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

With the popularity of TV shows like “CSI” and “The X-Files,” more students are pursuing careers in forensics. If you like the idea of rehabilitating victims, interviewing witnesses and understanding the criminal mind, an online master’s degree in forensic psychology can prepare you for doctoral studies or launch your career in law enforcement. Students may choose from online-only and blended programs that combine internet learning with hands-on clinical fellowships. Compared to traditional on-campus classes, online degrees can better fit your busy schedule and your budget. No matter where you live, you can learn from industry-leading professors and earn a degree from a nationally recognized college or university.

Degrees Offered for an Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology

Forensic Mental Health Counseling Built around the fundamentals of clinical psychology, this concentration prepares students to pursue a doctoral degree or to enter the workforce as a licensed counselor. Courses emphasize clinical skills needed to understand, assess and treat victims and offenders. Licensed mental health counselor
Forensic Psychology and Law This specialization is intended for students who are pursuing a career in law or criminal justice. Courses focus on clinical assessments, psychopathology, treatment planning, intervention, statistical analysis and research design. Courses are sometimes woven into a juris doctor dual degree. Forensic researcher, law enforcement professional

Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology

Forensic psychology students start by learning fundamental scientific skills, such as research methods, data analysis and psychopathology. Although study plans vary depending on the school and the specialization, your curriculum may include the following core courses and electives.

  • Human growth and cognitive development
  • Violence, substance abuse and criminal behavior
  • Clinical skills, including interviewing and counseling
  • Psychological testing and cognitive assessment methods
  • Legal concepts, such as witness identification, interviewing and evidence presentation
  • Crisis intervention, offender rehabilitation and behavior modification theories

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology?

Forensic psychology is one of the more involved master’s degrees. Programs typically require a minimum of 36 credit hours and up to 60 credit hours for curricula that will prepare students to become licensed mental health counselors. A general forensic psychology program may require at least 40 credit hours plus a thesis, research project or externship. Clinical experience is a critical part of most psychology degrees. To fulfill this requirement, you may have to complete a short-term residency. Students can expect the entire process to take two years of full-time studies.

Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology Prepares For

Licensed Mental Health Counselor Mental health counseling specializations prepare graduates to work with victims and offenders in and outside the criminal justice system. Qualifications vary by state, but most jurisdictions require counselors to hold a master’s degree, pass exams and have one to two years of clinical experience.
Psychological Associate/Assistant In some states, you can become a psychological assistant or associate with a master’s degree as long as you’re supervised by a licensed psychologist. To practice independently, you must have a doctorate, complete a residency and pass an exam. Additional information about these requirements is available through the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology Degrees

The American Psychological Association is the chief accrediting body for university psychology departments. However, the organization only accredits doctoral and postdoctoral programs as well as internships and clinical residencies. Due to the absence of an industry-wide accreditation system, graduate students should look for schools that are regionally accredited through one of the six associations recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the U.S. Department of Education. Membership in one of these organizations ensures that your credits will transfer to other higher learning institutions nationally and internationally.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Forensic Psychology Graduates

Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s

Very few organizations in this field hire candidates who have a bachelor’s degree, and many prefer licensed psychologists who have earned doctoral degrees. In most institutions and law enforcement agencies, a master’s degree is the minimum level of education required for forensic psychology positions.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that demand for psychologists, including clinical professionals and counselors, is projected to increase by 14 percent between 2016 and 2026. Additionally, it projects that professionals in applied specialties, such as forensic psychology, will have the best job prospects

Expected Salary

An online master’s degree in forensic psychology can prepare you for a career as a clinician, data analyst or senior-level manager. Average earnings for a master of forensic psychology typically fall into the mid to upper range of the pay scale. Professionals who have a doctoral degree can earn even more. Here are a few of the careers that are available to those with a graduate degree in this discipline.

