Though TV may have overly glamorized it, there's no doubt that forensic psychology is an important part of the criminal justice process. Forensic psychologists perform the duties of clinical psychology -- observing, interpreting, assessing, experimenting with and recording how people relate to each other and their environments -- specifically as it pertains to crime. These professionals assess those who are involved with or commit crimes, usually reporting their findings in criminal proceedings. They often must evaluate defendants' competency and give testimony in court.
This area of psychology requires specialized postgraduate education, usually at the doctoral level. According to the American Psychological Association, unlike psychology -- which is usually an undergraduate major -- the practice of forensic psychology typically requires either a PhD or PsyD degree in the specialty, along with at least two years of supervised professional experience. The benefit of online degree programs for forensic psychology is that its convenience enables professionals working in the field who are interested in pursuing this specialization to do so from anywhere or while working full time.
Best Online Colleges for Forensic Psychology in 2018-19
To help guide the search for the programs that best meet students' interests and needs, we've used data from the National Center for Education Statistics' Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) to rank the best online colleges for this subject. Weighing factors such as number and types of related degrees offered, tuition, graduation data and more (for more details on our proprietary methodology, see the bottom of this page), we've developed this ranking of the 10 best online colleges for forensic psychology.
Missouri State University - Springfield
Old Dominion University
The University of Texas of the Permian Basin
Indiana State University
Westfield State University
Blue Mountain College
University of Missouri - St. Louis
Saint Leo University
University of Massachusetts - Lowell
University of North Dakota
Degree Overview: Forensic Psychology
What should a student expect to experience in the course of an online degree program for forensic psychology? Continue reading this section for information on the coursework that students in these programs may be required to complete, as well as the skills they can learn as they work on their degrees.
Online Forensic Psychology Courses
Because of the tremendous responsibility forensic psychologists have, the scope and coverage of their education is extremely important. Although one online college for forensic psychology may have a very different curriculum from another, the following are some examples of the course topics students are likely to find in their programs.
- Abnormal psychology:Abnormal psychology looks at the differences between normal and abnormal reactions to the environment, and the different psychological disorders people may suffer from.
- Psychological assessment: "Psychological assessment" is the art of evaluating people based on personality, emotional and cognitive functioning. Learning how to perform this skill and how to apply the information to forensic situations is the goal of courses in this subject.
- Victimology: Victimology is the study of crime victims and the different ways a crime can impact their lives. In addition, victimology courses usually touch on how criminals target their victims, helping a forensic psychologist to trace possible patterns in criminal activity more easily.
- Criminal psychology: This class works to help students gain an understanding of how criminals behave and how they are influenced by their psychosocial environment. It dovetails neatly with abnormal psychology, and could be considered one of the more important courses for a forensic psychologist to take.
- Testimony: This course can help students develop the ability to provide effective testimony in court. Courses touch on information such as evidentiary issues that may arise as a result of psychological testimony, as well as techniques for answering questions during direct and cross examinations.
Career-Related Skills to Develop
In order to manage their responsibilities effectively, forensic psychologists must develop several skills during their education. The following are some of the skills that can be most useful to these professionals once they are in the field.
- Critical thinking: Forensic psychologists analyze a criminal's behavior and determine what it means in the context of the case they're working on. In order to do this, these professionals must be able to apply strong critical thinking skills to the evidence they can gather about both suspects and crime scenes.
- Legal: While forensic psychologists don't have to be as familiar with the law as attorneys and police officers, they still need to have a working knowledge of the law and the role their work plays in the legal process.
- Verbal communication: Forensic psychologists talk to law enforcement officials and lawyers about their cases, examine defendants and testify in court. In order to do all of this effectively, they need strong enough verbal communication skills to express themselves clearly and accurately.
- Listening: To gain an appropriate understanding of the people they're examining, forensic psychologists must be able to listen with care. It is important to understand what people are saying, and sometimes what they may not be saying, in order to find the truth of a situation.
- Assessment: Forensic psychologists have to determine if someone accused of a crime is legally responsible for their actions. Assessment skills are needed to evaluate defendants and diagnose any mental illnesses they have.
Forensic Psychology Career Outlook
The field of forensic psychology can be used in many different ways to help professionals work in concert in order to solve crimes. The following are some examples of forensic psychology careers, including information on the daily job duties of professionals and the education needed to earn each position.
In order to land a job as a forensic science technician, candidates need to complete a bachelor's degree in a natural science. In some cases, employers may favor candidates who have earned a master's degree in a specific forensic discipline.
In order to be successful in this career, professionals must have strong communication, leadership, critical thinking, listening and negotiation skills. These important skills are often refined by participating in a training academy, where detectives and investigators can learn about local, state and federal laws; firearm use; patrol techniques; and emergency response methods.
For this career, professionals are generally required to earn a graduate degree. In some cases, forensic psychologists may be required obtain a state license.