What is an Online Forensic Psychology Master’s Program?
Forensic psychology exists at the intersection of psychology and the law. As such, online forensic psychology master’s programs focus student learning on topics related to these two specific areas. Like on-campus programs in this field, online studies include coursework in psychological research, criminology, clinical psychology, legal principles, and other related topics.
Naturally, online studies differ from on-campus studies in that they are far more independent. Rather than attending class in a normal classroom setting, students often work at their own pace. Typically, online master’s programs include features like group chat rooms or video conferencing that help students feel more connected and to provide a forum in which students can discuss their learning together.
What is an Online Forensic Psychology Master’s Program that Does Not Require GRE?
Though many online graduate programs in forensic psychology include satisfactory GRE scores as part of their admissions requirements, not all programs do so. The purpose of the GRE is to offer an indication to program officials of how a student might perform in graduate school. However, there are other means by which program officials can determine such things, including in-person interviews with the applicant.
Among the online master’s degree programs in forensic psychology that do not require students to take the GRE are:
- The Chicago School of Professional Psychology
- Pepperdine University
- Northcentral University
- University of North Dakota
- University of California Irvine
Do All Forensic Psychology Master’s Programs Require GRE?
As noted above, not all forensic psychology master’s programs require a GRE. Typically, universities that don’t have the GRE requirement rely on other requirements instead, like a student essay or student interviews with psychology faculty. Either way, the ability of the program to assess one’s fitness as a student rests on one’s ability to communicate effectively in either written or verbal form, or both.
Like programs that do require a GRE, programs without this requirement will also often look at a student’s undergraduate performance, specifically the undergraduate GPA. Typically, master’s programs have the added admissions requirement that students must have multiple letters of recommendation from undergraduate professors.
What Do You Learn in an Online Forensic Psychology Master’s Program?
Since forensic psychologists often work alongside the criminal justice and legal systems, many of the master’s-level courses that are required also revolve around these two areas. Though this is not a complete list, a forensic psychology student will take the following courses in their master’s studies:
- Law and psychology – These courses help further develop a student’s understanding of and connection between psychology and law. For example, students explore the role of forensic psychologists in the legal system, such as learning about providing expert testimony or helping attorneys prepare witnesses for trial.
- Criminal behavior – Since forensic psychologists often testify as expert witnesses during trials, having a background in criminal behavior is a must. These courses explore the general question of why people commit crimes.
- Forensic mental health – Coursework in forensic mental health runs the gamut from learning how to work with specific populations (i.e., juvenile offenders or domestic violence offenders) to understanding the legal system to learning how to effectively provide testimony during a trial.
- Psychological assessment – A critical component of a forensic psychologist’s toolkit is understanding the psychological assessment tools at their disposal and how to use them to gain knowledge and understanding of why people behave the way they do.
- Research methods – Building off of psychological research skills that were gained during their undergraduate studies, master’s degree students explore research topics and tools in more detail, such as how to conduct interviews, how to interpret statistics, and proper reporting procedures.
- Ethics – Ethics courses give students an opportunity to explore ethical practice that retains the integrity of the field of psychology while providing the best possible services to clients.
- Clinical practice – Some forensic psychology master’s programs offer courses that prepare students for working in a clinical setting. For example, students might learn how to evaluate and treat individuals that have exhibited violent behavior towards others.
- Victimology – Coursework in victimology focuses student attention on developing the skills needed to evaluate victims of crimes and treat the psychological traumas that have resulted from those crimes.
- Practicum experience – To bring all the classroom learning together that students have gleaned throughout their studies, many master’s programs require students to participate in a practicum and/or internship experience in which they get to work with real-world clients under strict supervision from an expert psychologist.
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Forensic Psychology Master’s Degree?
In most cases, a master’s degree in forensic psychology will take full-time students two years to complete. Most programs require about 33-36 credit hours to graduate, which means nine credit hours of coursework each semester for that time period.
However, some master’s programs in psychology require far more credits – some more than 60 credit hours in total. These programs typically take students three to four years to complete.
Still other programs allow students to pursue a doctorate after graduating with a bachelor’s degree. In those instances, a master’s degree might be obtained after two to four years, but with the added studies of the doctorate factored in, another three to five years could be added to the timeframe.
What are the Disadvantages of an Online Degree?
Though there are plenty of advantages to studying forensic psychology online, there are a few disadvantages of which to be aware:
- Reduced face-to-face interaction – Strides have been made to make online learning more interactive, but online studies still don’t have the same level of student-teacher and student-student interactions as on-campus studies provide.
- Lack of campus experience – Without campus experiences like the student union, sporting events, homecoming, and so forth readily available, some students report feeling disconnected from their school and peers when studying online.
- Heavy self-discipline requirements – Online learning requires students to be highly disciplined, deadline-oriented, and a self-starter. Without these qualities, online learning can be extremely difficult.
- Questions about accreditation – Many online forensic psychology master’s programs are fully accredited, just like many on-campus programs. However, many others are not accredited, thus requiring students to be hyper-vigilant when choosing a program to undertake.
What Skills You Need to Get a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology?
Students in forensic psychology master’s programs must possess a wide range of hard skills and soft skills to be successful. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Time management skills – Time management skills are a must for any student, but particularly for those studying online at the master’s level who often work independently without much interaction with their professors.
- Psychology research skills – Students at the master’s degree level must have a full understanding of the process of conducting scientific research, including forming and testing hypotheses, collecting and analyzing data, and reporting their findings.
- Critical thinking and problem-solving skills – A large part of a forensic psychologist’s job is being able to analyze information from victims or offenders to develop an understanding of their experience, mindset, motivation, and so forth. Doing so requires developing these skills during a master’s program.
- Listening skills – Forensic psychology students should develop strong verbal and written communication skills, but perhaps more importantly is learning how to listen effectively and utilize active listening techniques in order to learn about and support the clients with whom they work.
- Empathy – Like any psychologist, a forensic psychologist should be able to put themselves in another person’s shoes in order to see the world as they see it. This is a skill that students should excel in before their master’s program and should develop further during their graduate studies.
- Qualitative analysis – Forensic psychology students should be able to analyze and interpret behavioral data in order to draw evidence-based conclusions about a person’s thoughts, motivations, and behaviors.
What Can You Do With a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology?
The following is a list of the most common careers for forensic psychology graduates:
- Case Manager
- Correctional Counselor
- Court Liaison
- Expert Witness
- Jail Supervisor
- Jury Consultant
- Law Enforcement Advocate
- Legal Consultant
- Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor
- Probation Specialist
- Police Consultant
- Rehabilitation Counselor
- Victims Advocate
How Much Can You Earn With a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology?
According to a 2018 report by PayScale, the average annual salary for a forensic psychologist is $63,161. However, the salary one can make is highly dependent on two primary factors: educational level and experience.
With a master’s degree and no experience, forensic psychologists might make well under $40,000 per year. But with five years of experience, the expected salary could be in the $72,000 range. After ten years of experience, forensic psychologists can make over $80,000 per year, and with more than 20 years, the salary could be nearly $120,000 per year.
Having an advanced degree, like a Ph.D. or additional skills training can also positively impact one’s salary. For example, even with no work experience, a forensic psychologist with a Ph.D. might earn a starting salary of around $80,000.
Of course, salary is also dependent upon the place of employment, with workers in this field that are in private practice typically making more money than those that work for public agencies, like the court system or in law enforcement.