As I indicated in the first article in this series—about the Chicago School of Professional Psychology’s Online Masters Program—I have been thinking a lot about online education. As a professor who has recently begun to teach online, I find that the pedagogy and style of online teaching can facilitate greater and more in-depth discussions than is typically experienced in more traditional teaching formats. My question, then, is what about taking an entire program of study, such as a Master’s degree, online? With the significant increase in the number of online programs of study available over the last few years, I decided to have an in-depth look at some of the more popular fully online masters programs in forensic psychology. This article takes a look at the program offered by the University of North Dakota.
Online Master’s Program in Forensic Psychology
The University of North Dakota (UND) offers a fully online Masters program in Forensic Psychology, with the only residency requirement being a 2-week intensive on-campus capstone course that is to be taken in the last summer semester of the program.
Without too much trouble, I was able to locate the list of coursework to be completed as part of this program as well as information that described this program as being comparable to the coursework, assignments, and deadlines for the on-campus masters program in forensic psychology.
In addition to completing 11 courses (8 of which are required; 3 of which are electives, meaning that students get to choose 3 courses from approximately 9 choices according to their interests), each student is required to complete an intensive 2-week, on-campus experience, which is described as follows:
The summer after you complete all of your coursework, you will spend 2 weeks on the UND campus in Grand Forks for the cumulating experience of your master’s degree program. As the only on-campus component of the program, the capstone experience integrates, extends and applies the knowledge you learned in previous online courses and readings. You will interact face-to-face with your instructors and work with fellow online students to prepare a paper and presentation. In addition, you will meet local professionals who deal with forensic issues, including:
- county judge
- FBI agent
- chief of police
- forensic psychologist
- violence intervention center director
- prosecuting and trial attorneys
The online masters program in forensic psychology consists of 34 credits of coursework as well as an intensive 2-week, on-campus capstone experience completed in the last summer semester. From the Catalogue, it appears as if students have a maximum of 7 years in which to complete all degree requirements.
It appears as if the typical student takes 6 credit hours (2 courses) per semester and completes the program in 6 semesters (2 full years).
Students in online degree programs at UND are charged tuition at the in-state rate, regardless of where they live. The estimates cost per credit hour is $406.74 (including fees), which brings the total approximate cost for the online Masters degree program to $13,829.16. This appears to be lower than many other online degree programs and is certainly comparable to many on-campus masters programs at state universities.
The online masters program in forensic psychology is described in the Catalogue as follows:
The Department of Psychology, in conjunction with the Division of Continuing Education, has designed an online forensic psychology program targeted for working professionals. The M.A. Forensic Psychology program is the first to be offered online by a nationally recognized, fully accredited university. Through the 34-credit M.A. program, students will learn how to provide the psychological expertise and knowledge needed by the legal community and agencies having a strong forensic focus. Students in the program will likely be in-service professionals, such as law enforcement personnel, who want to further their career, as well as those with a behavioral or social science background, such as counselors or social workers, who are interested in applying psychology to their work involving forensic issues.
UND’s high-quality forensic psychology program gives you: knowledge of advanced psychological concepts and theories related to contemporary forensic issues, outstanding analytical, statistical and evaluation skills, enhanced communication skills needed to function effectively in forensic settings, in-depth understanding of our legal system and the roles forensic psychologists play.
The website describes the program as follows:
The University of North Dakota’s online Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology program prepares you to apply psychology to legal systems. It emphasizes how to relate psychological evaluations to the criminal justice and social service systems.
UND’s online Forensic Psychology program gives you:
- knowledge of advanced psychological concepts and theories.
- outstanding analytical, statistical and evaluation skills.
- enhanced communication skills needed to function effectively in forensic settings.
- in-depth understanding of our legal system and the roles forensic psychologists play.
The program focuses on developing the skills and knowledge you need to work in the field of forensic psychology, including how to:
- conduct focus groups and assists lawyers in trial preparation and jury selection.
- select and utilize the most appropriate instruments for forensic assessment or evaluation.
- testify as an expert witness.
- provide agencies with research-based program evaluations.
- assist courts and state agencies in addressing forensic issues, such as:
- child custody
- sexual harassment
- injury assessment
Applicants are expected to have completed an undergraduate degree with a behavioral or social science major allied with psychology. In addition, they are expected to have obtained a minimum Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.0. The fine print on UND’s website, however, indicates that students who do not meet these requirements may be provisionally admitted to the online program with continued enrollment dependent upon success in the program.
The Graduate Record Exam (GRE) is not required for admission to the online masters program (although it IS required for the on-campus masters program). This most likely means that admission to the online masters programs is less restrictive than it is for other graduate programs (since the majority require at least taking the GRE, if not specific minimum scores on the test).
Licensure as a Psychologist
The information that I examined did not provide any details regarding whether a graduate of the online program might be eligible for licensure as a master’s level psychologist (in those jurisdictions that offer such a license). It is likely the case that this is possible, depending upon the specific electives the student chooses to complete. A student who completes the masters program without taking advantage of the supervised fieldwork experience will most likely have a more difficult time becoming licensed than the student who gains supervised clinical experience as part of the program.
