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Department of Justice, Law & Criminology


  • SPA Justice,Law / Criminology
    Fax: 202-885-2907
    Ward, Room 270

    Anna Castro,
    Administrative Assistant

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PhD in Justice, Law and Criminology

Offered by the Department of Justice, Law and Criminology, School of Public Affairs.

Admission to the Program

Applicants are considered and admitted for the fall semester only. January 1 is the deadline for application for admission. All applicants must submit scores from the verbal and quantitative sections of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The normal minimum for consideration is a grade point average of 3.20 (on a 4.00 scale) in all previous academic work. Applicants are admitted for full-time study only.

Degree Requirements

  • 36-54 credit hours of approved graduate coursework, exclusive of JLC-898/JLC-899.
    • Students entering with an approved master's degree must complete 36 credit hours of approved coursework, exclusive of JLC-898/JLC-899.
    • Students entering with a bachelor's degree only must complete 54 credit hours of approved coursework, exclusive of JLC-898/JLC-899.
    • A minimum grade point average of 3.2 in all coursework is required to remain in good standing and to earn the degree.
  • Major Fields: Justice or Law and Society
  • Advancement to candidacy is accomplished by successfully completing a written qualifying examination at the end of the second semester of study.
  • Students take two written comprehensive examinations, the first in either justice or law and society. The second may be the other of these two fields or may be any other major field. Following completion of the written examinations, all students take an oral examination on their entire program of study before a committee of faculty members, and defend their dissertation proposal.
    • Students take a primary field comprehensive examination in justice or law and society. They take a secondary field comprehensive examination in the other field, or they may take a second field elsewhere in the School of Public Affairs (SPA), the School of International Service, or in another doctoral degree-granting teaching unit. Under special circumstances, students may take a second field outside American University, subject to the approval of the SPA graduate director, in consultation with the department.
  • The PhD is fundamentally a research degree. Understanding scientific inquiry and correctly using research techniques require extensive preparation. All students in the program take three courses designed to help doctoral students comprehend the nature of science and master tools of research (see Course Requirements, below).
  • Each student selects a specialization in which to complete an original research project under the direction of program faculty and write a dissertation. Students may choose research projects within one of the major areas or select a research specialization from one of the other graduate fields within the school.
    • Each student prepares a research proposal for the dissertation project. It is the responsibility of the student to secure the agreement of a School of Public Affairs full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty member to serve as the chair of the dissertation committee. One of the two other members of the committee may be from outside SPA. As part of this process, each student must publicly defend the research proposal before the dissertation committee and other interested faculty.
    • The committee and the SPA director of doctoral programs (acting for the dean) must approve the defense and the research proposal. The topic covered by the proposal must be related to ongoing research or publications of the supervising faculty.
    • As work on the dissertation project progresses, students register for dissertation credit. Substantive coursework may be used as part of this requirement where it contributes directly to the research specialization and is specifically recommended by the dissertation committee chair.
    • Upon completion of the research and the written dissertation, the candidate submits the manuscript to the dissertation committee for review. If the committee members approve the manuscript, the candidate must complete an oral defense of the dissertation and the general field in which it lies before the committee and other interested faculty. The committee determines conclusively at this point whether the dissertation and examination are acceptable.
    • The dissertation must consist of high quality original research directly relevant to the student's doctoral program. A dissertation proposal may be rejected if the topic does not address a major research issue in justice, law and society, the research design is inadequate, the methodology is inappropriate, or because no full-time tenured or tenure-track faculty member in the School of Public Affairs is academically competent or available to supervise the project. If the candidate fails to maintain satisfactory progress toward completion of the dissertation, his or her candidacy may be terminated.

Course Requirements

Major Field (12 credit hours)

Complete one of the following:


Law and Society

Secondary Major Field (6-12 credit hours)

  • 6-12 credit hours in courses selected in consultation with the department

Research Design and Methodology (12 credit hours)


Research Methods Courses

Complete 6 credit hours from the following:

Electives (0-24 credit hours)

  • 0-24 credit hours chosen in consultation with the department, depending on number of credit hours taken for the secondary field and the total number of credit hours required on the student's approved Program of Study.

Dissertation (12 credit hours)

Additional information

Read our new handbook (pdf) to learn more about our PhD program.

Learn more