Earning a Forensic Psychology Degree Online

What is Forensic Psychology?

Forensic psychologists lend their expertise on human behavior to the legal and criminal justice systems, both in and outside of court. They often conduct clinical assessments of individuals accused of crimes in order to determine their competency to stand trial. Through their analysis, forensic psychologists construct psychological profiles of criminals to aid the efforts of law enforcement officials. Many also conduct scholarly research to improve rehabilitation and treatment programs for criminal offenders. Professional forensic psychologists may work for state, local, or federal government agencies. Others act as independent consultants, specializing in work with a particular population, such as juvenile offenders or the families of victims.

Regardless of their area of focus, all clinical psychologists must have a license to practice. While licensure standards vary, most states require aspiring psychologists to earn a doctoral degree, complete a supervised internship, and pass the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology, a national licensing test administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. Many forensic psychologists seek certification from the American Board of Professional Psychology in order to demonstrate that they have met the professional standards established for the field.

Can You Get a Degree in Forensic Psychology Online?

Students have many options when it comes to earning an online forensic psychology degree at bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral levels. Online bachelor’s and master’s programs introduce students to the theory and practice of forensic psychology and create a pathway to a doctoral degree.

Online programs usually mirror their school’s on-campus offering, as distance learners complete the same courses and assignments as residential students. Because online bachelor’s and master’s forensic psychology programs typically do not prepare students for licensure, they usually do not include any sort of clinical experience. This means that online students can complete the entire curriculum remotely. When pursuing a doctoral degree in forensic psychology; however, students will need to complete a supervised internship.

Online forensic psychology programs offer flexibility and convenience. Students can complete coursework on their own schedule and, in certain programs, at their own pace. This format benefits students interested in continuing their education while still balancing other personal and professional responsibilities. Online offerings may even be less expensive than on-campus programs, considering that distance learners do not need to pay for room and board.

Are Practicums and Internships Required in an Online Forensic Psychology Program?

Since bachelor’s and master’s programs at forensic psychology schools generally do not prepare students for licensure, they typically do not require any sort of clinical experience, such as an internship or practicum. For some jobs in the field, a master’s degree in forensic psychology may be sufficient.

However, most clinical psychologists need a Ph.D. in psychology or a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) degree. These programs typically include a one-year, supervised internship in a student’s chosen area of practice, such as forensic psychology. After completing their degree and internship, graduates may obtain licensure in most states.

Students pursuing a doctoral degree in forensic psychology online may find it difficult to identify an internship opportunity, especially if they live in an area with few clinical sites nearby. As a first step, students should reach out to faculty members within the program, as they will often be able to give guidance on searching for an internship. Students can also contact their school’s career services department for resources and support. The American Psychological Association offers information on doctoral internship matching.

What Do You Need to Be a Forensic Psychologist?

Students will need to earn a doctoral degree in order to earn licensure as a clinical forensic psychologist.

The first step is to earn a bachelor’s degree, a requirement for graduate study. The cost of a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field varies greatly. In some instances, online learners may be able to qualify for in-state tuition even if they live out-of-state.

Next, students must earn an advanced degree. Pursuing a master’s can help students find a non-clinical job or earn credits toward a doctoral program. Master’s programs typically take about two years to complete, though some online programs offer accelerated options.

Students usually complete the doctoral degree and internship requirements within seven years. To obtain licensure, doctoral graduates must also pass a national licensing exam.

Average Salary for Psychologists by Degree Level

Bachelor of Arts (BA), Psychology $78,135
Master of Arts (MA), Psychology $66,405
Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) $73,669

Source: PayScale

Online Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Psychology

Earning a bachelor’s degree is an important step in becoming a forensic psychologist. Although some programs do offer online undergraduate degrees in forensic psychology, it is more common to earn a bachelor’s in psychology.

Students in these programs receive an introduction to the fundamental concepts of psychology, such as cognition, behavior, and human development. As learners advance in their undergraduate program, they can choose courses that will help prepare them for graduate studies in forensic psychology. Coursework in this area may cover criminal psychology, the sociology of crime and violence, abnormal psychology, and legal systems. Students interested in continuing their education also benefit from taking classes in statistics and research methods. Below, we’ve highlighted five courses from a bachelor’s degree with a focus in forensic psychology.

Example Courses

Introduction to Psychology

This course provides a general overview of the scientific study of mental processes and human behavior. It lays the groundwork for more advanced concepts and theories by introducing students to disciplines within the field and teaching them how to identify and evaluate research.

Social Psychology

Social psychology examines how others can affect an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and actions. In this class, students review topics such as conformity, prejudice, interpersonal attraction, and violence, setting the stage for more in-depth examinations of what motivates and restrains human behavior.

Forensic Psychology

This course gives students insight into crime by viewing it through a psychological lens. Students examine how environments can influence criminal behavior. They also learn about the ways in which psychological factors can inspire and enable antisocial acts. This class aims to provide a better understanding of criminal behavior.

Sociology of Deviant Behavior

In contrast with criminal behavior, deviant behavior is considered abnormal but not necessarily unlawful. It encompasses mental illness, suicidal thoughts and actions, substance abuse and addiction, and sexual deviation. A sociological analysis of the nature, causes, and reactions to these behaviors proves useful for psychologists.

