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Forensic psychology is a subfield that specializes in helping people involved in criminal and civil matters. A master’s degree in forensic psychology will prepare you for counseling, social work, mental health, and criminology careers.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t list a salary specifically for forensic psychologists. Still, it does report that clinical and counseling psychologists earn a median annual salary of $90,130 a year based on May 2022 data. Psychology careers are expected to grow by about 6 percent from 2021 to 2031.

In 2020-2021, tuition for master’s degree programs in public schools averaged $12,394 per year, while private schools averaged around $26,621. A master’s in forensic psychology requires the completion of 32-36 credits of coursework on average, which should take a full-time student approximately two years to complete.

How to Choose an Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology Program

Choose your area of study

As a forensic psychology student, you can choose a master of science (MS) degree or a master of arts (MA) degree. The main difference between these two pathways is that the MS degree will focus more on data analysis, conducting research, and consulting. The MA degree, on the other hand, will focus more on the counseling and profiling aspects of forensic psychology.

Another consideration when choosing your area of study is whether you’d like to work in private or public settings. Working in public settings like mental health facilities and hospitals is a great way to become familiar with the field. If, on the other hand, your goal is to open a private practice, you’ll likely need to continue your schooling and complete a Ph.D.

Research schools and programs

First and foremost, be sure the schools you are researching are accredited. Online master’s degree programs should be held to the same standards as on-campus programs. The American Psychological Association is the primary accreditation agency for forensic psychology programs and ensures that a school and its programs meet scientific and educational standards.

Be sure to ask the following questions in your research:

  • Is any clinical training or fieldwork necessary in the online program?
  • Are there any research opportunities available for online students?
  • Do students work with a single advisor, or are there opportunities to work with multiple faculty members?

Prepare for tests and applications

To apply to an online program to earn your master’s degree in forensic psychology, you’ll typically need a bachelor’s degree in psychology, behavioral sciences, criminology, or a related field. Some programs require specific academic prerequisites or a certain number of courses taken in psychology or a related field.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE) test scores may also be required. The best way to know precisely what you’ll need is to contact your program’s admissions office. The people there can connect you with a counselor who can guide you from start to finish.

Select your program

Selecting the program that’s right for you is a pivotal choice. In your research, you’ve likely come up with a list of important aspects. Decide your priorities, whether that’s faculty support, the online learning experience itself, flexibility, or networking opportunities, and try to choose a school and a program that aligns with those priorities.

If cost is a deciding factor, contact your financial aid office and discuss your options. Some schools offer to waive application fees and can help you access financial assistance in various ways.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Determining payment options for your master’s program can feel overwhelming, but financial aid advisors at your school will assist you. They can help determine if you qualify for federal assistance and if any grants or tuition assistance programs are available to you. Some schools offer payment plans and work-study programs to help pay for your education. If you must apply for federal student aid, it’s never too early to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

Best 50 Accredited Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology Programs

Best Master's in Forensic Psychology Programs 2023

Liberty University

University of North Dakota

Southern New Hampshire University

Arizona State University

National University

The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Los Angeles

Nova Southeastern University

University of California, Irvine

Saint Leo University

University of Louisiana at Monroe

Concordia University at St. Paul

Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences

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How We Rank Schools

This list features some of the best online master’s in forensic psychology programs at top colleges nationwide. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for post-secondary institutions. The programs on our list have been accredited by reputable organizations, such as the Higher Learning Commission and Middle States Commission on Higher Education, that assess colleges’ and universities’ objectives, quality, and overall effectiveness.

We evaluated each school’s program on tuition costs, admission, retention and graduation rates, faculty, reputation, and the student resources provided for online students. Then we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of online master’s in forensic psychology programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like the U.S. News & World Report, among others, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

What Can You Expect from an Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology Program?

In an online program for a master’s in forensic psychology, you can expect to take a deeper dive into criminal behavior, forensic assessment, corrections, litigation, and consultation. Whether you choose an MA or an MS in forensic psychology, both pathways will prepare you to bring a psychological perspective to the justice system.

Some schools require fieldwork or a practicum, especially if students hope to become board-certified at some point in their academic careers. In addition, you’ll need to learn interviewing skills and how to design treatment plans and interventions, which all benefit from hands-on learning.

Most online programs for a master’s degree in forensic psychology are designed to be completed within two years for full-time students. The average coursework requirements are 32-36 credit hours, but some programs require up to 54.

Potential courses you’ll take in an online master’s in forensic psychology program

  • Legal and Investigative Psychology. Students examine the role of psychological research and knowledge concerning contemporary issues within the legal and law enforcement systems. Students focus on applying experimental areas of psychology to topics such as witness memory and identification, investigative interviewing, deception detection, false confessions, and juries.
  • Issues in the American Legal System. Students analyze the interaction between legal and psychological thinking. Students study the U.S. Constitution and select major court opinions. They will examine the structure of the American adversary system, debate its strengths, and propose solutions to its weaknesses.
  • Psychology, Public Policy, and Law. Students look at issues in the development and implementation of public policy in the legal system, with particular emphasis on the role of psychological knowledge. The course will acquaint students with theoretical issues of policy development and the basics of the legislative process and provide an opportunity to work on a selected policy issue.
  • Forensic Assessment. Students will understand and analyze the psychological assessments most frequently required in forensic settings. Students will become familiar with test administration and interpretation as well as test design, methodology, and standardization data on various assessment tools.

