Doctorate in Forensic Psychology Online

ASO Staff Writers
Updated May 26, 2023
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Students considering enrolling in online doctorate in forensic psychology programs should explore a variety of program options. For example, students should understand the difference between earning a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) in forensic psychology or a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) in forensic psychology. These two degree types lead to different careers after graduation. Graduates can pursue careers as postsecondary professors, forensic psychologists, and researchers. This page examines many topics regarding the field, helping students make informed decisions about their ideal programs.

Should I Earn an Online Doctorate in Forensic Psychology?

Earning a doctoral degree in forensic psychology opens students up to a variety of benefits. Doctoral graduates — since they hold the highest degree in their field — can pursue careers without worrying about educational restrictions. Additionally, these high-level programs equip students with expert-level knowledge and skills in forensic psychology, helping them stand apart from other job candidates.

Doctoral holders may also qualify for specialized positions with increased salaries. Graduates with a higher level of education are typically placed in higher pay brackets than their coworkers with bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

Distance learners can enjoy several benefits after enrolling in an online doctorate in forensic psychology program. The online format offers a more flexible program, allowing participants to complete work at their own pace. Students can continue working full time as they earn their degrees, cultivating field experiences while advancing their education.

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What Can I Do With an Online Doctorate in Forensic Psychology?

Individuals with a doctorate in forensic psychology gain access to many career opportunities in the field. Pursuing this advanced degree allows students to cultivate expert-level skills and knowledge and prepare for specialized roles.

Most students who choose to pursue doctoral degrees have a specific career in mind when they enroll. Typically, doctoral programs emphasize in-depth research, allowing students to cultivate their skills and cater their study toward specific areas of interest. For example, graduates can pursue careers in postsecondary education, working as college professors and teaching forensic psychology to undergraduate or graduate students. They can also focus their career on research and scholarly work or prepare for roles at consulting agencies, nonprofit organizations, or government agencies.

Doctoral programs often require students to complete a dissertation. From the beginning of their program, enrollees begin planning projects, consulting with their advisors, and conducting in-depth research. These projects give students the chance to focus on a particular area of interest. Dissertations often lead students to follow a certain career path, based on what they’ve explored while completing their project.

Forensic psychology doctoral graduates can find employment across many settings, including academia, government agencies, clinics, treatment centers, hospitals, and law enforcement agencies. Graduates should consider the type of environment that interests them and determine which career path allows them to work in their desired setting.

  • Forensic Psychologist

    Often working as licensed psychologists specializing in forensics, these workers find employment in many places, including mental hospitals, prisons, courts, private facilities, and government agencies. These psychologists assess mental competencies of criminals during trials in court and compile reports.
  • FBI Agent

    FBI agents interview witnesses and suspects and record their interviews to gather and confirm information. These agents report their findings and collect evidence, including computer records, DNA samples, and fingerprints. They also identify issues within a case based on allegations of violations and complaints.
  • Criminologist

    Criminalists analyze crime scenes to understand the crime and identify the people who committed the crime. Criminalists use forensic techniques and equipment to conduct their analyses, report their findings in detail, and submit these findings to the detectives in charge. Although their work is very specialized, criminalists may focus on many tasks as they explore an investigation.
  • Criminal Investigator

    Responsible for transferring evidence between departments and compiling evidence to identify culprits, criminal investigators may also restrain and arrest suspects. They investigate and examine crime scenes, interview witnesses, and document their research.
  • Forensic Computer Analyst

    These analysts work with other forensic experts to carry out effective communication of intelligence information. They make sure all activity during a forensic investigation abides by local and federal laws.

Forensic Psychology Doctoral Program Overview

In the sections below, students can review some of the most important factors to consider when picking a doctorate in forensic psychology online program. For example, learners should understand the different types of doctoral degrees available in the field. Degree candidates can also review application requirements, admission criteria, potential coursework, and program outcomes.

Types of Doctoral Degrees in Forensic Psychology

Students thinking about pursuing a doctorate in forensic psychology online have the option to pursue a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. In both degree types, students focus on forensic psychology, but they take different approaches to applying their degrees.

A student interested in focusing their forensic psychology career on research, academia, or administration can earn a Ph.D. to gain the specific expert-level knowledge needed to provide quality education and research. Graduates of these programs often pursue careers as higher education professors of forensic psychology, helping students develop knowledge and skills in the field.

