2023 Best Online Forensic Psychology PhD Programs [Doctoral Guide]

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Forensic psychology PhD programs can help prepare you for work in academia, research, or the justice system. Throughout a doctoral degree program, you will have the opportunity to develop your qualitative and quantitative research skills as well as strengthen your knowledge of psychology.

Best Online Forensic Psychology PhD Program

Many individuals who study forensic psychology also graduate with stronger communication and critical thinking skills.

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If you desire to have a positive effect on the lives of those impacted by the criminal justice system, earning a doctorate in this field may be a strategic step in your professional development.

Online Forensic Psychology PhD Programs

Woman getting Forensic Psychology PhD online

Forensic psychology is a discipline that examines the links between human action and the judicial system. Forensic psychologists use fundamental psychological principles to understand and address individuals who are impacted by the legal system.

Forensic psychologists work with either the prosecution or defense, and they often deal with a variety of parties, including victims, witnesses, and attorneys. They can also play a part in evaluating individuals who may be eligible for parole or child custody.

Doctorate programs in forensic psychology cover subject matter from the fields of criminal justice and psychology, with an emphasis on how to conduct research. Coursework in PhD programs vary between schools, but common topics include:

  • Theories of psychology
  • Police psychology
  • Criminal behavior
  • Intersection of crime, psychology, and the law
  • Quantitative reasoning and analysis
  • Treatment of forensic populations
  • Psychology in the courts
  • Research foundations

In addition to your program’s core courses, you’ll likely be required to complete a dissertation. A dissertation is an opportunity to conduct scholarly research into an area of your choosing within the field.

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Typically, students are asked to defend their dissertation in front of a panel of professors before submitting their completed document. In a PhD forensic psychology program, you will also have the opportunity to specialize in a specific area of study, such as:

  • Crisis response
  • Legal issues
  • Victimology
  • Crisis leadership management

Available concentrations differ between schools for both on-campus as well as online programs, with some permitting you to design your own specialization.

Earning a doctoral degree can lead to many different career paths, most of which affect community change and impact the lives of individuals who are involved with the legal system. Individuals with a forensic science PhD may pursue positions such as:

  • Criminal researchers
  • Crime scene consultants
  • Criminal profilers
  • Postsecondary teachers
  • Forensic psychologists
  • Correctional psychologists

Because PhD programs focus heavily on building research skills, forensic psychologists work in academia or research after graduation. They might investigate common psychological and legal issues facing communities and work to develop solutions to these problems.

Forensics Psychology Careers & Salaries

Forensics Psychology Careers & Salaries

Equipped with an advanced understanding of the criminal justice system and foundational psychological theories, graduates with their PhD in Forensic Psychology may find diverse employment opportunities.

Many individuals choose to continue their career in research. They may build upon the skills they learned in their doctorate program to explore and address pressing psychological issues in legal, political, and social arenas in a range of communities.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the advanced study of forensic psychology could be complementary to a number of career paths, such as the following.  

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Sociologists $92,910
Social Scientists and Related Workers, All Other $84,430
Detectives and Criminal Investigators $83,640
Psychologists $81,040
Postsecondary Psychology Teachers $77,860
Social and Community Service Managers $74,000
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists $60,250
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $48,520
News Analysts, Reporters, and Journalists $48,370
Correctional Officers and Bailiffs $47,920

Because the field of forensic psychology is a relatively new one, data regarding related job titles and salaries is still emerging. Additionally, some of the careers listed require additional schooling or certification. Psychologists and counselors, for example, need to obtain specific licensure to practice.

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It’s helpful to remember that earning a degree, even one as advanced as a PhD, does not ensure a specific position or salary after graduation. Factors like previous professional experience, career aspirations, and research skills can all impact your job search.

PhD in Forensic Psychology Online Curriculum & Courses

Forensic Psychologists completing their PhD online

Much like online masters in forensic psychology degree programs, online doctorate degrees in this field will include information in the areas of research, psychology, and criminology.

Every program offering forensics degrees online is unique, but here are some example courses:

  • Theories of Psychology: This course examines and explores prominent theories in psychology, covering areas like cognitive and social development, decision-making, and psychological disorders.
  • Police Psychology: In this course, you’ll study psychology as it relates to police officers, studying topics such as police families, minority groups in law enforcement, and police training.
  • Criminal Behavior: This course is an exploration of the psychology of criminal behavior, and it explores concepts such as nature versus nurture and developmental and social factors that influence criminality.
  • Intersection of Crime, Psychology, and the Law: This course explores the ways in which crime, psychology, and law are connected and influenced by each other, covering topics like criminal profiling, mental health law, and correctional psychology.
  • Quantitative Reasoning and Analysis: Designed to prepare you for doctoral-level quantitative research, this class includes areas of study such as the logic of inference and common statistical tests.
  • Treatment of Forensic Populations: In this course, you’ll learn how to identify and work with diverse forensic populations, such as substance abusers or white-collar criminals.
  • Psychology in the Courts: This course explores the role of forensic psychologists working in the courts.
  • Research Foundations: Intended to provide support in the areas of quantitative and qualitative research, this class teaches useful tools and skills to utilize while learning how to conduct research.
  • Violence, Risk, and Threat Assessment: You’ll study common assessments used in a forensic psychology program, including juvenile evaluations and capital punishment.
  • Dissertation: You’ll work on completing your dissertation with the support of a faculty mentor.

