A degree in forensic psychology can lead to a rewarding career that merges law enforcement and modern psychology.
Forensic psychology is the application of clinical specialities in the legal arena. Forensic psychology is connected to law enforcement, criminal investigations, and the legal arena more broadly. Forensic psychology is also a branch of forensic science, which is the examination and analysis of evidence from crime scenes to help with the investigation and prosecution of criminal offenders.
Put simply, forensic psychology is the psychological assessment of individuals involved in the legal system, whether they be victims, witnesses, law enforcement, legal workers, or criminals.
Forensic psychologists often specialize in a particular track in the broad field of forensics. For example, some forensic psychologists work predominantly with other professionals in the criminal justice field including lawyers, judges, and law enforcement. Others focus more on victims, witnesses, and perpetrators of crime, providing psychological support and resources.
Colleges and universities offer forensic psychology degrees online through advanced educational technologies, the use of video conferencing, and virtual, immersive lab experiences. A forensic psychology program can be run fully online.
Online students usually have much more flexibility in their studies. That said, be aware that some online programs may require limited in-person lab time at some point during the degree. You can find this information on individual program websites.
Online programs are also often less expensive than in-person programs for several reasons. Remember that some public state universities have a lower rate of tuition if you live within the state. When researching online programs, even if a program is in your state, remember to make sure that the program is accredited. Then, find out if there are any grants or scholarships available, either through the government or through the institution itself.
Online Master of Science in Forensic Psychology
Professionals choose to pursue a Master of Science in Forensic Psychology if they want to apply psychology to criminal justice or other legal settings. Some professionals in related fields like lawyers and law enforcement officers may also get degrees in forensic psychology to switch gears and get into forensic psychology.
A Master of Science in Forensic Psychology provides students with the necessary training to pursue licensing as a counselor. For those interested in being a licensed psychologist, they will have to pursue a PhD. To get licensure to become a counselor, online programs will require in-person practicums in the field.
Because students who pursue a master’s degree in this field are often already working professionals, many online master’s programs are very flexible and can be completed part-time. However, if you want to get your degree more quickly so that you can move up in the field quickly, some online programs are accelerated.
Online Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology Accreditation and Cost
Accreditation is one of the most important elements you should consider when reviewing any school. This is especially important with online programs since you need to make sure that the program will give you the appropriate training and certification you need to get started in the field. Accreditation exists on the local, state, and national level and for schools overall and specific degree programs.
Cost should always be a consideration and thankfully, online programs are among the most affordable. Consider that some state universities may offer less expensive tuition to state residents. Otherwise, check out financial aid, grant, and scholarship options for each program you are considering.
Online Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology Entrance Requirements
Competitive applicants to these programs will already have a background in psychology, criminal justice or law. This background could include a bachelor’s degree in a related field, and work experience in one or all of those fields.
You could also have internship, practicum, or volunteer experience from a previous degree. Most programs will also require that you take and submit official GRE test results.
Online Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology Curriculum
Every program has slightly different course requirements and completion requirements, including a thesis, a practicum experience, and/or a capstone project. Here is a sample of some typical core classes in an online Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology program:
- Forensic Psychological Sciences
- Criminal Behavior and Human Behavior
- Behavioral Interventions in a Forensic Setting
- Expert Witness Testimony and Communication
- The Mentally Ill in the Criminal Justice System
- Multicultural Issues and Gender Issues in Forensic Psychology
- Evaluation, Methodology, and Psychological Research
- Police Psychology
Programs typically require between 30 and 60 credits and can take anywhere from three semesters full-time to four-six semesters part-time.
Online Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology Tracks and Specializations
The field of forensic psychology offers many different specializations and concentration options. Some schools require students to choose one out of a selection of speciality tracks. For example, a student may choose a legal and criminal justice track, while another may choose a mental health worker and first-responder track.
The closely related field of forensic science offers certificate programs in the field, with a bachelor’s degree in a related field as a prerequisite. Many bachelor’s programs in forensic science prepare students for specific certification exams.
These certifications are awarded by professional forensics organizations, including the American Board of Criminalistics, the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, and the American Board of Forensic Documentation Examiners. Students interested in pursuing forensic psychology may be interested in pursuing a certificate in forensic science. It would serve as a form of experience before starting an MS in Forensic Psychology.
