Forensic Psychology Online Degree Programs and Career Overview
Forensic psychology is the study of mental health and human behaviors’ relationships with the legal and criminal justice systems. Most states require that a licensed psychologist have a doctoral degree, but there are other forensic psychology careers that require a master’s degree. Jobs you can qualify for with a master’s in forensic psychology include correctional counselor, victim advocate, probation officer, or a wide variety of positions within federal, state, or municipal agencies related to criminal justice.
This page will introduce you to online programs in forensic psychology that cater to busy professionals and other students desiring flexible learning. We also explain more about what forensic psychologists actually do, salary expectations, and the educational and licensure requirements to becoming a forensic psychologist.
14 Online Forensic Psychology Master’s Programs for 2020
There are many advantages to taking courses online. Online programs provide you with flexibility, convenience, and the ability to work around your schedule. You might also save money by avoiding commuting costs and campus fees. In addition, a U.S. Department of Education report found that college-level students in online learning programs performed better than students learning on campus — particularly those enrolled in hybrid programs.
The OnlinePsychologyDegrees.com editorial team has researched and compiled a comprehensive list of 14 programs as of January 2020, for earning a master’s in forensic psychology fully or mostly online. These programs are listed in alphabetical order.
Arizona State University (Tempe, Arizona)
Arizona State University’s (ASU’s) award-winning Program of Law and Behavioral Science has produced Master of Science in Forensic Psychology graduates who work in law enforcement, corrections, mental health, and investigations.
Eligibility for the program requires a bachelor’s or master’s degree in psychology, criminal justice, social science, or a closely related field from a regionally accredited institution. Applicants must have a minimum of a 3.00 cumulative GPA in the final 60 hours of their bachelor’s degree studies or 3.00 cumulative GPA in an applicable master’s degree program.
Students learn about the various roles psychologists play in the legal system. The program requires completion of 33 hours that include advanced legal, forensic, and correctional psychology courses, as well as studies in psychopathology.
Learners also study criminal justice, the courts, sentencing, and issues in clinical/forensic psychology practice. The culminating experience is a forensic psychology capstone, which is a multifaceted academic, intellectual, and experiential project that ties together what the student has learned throughout the program.
Capella University (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Capella is an accredited online university that provides qualified faculty and staff, as well as a supportive community of students. The Harold Abel School of Psychology at Capella University offers a Master of Clinical Psychology with a specialization in Forensic Psychology. The coursework prepares learners for doctoral-level studies or to follow a career path in the field of forensic psychology.
Capella’s program uses research and evidence-based practices that take into account cultural and social diversity—the leadership understands that forensic psychology cannot be one-size-fits-all. Paths of study provide essential insight into human behavior and the criminal mind, allowing students to gain the knowledge, skills, and understanding of the law needed to stand out in a career in this field.
To earn this degree, students must complete five core courses and six specialization classes for a total of 55 credit hours. In addition to theories and practice courses, students complete a Survey of Research Methods, which requires them to critically evaluate information related to their fields of interest by applying scientific research methodologies, analyzing validity and reliability, and so on.
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology (Chicago, Illinois)
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology is a not-for-profit, accredited institution. It uses the “engaged practitioner” model of education. This approach provides students with a rich spectrum of practical experience that assists them in developing an inclusive approach to practice and research.
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology operates from a foundation of commitment to innovation, service, and community. It was named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll for its leadership in service and civic engagement.
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers an M.A. in Psychology – Forensic Psychology concentration. During this 36-semester-hour program, students will take 21 credit hours in foundational psychology, nine credit hours within the forensic psychology concentration, and six credit hours in an applied research project focused on forensic psychology.
Studies will cover research in forensic psychology, ethics and professional issues, addictive disorders, evaluation, treatment options, and diagnostic interviewing.
Graduates of the M.A. in Psychology, Forensic Psychology Concentration program are prepared to take on leadership roles in relevant careers, including:
- Nonprofit agencies such as child protective or family service agencies
- Consultation with law enforcement, judges, or domestic violence shelters
- Advocacy or victim assistance
- Research centers or public policymaking
Grand Canyon University (Phoenix, Arizona)
Grand Canyon University is a Christian school offering a Master of Science in Forensic Psychology through its College of Humanities and Social Sciences. The program provides a foundation in advanced principles of human psychology, criminal behavior, and societal responses to criminal behavior.