The curriculum intends to equip you with a deep understanding of human behavior and the tools to create change within the criminal justice system.

How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

Forensic Psychologist interviewing a witness

In order to become a forensic psychologist, you’re typically required to earn a doctoral degree in the subject. While licensure requirements can vary by state, here are some of the common steps to becoming a forensic psychologist:

  • Bachelor’s. Earn a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a related subject area like psychology or criminology.
  • Master’s. Earn a master’s degree in forensic psychology.
  • Doctorate. Complete a PhD or PsyD in forensic psychology.
  • Professional experience. Receive forensics training, either through an internship or a specialized program.
  • State licensure. Obtain a state-issued license by completing supervised clinical hours and passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) exam.
  • Board certification. Obtain board certification through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).

Although board certification is not necessarily a requirement, it can help lend credibility to your arguments and establish you as an expert in your field. It is highly recommended that forensic psychologists with their state-issued licensure become board certified.

The advanced level of education required to become a forensic psychologist helps to ensure that you are prepared for the complex work of a psychologist within the criminal justice system. If you are hoping to work in a field connected to forensic psychology—such as social work or education—the requirements will differ.

Forensic Psychology Doctoral Program Admissions Requirements

Woman preparing requirements for her PhD in Forensic Psychology

Although admissions requirements are not the same for every institution, most have some similarities. A typical doctoral program admissions process will include the submission of the following items:

  • GRE or GMAT scores (only when required)
  • Official transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Resume or CV

When applying for online doctorate degrees, it could help to include previous work or volunteer experience in your prospective field of study. It demonstrates dedication and commitment to the subject, both of which are important in a PhD program.

Forensic Psychology Doctorate Programs Accreditation

University offering PhD in Forensic Psychology

When a team of accreditors evaluates the different parts of an educational program or school, the process is called accreditation.

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If you attend a regionally accredited university, you can trust that you’ll be taught a comprehensive curriculum in your area of study by qualified professors in up-to-date facilities. Regional accreditation ensures that your school meets predetermined standards of educational excellence. It is also necessary to attend a school that’s accredited if you are hoping to qualify for financial aid. 

Forensic Psychology Doctoral Programs APA Accreditation

The American Psychological Association (APA) is the top accrediting agency for forensic psychology doctoral programs.

When potential employers or clients see that you’ve earned a degree from an APA accredited institution, they’ll know that you have received a high-quality education in psychology. You can check whether your programs of interest have received APA accreditation before applying to ensure that your education provides a strong foundation on which to build a career in psychology.

Forensic Psychology Licensure and Certifications

Psychologist getting EPPP certification

Specific licensing and certification requirements can vary between states, but there are some common criteria.

For starters, it’s necessary to hold a doctoral degree in forensic psychology or a doctoral degree in general psychology with a focus on forensics. You can typically earn either a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) or a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) in the field.

After earning your doctoral degree, most states ask that you complete a specified number of supervised clinical hours under a licensed psychologist. From there, you may be eligible to take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), a licensure test that qualifies you to practice in forensic psychology.

Once you’re licensed, you can also pursue industry certification through the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).

Financial Aid and Scholarships

Forensic Psychology PhD Financial Aid

To help alleviate some of the costs connected with earning a doctoral degree, many students choose to apply for financial aid.

The most common forms of financial aid are federal grants, loans, and work-study programs. The amount of financial aid that you can receive from the government will depend on personal factors, such as your family income level and current enrollment status.

You can find out how much need-based aid you qualify for by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). In addition to federal aid, many states offer aid programs of their own. You can also research scholarship opportunities offered at your college or university. Most schools have unique scholarship programs for their students based on a range of criteria, such as academic or creative achievement.

Many companies and organizations also offer scholarships. Some employers even have tuition benefits for workers who are furthering their education.

What Can I Do with a PhD in Forensic Psychology?

There are many professional opportunities within education, academia, research, and law enforcement for graduates with a PhD in Forensic Psychology degrees.

Some students with forensic psychology degrees choose to become social workers, helping individuals in the criminal and juvenile justice systems. Others choose to focus on the psychology portion of the degree, obtaining a professional license and working in private practice as a psychologist.

