Completing a forensic psychology online degree prepares learners to understand the minds and behaviors of criminals. Regardless of how you hope to use the degree, the following guide provides an overview of programs in this field, including information about common classes, skills gained, and potential careers and salaries. You can also learn about options for advanced degrees upon graduation and the importance of finding an accredited college or university.
Overview of Forensic Psychology Degrees
Forensic psychology sits at the intersection of behavioral science, criminal justice, and legal processes. The degree can be applied to research, clinical, correctional, and teaching roles, and most forensic psychology majors opt to complete a Ph.D. or Psy.D. to receive licensure and work in the field's most advanced positions. Earning a bachelor's forensic psychology degree online introduces learners to the field's basic tenets, and may help them compete for entry-level technician and support roles. More advanced positions require further education.
In terms of the degree itself, most forensic online degrees do not mandate that students visit campus to complete coursework. Still, learners should check with individual institutions regarding mandatory campus learning policies. Most universities require degree seekers to participate in a practicum to gain real-world experience. Students who want to follow a research path may also write a thesis during their undergraduate degree.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that roles for psychologists will grow by 14% between 2016 and 2026, and offer a median salary of $77,030. Roles for psychiatric technicians and aides are projected to grow by 6%, and pay a median annual wage of $29,330 per year. Forensic psychology graduates who obtain advanced degrees and become forensic psychologists earn a median annual wage of $64,000, according to PayScale.
After reviewing all the information available about forensic psychology online degrees at the bachelor's level, students who decide to pursue this path must pull together the required documents for their application. Colleges ascertain whether a prospective learner is prepared for the rigors of college by reviewing their high school performance. Students must ask their high schools (and any other schools attended) to send official, sealed transcripts to their prospective colleges. Their transcripts should demonstrate GPAs that meet minimum requirements (usually 2.5 to 3.5). Applicants must also provide standardized test scores from the ACT or SAT, and ensure they meet minimum requirements.
College applicants usually must write personal essays describing why they want to complete their degree of interest and why that particular school best fits their goals and interests. Most schools request that applicants submit two to three letters of recommendation, as well. These should come from former teachers, supervisors, pastors, mentors, or other individuals who can speak to a student's character, work ethic, and preparedness for higher education. Lastly, students must pay application fees, unless they receive a waiver. These nonrefundable fees usually cost between $50 and $125 per school.
What Will I Learn?
Given their interdisciplinary nature, forensic online degrees at the bachelor's level introduce students to a variety of topics, providing the foundational knowledge needed for each discipline. As you review potential programs, you may notice schools tend to divide courses of study into sections. All programs differ in structure, but students typically spend their first two years completing approximately 60 credits in general education courses. Degrees typically devote 30-35 credits toward core degree topics, and students can use their remaining 25 credits to take specialized elective classes relating to their major.
Within forensic psychology, learners may decide to take additional psychology classes. Some colleges also partner with local nonprofits to go into correctional facilities and provide classes for inmates. The Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, for example, provides opportunities for learning collaborations with more than 35,000 college students and incarcerated individuals.
Introduction to Forensic Psychology
Typically taken in the first year of studies, this course introduces new students to the foundations of forensic psychology. The course particularly emphasizes topics including techniques for interviewing witnesses, taking expert testimony, courtroom psychology, recovering memories, and the psychological considerations of working with juvenile offenders.
Because psychologists frequently deal with quantitative data, they need a deep understanding of statistics and statistical analysis. Students learn to use statistics in psychological research, which includes testing hypotheses, understanding standardization, and accounting for variances in data. Degree seekers also learn to use a variety of statistical software.
This upper-level course helps degree seekers focus their knowledge in understanding the role psychologists can play in correctional facilities. Learners discuss some of the inherent challenges of these settings, such as access to clients and continuation of care. Students work to understand how these facilities work, how to foster professional relationships with staff, and how to work with inmates.
Students in this class receive an overview of counseling processes and techniques used throughout the history of psychology, with a special emphasis on helping students identify the pros and cons of each. They also look at contemporary models of counseling, especially as they apply to counselors working with individuals in the criminal justice system -- be they perpetrators, witnesses, or victims.
Understanding Social Influence
Professionals who work to understand criminal motives must foster an awareness of how social influence can shift behavior. Students in this course look at several theories related to the role influence plays in both the community and the individual, and how those relate in terms of religion, race, age, and socioeconomic status.
