Earning a Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology Online

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October 3, 2019

Should I Pursue a Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology Online?

Forensic psychologists apply their psychological training to legal and criminal justice issues, working throughout law enforcement, the court system, social services, healthcare, and education. They may be tasked with developing and assessing treatment programs, consulting with trial attorneys and judges, providing expert testimony, conducting clinical evaluations and counseling, and serving as teaching and research faculty in postsecondary institutions. In short, graduates of online forensic psychology doctorate degree programs enter challenging and rewarding positions with greater responsibilities and higher salaries than those with less advanced degrees.

Working as a licensed forensic psychologist usually requires a doctoral degree. The best Ph.D. in forensic psychology candidates approach problems analytically, possess a broad knowledge of the law and the legal system, and leverage their extensive psychological and research training.

Many schools have introduced online paths to a doctoral degree. The flexibility of distance learning can appeal to professionals already working in the field, as well as to those with personal commitments that hamper their ability to attend on-campus degree programs.

Employment Outlook for Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology Graduates

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects a healthy employment outlook for all psychologists — including those in forensic specialties — with an overall projected growth rate of 14% through 2026. The increasing demand for forensic psychologists reflects the recognition of the invaluable service they perform in the legal and judicial systems, healthcare facilities, and academic institutions.

While forensics psychologists employed by government and law enforcement agencies earn the most competitive salaries, those working in clinical settings, counseling, and consulting also find a variety of well-paying positions. In addition to a broad-based understanding of psychology and law, forensic psychologists must possess a strong background in research methodology, superior interpersonal and communication skills, and well-developed analytical and problem-solving abilities.

Department Chair (College/University)

Average Annual Salary: $84,898

Department chairs preside over college and university forensic psychology programs. They administer the curriculum and set program goals for their academic units. Their responsibilities include hiring and evaluating faculty and staff, scheduling courses, advising students, and overseeing operational budgets. They also administer research initiatives within their departments, allocating grants and other funding.

Forensic Psychologist

Average Annual Salary: $79,010

These licensed professionals must hold a doctorate in a forensic psychology specialization. They work in courts, correctional facilities, hospitals, private clinics, government and law enforcement agencies, and other settings. They use their knowledge of psychological principles and assessment to assist judges, attorneys, and other legal professionals in civil or criminal cases.

Postsecondary Teacher

Average Annual Salary: $78,470

Most higher education institutions hire postsecondary educators who have earned a Ph.D. Postsecondary faculty in forensic psychology or a related field develop instructional plans and syllabi, and teach courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Their responsibilities also include advising students, conducting research and publishing their findings, and serving on committees.

Research Scientist

Average Annual Salary: $78,205

Most research scientists have earned advanced graduate degrees. They apply their specialized knowledge to conduct pure and applied research in government agencies, private organizations, and educational institutions. They design and carry out research projects, analyze data, publish their findings in scientific journals and books, and write grant proposals for funding.

Clinical Psychologist

Average Annual Salary: $77,250

Clinical psychologists typically have earned a master's or Ph.D. in clinical or counseling psychology, forensic psychology, or a related field. They must also hold a valid license to practice. They work in a variety of settings, and their duties include evaluating patients, diagnosing mental disorders and behavioral issues, preparing treatment plans, and administering individual and group therapy.

Source: BLS, PayScale.com

What Can I Expect From an Online Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology Program?

While degree requirements for an online forensic psychology doctorate vary from school to school, most programs share some common features. Curricula generally emphasize research methodology and statistics, the psychopathology of criminals, and prevalent applications and practices. The following course descriptions illustrate some of the classes students can expect at the doctoral level.

Curriculum for an Online Doctorate Degree in Forensic Psychology

Psychopathology and Abnormal Behavior

This course introduces students to forensic psychopathology — the study and practice of psychopathology in a legal context. The course examines the major forms of abnormal, dysfunctional and maladaptive behavior, focusing on adult psychopathology. Students learn about assessments, evaluations, definitions of disorders, and diagnostic criteria using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).

