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Forensic psychology schools

It's probably fair to say that a nuanced understanding of human behavior and motivation has the potential to be a great asset in matters of law and justice. Forensic psychologists focus on the application of psychological principles to legal and criminal matters, and their expertise can be invaluable to trial attorneys, law enforcement personnel and other operatives in the criminal justice system.

Forensic psychology is a highly specialized branch of the psychological field, and as such there are only a handful of institutions around the country offering traditional or online forensic psychology degree programs. Here's a region-by-region national rundown of forensic psychology schools offered online and in traditional settings, using

Region No. of institutions with forensic psychology degree programs No. of institutions with online forensic psychology degree programs
Far West (CA. OR, WA, NV, AK, HI) 6 1
Rocky Mountains (ID, MT, UT, WY, CO) 1 0
Southwest (AZ, NM, TX, OK) 3 2
Plains (MO, KS, IA, NE, MN, ND, SD) 6 3
Southeast (AR, LA, MS, AL, FL, GA, SC, NC, TN, KY, VA, WV) 6 1
Great Lakes (IL, IN, OH, MI, WI) 6 1
Mideast (PA, NY, NJ, DE, MD, D.C.) 8 0
New England (CT, MA, RI, VT, NH, ME) 7 0
Total (all 50 states) 43 8

Entry-level forensic psychology degrees

Beginning students pursuing careers as professional psychologists have a long academic journey ahead, but all journeys start with a first step. Here are some details about undergraduate degrees available in campus-based and online forensic psychology programs:

  • Associate degrees - Degrees that specify forensic psychology as their focus are scarce enough to be considered functionally nonexistent at the associate level, but two-year degrees in general psychology can help you prepare for the forensically focused programs available down the line. Topics of psychological study in associate degree programs may include human growth and development, theories of personality, abnormal psychology, marriage and family systems, social psychology and interpersonal communication.
  • Bachelor's degrees - True forensic psychology concentrations begin at the bachelor's level, with coursework in such subjects as criminal psychology, methods for psychological inquiry, forensic interviewing and assessment, psychological disorders, scientific investigations and statistics for psychological analysis. Some forensic psychology bachelor's degrees are offered as specialized concentrations within a general psychology curriculum, while other programs encourage students to concentrate their study on victimology, social justice or another niche within forensic psychology.
  • Non-degree study - If you're interested in the psychological aspects of criminals and the justice system but don't want to commit to a full degree program, a certificate program in the discipline might be right up your alley. Forensic psychology certificates for undergraduates aren't especially common, but those that are out there typically take one or two semesters to complete, consist of 12 to 24 credit hours and contain only forensic psychology courses without any sections from the general education core.

If you're comfortable reading, learning and communicating in a digital environment, you're probably a good candidate for online forensic psychology programs. Online degrees often allow you to design your own class schedule and change it to suit the needs of your lifestyle, and many schools that offer such programs charge online students less per credit hour than those who require use of campus facilities.

Advanced-degree forensic psychology programs

Whether they're in private practice or focus primarily on research and education, professional psychologists need advanced degrees in order to qualify to work in the field. Here's some detail about what you can expect in graduate and post-graduate degree programs at forensic psychology schools online and on campus:

  • Master's degree programs - Forensic psychological science, psychopathy, personality disorders, psychological risk assessment, terrorism, domestic violence and child abuse, mental illness in the justice system — some of the subjects studied on the road to a forensic psychology master's degree might test your faith in the goodness of humankind. Understanding these dark avenues of the mind is an important part of a successful forensic psychology career, however, and many Master of Science (MS) or Master of Arts (MA) programs in the field aim to cover all those and more. Forensic psychology degrees at this level may be offered alternately through either the psychology department, the criminal justice department or a combination of the two.
  • Doctorate programs - Doctoral degrees in forensic psychology are typically packaged as Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs, although forensic psychology may be offered as a specialization track within a clinical Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) program. Doctoral programs typically consist of deep explorations of subjects introduced during undergraduate or master's degree work, coupled with considerable study of quantitative and qualitative reasoning methods, statistical analysis and research methodologies.
  • Graduate certificates and post-graduate work - Students who want to add some forensic psychology skills to an existing psychology or criminal justice degree can enroll in graduate certificate programs, which usually consist of four to six courses and typically have no research or thesis requirement. Postgraduate certificates and residency programs are also available, for students who have completed their doctorate and want to further improve their knowledge, develop more nuanced perspective on their practice or respecialize their professional concentration.

