Forensic psychology involves applying psychological practice to the legal system. Forensic psychologists might evaluate criminals, provide expert testimony on a defendant's state of mind during trial, work with crime victims, or counsel law enforcement officers.

The guide below provides more information for individuals considering a Ph.D. in forensic psychology online. It highlights what to expect from the degree itself and where a forensic psychology doctoral degree can take graduates within the professional world.

Psy.D. vs. Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology: What's the Difference?

Individuals interested in forensic psychology can choose between two types of doctoral degrees: a Psy.D. and a Ph.D. option. A Psy.D. focuses more on clinical and practical work. Psy.D. students generally must pass examinations instead of writing a dissertation.

Similar to Ph.D.s in other areas, a Ph.D. in forensic psychology focuses more on research. Ph.D. candidates conduct original research in order to write a dissertation, which usually takes a few years. When pursuing a career, Psy.D. graduates may go into clinical work, while Ph.D. graduates often continue to carry out research or work as professors.

What to Expect in an Online Forensic Psychology Doctoral Program

Pursuing a Ph.D. in forensic psychology online requires a considerable time commitment, including years of courses and research. Each school offers a unique program with different curriculum requirements, which means course options and requirements vary.

The guide below provides a brief overview of what students can expect from many online forensic psychology doctoral programs.

Admission Requirements for a Forensic Psychology Doctoral Program

Applicants to doctoral programs in forensic psychology should possess both an undergraduate degree and a master's degree. Admissions representatives consider candidates who studied psychology during their previous academic studies. However, applicants do not necessarily need to hold a degree specifically in forensic psychology.

Applicants should hold at least a 3.0 GPA in previous coursework, depending on the school's admission requirements.

Often, admissions officials look at candidates transcripts, paying attention to applicants' previous courses and grades. For instance, some schools require students to have received an "A" in courses like forensic psychology or abnormal psychology, even if they did not earn a full degree in forensic psychology. Applicants should hold at least a 3.0 GPA in previous coursework, depending on the school's admission requirements.

Several schools require prospective students to submit either general GRE scores or scores from the GRE psychology subject tests. Although admissions departments do not always expect professional experience, candidates should send in a CV or resume. Often applicants also need to submit recommendation letters and a personal statement or essay.

Sample Courses for an Online Doctorate in Forensic Psychology

By the time students enter a doctorate program, they typically possess an academic background in psychology. Ph.D. programs allow students to take more advanced courses that further their knowledge with high-level materials and theories. Courses usually focus on niche topics rather than general topics.

Doctorate programs require students to carry out considerable research to write a dissertation. The research and dissertation credits count for a large portion of the curriculum and may take a few years to complete. The list below shows examples of courses found in forensic psychology Ph.D. online programs.

Abnormal Behavior

Part of forensic psychology involves understanding, evaluating, and diagnosing abnormal psychology. Students learn about how practitioners diagnose abnormal conditions in forensic settings, such as rehabilitation centers and prisons. Learners explore psychosocial and psychophysiological problems that coincide with abnormal behavior and the ethical and legal considerations surrounding this topic.

Criminal Forensic Assessment

Forensic psychologists need to understand criminal behavior before they can accurately assess criminals. This course looks at the environmental, biological, and sociological risk factors that can lead to someone engaging in criminal activity. In addition, learners study different methods of assessment for violent and non-violent offenders.

Theories of Familial Violence

Students in this course learn about violence that can occur within families and intimate relationships. Topics may include sexual violence, domestic violence, and child abuse and neglect. Learners also examine criminal and family court evaluations and determine which most common psychological disorders lead to violence within the family.

Policy Psychology

Students who want to work as forensic psychologists at police departments should take this course which focuses on counseling police employees. Learners explore the psychological risks inherent in policing and crisis situations. They also learn about psychologists' roles in extreme situations, such as hostage negotiations


While many courses focus on analyzing the psychological state of criminals, this course focuses on victims. The course looks at psychological services to help victims of crime work through their trauma. In addition, students learn about other issues, such as why victims of violence, for instance, do not report abuse to the police.

Online Doctorate in Forensic Psychology Completion Time

Diligent students who possess enough time to focus on their academic work may complete their doctoral degrees within four years. However, students generally need at least five years to take the required courses, conclude their research, write a dissertation, and complete their internship hours. Schools often put a time limit on Ph.D. or Psy.D. programs, requiring students to earn their degree within eight or nine years. Learners can sometimes petition to extend this time limit.

Students generally need at least five years to take the required courses, conclude their research, write a dissertation, and complete their internship hours.

Several factors affect doctoral completion time. Students often choose to pursue a forensic psychology Ph.D. program online because of other responsibilities, such as a job or family responsibilities. Additionally, research can prove unpredictable. Students might need to adjust their dissertation if they encounter a problem with their hypothesis or methodology. This can also extend doctoral completion time.

Internship and Research Requirements for a Forensic Psychology Doctoral Degree

Students pursuing a Psy.D. in forensic psychology typically need to complete one year of work experience through an internship or externship. Schools may require an additional two or three years of supervised practicum experience. Often, Ph.D. programs require an internship or supervised experience, but Ph.D. work requirements may not necessarily match the intensity of a Psy.D. Online students can usually find work experience within or close to their hometowns, working in hospitals, prisons, or courts.

A Ph.D. focuses on original research. This means students must make a contribution to the field of forensic psychology by testing new theories. The scope of that task means students often spend three or four years conducting research and writing their dissertation. Once finished, students need to defend their research findings in front of a committee. Distance learners may need to complete this component on campus, but many schools offer students the ability to present through a virtual conference call.

Career and Salary Outlook for Online Forensic Psychology Graduates

Since online Ph.D. forensic psychology programs prepare students for a very specific career, many graduates find jobs as forensic psychologists. However, they may pursue other employment options as well, such as working as professors at universities or running psychology clinics as clinical directors. No matter which career they choose, forensic psychology graduates need to possess advanced communication and problem-solving skills.

Forensic psychologist

Forensic psychologists work under the umbrella of the law, but they can find jobs in several different settings: courts, prisons, rehabilitation centers, police departments, law firms, mental hospitals, and government agencies. These professionals may evaluate the psychological state of criminals, diagnose mental disorders, or even testify in court about a defendant's mental state.

Median Annual Salary: $65,694

Postsecondary teacher

After earning a Ph.D. in forensic psychology online, some graduates may stay in academia to become professors at universities. Others can start teaching at the university level after working professionally as psychologists for years. Professors teach college classes, advise students, attend conferences, and conduct academic research within forensic psychology.

Median Annual Salary: $78,470

Clinical psychologist

Forensic psychology graduates do not always work within the legal system. With a Ph.D. or a Psy.D., they can also work as clinical psychologists. Professionals evaluate and diagnose mental conditions for people at healthcare organizations, schools, and government agencies. They also treat patients through different approaches, such as psychotherapy.

Median Annual Salary: $79,010

Counseling psychologist

Professionals who specialize in forensic psychology may find jobs as counseling psychologists. These counselors work with patients long-term, helping them work through any trauma, or mental or behavioral disorders. Within forensic psychology, counseling psychologists often work with prisoners or clients battling substance abuse.

Median Annual Salary: $54,455

Clinical director

Professionals can work in leadership and managerial positions, such as a director of a clinical or a health organization's clinical department. A director of a psychological clinic should understand the practice and patient care services. However, they also need to create strategies for clinic growth and improvement. Clinical directors deal with human resources issues, including the hiring and management of employees.

Median Annual Salary: $74,660