To qualify as a licensed forensic psychologist through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP), students must hold a PhD or PsyD from a program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). Other types of licensure are dictated at the state level, but many allow graduates of master’s level programs to become a licensed professional counselor (LPC) or a licensed mental health counselor (LMHC).
A master’s degree in forensic psychology aims to prepare students for careers in a variety of positions related to criminal justice and the legal system.
Graduates should be equipped to apply appropriate psychological theories and frameworks within both legal and civil arenas. On an everyday basis, the work of forensic psychologists is rarely repetitive, as they are always encountering new people, situations and cases. Many professionals who hold a baccalaureate degree in forensic psychology or a related subject undertake this graduate degree as a way to move up in their careers, or as an interim step toward obtaining a doctorate.
After completing their education, graduates may pursue a variety of positions that require expert skills in assessing the mental health of both criminals and victims. Forensic psychologists may be employed by law firms, governmental agencies, private correctional facilities or nonprofit organizations, in roles such as case managers, expert witnesses, jury consultants, victims’ advocates or correctional officers.
Getting into a Master’s Degree Program in Forensic Psychology
Deciding to pursue a master’s degree in forensic psychology is only the first step toward being accepted into a program and beginning coursework. As students start researching potential programs, they may quickly notice most are quite small and competitive. Because of this, students need to select a school well-matched to their interests and abilities, and be prepared for the rigors of the admissions process. The following list helps prospective students think through everything they’ll need to do to get into a program.
1.Pick your program
Many master’s programs offer not only an overall degree in forensic psychology, but also specific concentrations, in areas ranging from child protection to corrections. Some programs are terminal and designed for those who don’t plan on pursuing a doctorate, while others are constructed as a bridge toward a more advanced degree. It’s worth taking the time to understand which programs the APA accredits, and how important that will be to your future career goals. Finally, don’t limit yourself to one program. Plan to apply to several schools so that you have more chances for acceptance, and more options when making your final decision.
2.Find out about testing
Forensic psychology programs tend to be divided when it comes to GRE requirements. While some have very specific score thresholds, others don’t require the examination at all. If the program you select does have this added step, plan to take the GRE in the October prior to the fall semester that you intend to start.
3.Dig for documents
Graduate school admissions panels need to see a variety of documents to support your application, including high school and undergraduate college transcripts, evidence of extracurricular and volunteer activities, special recognitions, and two to three recommendation letters. Start with the recommendation letters first, as these can take a while to collect from busy faculty and working professionals.
Especially in the case of schools that don’t require GRE scores, you’ll want to carefully craft your personal statements and essays. Each school is likely to have unique essay questions, so set aside ample time to focus on answering the questions honestly and articulately. It’s also advisable to ask a trusted friend or colleague to review your essays and provide feedback.
5.Send the applications
After pulling together all of your paperwork and reviewing it carefully, send each application according to the school’s requirements. Some may want them submitted online, while others will prefer registered mail.
6.Apply for financial aid
The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) must be completed to receive any federal funding, and funds are disbursed on a rolling basis. Get all your financial information ready in advance, and submit this application in January to give yourself the best chance.
7.Accept and decline offers
You may be accepted to multiple programs. Consider each carefully, assessing its format and content against what you hope to gain from a graduate program. Accept the one best suited to you, and decline the rest.
Master’s in Forensic Psychology Program Requirements
Master’s degrees in forensic psychology have varied outcomes, and as such they also have different requirements. No two programs are exactly alike, but there is overlap, and students may expect most programs to have some common conditions and prerequisites.
Students without background knowledge of psychology gained at the baccalaureate level will likely need to satisfy some prerequisites before beginning the master’s program in earnest. Common expected classes may include abnormal psychology, child psychology, experimental psychology, statistics, and research methods. Some programs may allow students to complete the GRE subject test in psychology as an alternative. Other common requirements include a GRE score (if applicable), a specific minimum GPA, or demonstrated interest in the field. The majority of applications will be due in December or January prior to starting in the fall semester.
Several factors influence the requirements needed to complete the master’s degree, such as whether the program is terminal or non-terminal, or whether the student is pursuing a specific concentration that may require additional courses. Typically, master’s degrees in forensic psychology range between 32 and 60 credit hours, and can be completed in two to three years of full-time study. Once enrolled, students undertake a variety of coursework, experiential projects, and practical assignments. Some programs may require candidates to complete an internship or practicum, while others may simply offer it as an option.
Goals of the Master’s in Forensic Psychology
Reviewing the goals of any forensic psychology program is a crucial step in selecting a school, as it guides students onto a particular path and will likely shape their future careers. Some of the more common objectives of programs at this level include:
Developing a critical understanding of practices and theories
Students will receive ample exposure to forensic psychology frameworks and perspectives. Through experiential situations, they’ll learn how to apply both psychological and legal knowledge in cases representative of the profession.
