Forensic psychology is an interdisciplinary field that combines knowledge related to human behavior and legal matters. Forensic psychologists play vital roles in improving the justice system’s ability to respond to complex situations and diverse individuals. These specialized professionals work in a range of areas, including child custody and family law and mediation; they also perform criminal defendant mental examinations, violence risk assessments, and social science research.
If you are interested in this field, the best way to advance your career and obtain a higher salary is to earn a master’s degree in forensic psychology. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for psychologists is projected to grow by 19% between 2014 and 2024; this is much higher than the national average. Additionally, individuals with specialized psychology degrees in areas like forensic psychology have even greater earning potential. Students pursuing an online master’s in forensic psychology have the flexibility to maintain their current professional/familial responsibilities while furthering their career.
Online Forensic Psychology Master’s Degrees at a Glance
|Time to Complete||1.5 to three years|
|Credit Hours||18 credit hours per year for full-time students|
|Accreditation||Accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Counsel for Higher Education Accreditation.|
|Additional Considerations||Students typically pass a clinical competency exam in order to complete this degree. Many programs also require students to participate in field placements, such an internships, to graduate.|
What are the Best Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology Programs?
Oklahoma State University-Main Campus
|Value Score 8.51||
Founded in Stillwater, Oklahoma, OSU offers an MS degree in forensic sciences with four specializations: death scene investigation, forensic biology/DNA, forensic chemistry, and forensic psychology. This affordable, 39-credit degree requires a research project, participation in graduate seminars, and a comprehensive examination.
A non-thesis track is available for forensic science professionals enrolling part-time and typically takes three to four years to complete. Thesis-track students take nine credits per semester and usually graduate in two to three years. Distance learners often spend two or three semesters on campus to participate in advanced lab courses and conduct research. Students may earn research or investigation certificates through the department.
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University of North Dakota
|Value Score 8.15||
UND in Grand Forks, North Dakota, offers an online master's in forensic psychology that focuses on the criminal justice and social service systems. Graduates assist lawyers in trial preparation, testify in court as expert witnesses, and conduct research-based evaluations in child custody, sexual harassment, and malingering cases. The synchronous core curriculum is supplemented with recorded lectures and a required one-week campus visit during the summer following coursework completion. During this in-person capstone experience, students apply skills learned during their online master's degree in forensic psychology.
Full-time students typically complete the 35-credit degree in two years. Online students pay the same tuition fees as residents and are ineligible for tuition waiver programs.
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University of Houston-Victoria
|Value Score 7.83||
Founded in 1971 in Victoria, Texas, UHV is one of four institutions in the University of Houston System. UHV offers a 63-credit online master's in forensic psychology program that prepares students to become licensed mental health workers and counselors. Most students complete the degree in two years, including summer semesters. In addition to coursework, students complete a hands-on practicum.
Applicants must submit a statement of purpose and a letter of recommendation and must have a graduate admissions index score of 980 or higher. Students may only begin the program during the fall semester. Prospective students should check their state's licensure laws to ensure UHV's program meets the requirements.
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University of Louisiana at Monroe
|Value Score 6.96||
ULM in Monroe, Louisiana, is a public university offering an online master's degree in psychology with three specialized tracks: psychometrics, forensic psychology, and general psychology. Each track requires 36 credits and core courses such as quantitative methods, research methods, and neuropsychology. The forensic track requires seven specialized courses and five forensic psychology elective credits.
Applicants to the master's in forensic psychology online program must have a minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.75, a combined GRE score of 290, and nine undergraduate psychology credits. The program does not require a master's thesis, but candidates intending to pursue a doctoral degree are encouraged to complete a thesis.
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|Value Score 6.42||
Located in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty is a private, nonprofit, Christian research university. Liberty offers an affordable online MS in criminal justice with an emphasis in forensic psychology. Required courses include fundamentals of forensic psychology, crisis intervention in law enforcement, and psychology in the legal system. Graduates pursue careers as forensic science technicians, law enforcement educators, and intelligence analysts. Degree candidates must complete a master's thesis and pass a traditional oral thesis defense.
Transfer students may bring up to 50% of the required 36 credits. Students must maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA, and no more than two grades of C may be applied toward the degree. Most distance learners complete the degree in two years or less.
