What Is a Master's in Forensic Psychology Degree?
The field of forensic psychology covers the connection between mental health, human behavior, and the criminal justice system. Earning a master's in forensic psychology online serves as a good option for professionals interested in the biological nature of crime. With this psychology degree, students can pursue careers in the mental health field as well as many positions with the court system, victim services, juvenile facilities, childcare agencies, and corrections departments.
Coursework provides students with a deep understanding of psychological development, psychotherapeutic techniques, and personality assessment. Core classes in forensic psychology online master's programs include maladaptive behavior, psychology of the victim, social psychology and aggression, crisis intervention, and ethical issues in forensic psychology. Popular concentrations include criminalistics, investigation, assessment and treatment, homeland security, and law enforcement.
Students typically take coursework in research methods to gain an understanding of data analysis and research design. Students may need to complete a final written exam, research project, and/or thesis in order to graduate. Some programs also require a minimum number of internship hours in a psychological setting under the supervision of a licensed mental health professional.
Online Master's in Forensic Psychology Programs
Students looking to attend forensic psychology master's programs online can choose from two main learning formats. Some schools administer online programs in a synchronous format, while others deliver courses asynchronously. Synchronous programs require students to log on at specific times throughout the week for live lectures, discussions, and/or presentations. Synchronous programs often feature an instructor-paced curriculum, which means that students must progress through coursework and assignments at the same rate as their classmates.
Asynchronous programs, on the other hand, do not require any specific meeting times. Instead, students complete assignments and watch lectures on their own time. Asynchronous courses often incorporate discussion boards, where students can leave comments and chat with classmates. Students working toward their degree asynchronously still need to meet regular deadlines for homework assignments and readings.
Online programs in forensic psychology feature the same course materials as their on-campus counterparts regardless of the learning format. Also, online students still need to take exams. Participants may take timed exams online or they may need to report to a nearby testing center. Students who are self-motivated and possess great time-management skills often find success in online programs.
Related Master's Degree Programs
Students interested in forensic psychology can also consider several related programs. Other master's tracks include similar coursework to a master's in forensic psychology, and prospective students should thoroughly research all their options before deciding. For instance, students might prefer to pursue a master's in psychology or a master's in organizational psychology.
The Advantages of a Master's Degree in Forensic Psychology
Earning a bachelor's degree in forensic psychology can lead to entry-level roles in the field. For example, bachelor's in psychology degree holders can find jobs related to social and community services and correctional counseling and treatment. However, earning a master's degree can greatly expand your job options.
A master's in psychology opens the door to specialized and advanced roles, and most state certification boards require licensed mental health counselors to earn a master's degree. A graduate degree also expands your overall knowledge of forensic psychology, leading to more respect in the field. With your advanced skill set, organizations may be more willing to hire you as a consultant or expert witness. Additionally, a master's degree can serve as a stepping stone toward a Ph.D, which is a required credential for clinical psychologists. The next section covers common career options and salaries for master's in forensic psychology graduates.
Choosing an Online Forensic Psychology Graduate Degree Program
As you begin your search for the right forensic psychology school, take your time to thoroughly research each school. If you dedicate enough time to your search, you will likely find an online college that perfectly fits your needs and interests. Consider the fact that each program offers different classes, specializations, capstone projects, and in-person requirements. Tuition rates also vary between schools—public, in-state programs tend to be the most affordable option.
Below, you can explore some of the top factors to consider when choosing between online forensic psychology master's programs.
- Program Cost: Programs vary significantly in terms of cost, and it is crucial to pick a school you can afford. Look up each school's tuition to find out which institutions fall within your budget. Fortunately, many schools offer scholarships to incoming students, which can considerably reduce your out-of-pocket costs.
- Transfer Policies: Prospective students should consider that each school uses its own requirements and policies regarding transfer students. Some universities allow students to transfer in most of their credits, while others impose stricter rules. If there's a good chance you might switch schools, look out for universities that maintain transfer agreements with other institutions.
- School Size and Type: Universities also differ in terms of size and type. Do you prefer a large, public institution or a smaller university? Larger schools may provide more extensive resources, while less populous institutions often boast smaller class sizes.
