Criminal Psychology Degree

Criminal psychology programs prepare individuals for advanced training in the areas of psychology, criminology, sociology, biology, and human behavior. Tools and knowledge from all of these disciplines are put to use to help understand the criminal mind and prevent and solve crimes. The study of criminal psychology has always been popular because it helps individuals see different views, better understand the world in which they live, and can make communities safer. Jobs for criminal psychology graduates vary by both salaries earned and level of degree needed to secure employment, ranging from undergraduate to doctoral study.

Did you know? Although the role of criminal psychologists may not be as exciting as portrayed in TV shows like “Criminal Minds,” careers in criminal psychology may include many intriguing activities such as analyzing a criminal's life history, providing expert testimony in court, and conducting psychological assessments to help solve cases.

Criminal Psychology Schools and Training

Criminal psychologists should have critical thinking and reasoning skills to observe and analyze patterns in behavior, thought, and crime. Criminal psychology programs include a variety of courses of study and draw from several different disciplines. Programs of study to prepare for this career typically begin with either a two-year associate's degree or four-year bachelor's degree. However, because criminal psychology is a diverse and complex field, a doctoral degree is usually required to work as a criminal psychologist. In some cases, related positions may be open to those with a master's degree.

Many course options are possible when approaching the study of criminal psychology. Basic courses include subjects such as psychology and sociology. More advanced classes may include Abnormal Psychology, Biopsychology, and Criminal Behavior. Upper-level experiences may include analyzing case studies, visiting corrections facilities, and interviewing individuals with intimate professional knowledge of the criminal mind.

Additional certification is available for those in criminal psychology programs, including approval from the American Board of Forensic Psychology and the Society for Police and Criminal Psychology.

Examples of courses in a criminal psychology degree curriculum include:

  • Forensic Psychology
  • Psychopathology
  • Psychology and the Law
  • Psychology of Violence
  • Criminal Psychological Assessment
  • Intellectual and Cognitive Assessment
  • Psychology of Criminal Behavior
  • Methods of Psychotherapy
  • Advanced Abnormal Psychology

Traditional Criminal Psychology Degree Programs

George Washington University logo

George Washington University (Washington DC)

The Columbian College of Arts and Sciences Center for Professional Psychology offers a Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology. Program graduates are prepared for roles in criminal profiling, psychological evaluation, competency evaluation, and many related career fields in various areas of the criminal justice system. Students can pursue this degree on one of two tracks: Applied Forensics or Applied Psychology. Both tracks require 37 credit hours to complete. The curriculum additionally includes 250 clock hours of externship training. Courses are offered during days, evenings, and weekends to provide scheduling flexibility. Sample courses include Psychology and the Legal System, Interrogation and Interviewing, Consultation and Testimony, and Theories of Criminal Behavior. Graduate psychology students benefit from access to George Washington University's Gelman Library, Himmelfarb Health Sciences Library, and Jacob Burns Law Library. Graduate students are also invited to participate with faculty and post-doctoral students on supervised research projects.

New York University logo

New York University (New York City, NY)

New York University awards a Master of Arts in Psychology – Forensic Psychology Specialization to students who complete the 36-credit hour curriculum focusing on clinical, forensic, and legal knowledge. Forensic electives can include Psychology of Addiction, Affective Neuroscience, Psychology of Violence, and Traumatic Stress Reactions. The school encourages students to complete a master's thesis in lieu of taking a general comprehensive examination, though students may choose to complete the degree through either method. Students receive personalized advising throughout the program and are given various opportunities to participate in professional and academic research. New York University's Master of Arts in Psychology programs are prestigious and widely-recognized. Many program graduates go on to study psychology at the doctoral level. New York University is the largest private university in the US and its multiple schools, centers, and departments with forensic concentrations and courses offer additional interdisciplinary learning and networking opportunities to psychology students.