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CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice
|Value Score 5.50||
John Jay's online master's in forensic psychology trains students to provide mental health and psychological services to victims and offenders within the criminal and civil justice systems. Distance learners develop research skills and knowledge necessary to understand psychology as it pertains to the law, police operations, jury research, corrections, family services, and addiction.
This 42-credit program requires a master's thesis or an externship, which involves at least 300 hours in the field. Externships must be completed under the supervision of a licensed psychologist or other mental health professional and must be approved by the program director. Most students complete the degree in two years.
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Southern New Hampshire University
|Value Score 4.99||
SNHU is a private, nonprofit, nonsectarian university in Manchester, New Hampshire. The school offers an online MS in psychology that trains students to understand legal, ethical, and diversity issues. Graduates work in correctional facilities, law offices, police departments, and the FBI. Most online students take two courses per 10-week term and complete the degree in as few as 15 months. The 45-credit program requires a capstone project.
Competitive applicants have a background in psychology, including undergraduate coursework in social science statistics and research methods. Applicants without these prerequisites may complete remedial courses at SNHU. The program does not prepare students for state licensure.
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Nova Southeastern University
|Value Score 4.74||
Located in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, NSU is a private, nonprofit university established in 1964. NSU's diverse forensic psychology online master's of science degree offers specialized training in two tracks: forensic psychology in dependency and family law cases and forensic psychology for mental health workers, first responders, and disaster teams. Students in either 26-credit track may complete a fieldwork-based capstone project or write a master's thesis. The thesis option is recommended for students interested in pursuing a research-intensive career or additional education.
Most full-time students who take summer courses complete the program in two years. Applicants must submit official transcripts, a statement of purpose, and two academic or professional letters of recommendation. No GRE or GMAT scores are required.
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University of California-Irvine
|Value Score 4.25||
UCI, a public research university in Irvine, California, is one of 10 campuses in the University of California System. UCI's legal and forensic psychology online master's degree focuses on the intersection of law and psychological principles and theories. Although the program is offered fully online, distance learners must take an introductory course on campus. The 52-credit program boasts a diverse curriculum including electives such as race and the law, memory and the law, clinical interviewing, and eyewitness testimony.
Degree candidates must complete both a capstone project and a research paper. Most full-time students complete the online degree in two years.
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Arizona State University-Tempe
|Value Score 4.05||
One of the largest public universities in the United States, ASU offers an affordable and innovative forensic psychology online master's program. The 32-credit online degree comprises 7.5-week courses and a written comprehensive exam. Graduates pursue careers in law enforcement, corrections, mental health administration, and crime analysis. While graduates are not eligible for clinical practice licensure, they are prepared to pursue further education to obtain those credentials.
Applicants must submit official transcripts and two letters of recommendation and must have a minimum 3.0 GPA. GRE scores are required of applicants with GPAs below 3.3. Degree candidates who are offered provisional admission must maintain a minimum GPA during their first nine credits.
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What Will I Learn in My Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology Program?
Forensic psychology programs provide clinical training and experience, emphasizing empirical research, psychological theory, and social and cultural issues. Both on-campus and online master’s in forensic psychology programs prepare students to work in the field of criminal justice. Most forensic psychology degree programs require students to complete a clinical competency exam and a certain number of clinical hours, including internships and other field placements, in order to graduate. Below, you can find a list of sample courses that many students take while earning this degree.
- Forensic Mental Health Basics This course introduces the basic theories and practices of forensic psychology, providing students with a strong foundation and preparing them for more advanced classes.
- Law Enforcement and Correctional Psychology This class teaches students how to apply psychology theories and strategies to correctional settings such as jails and prisons. Students learn the basics of criminal management within American correctional systems.
- Trauma and Crisis Intervention Understanding the role that trauma plays in forensic work and successfully addressing the complex struggles of survivors of trauma are crucial skills in the forensic psychology field. This class introduces students to trauma theory and treatment.
- Research Methods This class introduces students to the scientific method and research methodologies. It focuses on how practitioners and researchers use data to understand evidence in forensic contexts.
