How do I Earn a Criminal Justice PhD?

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  • Written By: J. Cat
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 23 October 2018
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The field of criminal justice offers a wide range of career opportunities in the law enforcement and legal fields. Earning a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in criminal justice can help a student gain more employment opportunities after graduation and often higher pay. To earn this degree, students typically must earn a high school diploma or its equivalent and graduate from college with a degree in a related field. To enter criminal justice PhD programs, students typically must also complete a master's program in criminal justice before applying to a PhD program.

Those wishing to earn a criminal justice PhD typically begin by graduating from high school or taking and equivalency exam, such as the General Educational Development (GED) test in the United States. While in high school, students can take classes in math, history and social sciences to prepare for college. After graduating high school, students must attend college and earn a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as criminal justice, forensic science, law enforcement or public safety. Students may also improve their chances of gaining entry into a criminal justice PhD program by finding internships or gaining employment working in a related field, such as at a police department, court house or law office.


After the bachelor's degree requirements are fulfilled, the requirements for criminal justice PhD programs often vary by school. Some schools require students to earn a master's degree in a related field, such as criminology, while others may include the master's degree in the required PhD program hours. Still others may admit a student who has high grades, excellent test scores and good recommendation letters after earning a bachelor's degree.

In general, students must submit transcripts from all schools they've attended and recommendation letters from professors and employers. Some schools also require a student to write a letter of intent explaining career goals and how he or she plans to achieve those goals. Candidates typically must and pass entrance exams as well. Students may be best served by researching the PhD admission requirements of their school of choice before beginning a bachelor's degree program to ensure they're on the right path.

Once admitted to a criminal justice PhD program, students typically take courses in criminal justice research methods, statistics, and theory. Students also may be required to teach lower-level classes in related fields and pass final examinations. Most PhD programs also require students to complete a dissertation to be reviewed and approved by a supervisory board, usually consisting of four or five committee members and a board chair.



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