational level how and why people break the law or hurt other people. As a professor, your research and credentials may influence and help evolve state and national policy regarding criminal justice.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics states the median annual salary for professors of criminal justice is $72,390 yearly.

Continuing education

A Ph.D. in criminology is the highest criminology degree. Although you might choose to attend seminars and conferences to update and expand your knowledge, it’s not usual to pursue another degree after this.

Many degree holders, especially those in research, continue to learn throughout their careers. However, that is usually done through a postdoctoral research position, independent study, collaboration, professional courses, and in less formal educational settings.

Should I get this degree?

Alongside fascinating topics, there is a lot of theory and research involved in the doctorate degree, which includes statistical and data analysis. Holders of a Ph.D. in the field of criminal justice are highly regarded and may find themselves at the forefront of policy decisions, heading an organisation, or helping authorities pursue the most elusive criminals around the globe.

There is also demand in the academic field, with many research and teaching positions open to holders of a Ph.D. in criminology. These are opportunities to contribute directly to the knowledge of the sector as well as educate minds in the field of criminal justice. Your research or scholarly articles may inform national policy decisions.

On offer is a long career of prestigious roles. The criminal justice sector has a very low unemployment rate, and seeing as many of the positions are based within law enforcement agencies, government, and higher education, the jobs are very stable. Possessing the highest qualification in this area further increases job stability. Protective services vocations overall are projected to grow 3% over the next decade according to the BLS.

The American Society of Criminology (ASC)

An international membership organization for professionals who pursue scholarly and scientific knowledge regarding the measurement, prevention, control, and consequences of crime.

Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences (ACJS)

An international membership association that promotes professional and scholarly activities connected to criminal justice. It supports education, research, policy, and practice in the field and shares knowledge through its network.

American Correctional Association (ACA)

A membership association that champions the cause of effectiveness in corrections and correctional facilities. Aimed at professionals in the field, it promotes progressive leadership to shape the future of corrections. It brings together collaborations and partnerships to improve the justice system.

The International Association for the Study of Organized Crime (IASOC)

A grant-giving organization that supports research in this field. It also has an affiliated peer-reviewed journal. It aims to connect academics, professionals, and students to advance the study of illegal enterprise and organized crime.