Forensic Psychology and the Legal System

Students in this course apply psychological theories, methods, principles, research, and data to criminal, civil, and family law. The course examines the role of forensic psychologists in court cases as expert witnesses, trial consultants, and specialists in jury selection. The course also addresses applications for child custody evaluations, competency evaluation of defendants, threat evaluations for schools or employers, and counseling crime victims.

Domestic Violence

This course analyzes the psychological profile of perpetrators of domestic violence and their impact on victims, families, and communities. The course examines the cycle of domestic violence, traumatic bonding and power imbalance, and Stockholm syndrome. Course content places a special emphasis on how the criminal court system and social services handle domestic violence cases.

Forensic Psychology in Family Proceedings

This course explores historical and contemporary approaches to the protection of children under the law. Students examine the responsibilities of the state and family, education, legal treatment of abused or neglected children, government entitlement programs for children, and medical treatment of children. Other topics include adoption, surrogacy, and parentage. The course also addresses the treatment of children accused of crimes and children with disabilities.

Forensic Psychological Assessment

This course examines various forensic assessment instruments and forensic evaluations, including competency to stand trial, criminal insanity defenses, pre-sentencing, and risk of dangerousness evaluations. Students analyze types of interventions for adults, juveniles, and special populations; best practices for the communication of assessments to the courts and other referral sources; and legal and ethical responsibilities.

Certifications and Licenses a Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology Prepares For

Professional Organizations & Resources

Whether you earn a doctorate in forensic psychology online or in a traditional campus-based program, membership in one of the professional associations for forensic psychology can give you a competitive edge as you enter your career. These organizations provide invaluable resources, such as networking possibilities with professionals already established in the field, information about new developments in specialized areas, and certification programs and continuing education opportunities. Many associations also provide their members with career resources and job listings.

Professional Organizations

American Academy of Forensic Sciences

AAFS supports the application of forensic sciences to the criminal justice system. The organization draws members from across the forensic sciences, including practitioners and researchers who share an interest in collaborating to improve education, research, and forensic science practice.

American Academy of Forensic Psychology

As the educational and training division of the American Board of Forensic Psychology, the AAFP maintains a continuing education program in forensic psychology, provides a forum for the exchange of scientific information, and confers awards to outstanding practitioners.

American Psychology – Law Society

This affiliate of APA offers resources for students, researchers, and early career psychologists working in forensic psychology or related fields. Student members benefit from valuable information on careers and employment opportunities, internships, and postdoctoral opportunities.

International Association for Correctional and Forensic Psychology

IACFP promotes the development of evidence-based, practitioner-informed policies to support forensic psychologists, corrections workers, and mental health professionals working with criminal offenders. The association publishes research on the etiology, assessment, and treatment of criminal behavior.

Association of Forensic DNA Analysts and Administrators

This professional association draws its membership from forensic analysts and administrators engaged in forensic DNA analysis for the judicial system. AFDAA shares new developments about DNA analysis techniques and methods, provides continuing education, and maintains a job bank.


The National Institute of Justice

NIJ is the research, development, and evaluation branch of the U.S. Department of Justice. NIJ provides several resources, training tools, and funding opportunities for criminal justice professionals and students.

Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct

APA's ethical code presents a set of rules to guide the practice of psychologists across specialities, including forensic psychology. Membership in APA commits members and student affiliates to comply with the standards of the ethics code and the rules and procedures used to enforce them.

Forensic Science in Criminal Courts: Ensuring Scientific Validity of Feature-Comparison Methods

This major research monograph published by the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in 2016 contains recommendations to various federal agencies on ways to strengthen forensic science applications in the courtroom.

Forensic Psychology Resources and References

The Zur Institute, which administers certification and continuing education programs for mental health professionals, maintains this comprehensive collection of forensic psychology resources and references. The website features links to research monographs and and ethical guidelines for forensic psychologists.

Specialty Guidelines for Forensic Psychology

Developed by APA in association with its American Psychology-Law affiliate, these guidelines present standards for professional conduct and practice of forensic psychologists in the legal and criminal justice systems and other organizations.

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