Students working toward this degree develop statistical analysis and research skills and learn to apply them to relevant topics in criminal behavior.
This degree curriculum covers current legal system programs and policies with an emphasis on ethical practices. The program encourages students to improve criminal justice processes and human rehabilitation programs with the goal of reducing crime and successfully rehabilitating criminals.
The Grand Canyon University Master of Science in Forensic Psychology program requires the completion of 36 credits. In addition to elective courses, there are five required core classes:
- Offender and Rehabilitation and Reintegration
- Psychology and the Legal System
- Psychopathology of Crime
- Social and Cultural Psychology
- Theories of Criminal Behavior
Students will complete a professional capstone project before graduation. The capstone qualifies as a two-credit hour course that provides final preparation for students to enter their prospective careers or continue their education in psychology. Students explore occupations and leaders in psychological fields and construct a roadmap for success in their chosen career or present original research ideas.
Liberty University (Lynchburg, Virginia)
Liberty University, a nonprofit institution, is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC). Classes for the Master of Science in Criminal Justice – Forensic Psychology program cover practices and theories of psychology and how to apply them within the legal system. Coursework focuses on how psychology and psychological research applies to law enforcement, the judicial process, and corrections. Experts in the fields of criminal justice and forensic psychology lead interactive courses.
Liberty University’s M.S. in Criminal Justice – Forensic Psychology program requires the completion of 36 credit hours, though students may transfer up to 18 credits from other institutions. Convenient eight-week classes are offered 100% online, with coursework culminating in a master’s thesis.
Graduates of the program will possess a unique skill set that includes recognizing threat levels during crisis intervention, negotiations, and the ability to mediate difficult situations.
Tuition: $390/hour for full-time students, $455/hour for part-time students
Northcentral University (Scottsdale, Arizona)
Northcentral University (NCU) is a private, nonprofit university that was founded to help working professionals attain higher education and is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).
NCU offers bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in business, education, and psychology, including a Master of Science in Forensic Psychology. NCU recognizes the need for experts in the psychology of criminal behavior to have a deep understanding of what motivates people to commit crimes. Therefore, this degree program teaches students to apply psychological principles in forensic settings.
Students will take courses from NCU professors one-on-one. This learning model enables individualized mentoring by professionally experienced professors, all of whom hold doctoral degrees. It also allows students to proceed at a faster pace than is possible following a traditional semester-based structure.
NCU has no physical residency requirements. It offers weekly start dates for the convenience of working adults. Students complete seven courses specific to this cutting-edge field, plus three electives, for a total of 10 courses worth 30 credit hours. The recommended completion time for the program is 20 months.
Nova Southeastern University (Fort Lauderdale, Florida)
Nova Southeastern University’s distinguished faculty engages in a wide range of research and clinical specializations. The school is known for faculty mentorship and small class sizes with online or part-time formats that make education accessible.
The Master of Science in Forensic Psychology is a 36-credit online program providing the professional training needed to work in a variety of forensic settings, including courts, law enforcement, criminal justice, national security offices, treatment facilities, and social services agencies.
This master’s program consists of 33 credit hours that include 24 credits of core classes and completion of one of two possible nine-credit specialization tracks:
- Forensic Psychology in the Legal System: Classes cover therapeutic jurisprudence, psychological reports, expert witness testimony, dependency in family law cases, psychological evaluation of competencies, and behavioral criminology.
- Forensic Psychology for Mental Health Workers, First Responders, and Disaster Teams: Topics include suicide prevention, child mistreatment and trauma assessment and intervention, intervening in school and workplace violence, substance abuse, and police psychology.
All students also complete a three-credit capstone course. They choose either a field experience or thesis (recommended for those who plan to continue their studies).
Purdue University Global (Chicago, Illinois)
Purdue University Global offers an online Master of Science Degree in Psychology with a concentration in forensic psychology. It boasts a strong academic foundation of psychology blended with contemporary applications of science focused on practical applications.
Purdue Global is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). They provide multiple start dates throughout the year. These flexible scheduling options let students choose a time to begin earning their degree that fits their unique circumstances.
Throughout this program, students will combine and apply evidence-based theories, concepts, and strategies that prepare them to advocate for a variety of populations in settings across the criminal and legal system. They learn from psychology practitioners who have extensive experience in the field, and all professors have doctorates. Coursework includes online quizzes, discussion boards, seminars, instructor and peer feedback, and remote access to the Purdue Global Library. Students are challenged to relate theories to real-world situations, arrive at evidence-based strategies, and then apply ethical, legal, sociocultural, and individual standards and guidelines to the practice of forensic psychology.