- Psychology of Criminal Behavior This course examines the complex cultural, social, and racial issues that contribute to criminal behavior. Students learn how to apply this knowledge to intervention and prevention, policy, and treatment for individuals who have been convicted of crimes.
Concentrations for Online Forensic Psychology Master’s Programs
While forensic psychology is already a specialized degree, some forensic psychology master’s programs allow students to refine their focus even more. Choosing a specialized area of study often helps graduates become even more competitive job candidates. Below is a list of common specializations for master’s programs in forensic psychology.
- Criminal Justice: This specialization focuses on how psychology is connected to and supports the criminal justice system. Students examine how psychologists, victim advocates, and criminal justice experts work together in this field.
- Terrorism: Forensic psychology students specializing in this area learn about the social and behavioral complexities behind terrorist groups and individuals. This specialization also focuses on public safety and disaster and trauma management.
- Victimology: This area focuses on the effects of crimes on individuals and the relationships between perpetrators and victims. Students specializing in this area also examine how working in the criminal justice system affects first responders.
Employment Outlook for Master’s in Forensic Psychology Graduates
Master’s in Forensic Psychology Careers
An online master’s in forensic psychology prepares students to work in a diverse range of fields. Forensic psychologists often serve as liaisons between court systems and law enforcement departments. These professionals also serve as victim advocates, jury consultants, expert witnesses, juvenile offenders counselors, and rehabilitation counselors in jails or prisons. Additionally, individuals with master’s degrees in forensic psychology can work as professors or instructors.
The most successful forensic psychologists typically possess excellent writing, critical thinking, and oral presentation skills. They are also able to maintain their composure in highly stressful environments. Below are a few employment opportunities for individuals with master’s degrees in forensic psychology.
Individuals who earn their master’s in forensic psychology often fill positions as specialized psychologists who study crime scenes or conduct research about criminal justice and behavioral/social issues. Forensic psychologists often act as expert witnesses in court cases and interview incarcerated individuals and their families.
Projected Growth Rate 19%
These professionals These professionals oversee individuals who are sentenced to time in jail or prison and work to keep prison environments safe for inmates and officers. While a master’s degree in forensic psychology isn’t necessary for this position, it can help you earn a more specialized position, such as working in rehabilitation and counseling for inmates and individuals awaiting trial.
Projected Growth Rate 4%
This type of counselor works with individuals who struggle with addiction and substance abuse. They also help individuals who have physical, mental, developmental, and emotional disabilities and need support to achieve independent living and employment. Rehabilitation counselors typically need a master’s degree in a psychology-related field.
Projected Growth Rate 9%
Many individuals with master’s degrees in forensic psychology choose to become postsecondary psychology professors. These instructors teach courses in psychology and often conduct their own research. This position requires at least a master’s degree in a psychology-related field, although many professors also have doctoral degrees.
Projected Growth Rate 13%
Mediators facilitate interactions between individuals in order to resolve conflicts outside of the court system. Forensic psychologists work as mediators for child custody and divorce issues, large-scale commercial lawsuits, and other legal proceedings where they can provide valuable information about the behavioral and social contexts of a situation.
Projected Growth Rate 9%
Forensic Psychology Licensure and Certification
Some careers in the field of forensic psychology require licensure. For example, most states require those working as psychologists and therapists, including forensic psychologists, to have a license. The licensure process ensures that individuals meet certain professional standards and are prepared to work in the field. This process typically involves a written exam, an oral exam, and a review of a candidate’s credentials by a board of professionals in the psychology field. Students often earn licensure through their master’s programs.
- Specialty Board Certification in Forensic Psychology: Offered through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), this is the main licensure for forensic psychology. This certification ensures that a forensic psychology specialist has a thorough understanding of the theoretical, ethical, and legal foundations of their field.
- Certified Criminal Justice Specialist (CCJS): This certification is offered through the National Association of Forensic Counselors. While a CCJS certification is not usually required, it can be helpful for those interested in working in jails, prisons, and with the court system.
- Certified Sex Offender Treatment Specialist (CSOTS): Also offered through the National Association of Forensic Counselors, this certification prepares individuals to assess and counsel convicted sex offenders.