Doctor of psychology programs lean more toward a professional career emphasizing the treatment and evaluation of patients. Students in these programs still conduct research but do not focus on it as heavily. Throughout their program, students develop the skills and knowledge needed to pursue state licensure after graduation. Students gain extensive training and the ability to expertly apply intervention and assessment skills. These learners cultivate strong critical thinking and communication skills and the ability to actively listen. Graduates with a Psy.D. in forensic psychology often go on to become forensic psychologists.

Students should understand the differences between the types of forensic psychology doctoral degrees to ensure their chosen program aligns with their career goals. Additionally, students should be aware that not every institution offers both degree types.

Application Requirements and Admission Criteria

Applicants to forensic psychology programs encounter different admission criteria and application requirements depending on their target college or university. However, many schools highlight common criteria that applicants must meet before being admitted into a doctoral program. Each candidate must complete an application to their chosen institution and provide their transcripts.

Doctoral students often need to hold a master’s degree, which should have been earned from a regionally accredited institution. Applicants typically need to meet minimum GPA requirements, usually ranging from 3.0-3.5 depending on the institution. Supplemental admission material includes letters of recommendation that should come from professional or educational references, essays, and a current professional resume. While not all doctoral programs require work experience, some might ask students to provide proof of relevant professional experiences.

Forensic Psychology Curriculum

Students pursuing a doctorate in forensic psychology online follow different program structures depending on their college or university. Generally, students can expect to complete around 110 credits, encompassing around 75 credits of core courses, 15 credits of elective coursework, and a dissertation component worth around 20 credits.

Core courses provide students with the specialized skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the field after graduation. Elective coursework allows students to tailor their degrees to their personal interests by enrolling in classes that align with their goals.

Doctoral programs also require each student to conduct in-depth research and work with a faculty member to complete a project and/or dissertation. These extensive projects should entail exhaustive research and multiple drafts before completion. At most colleges and universities, students stay continuously enrolled in their dissertation courses until they receive approval on their final project.

  • Themes and Theories of Psychology: In this course, students can review basic theoretical models, including cognitive, psychodynamic, behaviorist, biopsychosocial, developmental, and gender theories.
  • Abnormal Behavior: Students in this course can review the evolution of abnormal psychology, working to understand how practitioners use contemporary diagnostic criteria across a variety of settings.
  • Criminal Behavior: In this course, learners can explore theories of crime and how to analyze the risk factors of criminal behavior. Students examine topics such as victimology, criminal behavior, and victim-offender relationships.
  • Treatment of Forensic Populations: In a treatment of forensic populations course, enrollees explore the basic knowledge they need to evaluate and treat various forensic populations, including substance abusers and sex offenders.
  • Psychology in the Courts: This course focuses on the role forensic psychology professionals play in the court system. Students conduct application-based exercises throughout the class.
  • Police Psychology: A police psychology course explores the ways forensic psychology professionals work with police departments. Students can focus on managing stress and the psychological risks of police work.
  • Consulting for Organizational Change: Exploring methods for advancing group, individual, and organizational performance through consulting, this course focuses on the most important techniques involved in change management.
  • Understanding Forensic Psychology Research: Students in this course learn how to research different functions and evaluate the relevance of research as they put ethics into practice.

Program Outcomes

A student pursuing an online doctorate in forensic psychology can explore the connection between the criminal justice system and psychology, learning about mental health issues that cause individuals to engage in criminal behavior. Throughout their coursework, students develop the skills and knowledge needed to work as teachers, researchers, or consultants in the forensic psychology field.

Forensic psychology doctoral students explore the programs and systems needed to create positive changes in community settings and the legal system. Students also learn about more advanced topics in forensic psychology at this level, studying various populations like the mentally ill, released offenders, the incarcerated, and juvenile offenders. Graduates also learn to understand the differences between various specialized legal concepts related to forensic psychology.

Accreditation for Online Forensic Psychology Doctoral Programs

A student interested in pursuing an online doctorate in forensic psychology should pay close attention to the type of accreditation featured at their chosen college or university. At the institutional level, schools may hold regional or national accreditation. Regionally accredited institutions are usually considered more prestigious. For example, many graduate programs and employers do not recognize credits from nationally accredited colleges or universities.

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