Building awareness of the research spectrum
Students will be exposed to both cornerstone texts of the field as well as emerging research about applying forensic psychology principles. Students learn to use this knowledge to develop their own nuanced skills in assessing criminals and victims.
Mastering research methods and applications
Research plays a significant role in the work of forensic psychologists; students will learn how to use statistics and raw data to build research methodologies and conduct their own original projects.
Understanding cultural, social and interpersonal factors
Students should become attuned to the many interrelated factors contributing to behaviors and learn how to apply this knowledge when working with a variety of individuals.
Adhering to legal and ethical standards
Whether working with youths or seniors, or victims or criminals, forensic psychologists must take into account the legal and ethical factors that govern working with different populations, as well as the ramifications of their research or practice. They should understand how to follow precedents and protocols related to the proper administration of cases.
Master’s in Forensic Psychology Program Description
Most master’s degrees in forensic psychology are completed in two years of full-time study, while part-time students usually graduate within four years. The majority of degrees are structured to build foundational skills in the first year and then progress into dealing with real-world situations in the second year. Some of the common themes and topics students explore include:
This group of courses exposes students to common research tools such as conducting interviews, writing reports, gathering and analyzing statistics, reviewing forensic evidence, utilizing research frameworks, and developing their own research methodologies.
Forensic Mental Health
Getting into the minds of criminals and victims is a crucial skill for forensic psychologists. This block of courses covers the operations of the American legal system; the use of testimony; how to collect and analyze evidence; the psychology of violent behavior; the corrections system; and working with special populations such as juveniles or women.
Law and Psychology
Forensic psychology is defined as the convergence of the legal arena and the psychological arena, and these classes are designed to expand on that notion. Students will learn about how forensic psychologists work within the legal system to aid defendants, accusers, judges and lawyers. They will also learn about specific roles within these arenas, including work as expert witnesses, trial consultants, or specialists in the jury selection process.
What makes someone commit a crime? It’s a broad question and one with a complex web of answers. Students explore the forces that motivate crime, delving into the minds of those who have committed, or been accused of committing, an unlawful act. They also learn about common tactics and psychological frameworks used to complete cognitive and behavioral assessments, prevent future crimes, and treat both victims and perpetrators.
Depending on the particular program or area of concentration, students may engage in a number of classes devoted to specialized populations or areas of work. Common topics include ethical issues, the influence of cultural contexts, working with juvenile offenders, the effects of substance abuse on criminal behavior, and working with incarcerated individuals.
Most programs require that students complete eight to 12 credits of practica, totaling 700-1,000 hours of experience. Common settings include courtrooms, consulting firms, corrections facilities, police departments, and psychological treatment centers.
The Online Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology
How it works
The majority of online master’s degrees in forensic psychology can be completed entirely online, though a few do require campus visits during the program. In addition to those available fully online, a number of schools also offer degrees structured as a hybrid model, allowing students to blend in-person and distance learning. Though licensure as a forensic psychologist isn’t available until a doctorate is completed, the LPC or LMHC designations can be acquired with a master’s degree; students are advised to check their individual state’s requirements and ensure the program will fulfill those requirements.
Online students undertake many of the same basic assignments as do their brick-and-mortar peers, though with slightly different structures. Weekly discussions via online learning platform forums are common, as are research papers, examinations, and special assignments. Most programs are asynchronous, allowing students to complete their tasks at a time best suited to their schedules. Support services may include practicum placements, tutoring, writing support, academic advising, and technical support.
Online Forensic Psychology Master’s Q&A
Does the APA recognize online programs?
The American Psychological Association only accredits graduate programs at the doctoral level, so no master’s in forensic psychology, online or otherwise, is APA-accredited. The decision by the APA to accredit only at the doctoral level extends to all psychology-related degrees.
Is the academic quality the same?
This depends on the individual school, but many have made strides to make their online offerings just as rigorous as traditional programs. The same faculty who teach on-campus courses are also instrumental in developing and facilitating the online degree process. A good program will work with online students to find an appropriate location to complete practicum requirements in their area while also providing engaging and high-quality coursework.
How do I get the face-to-face experience required for this degree?
While not all programs require students to complete an internship or practicum hours, the best work with various organizations to provide this experience. Some schools have an established network of sites where students can get hands-on experience, and others have staff members who work with online students to find locations suited to their interests and geographical location. Some programs are also starting to offer virtual field experiences, in which students use a webcam to watch a forensic psychologist during their daily work, and ask questions along the way.
How do I collaborate with instructors and other students?
