What to Know About Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology Coursework
Master's degrees in forensic psychology explore the intersection between mental health and criminal justice. Students may acquire the psychological evaluation and interviewing skills that apply to jobs in mental health or addictions counseling. In addition, learners may explore fundamental psychology areas like social psychology, developmental psychology, and psychopathology. Students also learn about the many applications of psychology in the legal system — this knowledge prepares them for roles in settings such as courts, law enforcement agencies, and social services organizations.
Typical master's programs in forensic psychology comprise 30-40 credits and take approximately two years to complete. Students with full-time jobs may study part time and earn their degree in more than two years. On the other hand, full-time students may load up on credits or take summer classes to finish at an accelerated pace.
Online forensic psychology students should consider that some programs — especially programs that lead to counselor licensure — may require clinical practicum hours or on-campus residencies.
What Common Courses are Offered in a Master’s in Forensic Psychology Program?
Courses for master's in forensic psychology programs vary by school, but curricula generally touch on various criminal justice, corrections, and psychology topics. Students learn about the role of psychology in various legal situations. Below, you can learn about some classes you may encounter in an online forensic psychology master's.
Introduction to Forensic Psychology
Introductory forensic psychology classes ready students to explore advanced topics in the field. These survey courses provide a general overview of the psychologist's role in the legal system. Students explore subjects like expert testimony, legal requirements for competency, and child custody issues. They may also study constitutional law and the U.S. legal system.
Psychological Research Methods
Through research courses, master's students learn about the major tools and methods that psychologists use in their work. Students learn to evaluate programs and test scientific hypotheses. They also explore the fundamental principles of experimental design. Learners study ethical issues, validity of measurement, and statistical techniques.
Psychological and Violence Risk Assessment
Students consider the many psychological assessment techniques that forensic psychologists employ. They learn to choose the best evaluation method for a given situation and to interpret assessment results. The course may cover standardized cognitive tests such as neuropsychological tests, personality tests, and the Wechsler Scales.
For many forensic psychology-related jobs, graduates need a solid understanding of mental disorders. Psychopathology classes explore various psychological ailments, their causes, and their effects on a person's behavior. Students may also learn about psychological interventions, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and group therapy, that professionals use in corrections settings.
Ethics and Professional Issues in Forensic Psychology
This course addresses professional conduct and best practices for forensic psychology workers. Students may consider the American Psychological Association's Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychologists along with other ethics resources. The course examines some ethical and legal dilemmas professionals may encounter when working within the legal system.
What Specializations are Available in a Master’s in Forensic Psychology Program?
Some universities offer a forensic psychology degree as a specialization within another master's program, such as psychology or criminal justice. In addition, master's in forensic psychology programs may offer concentrations that prepare students for particular lines of work. Some sample specializations are listed below.
- Professional Licensure
Some master's-level psychology degrees offer a professional counselor licensure track that prepares students for state licensure as a mental health counselor. These tracks include coursework that aligns with state requirements for licensure. Additionally, licensure specializations may include practicum hours and/or in-person residencies.
- Legal Issues
This specialization examines the ways that psychologists interact with the legal system. Students explore topics like corrections, probation, parole, and the criminal justice system as a whole. Learners also study the roles that psychologists play in the court system, aiding with witness testimony and jury selection.
- Police Psychology
Students specializing in police psychology explore psychology topics related to police work and administration. Students explore police administration issues like stress management, training, and personnel selection from a psychological perspective. The specialization also prepares students to apply psychological principles to law enforcement situations, such as domestic disputes and hostage negotiations.
What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?
Degree requirements vary among programs, but forensic psychology master's programs generally include a capstone component. Some programs require a thesis, which is an extensive research project students complete under faculty supervision. Other curricula include a less involved independent study or term paper in forensic psychology. Programs may require an advanced class that synthesizes the major topics covered throughout the program.
In lieu of a capstone course or project, many schools require a practicum. Through a field component, students gain experience in a local workplace related to their career interests.
How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master’s in Forensic Psychology Program?
Students looking for a high-quality online master's in forensic psychology should take several factors into account when deciding between programs. The best programs feature experienced faculty members and high graduation rates. Plus, some schools post information on success rates for graduates. Try to find a program that boasts high rates of postgraduate employment or further graduate study.
Aspiring forensic psychology students should only apply to accredited institutions. Accredited schools have voluntarily gone through a review process, and accreditation demonstrates that an institution meets a high academic bar. Additionally, attending an accredited school ensures that you will not run into any issues when applying for financial aid, further education, certification or licensure, or a job.
Look out for schools that hold accreditation from one of the seven regional accrediting organizations, such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and the Higher Learning Commission. You can find a list of properly accredited institutions on the U.S. Department of Education's website.
Career Opportunities With a Master’s in Forensic Psychology Degree
A master's degree in forensic psychology is a great starting point for many careers in mental health and criminal justice. Graduates who earn additional certification can apply their psychological evaluation skills to a job in substance abuse, mental health, or behavioral counseling. Likewise, students who continue their education can become licensed to work as full-fledged clinical or forensic psychologists. Read on to learn about some possible master's in psychology job titles, daily duties, and salary expectations.
