Doctor of Philosophy in Criminology

The Ph.D. program in criminology is designed around a highly interdisciplinary approach from a variety of academic disciplines in addition to traditional criminology: public health, biology, economics, sociology, demography, law, statistics and others. Applied training and traditional academic training are represented. The faculty in the Department come from a number of disciplines and students are also encouraged to take courses outside of the department. After basic coursework in criminology and empirical methods, Ph.D. students construct their own mix of graduate courses to properly inform their interests.

Program Features

  • Admission is directly into the Ph.D. program.
  • Soon after arriving, each student selects a mentor and with the mentor, the graduate chair and one other member of the graduate group, designs a hand-tailored curriculum. That curriculum will include several “core” courses taken in the first and second year. These include two courses in criminological theory, two courses in criminal justice policy, and two semesters of graduate level statistics. 
  • There is a “comprehensive exam” designed by the student, the mentor and at least one other member of the graduate group. The exam can take a variety of forms depending on what seems most appropriate. For example, it could be a traditional written examination, an oral presentation, or one or more review papers meant to synthesize areas in criminology and/or related fields. The paper(s) could draw from the material already covered in course work and additional readings to broaden and deepen coverage. Ideally, a significant part of this work will serve as a literature review for the dissertation.
  • The Ph.D. dissertation can be a single document or a set of several published papers consistent with the rules of the Graduate Division of the School of Arts and Sciences.
  • The Ph.D. program conforms to the course load and time-to-degree requirements of the Graduate Programs in the School of Arts and Sciences.

Doctoral Admissions


Who is eligible to apply?

We expect a successful applicant to have earned a Bachelor’s degree by the time she/he begins the doctoral program. A strong background in research is highly recommended. Admission is very competitive.

Should I apply to the master’s program or doctoral program in criminology at Penn?

The master’s program is designed for individuals interested in furthering their knowledge of criminology and criminal justice policy in preparation for a range of professional opportunities in government, research, and academia. The doctoral program is designed for individuals with demonstrated excellence in academic research interested in generating scientific research on the causes of crime and the consequences of criminal justice policy.

How should I decide if the Penn doctoral program is a good fit for me?

Visit Penn criminology faculty member web pages to find out what projects faculty are currently working on. Read their published studies. If you are excited by the research questions and/or methods being used, then Penn could be a good choice for you. You should be able to identify more than one faculty research area that aligns with your own interests. 

Who makes admissions decisions?

Doctoral admissions decisions are made by the graduate admissions committee, which is composed of criminology faculty members.