The 34-credit hours are broken out into a total of 9 required courses (including the 2-week intensive on-campus experience) and a minimum of 3 elective courses. A brief description of each of the required courses and the available elective courses is provided below.
Required Courses (25 Credits)
PSYC 520 Foundations of Forensic Psychology (3 credits)
An in-depth examination of the field of forensic psychology including professional training, forensic work settings, and the application of psychological knowledge to issues like risk assessment, custody evaluations, assessment of sanity, competency, eyewitness accuracy, jury decision-making, police stress, and criminal profiling.
PSYC 521 Diversity Psychology (3 credits)
The purpose of this course is to provide students with an advanced consideration of the major issues in the study of diversity as it applies to the field of psychology.
PSYC 524 Psychology & Law (3 credits)
An in-depth examination of the interaction between psychology and law. The course will look at how psychological research and theories are applied to legal issues.
PSYC 528 Forensic Psychology Capstone (2 credits) On-Campus: 2 weeks
Provides students with an opportunity to meet the faculty and forensic students and to share the results of their Independent Study during the summer on the UND campus. Students will also work on a team project related to developing an amicus brief. This two week course is required for all MA in Forensic Psychology students and should be taken during the summer semester of their anticipated summer graduation.
PSYC 541 Advanced Univariate Statistics (3 credits)
Theory of univariate statistics; application to quantitative data in psychology.
PSYC 560 Advanced Social Psychology (3 credits)
In-depth examination of the theoretical and empirical literature in social psychology focusing on attitudes, stereotyping and prejudice, interpersonal relationships, social cognition, personality and the self, and group behavior. Also includes additional course readings and written work beyond the requirements for Psychology 460.
PSYC 575 Behavior Pathology (3 credits)
A survey of various forms of behavior pathology with emphasis upon current research and theories relating to pathology.
PSYC 593 Readings in Psychology (3 credits)
Selected readings in psychology.
PSYC 997 Independent Study (2 credits)
Requires a student to complete an empirical study based on either a research investigation or a scholarly review paper on a topic of interest. The student will identify a topic, followed by close interaction with an advisor to clarify the objectives and goals of the project. The student will then get approved by his/her advisor with an agreement reached about the final product expected, e.g., a research report or an integrative, review paper.
Elective Courses (9 Credits minimum)
PSYC 501 Psychological Foundations of Education (3 credits)
A study of the learning process with secondary emphasis on how the learning process is affected by individual differences, growth, development, and personality.
PSYC 526 Psychological Profiling & Criminal Behavior (3 credits)
An examination of modern profiling techniques applied to criminal behavior, e.g., serial murder, rape, stalking, and child molestation. Psychological autopsies will also be studied.
PSYC 539 Cognitive Psychology (3 credits)
An in-depth analysis and discussion (including laboratory work) of topics covering issues related to memory, attention, problem solving, comprehension, and thinking.
PSYC 572 Community Psychology (3 credits)
Theories and practicum in community mental health consultation.
PSYC 576 Child Psychopathology & Treatment (3 credits)
An overview of child and developmental psychopathology including discussion of pertinent treatments for disorders such as conduct disorders, attention-deficit, substance abuse, and developmental disabilities.
PSYC 587 Supervised Fieldwork (1-3 credits)
Used primarily for individualized field placement so that the student may acquire practicum experiences in clinical settings, community psychology, and group methods.
PSYC 594 Special Topics: Conflict Management (3 credits)
An intensive examination of the nature of social conflict, its effects on people, and processes and skills useful for the effective management of conflict.
PSYC 594 Special Topics: Neuropsychology (3 credits)
This course is designed to introduce students to the study of Neuropsychology. This introduction will cover topics including history of neuropsychology, how the brain works, how the brain develops, disorders of the brain, assessment and diagnosis issues, and rehabilitation and intervention.
PSYC 594 Special Topics: Psychopharmacology (3 credits)
This course provides students with knowledge in the pharmacology of psychopathology.
The coursework for this program appears to provide a broad survey of forensic psychology with some opportunity for supervised clinical placement experience. Although it appears that a student could complete this online degree with minimal supervised clinical experience, those who are contemplating licensure as a masters-level psychologist (in those jurisdictions where this is available) should seek out as many supervised clinical experiences as possible while in the program. The elective offerings include a supervised fieldwork course, which appears to provide the opportunity for real-world experience within various types of settings. The way this works in most programs is for the student to find an opportunity for a clinical placement (often called a practicum or externship experience) and a faculty member then provides supervision of the student’s clinical work. The online nature of this degree program might make it a bit more of a challenge for a student to find a clinical placement, but students who are serious about wanting to work with forensic populations should be motivated to do so.
The materials presented online and in the Catalogue do not indicate whether online students are assigned to a faculty mentor. This is an important consideration for students contemplating online degrees, as it is helpful to have a faculty member who can follow your progress and assist you in times of uncertainty.
The 2-week intensive on-campus experience is the only residency requirement of this program, meaning that anyone could take this program from anywhere, as long as they were willing to travel to Grand Forks, North Dakota for 2-weeks to complete this final requirement. I like the idea of having some face-to-face time with faculty but find it a bit odd that this occurs at the end of the program, rather than at the beginning when students could meet and become familiar with the faculty, the program, and other students and to have these connections to build on over the course of their online studies.