Job Placement for Graduates of Forensic Psychology Master’s Programs
Most jobs in forensic psychology require you to hold a master’s degree, while many require a doctoral degree. Earning a forensic psychology online master’s degree helps you qualify for more job opportunities and access jobs with higher salaries. According to a recent report from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, individuals with an advanced degree in psychology enjoy a 45% earnings boost compared to individuals who only hold a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Additionally, most forensic psychologists are required to have licensure, and master’s programs in this field typically prepare you for this process.
Master’s in Forensic Psychology Salary
Many factors, including your location, employer, and level of experience, affect your earning potential. The tables below show information from PayScale about the median salaries for five common careers in this field; information for entry-level, mid-career, and late-career positions is included. According to the table, forensic psychologists and psychology professors are among the highest-earning professionals in this field.
|Job Title||Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years)||Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years)||Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)|
Do I Need to Take the GRE to Enroll in an Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology Program?
While researching online master’s programs in forensic psychology, you may find that many schools require applicants to submit their GRE scores to demonstrate that they meet certain academic standards. The GRE is a graduate-level admissions exam that tests individuals on verbal reasoning, quantitative, and analytical writing skills. This test is accepted by a variety of graduate degree programs. Test preparation depends on your individual learning style and needs; however, it is generally recommended that GRE test-takers study for a few hours a week for one to three months before the test.
Not all graduate programs require incoming students to submit GRE scores. There are many other graduate-level admissions exams, including the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), and the Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT). Additionally, some graduate programs don’t require any test scores, instead focusing on a prospective student’s transcripts, letters of recommendation, work samples, and previous experiences. Be sure to carefully read a program’s guidelines to determine whether or not you need to take the GRE.
Accreditation for Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology Degrees
It is important to make sure that your forensic psychology online master’s program is offered through an accredited institution. Accreditation is a process of evaluation that lets students, employers, and other higher education institutions know that a particular institution meets the U.S. Department of Education’s academic standards. Many universities only accept transfer credits from accredited institutions; similarly, many employers are only interested in hiring individuals who hold a degree from an accredited school.
The two types of accreditation are regional and national. Approved agencies in an institute’s region provide regional accreditation; this type of accreditation is more widely accepted and is generally considered to be more prestigious. Alternatively, national accreditation is performed by national agencies and tends to be held by schools that have less rigorous admissions requirements. Some institutions and employers do not accept credits or degrees from nationally-accredited schools.
When searching for a quality and affordable online master’s in forensic psychology program, it is prudent to look for schools that have been regionally accredited. Additionally, programs that are accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) may be particularly appealing; the APA provides specialized accreditation for this field.
Financing Your Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology Program
There are many ways to pay for your online master’s program without relying entirely on your savings or income. It is important to check with your program about any potential scholarship or work-study opportunities to help fund your degree. Additionally, students pursuing a degree in social science, such as forensic psychology, can often access specific national scholarships, grants, and loans. For more information about federal funding opportunities, including scholarships, loans, and work-study opportunities, students should be sure to fill out the FAFSA form. Information about a few specific scholarships that can make forensic psychology online master’s programs more affordable is listed below.
Scholarships for Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology Programs
Forensic Psychology Scholarships
APF/The Trust Eric A. Harris, EdD, JD Grant $5,000
Scholarship Deadline: May 1
Eligibility Requirements: Applicants must be graduate students or professionals who finished school less than 10 years ago. They should also be affiliated with a charity, government, academic, or scientific institution.
Div. 41 Grants-in-Aid for Students $750
Scholarship Deadline: January 31
Eligibility Requirements: Applicants must be affiliate members of the APLS; they are also required to submit research proposals.
APAGS/Psi Chi Junior Scientist Fellowship $1,000
Scholarship Deadline: June 29
Eligibility Requirements: Applicants must be members of Psi Chi and the American Psychological Association; they must also be in their first or second year of graduate school.
Lizette Peterson-Homer Injury Prevention Grant $5,000
Scholarship Deadline: October 1
Eligibility Requirements: Applicants must be enrolled in an accredited university and engaged in research related to improving the safety and wellbeing of at-risk children and adolescents.
Psychological Science Research Grant $1,000
Scholarship Deadline: December 5
Eligibility Requirements: Applicants must be members of the American Psychological Association and enrolled in a master’s program at a regionally-accredited university.