Forensic psychology involves applying psychological principles and practices to the criminal justice system. Forensic psychologists relate psychology with law and criminal investigation and are often seen portrayed in movies and television shows trying to track down criminals. However, much of a forensic psychologist's time is actually spent in court providing evaluations on offenders, as well as counseling crime victims.
Students interested in studying forensic psychology can pursue a bachelor's, master's or doctoral degree in this field of study. A 4-year bachelor's degree program will offer students a foundational education in criminal justice and social psychology and could prepare them for careers in counseling, law enforcement or case work. More advanced studies in graduate degree programs are best for those intending to seek opportunities in research or academics, since these programs combine clinical practice and research components. A doctoral degree would also be necessary for those seeking to become licensed psychologists.
Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Psychology
Earning a Bachelor of Science in Forensic Psychology can provide a foundation for those interested in a career in law enforcement. The program shows students how to interpret psychology in a legal manner and to use this information when a person has been convicted of a crime. Throughout a bachelor's degree program in forensic psychology, students learn the different components that make up the criminal and civil system of laws. The curriculum teaches the proper skills needed to conduct criminal evaluations and interventions, as well as courses that discuss risk factors for violence, criminal profiling, psychological testing, legal procedures and ethics.
Like most bachelor's degree programs, Bachelor of Science in Forensic Psychology programs require prospective students to have a high school diploma or equivalent. Depending on the institution, there may also be a minimum GPA or SAT score required. Several undergraduate courses and electives, particularly in the fields of psychology and science, may also be required.
Courses in a forensic psychology education program help prepare students for many entry-level positions in the law enforcement or legal fields. Classes may include:
- Social psychology
- Aggression and violence
- Analyzing abnormal behavior
- Drugs and society
- Criminal justice
Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology
Students interested in a higher-level career in forensic psychology typically must have a master's degree. Graduate level degree programs typically take two years and provide in-depth instruction on analyzing psychological theories and how they relate to the civil and criminal justice systems.
Those interested in entering a master's degree program in forensic psychology must have completed a bachelor's degree, preferably in the fields of science, psychology or criminal justice. Depending on the institution, applicants may also have to complete the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), an admissions essay, letters of recommendation or an admissions interview.
Master's-level programs in forensic psychology include an in-depth look at specific areas in the field and students may customize their course load based on their career goals. Common class topics found in a forensic psychology graduate program may include:
- Criminal law
- Juvenile delinquency
- Family violence
- Offender evaluation
- Victim psychology
Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology
Much like the master's degree program curriculum, a forensic psychology Ph.D. program teaches advance theories in psychology, as well as high-level evaluation and analytical skills. Ph.D. students also receive extensive instruction on the legal system and how to address a wide range of matters, including sexual harassment, child custody and injuries.
While many students complete a master's degree along the way to completing their doctorate degree (usually after 45 post-graduate credits hours), it is possible to enter a forensic psychology Ph.D. program directly after completing a bachelor's degree in forensic psychology or forensic science. Doctorate level programs typically have a minimum GPA requirement, minimum GRE scores and prerequisite course requirements, as well as letters of recommendation, application essay, and interview and internship requirements.
Coursework in a forensic psychology doctorate program includes a variety of clinical and research components. Class topics may include:
- Cultural psychology
- Advanced quantitative methods
- Mental health and the law
- Advanced developmental psychology
- Advanced forensic report writing
Popular Career Options
Career options for graduates with a Bachelor of Science in Forensic Psychology include:
- Behavior analyst
- Case worker
- Drug and substance abuse counselor
- Parole officer
- Law enforcement agent
After completing a forensic psychology graduate program, students can go on to pursue careers that include:
- Forensic psychologist
- Forensic psychologist researcher
- Forensic psychology or criminal justice professor
- Criminal therapists
Employment Information and Career Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), employment for all psychologists is expected to grow by 19% from 2014-2024, with the best opportunities available to those with a doctorate degree. The median salary for psychologists, all other, including forensic psychologists, in 2015 was $94,590, according to the BLS.
By earning a bachelor's degree in forensic psychology, graduates are eligible for employment as case workers, substance abuse counselors and behavior analysts. Generally, more advanced careers as forensic psychologists and professors are available to those with a graduate degree in forensic psychology.