If you’re looking to take the next step in your counseling career, an online master’s degree in forensic psychology will provide the necessary education required to work in many different capacities in the criminal justice field or legal system. A master’s degree is also required for those who wish to obtain a Ph.D. or Psy.D. and become forensic psychologists. Find out more about online master’s degree programs in this field, including possible career opportunities after graduation, the curriculum of each program and which programs are the best.
We studied data from the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDs) and the U.S. Department of Education, as well as information provided by the included institutions to create the list of the best master’s in forensic psychology programs for 2018. All of the colleges and universities included in this ranking have been accredited.
Most online master’s degree programs in forensic psychology require either two to three years of full-time study or four to five years of part-time study. Some programs are designed with the assumption that a master’s degree is all the student wishes to obtain, while others structure their program as a stepping stone to a more advanced degree. Many programs include internships where students get real-life experience as a forensic counselor.
The typical skills that students will learn in an online master’s degree program include:
The standard coursework that students must master typically includes:
Students must study both the American legal system as well as the American mental health system and how they interact with each other. Civil and criminal law are both covered as well as juvenile justice, criminal competence and how to establish insanity for defendants.
Test and report design are some of the topics explored in this section, along with psychometrics. The administration of both objective and projective psychological assessments is also covered here.
Students will study both the evaluation and treatment of defendants who are accused or convicted of committing specific crimes. Specialized areas include the treatment of juveniles as well as defendants with substance abuse problems and sex offenders.
These courses are designed to aid students in learning about both the benefits and the limitations of psychological profiling. Analysis of crime scenes is also covered here along with instructions for identifying serial offenders.
Students are instructed in how to give expert testimony in court, as well as how to interact with legal counsel, law enforcement and mental health providers.
Many online programs will require students to complete some sort of capstone or other culmination class or project in order to get their degree. These courses usually require the student to synthesize all of the material in the degree curriculum, or else they allow the student to focus on a specific area of specialty, such as juvenile offenders.
There are many areas that students may wish to focus on with a master’s degree. Some of these specialties include:
Graduates can provide expert testimony in court to help either convict or defend a defendant.Working with Special Populations
Graduates can focus on working with a specific segment of clients, such as sex offenders or juveniles.Working in Correctional Facilities
Graduates can focus on the rules that come with working in prisons and jails and how they can affect inmates.
Although graduates cannot work as full-fledged forensic psychologists, a number of well-paying careers are still available. Some of the jobs for those with a master’s degree include:
A jury consultant works with teams of attorneys to get the best jury possible for the desired legal outcome, and also how best to proceed with the case once the jury has been finalized. Forensic psychologists will use their knowledge of criminal justice as well as human behavior to pick the best jury members possible.Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor
While a master’s degree does not qualify graduates to practice as licensed psychologists, the majority of states have a program under which they can still practice as licensed counselors. Counselors are permitted to practice in several different environments, such as one-on-one counseling, group homes, treatment centers for substance abuse and correctional facilities.Juvenile Offenders Counselor
Inmates who are minors are at high risk for recidivism, and have frequently been the victim of crimes themselves, such as neglect or some form of abuse. Licensed counselor can help them to deal with their issues and break the cycle of crime.Research Assistant
A large percentage of online master’s programs contain an element of research, which gives students the chance to learn how to conduct proper psychological research and analysis. Graduates can then assist licensed psychologists with research in the field.Social Worker
Social workers help people who in a vulnerable position, such as children without parents, those who are in abusive situations, unemployed individuals or those who are sick and are struggling to pay their medical bills. The social worker will meet with a client, build a case file and do whatever they can to help the client. Most clinical social workers are required to have a master’s degree.Parole/Probation Officer or Pretrial Services Officer
Parole officers help former inmates to re-enter society without committing further crimes or succumbing to substance abuse. They meet with the former inmates on a regular basis, sometimes with a phone call and other times in person at work or home. Pretrial services officers work to determine whether a defendant can return to his or her community before the trial date arrives.Correctional Treatment Specialist
These professionals administer psychological tests to prison inmates as well as probationers and parolees to determine their state of mental health. They then assemble case reports detailing the specialist’s findings and opinion on how likely it is that the subject will commit another crime. They also provide rehabilitation plans to parolees to help them adjust to life outside of prison.
There are several professional associations that those with a master’s degree in forensic psychology can join to further their careers. Professional associations can provide a number of benefits, including networking, seminars, continuing education and other resources. Some of these organizations include:
This organization has a division for forensic psychologists that is one of the leading forensic psychology professional organizations in the country. The APA promotes psychological research, the improvement of research methodology, and strengthening the qualifications of psychologists by developing an ethical code of conduct. It also provides training in forensic psychology in addition to pre- and post-doctoral internships. It has also developed a distinctive set of conduct and research guidelines for forensic psychology.