Criminal Psychologist $30,000-$99,000
Counseling Psychologist $33,000-$89,000
Clinical Therapist $35,000-$62,000
Licensed Mental Health Counselor $35,000-$64,000
Behavioral Analyst $39,000-$77,000
Forensic Psychologist $39,000-$102,000
Research Assistant $42,800
Criminal Profiler $45,000-$99,000
Data Analyst $48,000-$86,000
Assistant Professor $48,000-$101,000
Clinical Psychologist $51,000-$115,000
Clinical Services Director $59,000-$128,000
Data Scientist $67,000-$122,000

Source: PayScale.com

Experienced forensic psychologists enjoy ample room for advancement. Clinical professionals may move into managerial and executive positions where they oversee social workers. Some professionals work independently as expert witnesses and consultants who have the freedom to set their own rates and schedule. Reports from industry professionals show that average wages nearly double between the least and most experienced workers.

Entry Level $61,103
Mid-Level $73,698
Experienced $82,962
Late-Career $118,000

Source: PayScale.com

Career Opportunities

There are numerous career opportunities for graduates with a master’s degree in forensic psychology. You may work directly with individuals in a clinical setting, function as a program manager or analyze scientific data to identify sociological trends. The majority of forensic psychology graduates work in the following areas.

Psychologist Forensic psychologists work primarily in the criminal justice and court systems. They study, interpret and assess the behavior of individuals. Psychologists in this specialty provide information that assists attorneys, judges and law enforcement agencies. They may also serve as expert witnesses who testify in family, civil or criminal cases. $77,300 per year 14%
Social Service Manager Government agencies and community-based nonprofits both employ social service managers who are responsible for coordinating the organization’s services and overseeing clinical social workers. These administrative professionals analyze the efficacy of existing programs, identify areas of need, coordinate outreach efforts and prepare proposals to secure funding. $64,100 per year 18%
Correctional Treatment Specialist In jails and probation or parole offices, counselors function as case managers. They evaluate inmates, develop rehabilitation plans and prepare progress reports that are submitted to decision-making boards. Case managers also counsel family members and refer individuals to community-based organizations. $51,410 per year 6%
Social Worker Licensed social workers provide clinical services that help individuals manage day-to-day challenges and overcome mental, behavioral or emotional issues. They may work with victims and offenders in human service or child welfare agencies, mental health facilities, hospitals or private practices. $47,980 per year 16%
Mental Health Counselor These mental health professionals specialize in treating individuals who suffer from addiction, substance abuse and behavioral disorders. They’re responsible for evaluating clients, assessing their willingness to change and developing treatment goals. They may also engage in community outreach. $43,300 per year 23%

Professional Organizations

Industry associations are a valuable resource for scientific professionals. Membership can connect you with new research, career advancement resources and continuing education opportunities. Here are several groups that serve forensic psychologists and allied professionals.

National Association of Forensic Counselors: Established in 1995, the NAFC develops industry standards, provides training and certifies forensic counselors. Professionals who have a master’s degree, state certification and at least two years of experience may qualify for a clinical membership through this association.

Society for Police and Criminal Psychology: This industry group welcomes students and professionals who are interested in criminal justice and related disciplines. Members include police officers, social workers and attorneys. It publishes an academic journal, offers certifications and sponsors an annual conference.

American Academy of Forensic Sciences: Founded in 1948, the AAFS represents 7,000 interdisciplinary members in the United States and 70 countries worldwide. The organization is dedicated to advancing forensic science and promoting professionalism and innovation across the industry. Members include psychologists, physicians, attorneys, expert witnesses and related professionals.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Organizational Leadership Degree

Online psychology courses typically have a lower cost per credit hour compared to on-campus options. However, the cost of tuition and direct educational costs, such as textbooks and materials, is considerable. Students who are interested in paying for college using a combination of grants, scholarships and loans can start by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Numerous resources are available through state and federal agencies and industry groups, such as the American Psychological Association. The following organizations can connect you with financial assistance programs that are available in your area.



Scholarships Details
Psi Chi Graduate Scholarships Award: $3,000

Deadline: July 15

Eligibility: This program is open to Psi Chi members who are currently enrolled or will be enrolled in a graduate-level psychology program. Recipients are selected based on their Psi Chi involvement, academic performance, personal qualities and financial need.

APF Graduate Student Scholarships Award: Up to $5,000

Deadline: June 30

Eligibility: The American Psychological Foundation offers 21 general and specialized scholarships to graduate-level psychology students. Scholarships are intended to support student research and dissertations. The foundation reviews research proposals and considers applicants’ academic record, including publications, awards, letters of recommendation and grades.