Master’s in Criminal Psychology Degrees

A master’s degree in criminal psychology focuses on how psychology applies to criminals and criminal contexts. Criminal psychology master’s programs provide foundational knowledge of clinical psychology and personality psychology. Students learn to apply psychological science to the criminal justice system.

Earning a master’s in criminal psychology can pave the way to a lucrative career. Many graduates with a master’s in criminal psychology work in government agencies, juvenile detention centers, and mental health institutions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), pretrial services officers earned a median annual salary of $54,290 as of 2019, while juvenile detention psychologists earned $80,370.

This page includes what to expect, common courses, and how to choose the best criminal psychology master’s program. Prospective students can also use this guide to learn the benefits of earning a master’s in criminal psychology and potential career paths for graduates.

Why Get a Criminal Psychology Master’s Degree?

The criminal psychology field arose in the late 19th century as academics began to theorize about the psychological causes of criminal behavior. Although the American Psychological Association (APA) does not recognize criminal psychology as an academic discipline, forensic psychology gained official recognition in 2001. As a result, most schools offer criminal psychology as a concentration or subspecialty in forensic psychology.

Earning a master’s in criminal psychology can pave the way for diverse career opportunities, a higher earning potential, and the opportunity to help disadvantaged youth. See below for some reasons learners pursue this degree.

  • Diverse Career Opportunities: A criminal psychology master’s degree can be a stepping stone to careers in mental health counseling centers, correctional facilities, and government agencies. Degree-holders may work as forensic psychologists, correctional facilities managers, and pretrial counselors.
  • Higher Earning Potential: Earning a master’s in criminal psychology can make graduates more competitive for higher-paying managerial and leadership positions than candidates with only a bachelor’s degree.
  • Opportunity to Help Disadvantaged Youth: Many professionals with a criminal psychology master’s degree help prepare rehabilitation programs for juvenile delinquents in custody or on probation or parole.

What To Expect From a Master’s Degree in Criminal Psychology

Criminal psychology master’s programs usually require 30-45 credits and take full-time enrollees 1-2 years to complete. Some schools offer accelerated options that may allow learners to graduate in one year or less. Depending on their goals and interests, graduates can work as forensic psychologists, victim advocates, and correctional facilities managers.

The cost of a master’s in criminal psychology varies by program. Online programs and public school programs are typically the most affordable options. Some criminal psychology master’s programs offer a tuition waiver and a graduate stipend to students who qualify for the department’s teaching or research assistantships.

Most criminal psychology master’s programs include foundational classes in psychological science and criminal theory and electives in criminal psychology. Common core classes include clinical psychology, criminal law, and statistical analysis. Popular criminal psychology electives encompass psychopathy and criminal behavior, juvenile delinquency, and organizational psychology.

Read More About Criminal Psychology Programs

Admission Requirements

Applicants must submit a curriculum vitae, official transcripts, GRE scores, a personal statement or answers to essay prompts, recommendation letters, and a nonrefundable admission fee. Some schools interview short-listed candidates.

Admission usually requires a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and a minimum 3.0 GPA. However, some criminal psychology master’s programs require a bachelor’s in psychology. Applicants with a 3.5 GPA, a GPA score in the 90th percentile, and work experience in counseling or criminal justice can increase their admission chances.

Comparing Criminal Psychology and Criminal Justice Degrees

Prospective students may wonder whether to pursue a master’s in criminal psychology or criminal justice. The main difference between the two degrees lies in their course requirements and career outcomes.

Compared to a master’s in criminal justice, a criminal psychology master’s delivers more comprehensive knowledge of clinical psychology and enables students to pursue a doctorate in psychology. See below for a degree comparison.