Students and faculty interact via the school’s online learning platform, using online discussions, interactive videos, audio streaming, and classes delivered through webcams.
Finding a Master’s in Forensic Psychology Program: What to Look For
Area of study
With a number of institutions offering online master’s degrees in forensic psychology, it’s important to choose one that offers a concentration relevant to your future interests. For example, some programs will be focused on correctional facility aspects, while others may hone in on courtroom proceedings or serving special populations.
Preparation for the future
Depending on whether they want to enter the workforce after attaining a master’s degree or continue on for a doctorate in forensic psychology, students should check whether the program offers a terminal or non-terminal degree. In either case, programs that prioritize their students’ goals will be more focused and better equipped to help students take a long-range view of their careers. Look for schools with staff members who can assist students in thinking through their next steps and provide resources to help achieve them.
Although many schools either require or offer practicum/internship opportunities, some don’t have them at all. Gaining practical experience gives forensic psychologists a foundation for working in a variety of settings and tackling a range of situations and problems, so finding a program with an experiential component is highly desirable.
Ongoing research ensures that the field of forensic psychology is ever-evolving. To stay abreast of the latest findings and trends, students should seek out departments with faculty who are either active in research projects or have significant professional experience.
Alumni of master’s degrees in forensic psychology may choose a number of paths after graduating, whether it be seeking a license or continuing their education at the doctoral level. Check with the department to find out what recent graduates are doing, and how successful they are. What percentage of students are accepted into graduate programs? How many find relevant employment shortly after graduation? Some alumni may be willing to share their experiences at your prospective institution.
Scholarships, Fellowships and other Forensic Psychology Master’s Resources
John A. Reisenbach Memorial Scholarship
This scholarship is made available to graduate students enrolled in the forensic psychology program at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York. Students must complete an essay and hold a GPA of 3.5 or better.
Leadership, Public Service and Justice Scholarship
Forensic Psychology students at Adler University are eligible to apply for this $3,000 nonrenewable scholarship. There is no separate application and awards are made at the time of admission.
MacArthur Award: Grant-in-Aid
This award is given to students who show promise in areas of research related to criminal competence.
Forensic Mental Health Conference Scholarship,
In exchange for light administrative duties, six students are awarded a scholarship covering tuition and lodging to attend the Forensic Mental Health Association of California’s annual conference.
The Chicago School Merit Scholarship
Students enrolled in The Chicago School’s MA in forensic psychology degree program may apply for this merit-based scholarship provided they have a cumulative GPA of 4.0 or a GRE score of 314. The award totals up to $10,000 over two years.
Pioneer Psychology Faculty Fund Award,
This one-time, $1,000 scholarship is available to graduate students enrolled at the University of Florida pursuing post-baccalaureate studies in forensic psychology.
Richard McGrath Memorial Scholarship
This funding is available to students who are studying a 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.
Ford Foundation Fellowship
This fellowship is awarded to minority students enrolled in a master’s level psychology program such as forensic psychology.
SDE Graduate Women in Science
Women who are pursuing post-baccalaureate studies in scientific fields such as forensic psychology are eligible to apply for this $10,000 fellowship.
Lizette Peterson-Home Injury Prevention Grant,
A $5,000 award is available to students who are studying forensic psychology and researching the prevention of injury to children or adolescents by lessening the instances of violence, abuse, accidents, and suicide.
Learn.org Master’s Scholarship in Psychology
This nonrenewable award is presented to graduate students pursuing a psychology degree, including forensic psychology. Winners receive $500 to apply to tuition.
American Psychological Foundation Scholarships
APF offers a variety of scholarships for graduate students enrolled in master’s level programs, including forensic psychology. Amounts range from $1,000 up to $5,000.
The Violet and Cyril Franks Scholarship
This award is made to graduate students using psychological perspectives to reduce and remove stigmas related to mental illnesses.
Albert Bandura Graduate Research Award
Students seeking to do an empirical research project in psychology are eligible for this $1,200 award. The results are presented at a psychology convention or published in a psychology journal.
Gene Cart Student Paper Competition
This competition calls for criminology-related papers up to 7,500 words, and winners receive a one-time $1,000 award.
Donald Snygg Graduate Scholarship
Graduate students at the State University of New York are eligible to win this $1,250 scholarship presented to students pursuing degrees in psychology and related subjects.
Lorraine Thomas Endowed Scholarship
Nova Southeastern University students who are enrolled in a psychology-related master’s degree program and who show an interest in working with adolescents and children are eligible to receive funding from this program.
Nancy B. Forest and L. Michael Honaker Grant for Research in Psychology
Open to members of the American Psychological Association of Graduate Students (APAGS), this $1,000 grant was established to fund master’s level research leading to a psychology-related thesis.