Online Forensic Psychology Overview
| Psychology.org Staff Updated on June 22, 2022
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What is Forensic Psychology?
Forensic psychologists use psychology in the legal system. They may work in correctional facilities, for public prosecutors, or as experts in law firms. Forensic psychologists may testify in courtrooms, carry out research, perform investigations, and implement treatment programs for patients.
Explore what forensic psychologists do, the different types of forensic psychology degrees, and available career paths with each degree.
How to Become a Forensic Psychologist
Students need a doctoral degree to earn licensure as a clinical forensic psychologist. The first step is earning 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 qualify for in-state tuition even if they live in another state.
Next, students must earn an advanced degree. Pursuing a master's can help learners 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.
Online Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Psychology
Earning a bachelor's degree is an important step in becoming a forensic psychologist. Although some programs offer online undergraduate degrees in forensic psychology, most learners earn a bachelor's in psychology.
Students in bachelor's 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 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. Degree-seekers interested in continuing their education also benefit from taking classes in statistics and research methods.
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 permit students to move at their own pace, allowing them to graduate faster.
While master's programs in forensic psychology do not generally lead to licensure, they feature some of the same coursework required in doctoral programs, enabling students to earn credits toward a doctorate during their master's education. Courses in these master's programs build on the foundations of psychology from the undergraduate level and help students apply theories and principles to the legal and criminal justice systems.
Can You Get a Degree in Forensic Psychology Online?
Students can pursue an online forensic psychology degree at the bachelor's, master's, or doctoral level. Online bachelor's and master's programs introduce learners to the theory and practice of forensic psychology and create a pathway to a doctoral degree.
Online programs usually mirror on-campus programs, with distance learners completing the same courses and assignments as residential students. Because online bachelor's and master's forensic psychology programs typically do not prepare learners for licensure, they usually do not include a clinical experience. Online students can complete the entire curriculum remotely. However, learners pursuing a doctoral degree in forensic psychology must complete a supervised internship.
Online forensic psychology programs offer flexibility and convenience. Degree-seekers 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 cost less than on-campus programs, considering that distance learners do not incur commuting and room-and-board fees.
Are Practicums and Internships Required in an Online Forensic Psychology Program?
Online bachelor's and master's programs in forensic psychology 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 doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in psychology or a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.). 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 experience difficulty finding an internship, especially if they live in an area with few clinical sites nearby. As a first step, degree-seekers can contact faculty members for guidance on locating an internship. Learners can also contact their school's career services department for resources and support. The American Psychological Association offers information on doctoral internship matching.
Required Licenses and Internships to Become a Forensic Psychologist
While professionals can pursue some forensic psychology jobs with a master's degree and no license, those who practice clinical psychology must hold licensure.
Licensure requirements differ between states, but aspiring forensic psychologists must complete an accredited doctoral program along with a one-year, supervised internship. After earning their degree, graduates can take the EPPP. Applicants should contact their state's licensing board for specific requirements.
Some forensic psychologists seek board certification to demonstrate professional standards. The ABPP 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 work for rehabilitation facilities, law firms, or victim advocacy and support organizations. Many forensic psychologists also conduct research within colleges or universities. Some psychologists work as independent consultants, usually focusing on family, criminal, or civil casework. Keep reading to review five possible careers in the field.
These 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.
These professionals 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.
These 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.
These professionals conduct interviews of victims in criminal cases. By helping victims recall crime details, interviewers can provide critical information to law enforcement officials and prosecutors. While many of these positions only require a bachelor's degree, employers often prefer candidates with a master's degree in a field like forensic psychology.
These professionals work at social service agencies that provide assistance to children and their families. They build relationships with families, counsel them through difficult situations, and coordinate services. Many employers either require or strongly prefer candidates with a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field.
Featured Online Programs
What Does a Forensic Psychologist Make in a Year?
Salaries for graduates of online forensic psychology programs can vary tremendously. Those who work for the government typically earn modest salaries. Forensic psychologists who operate as independent consultants can often command higher pay because of their specialized expertise. As with all fields, the salaries for forensic psychology professionals depend upon several factors, including location, education, and experience. See below for salary information for five possible careers in this field.
|Position||Average Annual Salary|
Source: PayScale, August 2021
Frequently Asked Questions About Forensic Psychology
What do forensic psychologists do?
Forensic psychologists work in the criminal justice system, providing assessments of those involved in some form of legal investigation. These professionals assist in cases to determine the perpetrator's state of mind. They advise the courts on how to proceed legally based on their assessment.
Where do forensic psychologists work?
Forensic psychologists work in a variety of areas pertaining to criminal justice and the legal system, including prisons, courts, state-funded hospitals, and various law enforcement agencies. They also sometimes work as private consultants, serving different areas of the legal system as independent contractors.
Can a forensic psychologist work for the FBI?
Yes. The FBI often employs forensic psychologists to assist in a variety of investigatory arenas. Forensic psychologists who work for the FBI may work as crime scene consultants, pre-trial investigators and advisors, criminal profilers, and researchers. They may select jurors and evaluate witness competency.
How long do you have to go to school to become a forensic psychologist?
Forensic psychologists need a doctorate in psychology.They must also possess additional background in law as it pertains to their work. Many students pursue a bachelor's in psychology, which takes 3-4 years, followed by a master's, which takes an additional two years, and a doctorate, which requires 4-6 years of additional study. During their master's program, students may specialize their degree in forensics to gain entry to a doctoral program.
Is forensic psychology in demand?
Yes. Jobs in forensic psychology continue to be in demand. Some psychology professors credit the growing interest to a variety of popular TV shows. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects demand for jobs in psychology fields, including forensics psychology, to grow 3% from 2019-29, which is in line with the national average for all careers.
Are forensic psychology and criminal psychology the same?
Forensic psychology and criminal psychology share many similarities. Both work with law enforcement and within the legal system to assist in investigations and court proceedings. Criminal psychologists may work more often with law enforcement agencies, such as police, to provide guidance and support for law enforcement professionals. Forensic psychologists more often work within prisons and court systems to assist in ongoing criminal investigations.