The American Legal Tradition

Because forensic psychologists work so closely with the judicial system, they need to know how it operates. This class teaches students about the structure and function of courts, legal education, the legal profession, legal writing and analysis, and the politics of judicial selection.

Online Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology

A master’s degree in forensic psychology can help position graduates for professional opportunities in the field. For others, it can act as a stepping stone to a doctoral program. Earning a master’s in forensic psychology usually requires students to complete around 36 credits and takes about two years to finish. Some online programs allow students to move at their own pace, allowing them to graduate relatively quickly.

While master’s programs in forensic psychology do not generally lead to licensure, they do feature some of the same coursework required in doctoral programs, giving students the chance to earn credits toward a Ph.D. or Psy.D. during their master’s education. Courses in these master’s programs build on the foundations of psychology taught at the undergraduate level and help students apply theories and principles to the legal and criminal justice systems. Below, we reviewed a few courses you can expect to encounter in a forensic psychology master’s degree program.

Example Courses

Intersection of Crime, Psychology, and Law

This course serves as an expansive overview of how psychology is employed in various forensic and legal settings. Students learn about criminal profiling, police psychology, correctional psychology, and psychology in criminal court systems. The class also provides an introduction to ethical issues and diversity within the profession.

Understanding Forensic Psychology Research

Forensic psychologists, whether working clinically or as scholars, must be able to understand and interpret psychological research. In this course, students learn how to assess the relevance of research. They acquire basic statistical skills, like ensuring validity and reliability, and learn best practices for responsibly reviewing and applying forensic research findings.

Psychological Aspects of Violent Crime

Students in this class study homicidal behavior, such as serial murders, mass killings, workplace violence, school shootings, and domestic homicide. By closely examining theories and trends in violent crime, students learn how to psychologically profile offenders and detect behavioral characteristics that may serve as warning signs.

Victimology

Victimology studies the relationship between criminals and their victims and how the judicial system protects and responds to them. This course explores how race, class, gender, and sexual orientation affect how individuals perceive victims and institutions, and how this affects the administration of justice.

Criminal Investigative Analysis and Profiling

This course allows students to apply their knowledge by taking on the role of a criminal analyst and profiler. Students learn about the organization of case files and evidence, common profiling concepts, the logic and reasoning used in criminal analysis, and how best to convey conclusions in a written report.

Required Licenses and Internships to Become a Forensic Psychologist

While some jobs in forensic psychology can be obtained with a master’s degree and no license, all those who practice clinical psychology must hold licensure.

Licensure requirements differ between states, but aspiring forensic psychologists will need to complete an accredited doctoral degree program along with a one-year, supervised internship. After earning their degree, graduates can take the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP). Applicants should contact their state’s licensing board for more information regarding additional requirements.

Some forensic psychologists seek board certification in order to demonstrate professional standards. The American Board of Professional Psychology administers board certification.

Careers for Forensic Psychology Degree Holders

Some psychologists work for local, state, and federal government agencies, supporting the efforts of law enforcement officials or the courts. Others may work for rehabilitation facilities, law firms, or victim advocacy and support organizations. Many forensic psychologists also conduct research within a college or university. Some psychologists are also found working as independent consultants, usually focusing on family, criminal, or civil casework. Below, we highlighted five rewarding careers in the field.

  • Forensic Psychologist
    Forensic psychologists offer professional expertise to those involved in the legal and judicial systems. They may evaluate the competency of an individual to stand trial, advise on sentencing after a defendant has been found guilty, or design rehabilitation programs. Most forensic psychologists hold a doctoral degree, as this is a requirement for all clinical psychologists.

  • Behavior Analyst
    Behavior analysts assess individuals with behavioral problems, analyze cognitive and environmental factors that may contribute to them, and create plans to address the identified issues. Jobs in this area typically require a master’s degree in forensic psychology or a related field.

  • Background Investigator
    Background investigators review and report on the criminal, financial, and personal histories of individuals. They may search for felony convictions that would disqualify an individual from a government position or seek outstanding debts that might prevent that person from securing a new loan. Background investigators usually only need a bachelor’s degree.

  • Forensic Interviewer
    Forensic interviewers conduct interviews of victims in criminal cases. By helping victims recall details of a crime, interviewers can provide critical information to law enforcement officials and prosecutors. While a bachelor’s degree may be enough for these positions, employers often prefer candidates with a master’s degree in a field such as forensic psychology.

  • Family Advocate
    Family advocates work at social service agencies that provide assistance to children and their families. They build relationships with these families, counsel them through difficult situations, and coordinate services as needed. Many employers either require or strongly prefer to hire candidates with a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field.

Salary for Forensic Psychology Degree Holders

Salaries for graduates of online forensic psychology degree programs can vary tremendously. Those who work for the government can expect to earn modest salaries. Forensic psychologists who operate as independent consultants may be able to command higher pay because of their specialized expertise. As with all fields, the salaries for forensic psychology professionals will depend upon several factors, including location, level of education, and years of experience. The median annual salaries of five possible careers in this field are listed below.

Position Median Annual Salary
Forensic Psychology $62,981
Behavior Analyst $55,536
Background Investigator $45,934
Forensic Interviewer $38,818
Family Advocate $30,285

Source: PayScale