Mental health professionals are vital to public health and safety—a notion perhaps most apparent in the legal system where patients include suspected and convicted criminals and their victims. Forensic psychologists straddle the bounds of psychology and criminal justice. They help judges and attorneys understand the psychological factors impacting a case, assessing victims and convicted criminals with potential mental health issues, but also serving as expert witnesses, working with military and law enforcement personnel, and supporting national security organizations like the FBI and the U.S. Armed Forces.
The American Psychology – Law Society, considers forensic psychology a highly specialized branch of clinical psychology, and one in high demand. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports that forensic practice expanded dramatically over the last few decades; furthermore, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, 2016) projects that openings for psychologists—including those in the forensic subfield—will grow 19 percent between 2014 and 2024. That is nearly triple the national average for all occupations (6.5 percent). While the BLS does not track earnings for forensic psychologists specifically, private practitioner Dr. May Connell told the APA they could earn more than $200,000 a year. That said, aspiring forensic psychologists must secure the requisite training and education to enter this in-demand field.
Online master’s degrees in forensic psychology are stepping stones to doctoral degree programs which most states require for independent practice. According to the APA (2017), however, master’s-level professionals can still work within a more limited scope of practice. This guide is a primer for readers considering such programs.
Forensic psychologists’ patients or clients are often vulnerable, undertreated, or tragedy-tested. Professionals must be prepared to assess and treat them while upholding the laws, practices, and procedures that define their work. For most students, this specialized training starts at the graduate level. Online master’s degrees in forensic psychology are just as rigorous as campus-based programs, but tend to be more accessible and flexible, particularly for working professionals or those living in more rural areas. Online degrees generally combine distance-based coursework with clinical practicums completed locally. Here are five standout online master’s programs in forensic psychology.
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M.A. in Forensic Psychology, University of North Dakota
The University of North Dakota’s online master of arts (M.A.) in forensic psychology program prepares students to apply psychological theory and practice in a legal context. The 35 credits of coursework are delivered using recorded lectures; students need only attend campus once for a two-week capstone experience. All remaining coursework is delivered online via recorded lectures. The school estimates students can complete the 35-credit program in two to three years.
M.S. in Forensic Psychology, Walden University
Walden University’s online M.S. in forensic psychology delivers new, non-clinical skills, perspectives, and insights in areas like terrorism, cybercrime, victim advocacy, and criminal investigative analysis and profiling. Students explore the biological and social factors that drive criminal behavior, psychological evaluation, and research methods used to evaluate and enhance forensic assessment. The University offers several concentrations within forensic psychology, including criminal justice, police psychology, cybercrimes, victimology, family violence, legal issues in forensic psychology, military psychology, and sex offender behavior. Students who complete Walden’s M.S. in forensic psychology can apply up to half of their 48 credits toward the institution’s Ph.D. in psychology program.
M.A. in Forensic Psychology, Argosy University
Argosy University’s online M.A. in forensic psychology is a 35-unit program focused on psychological consultation, assessment, and intervention in the criminal and civil justice systems. In addition to honing clinical, counseling, and neuropsychology skills, students study violence and criminality risk factors, psychological testing, criminal and civil law procedures, professional standard and ethics, and more.
M.S. in Psychology (Forensic), University of Louisiana-Monroe
According to its official website, the University of Louisiana-Monroe’s fully-online M.S. in psychology (forensic concentration) prepares students for several careers in private- and public-sector law enforcement, corrections, law, child protection services, and more. Coursework reinforces criminological and psychological theory and criminal justice procedures. Note that students cannot earn more than 12 graduate hours until they complete all undergraduate requirements, including at least nine semester hours in psychology and three in statistics.
M.S. in Psychology (Forensic Psychology Concentration), Grand Canyon University
Grand Canyon University offers an accelerated online M.S. in psychology with a concentration in forensic psychology. While completion times vary, GCU says it designed the program so that one could complete all 36 credits in as few as 20 months. Students explore topics such as human psychology and societal responses to criminal behavior with emphases in rehabilitation and system improvement. Courses prepare students for the job force or to pursue doctoral degrees in psychology or education.