Requirements for the concentration in forensic psychology include the successful completion of 35 credit hours of core course requirements and 25 credit hours of electives in a focus area. Students have the choice of completing a thesis or passing a comprehensive exam.
Southern New Hampshire University (Manchester, New Hampshire)
Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), a private, nonprofit, accredited institution, has reinvented its higher education program to meet the needs of working professionals. The school provides flexibility, technology, and support, allowing learners to manage the many commitments of home, work, and school.
Southern New Hampshire University offers a Master of Science in Psychology with a concentration in Forensic Psychology online. This specialized program is designed to provide insight into the role of a forensic psychology professional by requiring students to practice and apply forensic psychological theories and methods. SNHU’s instructors are professionals who work in the field and can share real-life knowledge, experience, and practical advice.
To receive this degree, students must complete 36 credit hours that have been designed to provide graduates with the knowledge and skills in research, analysis, assessment, and human behavior that can enable them to be successful. During the program, learners will demonstrate their ability to work effectively with others.
Touro University Worldwide (Los Alamitos, California)
Touro University Worldwide (TUW) is a nonprofit institution. Its mission is to provide online degree programs to serve the needs of adult learners (service to society), professionals (intellectual pursuit), and the underserved (social justice). The school has six start dates throughout the year.
No GMAT or GRE is required for admission. Students who have earned a baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution with a minimum overall GPA of 2.5 or students who wish to transfer from another college or university and are in good academic standing with a minimum GPA of 2.75 may apply. TUW allows students to transfer 30% of the semester credits from other accredited institutions.
The 100% online Master of Arts in Psychology program at TUW offers unique concentrations so students can target their course of study to meet specific career goals. Concentrations are available in media psychology, educational psychology, health psychology, and forensic psychology.
Students following this program will complete nine required and three elective courses. Study topics include the law and psychology, criminal behavior, and assessments in forensic psychology, along with other subjects related to crime, psychology, and issues within the legal system.
University of California, Irvine (Irvine, California)
The University of California, Irvine, is a world-class research university intent on preparing promising graduate students to become future leaders. The school is known for developing new technologies, exploring innovative approaches to research challenges, and fostering excellence in scholarship.
UC Irvine offers an online Master of Legal and Forensic Psychology (MLFP). One of the strengths of this program is the promotion of interdisciplinary learning. The MLFP program integrates facets of psychology, forensics, and law while emphasizing the use of psychological principles, theories, and research to better work within legal procedures and systems.
The online MLFP program works collaboratively with the Center for Psychology and Law to expose students to insightful events and educational opportunities. Learners are immersed in this interdisciplinary field, challenged to test theories and engage in public service applicable to individual-level participation and experiences in legal contexts.
The MLFP typically takes two years to complete. There is a mandatory weeklong in-residence introductory course. The culminating experience is a capstone course.
University of Louisiana, Monroe (Monroe, Louisiana)
The University of Louisiana, Monroe (ULM), likes to say, “The Best is on the Bayou.” The school offers an online Master of Science in Psychology with a Forensics track. Admission into the program requires meeting a combination of minimums for cumulative GPA from undergraduate study and scores for the GRE General Test (Verbal plus Quantitative).
The master’s degree in Psychology at ULM requires 36 credit hours. Courses are offered in eight-week sessions because the school believes it may be easier to balance two to three courses over eight weeks than it is to juggle four to five classes over 16 weeks.
Students completing the forensic track online are required to complete the following classes:
- Intelligence Testing
- Psychological Assessment
- Pro-seminar in Criminal Justice
- Advanced Theories of Crime and Delinquency
- Counseling in Criminal Justice
- Minorities, Crime, and Criminal Justice
In addition, students will complete five hours of psychology electives from a list of specific courses.
University of North Dakota (Grand Forks, North Dakota)
The University of North Dakota (UND) operates with core values that include collaboration, connectedness, and a supportive environment. These values provide the foundation for their online master’s in forensic psychology. UND consistently ranks among the top schools for educational quality, affordability, and career outcomes. The school’s academic year includes fall and spring semesters.