- Program Length: Forensic psychology students looking to earn their degrees quickly can look for accelerated, full-time programs. Alternatively, learners interested in earning a degree while working full time might consider a program with a part-time option. Some programs let students study at their own pace, while others enforce a stricter class schedule.
- On-Campus Requirements: Many programs incorporate in-person components, such as mandatory lectures or group projects. While on-campus requirements may come with benefits, they may prove challenging for students who live far away. You can find nearby institutions by browsing this list of the top 50 online colleges and universities.
- Thesis, Fellowship, and Work Requirements: Online master's degree programs in forensic psychology typically include a capstone component. Research-focused programs may incorporate an extensive thesis project, while other programs might require students to complete several hours of supervised experience in the field. When choosing a program, think about what type of capstone requirement you prefer.
Accreditation for Online Forensic Psychology Master's Degrees
As you search for online forensic psychology master's programs, be sure to only consider degree tracks offered by accredited institutions. Accredited schools offer the best programs, and attending an accredited university makes it easier to find a job, transfer between schools, and/or apply to a doctoral program. Employers and graduate schools usually only recognize accredited on-campus or online master's degrees in forensic psychology. In addition, state licensing boards typically require licensed counselors to have graduated from an accredited university.
Schools can hold regional or national accreditation at the institutional level. Regional accrediting bodies typically deal with traditional universities, while national accrediting organizations evaluate vocational and technical schools. Both types of accreditation may be acceptable, but regional accreditation generally functions as the more prestigious, preferred designation. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversee accreditation agencies, ensuring that they maintain reasonable standards. You can find a list of all accredited institutions on either organization's website.
How Long Does It Take to Complete an Online Master's in Forensic Psychology Degree Program?
While students can finish most programs in two years, several factors may affect the time it takes to earn a master's in forensic psychology online. For example, program characteristics and a student's own learning preferences can alter the length of a program.
Online forensic psychology master's curricula generally incorporate 33-36 credits from 10-12 courses. The total time it takes to earn a degree depends on the number of credits a student takes each term. Learners with a full-time job or other responsibilities may enroll part time and finish their degree in more than two years. Alternatively, some learners double up on credits to complete the program at an accelerated pace. Some master's programs also use a cohort format, requiring students to move through classes at the same rate with a group of their peers.
Forensic Psychology Concentrations
Many schools offer forensic psychology as a concentration within a master's in psychology program. In addition, some schools in forensic psychology feature specialization areas that let students focus on topics they care about the most. Learners looking to pursue a career after graduation might consider opting for a concentration.
Police psychology--a field closely related to forensic psychology -- deals with psychological applications as they apply to law enforcement. Police psychology programs teach students about police organizations and common psychological issues among police personnel. Students learn about topics like operational policing, tactical and field psychology, and police administration.
Careers this concentration prepares for:
Forensic psychologist, police psychologist
This concentration prepares forensic psychology graduates to participate in the legal process. Students take courses that cover parole services and corrections. They also explore how psychology applies to jury selection, expert testimony, and eyewitness testimony. Students may learn to testify in court or to conduct cross examinations.
Careers this concentration prepares for:
Jury consultant, forensic psychologist, expert witness
Students who focus their studies on mental health learn to counsel criminal defendants and victims of crimes. They study psychological issues that commonly affect criminals, including suicidal ideations and substance abuse. Master's students also learn to assess and treat victims of sexual and physical abuse.
Careers this concentration prepares for:
Licensed mental health counselor, correctional treatment specialist
Learners pursuing a concentration in family violence discuss criminal acts, such as child abuse, filicide, and elderly abuse. Students examine how intrafamilial crimes differ from other transgressions. In addition, learners consider the juvenile justice system and childhood development theory. They explore ways to prevent juvenile delinquency in a community.
Careers this concentration prepares for:
Forensic psychologist, mental health counselor, family therapist
This concentration outlines psychological concepts relating to sex offenders. Students explore the characteristics, symptoms, and behaviors of deviant and criminal sex offenders. They also study legal issues pertaining to both criminal and civil sex offense cases. Forensic psychology students examine proven assessment methods and treatment plans for sex offenders.