Students can enroll in forensic psychology schools online even at the graduate and post-graduate levels, provided they're comfortable conducting extensive discussion with their thesis or dissertation advisor in the virtual environment. Many graduate programs in forensic psychology include a residency program as well, which is likely to require students to spend some time at a learning facility, but seminars and lecture sessions should still be available digitally.

Q&A with an expert

Dr. Lisa Long, mental health advocate and licensed forensic psychologist

Dr. Lisa Long, mental health advocate and licensed forensic psychologistWhy would you encourage someone to specialize in forensic psychology?

Forensic psychology is one of the fastest growing areas of psychology. Unfortunately, more and more people with mental health issues are also involved in the criminal justice system. These individuals are often caught in a cycle between jail and inpatient hospitals — forensic psychologists can truly make a difference in fixing the system and ensuring people get the services they need.

What are the most common educational paths for students interested in forensic psychology?

An undergraduate degree in psychology is most beneficial.

What would have been helpful to know about forensic psychology when you were looking into your own education?

There is way more paperwork in forensic psychology than anyone would expect! The television shows showcasing the excitement of the role of a forensic psychologist never fully captures that side of the career! The details are what is most critical in forensic psychology, because often times you are dealing with matters that significantly impact someone's life.

What undergraduate degrees can best prepare students for the work they'll do in forensic psychology graduate programs?

Psychology all the way — it will most prepare you and save you the most time in completing the degree.

What level of degree is necessary to get started in forensic psychology? Are there entry-level jobs available to applicants with bachelor's degrees or certificates?

Realistically, a person will need to complete a doctorate in clinical psychology to do forensic work in most states.

What's some advice you would give to a student just starting out on the path toward a forensic psychology career?

Dedication and perseverance!

Types of forensic psychology careers

Forensic psychologists may use a fairly specialized set of skills, but training at forensic psychology schools online or on campus can also prepare you for a few other careers that have psychological leanings. Here's a table of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows the employment outlook and national average salary for some occupations that may be open to candidates with a forensic psychology degree:

Occupation title National mean annual salary
(2015)
Projected job growth
(2014-2024)
Total U.S. employment
(2014)
Entry-level education
Forensic psychologist $93,050 10 percent 16,600 Doctoral or professional degree
Industrial-organizational psychologist $92,320 19 percent 2,000 Doctoral or professional degree
Market research analyst $70,030 19 percent 495,500 Bachelor's degree
Survey researcher $59,340 12 percent 16,700 Master's degree
Psychology teacher, postsecondary $79,370 16 percent 47,300 Doctoral or professional degree

Common misconceptions about forensic psychology degrees

The human mind itself is a mystery to most people, so it's really only natural that some incorrect guesses about forensic psychology degrees persist in the public imagination. Make sure you're not laboring under any of these misconceptions as you look into campus-based and online forensic psychology programs:

Misconception: Forensic psychology is a crime-fighting thrill ride of a profession.

  • Fact: It can be tantalizing to think of professions that intersect with trial law and criminal justice as being party to the high-stakes heroics of film, television and paperback fiction, but the truth of the matter is that they aren't far from most other jobs in terms of available excitement. Naturally, however, if you're passionate about conducting psychological evaluations, analyzing case studies, performing consultations and other day-to-day activities of forensic psychology, you'll probably be treated to more than your share of thrills.

Misconception: Online forensic psychology programs aren't as academically rigorous as those delivered in a traditional classroom.

  • Fact: This one would be true if academic rigor were defined by the inflexibility of your timetable or the need to haul books around campus, but those are usually not the most important factors in the calculation. The perception of online degrees as easier than those delivered on campus seems to be persistent, for some reason, when in reality the opposite is true. Online students have to do essentially the same readings, learn essentially the same material and complete much of the same coursework, all the while having to motivate themselves to get it all done without the corrective factor of showing up physically in class a few times a week. If anything, online degrees can be more rigorous than the campus-based variety.