The AAFP is an organization for forensic psychologists who are board certified by the American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP), and it has recognized forensic psychology as a specialized field of study. It only grants certification to forensic psychology practitioners who can spell out the theoretical, ethical, and legal foundations of forensic psychology. Upon certification, practitioners become automatically eligible for admission into the AAFP. It offers workshops as well as three separate grant programs designed to enable professionals at different career points to do specialized research.
The SPCP is devoted to the intersection of forensic psychology and the law. Its membership includes social workers, psychiatrists, lawyers, police officers and correctional officers, as well as forensic psychologists. The organization strives to offer a holistic study of criminal behavior and motivation. It hosts an annual conference geared at providing practitioners with continuing education opportunities. It also publishes a journal that includes articles on the practical and academic innovations in the field.
The AAFS is a multidiscipline organization that has a diverse membership from all 50 states and Canada, as well as 70 additional countries. The organization is divided into eleven sections that represent forensic science in fields like toxicology, odontology, engineering, and jurisprudence. It offers opportunities for professional development of its members in addition to promoting the field of forensic psychology in general. The AAFS also provides a job board and expert witness referrals, as well as educational webinars and newsletters.
The IACFP strives to provide the best possible mental health services to criminal offenders as well as disseminating cutting-edge research on the treatment of psychological problems that lead to criminal behavior. The organization is specifically dedicated to creating and implementing an effective treatment program for the inmates in correctional facilities.
|Career||Lowest 10% Earned Annually||Median Annual Salary||Highest 10% Earned Annually||Job Growth 2016-2026|
|Probation Officers & Correctional Treatment Specialists||Less than $33,920||$51,410||More than $90,880||+6%|
|Psychologist||Less than $42,330||$77,030||More than $124,520||+14%|
|Social Worker||Less than $29,560||$47,980||More than $79,740||+16%|
|Substance Abuse & Mental Health Counselor||Less than $27,310||$43,300||More than $70,840||+23%|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
Some of these positions may require additional training or certifications in addition to a master’s degree.
Job growth in the fields of psychology and forensic psychology is promising, which should be good news to those pursuing careers in those areas. In particular, substance abuse and mental health counselors is expected to grow 23 percent over the next ten years, which is much higher than average.
Those pursuing a master’s degree should also keep in mind the growth in salary they should expect. According to The Center on Education and the Workforce, those with a bachelor’s degree in psychology earn a median annual salary of $49,000 versus $65,000 with a master’s. And those who graduate with a bachelor’s in social work earn $42,000 versus $55,000 with a master’s.
Students looking to enroll in an online Master’s in forensic psychology program should look for programs with programmatic accreditation by the American Psychological Association (APA). They should also make sure the college or university they wish to attend has been regionally accredited by the appropriate accrediting body. The school’s website should have information about accreditation.
Educational institutions that wish to become accredited must undergo a thorough examination by their peers from the accrediting institution. This examination attempts to ascertain the overall quality of the education being provided by the school. These peers will sit in on class sessions, converse with students and stakeholders and generally try to determine whether the school is adequately preparing its students for a career in forensic psychology. Regional accreditation is generally considered to be the most favorable type, because the accreditation process that is undertaken by regional peers is very rigorous.
There are several ways that students can fund their postgraduate studies in forensic psychology. The most obvious routes are with student loans and grants. But there are also a number of scholarship opportunities available from individual schools, and some of them are quite large. Here is a list of some of the scholarships and fellowships that are available to forensic psychology students:
This scholarship is offered to graduate students enrolled in the forensic psychology program at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York. Students must write an essay and hold a GPA of 3.5 or better.
Forensic Psychology students at Adler University are allowed to apply for this $3,000 nonrenewable scholarship. There is no separate application and the scholarship is made at the time of admission.
This award is given to students who show promise in areas of research related to criminal competence.
This award is given to six students each year in exchange for light administrative duties. The scholarship covers tuition and lodging for the Forensic Mental Health Association of California’s annual conference.
Students enrolled in The Chicago School’s MA in forensic psychology degree program may apply for this merit-based scholarship if they have a cumulative GPA of 4.0 or a GRE score of 314. The award totals up to $10,000 over two years.
This $1,000 scholarship is available to graduate students enrolled at the University of Florida pursuing graduate studies in forensic psychology.
This scholarship is offered to students who are studying any field related to criminal justice, including forensic psychology. Students must be nominated by a regional chapter of the American Criminal Justice Association-Lambda Alpha Epsilon.