University of Denver logo

University of Denver (Denver, CO)

The University of Denver offers a Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology through its Graduate School of Professional Psychology. The curriculum includes fundamental master's level training in clinical psychology as well as specialized coursework and practicum experiences tailored to the study of forensic psychology and law. Students participate in direct service through field placements during the program, which actively collaborates with community agencies to provide opportunities to students and underserved populations. This full-time program can be completed in two years. Students are expected to attend classes during the fall, winter, and spring quarters. Example courses include Interviewing and Theories of Psychotherapy, Issues in Forensic Psychology (I, II, and III), Trauma and Crisis Intervention, and the Psychology of Criminal Behavior. The majority of graduates go on to work in organizations involved in criminal justice, though many choose to continue their studies in a doctoral degree program.

Online Criminal Psychology Degree Programs

Southern New Hampshire University logo

Southern New Hampshire University (Manchester, NH)

Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) offers an online bachelor's degree program with many possible specializations, including forensic psychology. The program prepares students to understand and analyze criminal profiles, patterns of behavior, and expert testimony. As an introductory degree program, the curriculum includes a required liberal arts foundation and foundational psychology courses in the first two years of study and specialized courses in the final stages, including Forensic Psychology, Criminal Psychology, Biopsychology, and Sociology of Deviant Behavior. The degree can be completed in four years of full-time study during six nine-week terms annually or at a slower pace for part-time students. SNHU prides itself on the affordability of its degree programs for students from all states and the flexibility it provides through course scheduling and online teaching methods.

University of North Dakota logo

University of North Dakota (Grand Forks, ND)

The University of North Dakota offers a Master of Arts degree in Forensic Psychology. There are admissions deadlines twice per year for entry into this online program. The degree takes at least two years to complete and includes 35 credit hours of study. Students will be prepared to apply complex psychological theories to the study and analysis of crime and criminal behavior. Courses include Psychology & Law, Behavior Pathology, and Child Psychopathology. Although most coursework is completed online, students are required to visit the campus for two weeks during the program to complete a capstone project with other students. The degree is affordable as all students enjoy the benefit of in-state tuition rates regardless of their location. Students interested in clinical skills may prefer the Master of Science degree in Forensic Psychology offered on-campus.

Criminal Psychology Job Description

Criminal psychology graduates work with diverse populations, including individuals who have been involved in the criminal justice system, victims of crime, families of accused and convicted criminals, and legal professionals. While insightful and analytical, this type of work can also be emotionally charged and complex. Graduates from criminal psychology programs will have the opportunity to pursue work with local and state law enforcement agencies as well as careers with federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and other high-profile federal organizations. Specific careers can involve work in criminal behavior analysis, profiling, investigation, and interrogation.

Related Jobs

Specific jobs for graduates from criminal psychology degree programs include:

Criminal Psychology Professional Certification

As criminal psychology is a broad career path, there are no certifications that all professionals must have in order to find work. The choice to pursue certification, and if so which one, will depend in large part on your career goals. For example, the American Board of Professional Psychology offers specialty board certification in forensic psychology. Clinical psychologists who work with criminals to rehabilitate may need to obtain the relevant state license.

Criminal Psychology Salary and Job Outlook

Though data is not available for criminal psychologists specifically, O*NET OnLine reports that clinical psychologists, who perform similar work in the private sector, earned an average annual salary of $75,090 as of 2017.1 This industry is also expected to see faster than average job growth, at 10 to 14% through 2026.1 The “Psychologists, All Others” category has a reported median salary of $97,740 and also faster-than-average job growth projected, of between 10% to 14% during the same time period.2

Criminal Psychology Career Interviews

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: What is the difference between criminal psychology and forensic psychology?

Answer: Often these terms are used interchangeably to refer to psychology studies related to criminal justice, crime, and criminal behavior. In practice, criminal psychology often focuses more specifically on criminal behavior while forensic psychology may include any of these areas of study.

Question: Do you need to be licensed to be a criminal psychologist?

Answer: Depending on the nature of the work, licensure or certification may be required. Clinical psychologists do need to be licensed, which is more common at the doctoral level. Ultimately, licensing requirements will depend on the type of work and patient interactions that the psychologist has.

1. O*NET OnLine, Clinical Psychologists:
2. O*NET OnLine, Psychologists, All Others:

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