The master’s in forensic psychology program provides knowledge of advanced psychological theories and concepts, specific forensic knowledge, analytical, statistical, and evaluation skills, along with an in-depth understanding of the legal system. This solid foundation gives graduates the ability to select and use appropriate tools for assessment and evaluation. Students can conduct focus groups and assist attorneys with trial preparation and jury selection and serve to assist courts and state agencies in addressing forensic issues. This 30-credit hour program takes an estimated two years to complete.
The Master of Arts in forensic psychology requires a minimum of 30 credits with 21 hours of required core courses and nine elective credits. A maximum of eight graduate credits may be transferred from another institution.
Walden University (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
Walden University is an accredited institution of higher education serving adult learners. The school has been operating for 45 years, serving students from all 50 states and internationally.
The school strives to produce graduates with the knowledge, skills, and abilities to facilitate positive social change and who use their expertise to positively impact their profession, communities, and society.
Walden’s online Master of Science (M.S.) in Forensic Psychology degree offers 10 focused forensic psychology specializations, including family violence, sex offender behavior, cybercrimes, terrorism, and police psychology. Each program consists of 10 courses.
Specialization requires completion of 48 total quarter credits.
- Foundation course (three credits)
- Core courses (25 credits)
- Specialization courses (15 credits)
Capstone or Field Experience (five credits)
The time it takes to complete an online master’s degree at Walden varies depending on the program, individual progress, and the number of credits transferred (if any). Students may transfer up to 24 approved credits.
More About the Field of Forensic Psychology
Forensic psychology combines the study of psychology and the legal system. A forensic psychologist needs to possess knowledge in three primary areas: clinical, forensic, and legal.
The American Psychological Association (APA) officially defines forensic psychology as “the application of clinical specialties to the legal arena.” This arena can include police departments, courts, prisons, and other environments.
Many authors of forensic psychology textbooks identify two specific types of definitions: narrow and broad. The narrow definition of forensic psychology is the application of clinical skills — for example, assessment, treatment, and evaluation — to forensic settings. The broad definition of forensic psychology is the application of research and experimentation in various other psychology disciplines — for example, cognitive psychology and social psychology — to the legal system.
This specialized field requires that practitioners understand legal concepts and psychological fundamentals, such as memory, perception, communication, and state of mind. Forensic psychologists assist individuals involved in the court system.
According to the APA, in practice, forensic psychology “involves investigations, research studies, assessments, consultation, the design and implementation of treatment programs and expert witness courtroom testimony.” As a result, it’s essential to have both training in law and forensic psychology, and good clinical skills. These skills include clinical assessment, report writing, verbal communication (from interviewing a victim to acting as an expert witness in court), and case presentation.
It takes lots of schooling and supervised practice hours to become a forensic psychologist. Practitioners are required to have a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. Depending on your career goals, you might also need to obtain licensure and become board certified.
Note: It’s important to differentiate forensic psychology from criminal psychology. While sometimes used interchangeably, criminal psychology is a specific sector within forensic psychology. A big distinction between the two is that the former studies the psychology across the criminal justice system, particularly the mental state and health of the suspects, victims, and witnesses. Criminal psychology, on the other hand, studies the psychology of criminals in general. These specialists often work for state or county police departments and work with government bureaus to form policies and advance the criminal justice field.
What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?
Although forensic psychologists perform a range of tasks, one of the more prevalent is to assess the mental health of suspects, criminals, and victims. Other tasks might vary depending on work setting, but can include:
- Assessing threats in schools
- Conducting child custody evaluations
- Evaluating criminal defendants and the elderly for competency to stand trial
- Providing counseling services to victims of crime
- Developing death notification procedures
- Counseling inmates individually and in group therapy settings
- Screening and selecting law enforcement applicants
- Assessing post-traumatic stress disorder in police officers
- Delivering and evaluating intervention and treatment programs for juvenile and adult offenders
- Consulting with attorneys and other legal professionals
Forensic psychologists are often called upon in “mens rea,” or insanity, cases. “Insanity” is a legal term; the standard of insanity varies from state to state, though there is a federal standard as well. It’s up to the forensic psychologist to determine a person’s mental state at the time of the crime — not in the present day. Much of this work is retrospective and consists of third-party information and statements made around the time of the crime.
This field can play a big role when solving criminal cases. Aside from providing expert testimony, forensic psychologists might be called on to help interpret a motive. This discipline can help with crime prevention, too, from the rehabilitation of perpetrators to research into the types of people who commit crimes.
