Forensic Psychology School and College Program Information

Coursework in forensic psychology combines psychology with elements of the criminal justice system. While a graduate degree is recommended, undergrad degrees are also available. Learn about the programs, types of careers and salaries in this field.

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Essential Information

Forensic psychology explores the intersection between criminal justice and psychology. It focuses on the judicial system and on legal principles as they apply to witness testimonies within a courtroom. Students may obtain both an undergraduate and graduate degree in forensic psychology. However, it is strongly recommended that those interested in a career in forensic psychology pursue a graduate degree. While entry-level positions are available, for true advancement in the forensic psychology field, candidates must possess at least a master's.

Acceptance into master's-level psychology programs requires the applicant hold a bachelor's degree with an acceptable minimum GPA and GRE score. Doctoral applicants must have clinical and research experience, professional recommendations, GRE scores in psychology and a minimum GPA.

Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Psychology

Emphasizing the relationship between psychology and the criminal justice system, a bachelor's degree program in forensic psychology covers topics such as criminal behavior patterns and treatment, law and ethics, sociology, criminal assessment, investigation techniques, and criminal profiling. In addition to taking a number of general psychology courses, students also gain foundational skills such as psychology research, writing, communication and data analysis. Students also learn skills in the evaluation and treatment of criminal offenders, crisis intervention, psychopathology, research methods and personality assessment. In a forensic psychology program, primary courses may include:

  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Research methods
  • Human growth and development
  • Criminal psychology

Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology

A forensic psychology master's degree program prepares students for advanced work in criminal justice and psychology settings such as correctional facilities, mental health clinics and law firms. Students learn to perform tasks such as evaluating and treating criminal offenders, consulting law enforcement officials, developing behavior profiles, interviewing clients, assisting victims and consulting at trial. Topics covered include juvenile and adult criminal offender treatments, criminal testimony, psychopathology, human development, forensic psychological assessment, psychotherapeutic interventions and research methods. A number of forensic psychology programs also offer extensive hands-on training in forensic settings such as prisons, law enforcement agencies, probation centers, courts and policy agencies. Coursework in a master's degree program for forensic psychology focuses on applied research, and explores the ways in which one might use theory in a practical manner in the field. Overview topics span adult and juvenile offenders alike, although there is room for specialization within certain programs. Common classes address:

  • Evaluation and treatment processes
  • Research methods
  • Psychology of violence
  • Criminal behavior
  • Forensic assessment
  • Trauma and crisis intervention

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Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology

Doctoral forensic psychology programs have a combined emphasis on clinical practice and research. Students undertake training to provide psychological services in various research and clinical settings, and study subjects such as: aggression and juvenile delinquency, psychological assessment, legal competencies, research design, domestic violence, and antisocial behavior. Additional requirements often include practicum experience and a defense of dissertation. Some forensic psychology doctorate programs prepare graduates for state-issued clinical licensure examinations. Internship placements are often in settings such as hospitals, outpatient psychotherapy centers, college counseling centers and public hospitals. At the doctoral level, students are given some leeway to design and shape their own studies. Common denominators between forensic psychology programs include:

  • Criminal behavior
  • Research methods & statistics
  • Therapeutic intervention
  • Psychotherapy
  • Law and psychology
  • Forensic assessment

Popular Career Options

Because forensic psychologists are typically those with a graduate-level degree, those with a bachelor's degree in the field may pursue such entry-level positions as:

  • Youth counselor
  • Probation officer
  • Social scientist
  • Caseworker

Those with a doctorate in forensic psychology are qualified to work in a number of clinical and research settings. They may become:

  • Research scientists
  • Lead criminal investigators
  • Forensics professors
  • Medical directors
  • Government analysts

Career Outlook and Salary Information

Graduates of master-level forensic psychology programs are prepared to work in a number of settings, including outpatient treatment centers, community mental health centers, law enforcement agencies, protective services or correctional facilities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of growth for psychologists from 2014-2024 is expected to be much faster than average, at 19%. Clinical psychologists employed in family services earned an average wage of $68,440 as of May 2015; forensic psychologists working in the private sector can expect to earn higher sums (

The most common route of entry into the career field of forensic psychology is with a master's degree. However, there are forensic psychology degree programs available at the bachelor's and doctoral levels as well.

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