Master’s in Criminal Psychology Master’s in Criminal Justice
Length 1-2 years full time 1-2 years full time
Credit Load 30-45 credits 30-45 credits
Typical Courses Clinical psychology, statistics, research methods, criminal law, cognitive psychology, psychopathology, juvenile delinquency, and behavior analysis Criminology, investigative techniques, correctional philosophy and practice, applied data analysis, and prison and jail administration
Student Demographics College graduates and working professionals looking to pursue a career in criminal psychology College graduates seeking a career in criminal justice and criminal justice professionals seeking a higher position
Common Careers Jury consultant, social services director, victim advocate, expert witness, forensic psychologist Corrections officer, crime scene investigator, juvenile detention manager, FBI agent, parole officer
Degree Goals Prepare students for doctoral programs in psychology or careers in government agencies, the courts, corrections, or two-year postsecondary institutions Prepare learners for careers as specialists or managers in government agencies, the courts, or correctional facilities
Explore Criminal Justice Programs

Popular Criminal Psychology Courses

Master’s in criminal psychology programs usually encompass basic courses like criminal law, clinical psychology, and research methods. The curriculum core delivers foundational concepts, theories, and best industry practices.

A typical curriculum also comprises electives that deliver specialized knowledge in the field. Common electives include juvenile delinquency, personality psychology, and psychopathy and criminal behavior. See below for common criminal psychology courses.

Cognitive Psychology
This core course provides an in-depth introduction to the scientific and psychological study of cognition. Enrollees study how perceptual information enters the brain, how sensory signals are encoded in and retrieved from memory, and how thoughts are transformed during reasoning and decision-making processes.
Criminal Law
In this core class, learners explore legal theory and litigation in American criminal law. Topics include the role of litigation and the adversarial system in the U.S., the history of contemporary criminal law, constitutional justice, and human rights.
Personality Psychology
This elective explores how personality psychologists develop and update psychometric scales for quantifying personality. Through teamwork, students gain an in-depth understanding of competing personality scales, including the five-factor model and the hexaco model. At the end of the course, attendees design their own psychometric scales for measuring emotion traits like dispositional envy, contempt-proneness, and dispositional anger.
Juvenile Delinquency
This elective provides an advanced introduction to the part of the criminal justice system that deals with juvenile delinquency. Enrollees study criminal cases and research papers, learning about theoretical and practical approaches to juvenile correction, rehabilitation, and criminal justice reform.
Psychopathy and Criminal Behavior
Learners gain insight into the possible causes of type I and type II psychopathy and their correlation with criminal behavior. After studying theoretical and psychometric approaches to psychopathy, students work on actual case files for incarcerated psychopaths to develop rehabilitation proposals.

How Much Will a Master’s in Criminal Psychology Cost?

The cost of earning a master’s in criminal psychology varies by school. Prospective enrollees should consider the costs of tuition and fees, room and board, course materials, technology, commuting and parking, and potential lost work income.

Students spend the most on tuition. Public schools typically cost less than private universities for in-state residents. However, public institutions usually charge an additional $10,000-$20,000 annually for out-of-state tuition, which brings the latter closer to the price of tuition at a private school.

Many private and public universities charge a lower tuition rate for their online programs. By enrolling in an online program, students do not incur fees for room and board, campus activities, commuting, or parking.Learners can also often reduce costs by applying for fellowships, scholarships, grants, and loans.

Criminal Psychology Degree Jobs

Earning a criminal psychology master’s degree can pave the way to a lucrative career. Forensic psychologists earned a median annual salary of $80,370 as of 2019, according to the BLS, and correctional treatment specialists earned $54,290. Earning a doctorate in psychology can bring even higher salaries.

Most states require licensure for psychology practitioners. Counselors practicing independently must be licensed where they work in all states and the District of Columbia. See below for some potential careers for graduates of a master’s in criminal psychology program.

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists use psychology principles to help investigate crimes. They examine the psychological aspects of crime scenes, use psychological profiling to narrow down a pool of suspects, and testify in court as expert witnesses.