Misconception: Forensic psychology and criminology are the same thing.

  • Fact: In that they're both based in social science and both related to the general field of criminal justice, it's understandable that they come across as similar to people who don't know any better. Forensic psychology and criminology are quite a bit different, actually — the former concerns itself with the internal constituents of the mind and personality, focusing on the individuals involved in a criminal justice scenario, while criminologists focus more on the criminal element as a whole and the larger cultural factors surrounding crime and its perpetrators. Criminologists primarily study sociology, rather than psychology, if that helps drive the point home.

How can I enroll in an online forensic psychology degree program?

Enrollment procedures and admissions policies tend to vary from institution to institution, so browse the listings we've included below and pick out a few schools that you like. The best place to get specific information on enrollment is right from the source, so get in touch by phone or email to find out what it takes to get started.

Sources:

  1. College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, accessed May 19, 2016, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
  2. School pages, accessed May 27, 2016: Associate of Science in Psychology (A.S.), California Coast University, http://www.calcoast.edu/a.s.-associate-of-science-in-psychology.html; AA-Psychology Degree Requirements, Red Rocks Community College, http://www.rrcc.edu/catalogs/12-13/aa-psychology-degree-requirements.htm; Forensic Psychology Degree Online, Southern New Hampshire University, http://www.snhu.edu/online-degrees/bachelors/ba-in-psychology/forensic-psychology; Curriculum, BS in Forensic Psychology, Walden University, https://www.waldenu.edu/bachelors/bs-in-forensic-psychology/curriculum; Self-Designed Specialization - BS in Forensic Psychology, Walden University, https://www.waldenu.edu/bachelors/bs-in-forensic-psychology/curriculum/self-designed; Certificate in Forensic Psychology, Washington University of St. Louis, https://ucollege.wustl.edu/programs/certificates/forensic-psychology; Forensic Psychology Certificate, Holy Names University, https://www.hnu.edu/academics/certificate-programs/counseling-psychology/forensic-psychology-certificate; Master's Degree in Forensic Psychology, University of North Dakota, http://und.edu/academics/extended-learning/online-distance/degrees/forensic-psychology/; M.S. Criminal Justice - Forensic Psychology, Saint Leo University, http://online.saintleo.edu/academics/masters-programs/ms-criminal-justice-forensic-psychology.aspx; M.S. in Forensic Psychology Curriculum, Nova Southeastern University, http://psychology.nova.edu/graduate/forensic-psychology/curriculum.html; Forensic Psychology, PhD Programs, Palo Alto University, http://www.paloaltou.edu/graduate-programs/phd-programs/phd-clinical-psychology/areas-emphasis/forensic-psychology; Forensic Track, Clinical Psychology PsyD, Pacific University, http://www.pacificu.edu/future-graduate-professional/colleges/college-health-professions/areas-study/psychology-clinical-psychology-psyd/tracks/forensic-track; Forensic Psychology, PhD in Psychology, Walden University, https://www.waldenu.edu/doctoral/phd-in-psychology/curriculum/forensic-psychology; Online Graduate Certificate in Forensic Criminology, University of Massachusetts Lowell, https://continuinged.uml.edu/online/forensiccriminology.cfm; Family/Civil Forensic Psychology Certificate, Montclair State University, http://www.montclair.edu/chss/psychology/graduate-programs/certificate-programs-forensic-psychology/program-description/family-civil-forensic-psych-certificate/; Graduate Certificate in Forensic Psychology, Rosemont College Online, http://online.rosemont.edu/programs/graduate-certificate-in-forensic-psychology/; Postgraduate Certificate in Forensic Psychology, http://www.jjay.cuny.edu/postgraduate-certificate-forensic-psychology;
  3. Occupational Outlook Handbook, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed May 19, 2016: Psychologists, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm; Market Research Analysts, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/market-research-analysts.htm; Survey Researchers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/survey-researchers.htm; Postsecondary Teachers, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/postsecondary-teachers.htm;
  4. May 2014 National Occupational and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, accessed May 19, 2016, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
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