Guide to Forensic Psychology Degrees

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What Is a Forensic Psychology Degree?

Depending on degree level, forensic psychology degrees can qualify graduates to work in diverse roles, such as correctional treatment specialist, nonprofit and government program manager, and forensic psychologist. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), psychologists across all specialties earned a median annual salary of $80,370 in 2019.

Forensic psychology degrees cover concepts in psychology, criminal justice, law, and criminal behavior. On this page, readers can learn more about forensic psychology degrees, including potential benefits, career paths, courses, and scholarship opportunities.

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Why Get a Degree in Forensic Psychology?

Earning a forensic psychology degree provides students with many benefits, such as career advancement opportunities and niche expertise. The following list outlines several worthwhile reasons to earn a forensic psychology degree.

  • EXPERTISE

    Students pursuing forensic psychology degrees develop in-depth knowledge about the criminal justice field, which can bolster their resumes and make them competitive in the job market.

  • OPTIONS

    Graduates with forensic psychology degrees enjoy diverse career opportunities. Depending on the degree level, they can work in roles such as correctional treatment specialist, victim advocate, and forensic psychology.

  • PERSONAL REWARD

    Graduates with a forensic psychology degree can pursue reward careers, performing duties like assisting police in the pursuit of dangerous suspects or helping rehabilitate inmates in correctional facilities.

  • Career and Salary Outlook for Forensic Psychology Graduates

    Graduates with a forensic psychology degree can pursue a variety of criminal justice careers. With jobs available at every educational level, students can pursue postsecondary degrees to qualify for higher-level positions and higher salaries.

    Salaries vary by position, experience, education, and location. Substance abuse and behavioral counselors earn a median annual salary of $46,240, while forensic psychologists make around $69,855 per year. Through education and experience, employees can increase their potential earnings. Below, readers can find more information regarding these and other careers related to forensic psychology and criminal justice.


    • Correctional Treatment Specialist


      Correctional treatment specialists work with inmates, parolees, and parole officers to develop treatment plans. Plans may include education, family and/or substance abuse counseling, and case reports outlining patients’ histories. The BLS reports that correctional treatment specialists earn a median annual wage of $54,290. Most correctional treatment specialists hold a bachelor’s degree. LEARN MORE


    • Substance Abuse and Behavioral Counselor


      Often employed in hospitals, mental health centers, and prisons, substance abuse and behavioral counselors use group, family, and individual counseling to help people recover from drug and alcohol addiction. According to the BLS, these professionals earn a median annual salary of $46,240. Educational requirements vary by state; some states require a bachelor’s or master’s degree, while others accept high school diplomas plus certification or associate degreesLEARN MORE


    • Victim Advocate


      In collaboration with law enforcement, courts, and medical services, victim advocates support victims of crimes, particularly domestic violence. They may arrange shelter, accompany victims to appointments, provide counseling, and write community reports. PayScale reports that these professionals earn an average annual salary of $35,415. Employers typically seek candidates with a bachelor’s or master’s degreeLEARN MORE


    • Forensic Psychologist


      Working in prisons, courts, hospitals, and government agencies, forensic psychologists often collaborate with law enforcement personnel. They develop criminal profiles, conduct patient interviews, and help determine whether individuals are fit to stand trial. According to PayScale, forensic psychologists earn an average annual salary of $69,855. Typically, forensic psychologists hold doctorates. LEARN MORE


    • Correctional Officer


      Correctional officers oversee inmate activities within correctional facilities. They enforce rules, perform regular inspections, and ensure the safety of inmates and staff. The BLS reports that correctional officers earn an annual median salary of $45,300. At the state and local levels, correctional officers typically hold high school diplomas; those looking to work at the federal level, however, must hold a bachelor’s degree at minimumLEARN MORE


    Forensic Psychology Careers: Median Salaries by Experience

    JOB TITLE ENTRY LEVEL (0-12 MONTHS) EARLY CAREER (1-4 YEARS) MID-CAREER (5-9 YEARS) EXPERIENCED (10-19 YEARS)
    Correctional Treatment Specialist $40,500 $41,448 $56,707 $50,472
    Substance Abuse and Behavioral Counselor $39,008 $39,014 $38,471 $41,974
    Victim’s Advocate $33,420 $34,376 $37,901 $39,379
    Forensic Psychologist $51,395 $65,500 $80,166 $85,272
    Senior Correctional Officer N/A $44,572 $45,117 $45,180
    Source: PayScale

    EXPLORE MORE CRIMINAL JUSTICE CAREERS

    Interview with a Forensic Psychiatrist

    To learn more about the complex field of forensic psychiatry, readers can check out this interview with Dr. Michael Welner, an associate professor at New York University.

    READ OUR INTERVIEW WITH A FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST

    Types of Forensic Psychology Degrees

    Learners can study forensic psychology at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. More advanced degrees typically lead to more career opportunities and higher salaries.