  • Required Education: A master’s degree
  • Job Outlook (2019-29): +3%
  • Median Annual Salary: $80,370

Correctional Treatment Specialist

Correctional treatment specialists help rehabilitate convicts in prison or on probation or parole. They administer psychological tests to prisoners, counsel criminal offenders on substance abuse, and develop rehabilitation plans for probationers and parolees.

  • Required Education: A bachelor’s degree
  • Job Outlook (2019-29): +4%
  • Median Annual Salary: $54,290

Juvenile Delinquent Psychologist

Juvenile delinquent psychologists provide psychological counseling to juvenile offenders in detention centers and confinement facilities. They determine the best type of intervention strategy for juvenile delinquents, provide individual and group counseling to juveniles in correctional facilities, and assess the welfare of minors in detention and confinement.

  • Required Education: A master’s degree
  • Job Outlook (2019-29): +3%
  • Median Annual Salary: $80,370

Postsecondary Lecturer

Postsecondary lecturers instruct students at colleges and universities. They prepare for and conduct lectures and class discussions, grade assignments and exams, and work with other faculty to develop new courses and update the curriculum.

  • Required Education: A master’s degree at two-year colleges. Faculty positions at four-year colleges and universities require a doctoral degree.
  • Job Outlook (2019-29): +9%
  • Median Annual Salary: $79,540
Explore Criminal Justice Careers

Choosing the Right Criminal Psychology Graduate Program

Prospective students can use rankings lists when researching criminal psychology master’s programs, but learners should also consider regional and industry-specific accreditation, program costs, and program format.

Prospective students should prioritize industry-accredited programs from regionally accredited schools. Accreditation from the APA Commission on Accreditation (APA-CoA) is the gold standard for education and professional training in psychology. A master’s degree in criminal psychology from an APA-CoA-accredited program signals to future employers that the program meets the highest industry standards.

The price of a program determines how soon graduates will see a return on investment. Learners should avoid programs tied to significant student debt. The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System provides more information about student debt at specific postsecondary institutions.

Prospective students should consider the course format that best suits their personality and learning style. For example, asynchronous formats offer flexibility, but enrollees need above-average time management skills and strong self-determination.

Should You Get Your Criminal Psychology Master’s Online?

Earning a master’s online provides several benefits. Most schools offer their online programs at a discounted, flat rate, making online learning more affordable than attending on campus.

Remote learning programs also often provide greater convenience and flexibility than their on-campus alternatives. Learners do not need to relocate or spend time and money commuting to school. Distance learning programs may offer synchronous or asynchronous classes, or a mix of the two.

Synchronous online courses require students to log into a virtual Zoom or Blackboard courseroom at set times. By providing real-time lectures and class discussions, these types of classes mirror the on-campus classroom experience.

Asynchronous distance learning allows enrollees to listen to pre-recorded lectures and access course materials at their own pace. This format often appeals to learners with work or family commitments. Before choosing a fully asynchronous online program, students should consider whether they can complete their courses with little or no faculty guidance.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What kind of degree do you need to be a criminal psychologist?

    A master’s degree in criminal psychology qualifies students for diverse career opportunities in the criminal psychology field. All states require a doctorate in psychology to practice independently as a psychologist, including as a criminal psychologist.

  • How long does it take to get a master's degree in criminal psychology?

    Most master’s degrees in criminal psychology take full-time students 1-2 years to complete. Full-time enrollees with a bachelor’s in psychology may finish the program in one year.

  • What can I do with a criminal psychology degree?

    A criminal psychology degree can lead to diverse careers, such as forensic psychologist, juvenile delinquent counselor, victim advocate, and correctional treatment specialist.

  • Is criminal psychology a good career?

    Yes. A criminal psychology degree is a valuable credential that can lead to a well-paying and rewarding managerial or specialist position in correctional facilities, government agencies, and mental health counseling centers.


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Criminal Justice Careers & Salary Outlook Best Online Bachelor's in Criminal Justice Guide to Criminal Justice Master's Degrees

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