With that stated, forensic psychology isn’t always the easiest field to work in. Forensic psychologists need to maintain an unbiased viewpoint when dealing with accused individuals and be able to deal with crimes that are disturbing for most people.
Forensic Psychologist Job Growth and Salary
The field of forensic psychology has grown a lot in recent years. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t offer information specific to the forensic discipline, the job outlook for psychologists in general has a projected job growth rate of 14% — double the 7% average across all occupations.
The salary for a forensic psychologist varies depending on experience, workplace setting, and location.
In an article on the APA website, Mary Connell, EdD, a private practitioner in Fort Worth, TX, estimates forensic psychologists earn between $200,000 and $400,000 a year. However, PayScale reports the following:
- Early-career forensic psychologist (with 1 to 4 years of job experience)
- Average salary: $68,011
- Mid-career forensic psychologist (with 5 to 9 years of job experience)
- Average salary: $82,868
- Late-career forensic psychologist (with over 20 years of job experience)
- Average salary: $115,913
Educational Requirements for Becoming a Forensic Psychologist
It takes four to six years of post-graduate study and supervised professional experience to become a forensic psychologist. To become an actual psychologist and provide clinical services you need a doctorate from a program that is accredited by the APA or Canadian Psychological Association (CPA). Note, however, that there are entry-level and assistant jobs that you can get with a master’s degree.
Typically, you will take the following steps to become a forensic psychologist
- Get a Bachelor’s Degree
- Get a Master’s Degree
- Get a doctorate Doctoral Degree
- Obtain licensure
- Gain practical experience
- Become board certified
Get a Bachelor’s Degree
To begin your career in forensic psychology, you need to earn an undergraduate degree from an accredited university. You’ll most likely want to major in psychology (forensic, if available) and consider a minor in criminal justice, pre-law, criminology, or a mental health specialty. While you can consider related programs to major in, note that some graduate schools will only accept students with a bachelor’s of arts or bachelor’s of science in psychology. You’ll also want to get good grades to secure a high GPA and increase your chances of getting into a graduate program.
Typical courses you’ll take in a psychology program include criminal psychology and forensic psychology and classes on human behavior and psychology research. The degree can be completed within four years, though it may take longer if you pursue additional areas of study or internships.
Get a Master’s Degree
A standalone master’s degree is not necessarily required to continue your forensic psychology education. Some schools only require Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores to enroll in doctoral program. Many offer a combined master’s-doctorate degree program. However, some graduates choose to pursue a master’s degree in forensic psychology to boost their chances of getting into the Ph.D. or Psy.D. program of their choice.
A master of science in forensic psychology program traditionally focuses more heavily on psychology and legal issues, and professional training. Most programs will require 36 credits, or about two years, to complete; however, this can vary by school.
Get a Doctorate Degree
Reminder: You have to earn either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree before you can become a bona fide forensic psychologist. A Ph.D. is typically more research-centered, while a Psy.D. tends to focus on the treatment of patients. Depending on your professional aspirations, it might make sense to pursue one degree over another. If you’re not sure which direction you want to head in, review programs at different schools — some degree programs may even offer a similar curriculum.
For either degree, you’ll often take coursework in criminal behavior, police psychology, program evaluations, and more. This program can take four to eight years to complete.
Graduates can apply for licensure and sit for an oral or written exam, depending on the state in which they’ll be practicing. Each state has different licensure requirements for forensic psychologists. Typically, you must complete a specific number of supervised training hours and pass an exam. From there, applicants will most likely go through a background check and have their credentials reviewed by their state board.
For information about individual state requirements, visit the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.
Gain Practical Experience
After completing a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree from an accredited doctoral program, forensic psychologists will need “the equivalent of two years of organized, sequential, supervised professional experience, one year of which is an APA- or CPA-accredited predoctoral internship,” according to the APA.
Become Board Certified
While it’s not always a requirement to practice, forensic psychologists can get professionally certified through the American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP). Having board certification is advantageous because it shows that you are a dedicated professional. According to the ABPP, there are two general requirements for forensic psychologists:
- Practitioners must complete the credential review, a written and oral examination, and a vote by the ABFP to be accepted.
- Practitioners cannot have past serious ethical misconduct or unlawful behavior that the board would deem incompatible with its high standard for board certification.
Optional: Get a Law Degree
Since law and psychology are intertwined in forensic psychology, some students choose to also pursue a law degree. But that’s purely optional.
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