Students rarely need to complete classroom hours for this course, but they do use this class to arrange and complete an internship lasting 150-200 hours for the semester. They may have to write weekly or monthly reflective papers about their internship, and discuss the experience with their classmates.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Psychology?
A bachelor's forensic psychology degree online prepares students for several entry-level and support roles. Many roles in the forensic psychology field require an advanced degree, but bachelor's graduates can still find several professional options. The following sections highlight some of the competencies learners can expect to gain, and provide insight into potential career and salary opportunities.
As they complete their forensic psychology online degrees, learners gain the skills to start their careers. Clinical classes taken equip students with an understanding of the assessment tools used to work with offenders, witnesses, and victims. Learners understand how to assess risks such as reoffending, self-harm, or retaliatory behaviors. Degree seekers hone their research skills, enabling them to examine current practices and frameworks in prisons and the courts through projects and studies. Students also learn about profiling with regard to offenders, and how to use statistical analysis to create fair and unbiased statistical models.
A bachelor's forensic psychology degree online also helps students build their interpersonal skills. Because forensic psychologists often find themselves splitting time between an office environment and courtrooms and prisons, they must know how to communicate effectively with different stakeholders. Forensic psychologists-in-training must also learn how to multitask efficiently.
Potential Career and Salary
Graduates of online forensic psychology degrees at the bachelor's level work in many different sectors, primarily in entry-level roles that do not provide many opportunities for leadership or research. To obtain more advanced positions, applicants will usually need a master's degree, and often a doctorate. Some bachelor's graduates find positions at nonprofits that work to rehabilitate those leaving prison, while others provide counseling services to victims of crimes.
Some graduates work in other areas of the criminal justice system, helping direct witness programs. Students who want to pursue a bachelor's in forensic psychology should pay close attention to job availability, and research the education requirements for every job. Most positions mandate an advanced degree, but some accept candidates with only their bachelor's. Review the job and salary listed below before doing extra research about jobs in the industry as a whole.
Annual Median Salary: $63,657
These licensed psychology professionals typically hold a doctorate and work in a variety of professional, clinical, research, and institutional facilities. Whether they work with victims or perpetrators, forensic psychologists work to understand motivations and actions to best serve their clients and answer questions that might arise in cases and trials.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Forensic Psychology?
As discussed throughout this guide, completing a bachelor's forensic psychology degree online offers worthwhile experience for individuals looking to get their foot in the door and learn foundational skills. Individuals who plan to work in support or related roles do not necessarily need an advanced degree, but those who hope to work as forensic psychologists must continue their educations beyond the baccalaureate level.
Individuals with only a bachelor's may take on senior-level leadership roles over time, but the discipline's legal mandates require individuals to receive licensure before calling themselves a psychologist, and forensic psychologists cannot receive licensure without at least a master's degree. Those hoping to take on advanced research, policy, or postsecondary teaching roles often must possess doctoral credentials to receive consideration.
Accreditation for Forensic Psychology Bachelor's Programs
Accreditation can make or break a student's ability to transfer credits to another institution, compete for jobs, and even gain licensure or certification. For this reason, applicants must focus on finding a properly accredited school. The American Psychological Association provides accreditation to online forensic psychology schools, but only for doctoral programs.
Because of this, students planning to study forensic psychology online at the bachelor's level must look for institutional accreditation. Two categories exist at this level: national and regional. Most schools and employers in this discipline see regional accreditation as more prestigious. Prospective applicants may review the U.S. Department of Education's Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs to make sure their potential schools hold the proper accreditation.
Forensic Psychology Professional Organizations
Joining a professional organization devoted to furthering the field of forensic psychology offers new and seasoned practitioners opportunities to network with others in the field, further their educations, and access scholarship opportunities, job listings, and career mentoring. They can also participate in meaningful conferences that bring together best practices and new research. Review associations listed below, and conduct additional research to find an association that meets your needs.
American Academy of Forensic Psychology
This nonprofit organization supports board-certified forensic psychologists by providing a directory of specialists, guidelines for various specialties, continuing education opportunities, and forensic board certification for those who meet educational and professional requirements.
International Society for Justice Research
The ISJR supports forensic psychologists worldwide by providing a quarterly academic journal, an annual conference, access to the latest news in the field, awards, a monthly newsletter, and best practices for professionals looking to network and grow their skills.
Society for Police and Criminal Psychology
In addition to international and U.S.-based conferences, SPCP also provides a journal, continuing education opportunities, a public member directory, job information, awards, opportunities for leadership development, and special programs for individuals currently enrolled in academic programs.