    Associate degrees typically take 1-2 years to complete, while bachelor’s degree programs traditionally span four years. In 1-2 more years, students with a bachelor’s degree can obtain a master’s degree. Doctoral degrees take 4-6 years to complete.

    Time spent in school coincides with financial commitment. Lower degree levels may cost less, but those graduates also typically earn less. Students at all levels can pursue financial aid to offset the costs of a degree, and those studying at the graduate level can potentially fund their studies through assistantships.


    • Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Psychology

      Forensic psychology bachelor’s degree applicants typically need a high school diploma or GED. Specifications vary by school, but other potential admission requirements include a minimum GPA, SAT or ACT scores, and high school prerequisites.

      Most bachelor’s degrees require 120 credits, which full-time students traditionally complete in four years. Some programs, particularly online programs, offer accelerated or self-paced timelines. Bachelor’s in forensic psychology graduates can pursue master’s degrees to further their education.

      Example degrees:

      • BA in Psychology, Forensic Psychology
      • BS in Forensic Psychology
      • Bachelor’s in Forensic Psychology/Criminal Justice


    • Master's Degree in Forensic Psychology

      Applicants to master’s degree programs in forensic psychology typically need a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Candidates may need to submit transcripts, GRE scores, essays, and/or letters of recommendation.

      Credit requirements vary by program, but most programs require 30-45 credits and take two years of full-time study to complete. Graduates qualify for jobs in settings like prisons, hospitals, and state forensic units. Graduates can also pursue doctoral study.

      Example degrees:

      • Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology
      • Master of Science in Forensic Psychology
      • Master of Psychology With a Concentration in Forensic Psychology


    • Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology

      doctoral degree in forensic psychology prepares graduates to work as forensic psychologists, professors, and program managers. Applicants must typically submit all college transcripts, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, and writing samples.

      Some schools may require a master’s degree in psychology. Doctoral degrees typically require about 90 credits and take 4-6 years to complete, but students can often transfer credits to expedite their studies.

      Example degrees:

      • Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology
      • Ph.D. in Criminal Justice With a Concentration in Forensic Psychology
      • Psy.D. in Forensic Psychology


    Concentrations in Forensic Psychology

    Forensic psychology concentrations can prepare students for particular careers after graduation. Students should consider whether their career goals include licensure, which can impact concentration choice. Forensic psychology itself can serve as a concentration, particularly in bachelor’s programs. Students generally find more concentration options at the graduate level.

    Concentration options for forensic psychology may include:

    • Forensic Psychology for Non-licensure
    • Forensic Psychology, Licensed Counselor Track
    • Crisis Leadership Management
    • Legal Issues in Forensic Psychology
    • Criminal Justice

    Forensic Psychology Certifications

    Clinical forensic psychologists need a state license to practice. Membership in and/or certification from recognized associations like the American Board of Forensic Psychology also proves advantageous to those pursuing this career.

    Popular Forensic Psychology Courses

    Forensic psychology students encounter diverse curriculum offerings, depending on the school and program they choose. Bachelor’s courses tend to emphasize general psychology topics, providing a strong foundation for students to pursue further study.

    At the master’s level, students hone in on their particular areas of interest, often participating in hands-on capstone projects or in-depth thesis studies specific to their expertise. Doctoral programs are the most customizable, with ample opportunities for students to specialize in niche areas through dissertation research.

  • CRIMINAL BEHAVIOR

    This course explores biological, societal, and psychological reasons for criminal behavior. Topics may include violent and nonviolent offenders, psychopathology, mass murder, and domestic terrorism. Students may find this course at the bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral level.

  • HUMAN COGNITION

    A bachelor’s-level course, human cognition courses examine foundational principles of human memory, language, perception, and decision-making. The course also covers neurological processes. Forensic psychologists need a strong background in core brain function to understand criminal thought processes and make relevant diagnoses.

  • SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY

    Common at the bachelor’s and master’s levels, this course covers human relationships with society. Topics include technology, environment, personal identity, and human interaction. Students also learn about historical and contemporary theories, applying them to psychological problems.

  • PROGRAM EVALUATION

    A doctoral-level course designed to prepare students to work as leaders in the field, this course emphasizes the development and assessment of programs. It covers qualitative and quantitative assessment methods, with hands-on activities related to real-world programs. Students learn to communicate their goals to program stakeholders and implement improvements to curricula.

  • ETHICAL PRACTICES IN PSYCHOLOGY

    Master’s programs often offer courses that emphasize ethical practices. These courses cover ethical principles for working in psychology, including issues around study and experimentation, respect, confidentiality, and conflict resolution for ethical dilemmas.

  • Selecting Your Forensic Psychology Program

    Before choosing a forensic psychology degree program, prospective students should consider multiple factors. The following list outlines several key considerations for prospective students.