M.S. in Forensic Psychology, Nova Southeastern University
Nova Southeastern University describes its M.S. in forensic psychology as a non-clinical program ideal for working law enforcement, corrections, national security, military, and other types of professionals seeking advanced education, as well as for students in rural areas. This 36-unit online program explores key psychological issues and skills as they intersect the criminal justice system—a balance of core and specialized coursework which provides a solid understanding of forensic psychology and its applications in many professional contexts. One can choose from two specialty tracks: forensic psychology in the legal system or forensic psychology for mental health workers, first responders, and disaster teams. According to NSU, students can choose to complete a capstone thesis or field experience, though it recommends the latter for those considering doctoral degrees.
To learn more about online graduate programs in psychology, please visit the online PsyD degree programs page.
Forensic psychologists must be driven, skilled, and committed to their work—traits that online graduate schools look for in program applicants. Admissions criteria can nonetheless change from one school to the next. The following list highlights common admissions requirements sampled from real online forensic psychology programs:
Prospective students researching online master’s degrees in forensic psychology often review factors like cost, program length, and coursework, but there are two additional equally important traits to consider: accreditation and state authorization.
Accreditation is an indicator of an online forensic psychology program’s quality. According to the U.S. Department of Education (ED), schools can request a voluntary evaluation of standards and practices by a private, independent educational association. Programs that meet an agency’s criteria are then “accredited” by that organization. Standards vary by agency but typically include benchmarks related to teaching and curricular quality; student outcomes; transparency; and ethical conduct, among other measures. For example, the Higher Learning Commission’s Criteria for Accreditation verify:
Programs can be accredited nationally, regionally, or programmatically. While the APA only accredits doctoral programs, prospective students considering an online master’s in forensic psychology are advised to confirm the program is accredited by one of the regional organizations listed by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Prospective students should confirm they are authorized to attend a particular online program before submitting their applications. According to the ED, the Higher Education Act requires states to authorize colleges to operate within their borders. That means a college in one state may or may not be permitted to enroll students in another state. Authorization guidelines are less clear for online programs, so each state sets its own conditions. The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) was designed to simplify the process by establishing clear authorization standards for online schools and designating those that meet them. Those schools are then authorized to operate in participating states. The NC-SARA maintains a list of SARA-aligned states and institutions online. To ensure eligibility, students interested in attending an out-of-state online program in forensic psychology are encouraged to contact program coordinators.
Psy.D., Nova Southeastern University
Dr. Abigail Tucker is both a practicing psychologist and professor at Nova Southeastern University (NSU) where she teaches online forensic psychology courses in police psychology and psychological issues in juvenile justice assessment and intervention programs. Outside of the virtual classroom, Dr. Tucker oversees the Psychological Services Department; the Community Recovery Team; and the Justice, Accountability & Recovery Program at Community Reach Center in Thornton, Colorado. She is also an editorial board member to the Journal of Family Violence, an author of several publications, and a frequent presenter on the role of mental health in forensics and other law enforcement issues. Dr. Tucker serves the Colorado Behavioral Council Criminal Justice Workgroup and is an active member of the American Psychological Association. Her research interests include forensics and community and emergency services mental health issues. Dr. Tucker holds a Psy.D. from NSU.
Ph.D., Walden University
Dr. Kristen Beyer is a professor of online graduate courses in forensic psychology at Walden University and a licensed psychologist working in private practice. She has extensive experience working at the intersection of psychology and criminal justice, serving as the social and behavioral science research coordinator at the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime’s Undercover Safeguard Program. She’s treated police officers and federal contractors headed to Iraq and Afghanistan at Mission Critical Psychology Services. Dr. Beyer also worked at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan and maintains a keen interest in treating patients across the lifespan who suffer from depression, anxiety, and adjustment issues. Dr. Beyer holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Detroit, Mercy.
Ph.D., The University of North Dakota
Dr. Andre Kehn is an associate professor at the University of North Dakota where he teaches online forensic psychology in advanced social psychology and foundations of forensic psychology. He notes in his faculty biography that his primary research interests include eyewitness memory, the perception of witnesses, and juror decision-making. Specifically, Dr. Kehn applies cognitive and social psychological theories to study false memory distortions, the perceived veracity of alibi and child witnesses, and the effects of emotion on juror memory and sentencing decisions. He earned a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from the University of Wyoming.