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Still others decide to continue building on the research they began during their doctorate program, studying specific crimes or questioning suspects.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Forensic Psychologist?

Forensic Psychologist pursuing his PhD degree online

The traditional route to becoming a forensic psychologist includes earning a bachelors, masters, and doctoral degree prior to acquiring a license.

Earning a bachelor’s degree typically takes 4 years with full-time study. A master’s degree program consists of less credit hours and can generally be completed in 1 to 2 years if enrolled full-time. A doctorate degree requires the largest time commitment, with most individuals finishing their studies in 3 to 5 years.

Many schools offer accelerated programs, though, which could allow you to finish your education in less time. In order to become a licensed forensic psychologist, you’ll also complete supervised clinical hours in the field. How long this component takes will likely depend on your state’s requirements.

What’s the Difference Between a PhD vs. PsyD in Forensic Psychology?

Here are some of the differences between a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Forensic Psychology and a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) in Forensic Psychology.

PhD in Forensic Psychology PsyD in Forensic Psychology
  • More research oriented
  • Focuses on conducting research and contributing new knowledge to the field
  • Often requires a dissertation
  • More practice oriented
  • Centers around applying existing knowledge to clinical care
  • May have a capstone project in lieu of a dissertation

PhD candidates are often most interested in the fields of research and academia. The right degree for you will depend on your career aspirations and personal interests.

What’s the Difference Between a PhD in Criminal Psychology vs. Forensic Psychology?

Criminal and forensic psychology degrees differ mostly in their scope of study. While criminal psychology has a narrower focus, forensic psychology encapsulates a wider range of topics.

Criminal Psychology Forensic Psychology
  • Has a narrower focus
  • Specifically studies crime and criminal behavior
  • Has a broader focus
  • Covers topics like criminal and civil law, mental health law, victimology, juvenile counseling, and prison reform

Criminal psychology is sometimes seen as a subfield of forensic psychology. The degree you find most compelling will likely depend on your career goals after graduation.

Is a Doctorate Degree in Forensic Psychology Worth It?

Detective & Forensic Psychologist interviewing a witness

Yes, a doctorate degree in forensic psychology is worth it for many professionals. Forensic psychologists have a unique opportunity to use their knowledge about psychology and the justice system to impact the lives of many individuals, groups, and communities.

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In addition to helping others, those with a doctorate in forensic psychology also have the chance to contribute significant research to relevant topics within the field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of psychologists is projected to grow 8% over the next ten years. A doctoral degree in this field could also complement careers in law enforcement, academia, and social services.

Universities Offering Online PhD in Forensic Psychology Degree Program

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Fielding Graduate University

Fielding Graduate University

Fielding Graduate University offers a PhD in Clinical Psychology. The program seeks to help graduates enter the field of clinical psychology as competent scholars and teach them how to employ evidence-based strategies in their practice. The program offers concentrations in Health Psychology, Neuropsychology, Social Justice and Diversity, and Forensic Psychology. Each concentration requires additional courses and fieldwork.

Fielding Graduate University is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

University of Arizona

University of Arizona

The University of Arizona offers a Doctor of Psychology. The program is designed for students who are committed to improving the mental health of their communities in their practices. Classes are 6 to 9 weeks long and taken one at a time. Accepted students may transfer in up to 30 approved credits from outside institutions.

The University of Arizona is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of North Georgia

University of North Georgia

The University of North Georgia offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Criminal Justice with a concentration in Intelligence. The program is designed for students pursuing intelligence and research roles in private sectors or in federal, state, and local government agencies. Students may attend either part-time or full-time, and all 54 credits can be completed remotely via asynchronous online classes.

UNG is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Walden University

Walden University

Walden University offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Forensic Psychology. The curriculum is designed to give students insight into crime, its motivating behaviors and issues, and the legal system. It aims to prepare graduates for careers in consulting, research, and teaching. Multiple tracks are available for students of varying professional and educational backgrounds, as well as several concentration options.

Walden is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Getting Your Doctorate in Forensic Psychology Online

Woman completing her Doctorate in Forensic Psychology Online

Earning a doctorate degree is an essential step on the road to becoming a licensed forensic psychologist.

PhD students have the opportunity to strengthen their foundations in psychology and criminology while conducting research into areas of interest within the discipline. Additionally, many graduates go on to pursue licensure or careers in research and academia.  

If you’re interested in advancing your professional development through online programs, you could start exploring online forensic psychology degree doctoral programs from accredited schools today.

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Molly holds a B.A in Literature from the University of California - Santa Cruz and a Master of Arts in Teaching from the University of San Francisco. A Seattle-based educator, Molly focuses on student-centered instruction and creating culturally responsive curriculum.