Best Online Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology Programs
Alt text: A large court house in front of a busy street with an American flag.
Caption: Graduates of a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology program may work in a courthouse like this one.
Online students have more Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology programs to choose from than those who want to complete the program in person. This is because students often need the added flexibility offered by online programs.
This is especially true because professionals who pursue a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology usually have a PhD program ahead of them as well. Below is a list of the top Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology online programs.
Nova Southeastern University, known as NSU within Florida, offers a top MS in Forensic Psychology program online. The program requires 36 credits, including 24 core program courses, nine credit specialization track courses, and three credits for the required program capstone.
The capstone can be either a research thesis or a field experience. The university recommends the research option for students who definitely plan on continuing their forensic psychology studies at the doctoral level.
This Master of Legal and Forensic Psychology is offered in collaboration with the University of California Irvine’s Departments of Psychological Science and Criminology, Law, and Society. It’s important to understand that all of the core coursework in this program is online.
However, students are required to attend a one-week orientation program on campus at the beginning of their first quarter in the program. This means that this program would be more cost-effective for prospective students in California or in surrounding states since they will be required to travel to Irvine once at the beginning of the program. The program also requires a capstone project.
This 35-credit online program based out of one of the top state universities in the upper-midwest offers a wide selection of electives as well as core courses in forensic psychology. Students can complete the program part-time in two years. They can also elect to complete a field experience at a clinical or community setting in their area. Instead of the field experience, they can choose to complete research in which they can dive into the areas of interrogation, eyewitness testimony, and psychology in the classroom.
Arizona State University, or ASU, has one of the largest top online course offerings in the country. Its online Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology is no exception. The 33-credit program requires 11 classes. Each class is offered individually and treated as an intensive, lasting 7.5 weeks each. ASU offers this degree through their Program in Law and Behavioral Science. For consideration, applicants should have a bachelor of arts or sciences in psychology, criminal justice, or another related social science.
This final program on our list is actually not an MS in Forensic Psychology. It is an online MS in Psychology with a specialization in forensic psychology. This is a great option for a student who knows that they want to advance in the field of psychology but who does not want to limit their knowledge of the subject.
Students can choose to specialize in forensic psychology without taking time away from other core courses in psychology as a whole. The curriculum in the specialization focuses on the related disciplines, like law, criminal justice, and of course, psychology. It is a 36-credit program that seeks to focus on the intersection between psychology and the law.
Career Prospects in Forensic Psychology
Forensic psychology is an expanding field within the realms of psychology and the law. Although the Bureau for Labor Statistics does not have statistics specifically for the forensic psychology field, its statistics for psychology are promising.
According to 2019 statistics, a psychologist makes an annual salary of $80,370 on average. The profession itself is also growing, with a faster-than-average predicted growth rate of 14 percent by 2028.
A Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology will prepare you to pursue a PhD in forensic psychology to become a licensed forensic psychologist. Graduates of MS programs in forensic science will be prepared to enter jobs as jury consultants, advocates for victims, advocates for law enforcement, court liaisons, and eyewitnesses.
With a master’s degree alone, you may be able to pursue some preliminary counseling work as well. However, you will not be able to get a full license to practice independently as a psychologist without a doctoral degree. While a forensic psychologist may opt to work in consultation with schools, police forces, prisons or consultancy firms, they may also open up their own practices.
As a forensic psychologist, you provide counseling and therapy for crime victims and witnesses. You work with lawyers and attorneys to understand the complicated psychology involved in criminal cases and may even serve as an expert witness when psychology plays a prominent role in a case. With the master’s alone, you may begin your career as a counselor in forensic settings like courthouses, correctional facilities, and police departments.
Forensic psychology is an excellent field for anyone interested in psychology and the legal system. It is the ultimate convergence of these two fields and ultimately, it provides necessary psychological expertise to improve the criminal justice system. Pursuing an MS in Forensic Psychology is also a significant commitment. Not only does it require effort and time commitment, but it is also the first step toward your PhD. With the master’s degree alone, graduates will not have the necessary credentials to practice as a forensic psychologist.
School search results can be confusing so we put this article together to help you parse through all of the excellent programs out there. Featured programs and schools are top-ranked Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology programs. This guide should be an excellent start for your program and school search.