Guide to JD, PhD, and DBA Degrees in Law and Criminal Justice

If you’re interested in protecting the safety of citizens and making a difference in our justice system, there are several educational paths to take you to the top of your field. Whether you pursue one of the many specialties of criminal justice or focus on law, a doctorate degree can help you to work at the highest level and create real change.

PhD and other high-level degree programs in any field require dedication and years of learning, but the investment typically pays off with higher salaries and more rewarding work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median salary in 2008 for those with doctoral degrees was $80,860, versus $50,856 for workers with just a bachelor’s degree. Graduate school is an investment worth making, and multiple on-campus and online PhD programs can make it possible.

A PhD in Criminal Justice Paves the Way to Making a Difference

A PhD in Criminal Justice, or PhD in Human Services at some schools, can prepare you for addressing crime prevention, criminal behavior, the penal system, and public policy at the highest levels. There are numerous educational paths and careers within criminal justice, so feel free to explore them all.

What Does Earning a PhD in Criminal Justice Entail?

Successful applicants to Doctor of Philosophy in Criminal Justice programs have either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in a related field. While degree programs vary, many take at least 5 years to complete and include the following requirements:

Coursework: Many PhD programs in criminal justice require a core set of classes on crime theory, research methods, academic writing, and policy analysis.

Elective Courses/Specialization: After taking the core classes, doctoral students may focus on a specific field within criminal justice. Specializations vary by school and often include:

  • Corrections: Concentrating on the country’s corrections and penal system can prepare students for a career as a corrections specialist or overseer in the correctional system.
  • Criminology: A doctorate degree with a criminology focus may work with the government to create effective policy or expand the field of criminology through research at a university.
  • Justice Administration: Graduates specializing in justice administration may build careers overseeing police departments.
  • Juvenile Justice: Specializing in juvenile justice helps get doctoral students ready for a career researching or working with government to improve how the justice system handles minors.
  • Crime Scene and Forensic Science: Crime scene and forensic specialists analyze the physical evidence left at a crime scene and work for police or government.

Research: An important goal of PhD programs is teaching doctoral candidates to perform extensive research in their area of interest. Doctoral candidates learn statistics and advanced research methods in order to make discoveries both during and after the PhD program.

Comprehensive Examination: After coursework is complete (usually in 2-3 years), candidates must pass a written and oral examination given by faculty members to ensure subject mastery.

Dissertation: Passing the final examination allows doctoral students to begin the original research that goes into a final thesis or dissertation. A dissertation is generally a book-length piece of writing that the student must defend in front of a faculty panel.

Degrees in Security and Loss Prevention

Related to criminal justice is the growing field of security and loss prevention. Both corporations and the Department of Homeland Security depend on security and loss prevention experts to safeguard goods and information. Because heads of security and loss prevention often manage huge networks of security personnel, a Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) in Security and Loss Prevention is available in addition to a PhD.

A Juris Doctor (JD) in Law Can Open the Door for Lawyers and Judges

For anyone who wants to practice law, the JD degree must be completed before taking a state bar exam for licensing. Approximately 30 percent of lawyers work for themselves in private practice, while others work for law firms, nonprofits, corporations, or government. There are multiple ways to build a rewarding career as a lawyer, but they all begin with earning a juris doctor.

What Does Earning a JD in Law Entail?

Acceptance to law school can be highly competitive, and applicants must have a bachelor’s degree, excellent communication and reasoning skills, and an acceptable score on the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Many law schools offer evening or online law degree programs to allow working individuals to earn their JD.

Once reaching law school, students spend the first 1-2 years taking core courses including constitutional law, property law, torts, contracts, civil procedure, and legal writing. After completing the core courses, students choose a specialization and select courses accordingly. Specializations vary by law school, but can include:

  • Criminal law: Criminal lawyers often work in private practice or for a district attorney’s office defending or prosecuting suspects.
  • Civil law: Civil lawyers often work in private practice or for nonprofit agencies to provide legal counsel on mortgages, wills, trusts, litigation, and contracts.
  • Corporate law: Corporate lawyers specialize in business law and often work for a corporation’s legal department.
  • Environmental law: Environmental lawyers help businesses work within the guidelines of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other government groups.
  • Family law: Graduates in family law may find work in either law firms or private practice coordinating divorce, adoption, custody, and other family issues.

Online PhD Programs in Criminal Justice, Law, and Security & Loss Prevention Provide Flexibility to Working Professionals

When you’re considering taking the leap into a doctorate program, specialization and career options aren’t the only things to consider–there are more basic questions you must ask yourself before deciding where to apply, such as:

  • What will my work schedule be like over the coming years?
  • Is there a college or university nearby that offers the program I’m interested in?
  • Would an online PhD program or JD programs make more sense for my lifestyle?

Both on-campus and online doctorate degree programs have their advantages. On-campus programs give doctoral students instant access to campus resources and fellow students, while online programs offer the flexibility in class schedule that many working professionals need. With the right research and introspection, you can find an on-campus or online doctorate program that will take you where you want to go.


  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Education pays…
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Lawyers
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Police and Detectives
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Science Technicians
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