Forensic Psychology Degree Program Summaries

Forensic psychology can be studied at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels; holding a doctorate is typically necessary to practice as a forensic psychologist, since it's a requirement for licensure.

Essential Information

Forensic psychologists use principles of psychology in relation to the law. They work as victim advocates as well as criminal profilers and may be the ones to discern whether or not an individual is competent to stand trial. Common course topics in these programs include criminology, victimology, mental health and criminal law. Psychology courses will often focus on personality development and disorders, crisis management and substance abuse. Some programs offer internship opportunities or requirements. Careers in this field could require licensure or certification.

Forensic psychology degrees are available at the bachelor's, master's and doctorate levels. Prerequisites vary by program level, but a bachelor' degree is required for application to a master's program, and a bachelor's or master's degree is needed for a doctoral program.


Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Psychology

While they do exist, there are very few bachelor's degree programs in the United States specifically for forensic psychology. Most forensic psychologists earn their bachelor's in psychology and then proceed to focus on the forensics aspect in graduate programs. These programs typically last 4 years. The coursework involved in attaining a bachelor's degree for this field emphasizes research and how to develop problem-solving skills. At the bachelor's degree level, there might be introductory courses addressing subjects such as:

  • Critical forensic issues
  • Theoretical criminology
  • Juvenile crime issues
  • Aggression and violence
  • Introduction to criminal law
  • Criminal justice ethics

Master's Degree in Forensic Psychology

A master's degree prepares a student for licensure as a forensic psychologist over a 2-year program. At this level, the students will study criminal and traditional psychology at a deeper level and learn how to combine the two facets to aid the legal justice system. Classes taken to attain a master's in forensic psychology include criminal justice courses along with traditional psychology courses that focus on criminal psychology. This program focuses on both research and application of studies. The courses prepare students for doctoral studies by teaching such classes as:

  • Advanced personality psychology
  • Victim psychology
  • Forensic consulting and testimony
  • Substance abuse
  • Rehabilitation

Doctorate in Forensic Psychology

Successful completion of a doctoral degree in forensic psychology will in some cases qualify an individual for state licensure examinations. This step will not only prepare the doctor for practice, but also opens the door to teaching other aspiring forensic psychologists. Some schools offering doctorates in forensic psychology accept students with baccalaureate degrees rather than requiring a master's degree prior to admission. This is the final step towards honing skills that will enable the forensic psychologist to provide services to both offenders and victims. Studies include an internship period as well as classes in:

  • Mental health and the law
  • Interviewing and assessing children
  • Risk assessment
  • Crisis and trauma
  • Criminal responsibility

Continuing Education

A practicing forensic psychologist must maintain a current license. Requirements to obtain a license or certification are different in each state, but all states require successful completion of an exam and most require specific internships and professional experience. Continuing education requirements for license renewal and reciprocity between states also vary. Psychologists can pursue certification as forensic psychologists from the American Board of Forensic Psychology.

Popular Careers

There are several career options available for those with bachelor's degrees in forensic psychology. Not all professions deal directly with the criminal justice system. Some possibilities are:

  • Crime analysis
  • Social work
  • Victim's rights group support
  • Probation

Those with a master's degree in forensic psychology are eligible to pursue careers in a variety of occupations. The majority of these occupations are directly linked to the criminal justice system. Options include employers such as:

  • Childcare organizations
  • Rehabilitation facilities
  • Family courts
  • Police departments

Doctorate-trained professionals go on to leadership positions in the field of forensic psychology. They work with courts, police departments, social services and, on occasion, in private practice as consultants. The three main career directions available to those with doctorates are:

  • Research
  • Department supervision
  • Teaching

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

From 2014-2024, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that postsecondary psychology teachers would see a 16% growth in employment opportunities. The mean annual wage for psychology professors was $79,370 in May 2015.

Available at the bachelor's, master's and doctorate levels, degrees in forensic psychology prepare students to work with victims and offenders. You will learn to handle issues from substance abuse to violence and can work in fields such as social work and crime analysis.


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