- Forensic Psychologist
Forensic psychologists generally need a doctoral degree, but a master's may qualify you for some forensic psychology-related jobs. A master's also may serve as a step along the way toward a doctoral degree. Forensic psychologists apply psychological principles and skills in a variety of legal situations. They may use their behavioral analysis expertise to help with criminal cases, civil disputes, and jury selection. They may also assist law enforcement agencies with investigations or testify in court as expert witnesses.
- Median Salary: $100,770 per year
- Currently Employed: 18,300
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +12%
- Correctional Treatment Specialist
Sometimes called case managers or correctional counselors, these professionals advise and help rehabilitate inmates, probationers, and parolees. They help those convicted of crimes reenter society by arranging mental health treatment, job placement assistance, housing, and job training. They may assess clients through psychological evaluations and questionnaires. Correctional treatment specialists need a bachelor's degree in a field like social work, behavioral sciences, or criminal justice. A master's in forensic psychology may help them find employment.
- Median Salary: $53,020 per year
- Currently Employed: 91,600
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +3%
- Postsecondary Teacher
While many universities and colleges require professors to hold a doctoral degree in their field, a master's qualifies graduates for some teaching roles at community colleges. Master's degree-holders may need professional experience in their field before entering academia. Postsecondary teachers teach courses, plan out the curriculum, and evaluate students through papers and exams. Many professors also devote time to research, journal articles, and books.
- Median Salary: $78,470 per year
- Currently Employed: 1,350,700
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +11%
- Clinical Psychologist
Clinical psychologists in any specialization need state licensure to practice. Requirements vary by state, but clinical psychologists need a doctorate and a certain amount of clinical experience to earn licensure. A master's degree in forensic psychology may serve as an intermediate step between a bachelor's and a doctorate in psychology. Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat patients with a variety of behavioral, emotional, and mental disorders. They interview patients, determine the best treatments, and provide psychotherapy.
- Median Salary: $76,990 per year
- Currently Employed: 162,000
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +15%
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors
These mental health professionals counsel people with psychological issues such as eating disorders, alcoholism, drug addiction, and behavioral disorders. They assess clients, identify problematic behaviors, and help patients recover or manage their behavior. In addition to working directly with clients, counselors may collaborate with psychologists, psychiatrists, physicians, and social workers. Counselors need at least a bachelor's degree, and many states require a master's degree and licensure for certain job titles.
- Median Salary: $44,630 per year
- Currently Employed: 304,500
- Expected Job Growth in Next 10 years: +22%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019
What’s the Expected Job Growth for Forensic Psychology Careers?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects positive job growth for psychologists from 2018 to 2028. Overall employment for psychologists, including clinical, counseling, industrial-organizational, and forensic psychologists, is projected to increase by 14% from 2018 to 2028, almost triple the national average job growth of 5%. Demand for clinical, counseling, and school psychologists is growing due to an expanding need for psychological services in mental health facilities, social service organizations, hospitals, and schools.
Professional Organizations for Careers in Forensic Psychology
Forensic psychology students and professionals should join professional associations to take advantage of networking opportunities, professional development classes, and career centers. Professional associations serve as a great way to learn about trends and new discoveries in the forensic psychology field. For example, members of the American Mental Health Counselors Association can access research on mental illness and treatment.
- APA joins over 118,000 researchers, practitioners, students, and educators in the psychology field. The organization offers perks including a job board, a code of ethics, resources on financial planning, publications, and an annual conference.
- This organization helps professionals certified by the American Board of Forensic Psychology to network with each other. The association hosts continuing education workshops around the country and online. Members also receive mentorship and award opportunities.
- AMHCA advances the mental health counseling profession through advocacy, research, training, and ethics resources. Members enjoy access to the AMHCA Code of Ethics, an archive of webinars, and multiple publications.
- IACFP supports correctional and forensic psychologists through resources including a journal, online research tools, conferences, and discounts on educational materials. While not all members are mental health practitioners, most hold advanced degrees in the field.
- This association promotes scientific study of police and criminal psychology. The organization accepts any members interested in criminal justice, including students, psychologists, and corrections workers. The society hosts an annual conference and publishes a journal.
How to Pay for a Master’s in Forensic Psychology Degree
Many graduate students struggle to pay for their master's program out of pocket. Aside from tuition, students need to consider additional expenses like textbooks and university fees. Students looking for the most affordable program should consider attending a public institution in their home state. Additionally, master's learners should take advantage of funding options like federal aid and scholarships.
- Federal Financial Aid
Students should fill out and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly known as the FAFSA, to see if they qualify for any government-sponsored financial aid programs like loans and work-study opportunities. The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program forgives loans for qualifying employees of government agencies and nonprofit organizations.
- Institutional Scholarships
Many universities offer scholarships to incoming graduate students. Institutional scholarship opportunities typically target high-achieving students or those who demonstrate financial need. For example, the Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers scholarships ranging from $1,000-$10,000. Some institutional scholarships depend only on GPA, while others consider additional materials like essays.
- Graduate Assistantships
Schools typically offer assistantships that allow graduate students to earn money they can put toward tuition and other expenses. Graduate students may secure positions teaching undergraduate courses or assisting with a faculty member's research. Missouri State University's psychology department offers administrative, academic, teaching, and research assistantships that run 20 hours per week.
- Scholarships from Professional Associations
Professional membership associations encourage students to pursue a particular career path by offering scholarships and grants. Some awards cover travel expenses to attend a major conference, while others cover tuition costs. APA offers scholarships ranging from $2,000 to $5,000 for graduate psychology students.