    School Size

    Some students prefer large universities, while others like more intimate settings. School size can impact student-to-teacher ratio, which may indicate how much personalized attention each student receives. When professors oversee more students, they may teach fewer classes and hand some responsibilities, such as grading, to graduate students.

    Program Length

    Prospective students generally need to balance their postsecondary studies with personal responsibilities. Some may feel pressure to start working sooner, in which case expedited degree options may appeal to them, as might part-time and online programs that allow learners to work while completing their studies.

    University Resources

    Many universities offer extensive networking opportunities, strong career services, and extracurricular options. Online students, in particular, should consider whether programs offer access to resources like career services, clubs, alumni networks, and events.

    Prestige

    Students may take school prestige into account, depending on their career goals. Degrees from highly ranked schools with strong reputations may give graduates a competitive edge in the job market.

    Should You Get Your Forensic Psychology Degree Online?

    Students pursuing a forensic psychology degree online enjoy the flexibility to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations. Online courses often mirror their in-person counterparts, maintaining rigorous standards and high reputations. Distance learning particularly suits forensic psychology students, as theoretical materials easily translate to online lectures and articles.

    When considering whether to complete a forensic psychology degree online, students should factor in their individual situations and learning styles. Online students need exceptional time management skills and the ability to self direct.

    Some programs offer fully asynchronous courses, which don’t require set meeting times. Others require real-time meetings through webcam or in-person immersion events. Prospective students decide which of these formats works best for them.

    Accreditation for Forensic Psychology Schools and Programs

    Prospective students should make sure their chosen school holds accreditation. Schools may receive regional or national accreditation, with regional accreditation generally considered the more prestigious of the two. Accreditation expands employment, financial aid, and education opportunities. For instance, only students at accredited schools qualify for federal financial aid, and many schools only accept degrees and credits from accredited institutions. Students can verify a school’s accreditation status through the U.S. Department of Education’s database of accredited schools.

    Programs within a school may also receive accreditation, including psychology programs. Doctoral programs can hold accreditation from the American Psychological Association. Master’s programs may hold accreditation from the Master’s in Psychology and Counseling Accreditation Council.

    Advertisement CriminalJusticeDegreeSchools.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

    Featured Online Programs

    Explore program formats, transfer requirements, financial aid packages, and more by contacting the schools below.

    Advertisement CriminalJusticeDegreeSchools.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

    Resources

    Frequently Asked Questions


    • How much will I make with a degree in forensic psychology?


      Salaries vary by role, experience, and level of educational attainment. Victim advocates earn around $33,420 annually, while forensic psychologists make about $51,395 per year.


    • What kind of jobs can you get with a forensic psychology degree?


      Depending on their degree level, graduates may work as counselors, program managers, or investigators. They can also work as correctional treatment specialists or psychologists.


    • What is the difference between an MS degree and an MA degree in forensic psychology?


      Both MS and MA degrees prepare students to work in legal or criminal justice settings, but MS degree programs typically focus more on research, while MA programs focus more on practical applications.


    • Do I need to be licensed in forensic psychology to work as a forensic psychologist?


      No, you do not need to be licensed to work as a forensic psychologist, but clinical psychologists need a license to practice.


    Scholarships for Forensic Psychology Programs

    Forensic psychology students can help fund their studies through scholarship opportunities. Available at all degree levels, scholarships may be sponsored by professional associations, private organizations, or government agencies. The list below details five scholarships for students pursuing forensic psychology degrees.


    • Violet and Cyril Franks Scholarship

      Who Can Apply: Graduate students conducting research to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness can apply for this American Psychological Foundation scholarship. Applicants must hold good standing at an accredited institution.

      Amount: $5,000

      Apply for Scholarship


    • Stephen Mitchell Award

      Who Can Apply: Current graduate students and those who have graduated within three years can submit exemplary papers for consideration. The scholarship is sponsored by the American Psychological Association’s psychoanalysis division.

      Amount: $500 cash prize, plus $500 toward conference attendance

      Apply for Scholarship


    • Garikan Scholarship Fund

      Who Can Apply: Armenian students in at least their second year of bachelor’s studies may apply for this award. Eligible majors include psychology, journalism, education, and Middle Eastern history.

      Amount: $750-$1,000

      Apply for Scholarship


    • APF Graduate Student Scholarships

      Who Can Apply: Ph.D. students and master’s students planning to enroll in Ph.D. programs are eligible to apply for one of the APF’s 21 annual scholarship awards. The funds should assist students during thesis or dissertation research.

      Amount $2,000-$5,000

      Apply for Scholarship


    • Diversity in Psychology and Law Research Award

      Who Can Apply: Students from marginalized groups qualify to apply to this award, including ethnic minorities, LGBT+ students, and learners with disabilities. The purpose of the grant is to fund research.

      Amount: $1,000

      Apply for Scholarship


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