Careers this concentration prepares for:
Forensic psychologist, mental health counselor, corrections counselor
Courses in an Online Master's in Forensic Psychology Program
- Rehabilitation and Reintegration of Offenders: This course covers the historical, philosophical, legislative, and societal aspects of rehabilitation and reintegration. Students learn about the challenges that convicted offenders face when reentering society. They also study current research and empirical studies related to the reintegration of inmates. Coursework in rehabilitation can prove useful for students going into counseling or correctional case management.
- Psychology and the Legal System: In this course, students explore the relationship between psychology and the U.S. legal system. They study how psychological research applies to the judicial process, the corrections process, and law enforcement. The course discusses topics including eyewitness testimony, psychological evaluation, inmate counseling, and jury selection.
- Social Psychology: Online forensic psychology master's degrees often include advanced coursework in social psychology, which is the area of psychology that deals with social interactions and behavior. In social psychology classes, master's students analyze research on topics including stereotyping, prejudice, attitudes, group behavior, and interpersonal relationships.
- Psychopathology: Psychopathology courses teach students about various psychological disorders, their causes, and their effects on a person's behavior. In addition, students learn about psychological approaches that can lessen the impact of certain illnesses. Forensic psychology students examine criminal and civil cases involving mental illness, along with psychological interventions commonly used in correctional settings.
- Methods and Tools of Psychological and Violence Risk Assessment: This course provides an overview of techniques that psychologists use in a criminal justice environment. Learners study standardized psychological assessments, including neuropsychological exams, Wechsler scales, and personality tests. They figure out why and when psychologists choose certain assessments and how to interpret the results.
What Can You Do With a Master's Degree in Forensic Psychology?
Graduates who earn a forensic psychology degree online can pursue a variety of career opportunities. These professionals primarily help individuals during the rehabilitation process, but they may also work at crime scenes aiding in investigations and analysis.
These licensed psychologists apply their skills in courts, prisons, mental health facilities, and law offices. Forensic psychologists usually need a doctorate, so a master's degree typically serves as a step on the journey toward this career.
Correctional treatment specialists advise probationers and parolees. They assess inmates through psychological exams, suggest treatment, and develop rehabilitation plans. Correctional treatment specialists may need a master's degree to advance in the field.
These counseling professionals treat individuals, families, couples, and groups suffering from a variety of mental conditions, including depression and anxiety. They may work with a specific group, such as the elderly, veterans, or the prison population.
Forensic Psychology Professional Associations
APA represents over 118,000 psychology researchers, teachers, clinicians, consultants, and students. The association aims to advance psychological science in ways that benefit the public. Members receive many benefits, including access to journals, APA books, networking opportunities, and continuing education programs.
Founded in 1978, AAFP helps psychologists obtain board certification from the American Board of Forensic Psychology. Members include practitioners, researchers, and educators working in hospitals, medical schools, and correctional facilities. The organization offers online and in-person workshops, mentorship opportunities, and grants.
IACFP advances policies and practices that support correctional psychologists, forensic psychologists, and related professionals. Not all members practice psychology or counseling, but most hold advanced degrees in the field. Members receive a newsletter, a journal, and discounts on IACFP events.
AMHCA advances the licensed mental health counseling profession through advocacy, education, and collaboration. The association's members work in settings like private practices, hospitals, substance abuse treatment centers, and community agencies. AMHCA provides a job board, industry research, and continuing education resources.
Frequently Asked Questions About Forensic Psychology Master's Degrees
Forensic psychologists typically need a doctoral degree. Earning a master's in forensic psychology brings you one step closer to earning a doctorate in the field.
Individuals interested in careers as forensic psychologists can pursue master's degrees in forensic psychology. They can also enter master's programs in clinical or occupational psychology. These programs can prepare you to enter doctoral programs that qualify you to become a forensic psychologist.
A forensic psychology master's program typically requires two years of study. Students can pursue concentrations in topics such as police psychology, family violence, or sex offender behavior.