What Can You Do With an Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology?

Career outlook

The field of forensic psychology offers a unique intersection of psychology and the legal system, and earning an online master’s degree in forensic psychology can open doors to a variety of rewarding career opportunities. Based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the need for psychologists is expected to grow by six percent over the coming decade, which is faster than the economy as a whole. Psychologists earn a median salary of $85,330 annually, with experienced professionals making much more than this.

Career paths

An online master’s degree in forensic psychology equips you with specialized knowledge and skills in psychology, law, and criminal justice. It opens up career paths that involve the application of psychological principles and expertise within the legal and criminal justice systems.

Here are some of the promising career paths available to individuals with this advanced degree:

  • Forensic case manager — works with individuals involved in the criminal justice system, such as parolees and probationers
  • Criminal profiler — analyzes crime scenes and behavioral patterns to create profiles of potential suspects
  • Child protective services specialist — assesses the well-being of children in cases of abuse or neglect
  • Conflict resolution specialist — works as a mediator in legal disputes, family law cases, or workplace conflicts
  • Consultant — provides expertise to legal and law enforcement agencies on matters related to mental health, psychological assessments, and behavioral analysis

Forensic Psychologist

Earning Potential: $60,000-$120,000

Education Required: Master’s degree in forensic psychology or related field

Forensic psychologists apply their expertise in psychology to legal and criminal justice contexts. They conduct psychological assessments of individuals involved in legal cases, including defendants, witnesses, and victims, to determine their competency and the potential for violence. Forensic psychologists provide expert testimony in court, aiding judges, attorneys, and juries in understanding complex psychological factors. They also evaluate and treat incarcerated individuals, addressing mental health issues and rehabilitation. Additionally, forensic psychologists may conduct research to inform legal practices, work as consultants for legal and law enforcement agencies, and specialize in areas like criminal profiling or child protection.

Victim Advocate

Earning Potential: $30,000-$70,000

Education Required: Master’s degree in forensic psychology or related field

Victim advocates provide support to individuals who have experienced trauma or victimization. They assist victims in understanding their legal rights, guide them through the criminal justice process, and connect them with essential resources, including counseling, legal aid, and shelter services. Victim advocates offer emotional support, accompany victims to court proceedings, and help them navigate complex paperwork. They play a vital role in ensuring that victims receive the assistance they need to recover and rebuild their lives after traumatic events, such as domestic violence or sexual assault. Victim advocates often work for non-profit organizations, law enforcement agencies, or government entities.

Correctional Counselor

Earning Potential: $40,000-$70,000

Education Required: Master’s degree in forensic psychology or related field

Correctional counselors work within correctional facilities, including prisons and juvenile detention centers, to provide counseling and rehabilitation services to inmates. Their primary responsibilities involve assessing the mental health and rehabilitation needs of incarcerated individuals, developing treatment plans, and offering counseling and support services. Correctional counselors help inmates address issues such as substance abuse, anger management, and reintegration into society. They play a critical role in the rehabilitation process by facilitating therapy sessions, educational programs, and vocational training. Additionally, they monitor inmates’ progress, conduct risk assessments, and collaborate with other professionals to promote inmates’ successful reentry into the community upon release.

Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to an online master’s in forensic psychology degree program?

Be sure to visit your school’s website and contact an admissions counselor to learn about applying to your chosen program. Pay attention to deadlines and due dates, as gathering all the materials you’ll need to submit with your application can take a while. Some of these might include:

  • Letters of recommendation (usually 2-3)
  • GRE (or equivalent exam) scores
  • Resume or curriculum vitae
  • Official undergraduate transcripts
  • Letter of intent or application essay.

How much does an online master’s in forensic psychology degree cost?

The per-credit cost of an online forensic psychology degree typically ranges from $335 to $750, but this depends on factors such as state residency and any technology or software fees also included in the tuition. With this per-credit cost, students can expect to pay between $11,000 and $27,000 in tuition.

You can find any additional add-on fees in your course catalog, which can help you add up all the costs in total. As always, take advantage of the help offered by your financial aid office. Doing as much research as possible ahead of time will give you the most accurate estimates.

How long does it take to earn an online master’s in forensic psychology degree?

Several factors determine the time it will take to earn a master’s in forensic psychology online. Asynchronous or self-paced programs can sometimes be completed more quickly than synchronous programs. Since most students will have to take between 32 and 36 credit hours, it typically takes a full-time student about two years to finish the program. Many students remain employed full-time while they go to school, so it can take 3-5 years for those studying as part-time students to complete the program.

Is an online master's degree in forensic psychology worth it?

An online master’s degree in forensic psychology offers a versatile foundation for careers that involve the intersection of psychology and the legal system. Whether you aspire to work as a forensic psychologist, victim advocate, correctional counselor, or in some other role, this advanced degree equips you with the expertise to understand and address complex psychological and legal issues. Your career path will depend on your interests, goals, and the specific sector of the criminal justice field you choose to explore.

Although the salary range for a forensic psychologist varies depending on location, experience level, and other factors, estimates the median salary for professionals in this field to be $61,485 to $76,113.

Earning your degree online can be a cost-effective, convenient way to gain the educational credentials necessary for this field. Online education is especially appropriate for adult learners who may have professional or personal commitments to manage along with their studies. Online education offers increased flexibility, as courses can often be accessed whenever it is convenient for you and in any location with an internet hookup.

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