Forensic Psychology Degree
Forensic psychology is a discipline within applied psychology that uses the principles of psychology to assist with criminal proceedings. A degree in forensic psychology is an advanced degree (either a master's or doctorate) that can include specialties in sub-disciplines including sex offenses, crime prevention, victim support, correctional psychology, and children's psychology. Scientific advances in understanding the human mind have made psychologists an integral part of the legal system today, as forensic psychologists are recognized for the deep training that allows them to examine and explain aspects of crime that can be inaccessible to those without an advanced degree. According to the BLS, the median salary for psychologists was $77,030 in 2017.1
Forensic Psychology Training and Courses
Since most degrees in forensic psychology are advanced, admission to a forensic psychology degree program typically requires that the student successfully complete a bachelor's degree program, which may be in psychology, sociology, or a related field. Students in forensic psychology study criminology, sociology, and the criminal justice system. Additionally, students are taught how to work with offenders, how to counsel victims of crime, and how to gather, document, and present evidence in court, leading to an interesting and rewarding career working within the legal system after graduation.
While it is possible to find work in forensic psychology with a master's degree, nearly all states require a doctoral degree to become licensed as a psychologist or to represent oneself as a psychologist. Master's-level employment is generally in research and support positions, and the job market at the master's level is highly competitive.
Courses commonly taken in forensic psychology degree programs include:
- Human Growth and Development
- Cognitive Psychology
- Social Psychology
- Psychology and the Law
- Social Statistics
- Theories of Personality
- Psychology of Criminal Behavior
- Correctional Psychology
- Key Concepts of Psychotherapy
- Criminal Psychological Assessment
Traditional Forensic Psychology Degree Programs
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology offers several Master of Arts degrees in forensic psychology at campuses in Chicago, Irvine, Los Angeles, and Washington DC, including generalized programs and specialized programs in policy psychology, sex offenses, corrections, and child protection. These degrees prepare students for professional licensure and a career in many government and public institutions. The university also offers an online version of the degree; however, this degree does not meet the requirements for professional certification. Students interested in clinical work can also pursue a Doctorate of Psychology degree in clinical forensic psychology with optional specializations in adults, law enforcement, forensic neuropsychology, and children and families. At this level, students can focus on clinical work in settings with offenders or victims or conduct academic research at a university institution.
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice at CUNY offers several on-campus degree programs in forensic psychology, including a Bachelor of Arts (BA), Master of Arts (MA), and Doctorate of Psychology. The BA degree is a four-year program that teaches students fundamental concepts in biology, cognition, and emotion that relate to forensic psychology. The program also includes a capstone project, thesis, and an optional internship experience. The MA program prepares students for work or further research through a 300-hour externship or a thesis option. There is also a dual degree program open to graduate students that combines forensic psychology with law and a dual BA/MA program that allows students to complete both degrees in five years. The doctoral program prepares students to become licensed psychologists upon completion of coursework, a dissertation, and a one-year clinical psychology internship.
Online Forensic Psychology Degree Programs
In addition to an on-campus bachelor's degree program in forensic psychology, Florida Tech offers an online Bachelor of Arts in applied psychology with a concentration in forensic psychology. This degree is designed for students with no prior university experience, although transfer credit may be accepted. Courses are offered in eight-week blocks throughout the year and the entire degree takes four years to complete. Students must take liberal arts courses to meet the university requirements as well as the specialization courses in forensic psychology. This degree program prepares students for entry-level work in criminal justice and law enforcement settings or further graduate study to work towards professional licensure as a forensic psychologist. Students can begin the program throughout the year as there are start dates approximately every two months.
For students interested in online graduate programs, the University of North Dakota offers a Master of Arts (MA) in Forensic Psychology. The online MA program has the same curriculum as the on-campus program and online students watch the same lectures and complete the same assignments; however, the corresponding master of science degree program is only available on-campus. While all of the coursework for the MA is completed online, there is a required on-campus residency during the two-year program when students complete a capstone project. The program prepares students to work with various types of offenders and support victims of crimes in counseling and advocacy roles. This program may also be of interest to professionals in related criminal justice roles, such as law enforcement officers. New students are admitted into the program in August and January.
Forensic Psychology Job Description
Forensic psychologists may provide clinical psychological evaluations of plaintiffs, defendants, and even jury members; serve as expert witnesses; testify at parole hearings, and support or contest evidence introduced in a trial. Most forensic psychologists work in private practice and are hired on a contract basis as consultants or providers of court-ordered services for both civil and criminal trials. State and federal government agencies frequently employ forensic psychologists as profilers or interviewers, or in specialist roles at agencies such as at the FBI's Behavioral Science Unit.
Forensic psychologists can work directly with offenders or victims in counseling and advocacy roles, or conduct assessments and provide expert testimony. The range of jobs you can get with a forensic psychology degree is broad. A forensic psychology degree may help you start a career in positions such as:
- CIA Officer
- Correctional Officer
- Correctional Treatment Specialist
- Expert Witness
- Juvenile Probation Officer
- Private Practice Counsellor
- Substance Abuse and Behavioral Counselor
- Victim's Advocate
- Youth Correctional Counselor
Forensic Psychology Professional Certification
Forensic psychologists are not typically required to be licensed; however, practitioners who are engaged in clinical psychology do need to seek professional licensure through a state-level association in order to use the title in their work. Membership in and/or certification from a recognized association like the American Board of Forensic Psychology can be advantageous to those pursuing this career.
Forensic Psychology Salary and Job Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 14% employment growth for psychologists through 2026, which is faster than the average growth rate for all other occupations.1 Psychologists earned an average annual salary of $77,030 per year as of 2017, though pay can vary substantially based on industry and employer.1 For example, psychologists working in government earned a median annual wage of $94,910 in 2017, while clinical psychologists earned a median salary of $75,090.1,2
Forensic Psychiatry Career Interviews
- Michael Welner, MD, Forensic Psychiatrist
- American Board of Forensic Psychology: Oversees forensic psychology certification and continuing education opportunities at the national level.
- The Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards: Provides information about various state requirements for psychology licensure.
- American Psychological Association: A national organization combining interests from different field of psychology in publications, conferences, and networking events.
Frequently Asked Questions
Question: What is the difference between a Master of Science (MS) degree and a Master of Arts (MA) degree in forensic psychology?
Answer: While both the MS and MA degrees prepare students to work in legal or criminal justice settings, MS degree programs typically have a greater research focus and MS students may be required to complete a graduate thesis that will prepare them for a research career or doctorate-level study. MA students may be more prepared to work in counseling roles of related professions that benefit from forensic psychology knowledge.
Question: Do I need to be licensed in forensic psychology in order to work as a forensic psychologist?
Answer: No, you do not need to be licensed to work as a forensic psychologist, although licensure is available to provide credibility to your skills. If you want to practice clinical psychology, however, you will need to be licensed.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm
2. O*NET OnLine, Clinical Psychologists: https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/19-3031.02