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Forensic Psychology Degree and Career Guide

The professional practice of forensic psychology was recognized as a specialty by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2001 within the larger areas of clinical psychology, counseling psychology, and school psychology.1 Forensic psychology is tightly focused on treating psychological disorders in legal contexts, and forensic psychologists are often called upon by the judicial system to provide their professional psychological expertise, helping to evaluate and convict criminals and potentially prevent future crimes. The three primary areas of focused practice within the specialty of forensic psychology are clinical (diagnosis, treatment, testing, and ethics of mental disorders); forensic (forensic ethics and assessment of symptoms in a legal context); and legal (specific knowledge of the law and the legal system).

A degree in forensic psychology is typically an advanced one: a master’s degree, a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD), or a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). To become licensed as a forensic psychologist in any state, a doctoral degree is required. Courses in forensic psychology may be offered in undergraduate programs, but these are most likely limited to elective courses that provide a broad overview of the specialty. Most students who enter a graduate program in forensic psychology will have an undergraduate degree in psychology (with a possible focus on criminal justice or a related field) or in criminal justice or criminology (with a possible focus on psychology). Graduates of programs in forensic psychology might seek jobs in the fields of homeland security, correctional systems, law enforcement, or social services for offenders and victims.

Quick Facts

  • There are 51 colleges and universities with forensic psychology programs.2
  • 3 schools offer a certificate in forensic psychology.2
  • No schools offer an associate’s degree in forensic psychology.2
  • 21 schools offer a bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology.2
  • 30 schools offer a master’s or advanced degree in forensic psychology.2

For not-for-profit colleges and universities.

Table of Contents
Forensic Psychology Degree Requirements and Coursework
Best Value Schools with On-Campus Forensic Psychology Programs
Select Forensic Psychology Degree Programs
Forensic Psychologist Career Information
Becoming a Forensic Psychologist
Job Description
Salary and Job Outlook
Additional Resources
Frequently Asked Questions

Degree Requirements and Coursework

In a forensic psychology degree program, students will be exposed to coursework covering the psychopathology of criminals, the proper treatment of offenders, and the ethical interrogation of suspects. In these degree programs, students will learn about social psychology, human development, criminal justice and criminology, criminal psychology, and statistics. Because forensic psychology is already a specialization within the broad field of psychology, no further specializations (also known as concentrations, emphases, or specialties) are typically offered.

To enter a graduate-level forensic psychology program, students are typically required to have at least a 3.0 minimum GPA in their undergraduate program and take between two and six years of full-time study to complete, with master’s programs taking an average of two years and doctorate programs taking an average of four to six years. Sample coursework may include:

  • Evaluation and Treatment of Offenders
  • Evaluation and Treatment of Sex Offenders
  • Family Systems and Family Treatment
  • Interrogation and Interviewing
  • Issues in Family Law
  • Psychology of Violence
  • Psychology and the Legal System
  • Psychopathology
  • Research, Theory, Design, and Methods
  • Social Psychology
  • Theories of Criminal Behavior
  • Theories of Personality and Counseling

Best Value Schools with On-Campus Forensic Psychology Programs

The table below represents the best value not-for-profit colleges and universities in the US with graduate forensic psychology programs. Of the programs offering forensic psychology studies, we only included the schools with a combination of an undergraduate graduation rate of 45% or above and an undergraduate net price below $20,000 per year. A higher graduation rate is usually an indicator of a school’s success, while a low net price is important since a graduate degree represents a significant investment for most students. We’ve also included other information about these schools, including percentage of faculty with tenure, and US News & World Report rankings.

SchoolUndergrad Degree(s)Grad Degree(s)US News National Rank3Grad Rate2% Tenured Faculty4Net Price2
CUNY John Jay College of Criminal JusticeBA Forensic Psychology;
BA/MA Forensic Psychology
MA Forensic Psychology;
MA/JD Forensic Psychology and Law
NR47%27%$4,891
University of North DakotaCertificate Forensic PsychologyMA Forensic Psychology#205 tie54%35%$14,478
Missouri State University-SpringfieldCertificate Forensic Child PsychologyCertificate Forensic Child Psychology#111 tie55%34%$15,173
Montclair State UniversityMA Forensic Psychology Concentration#169 tie65%23%$15,224
Kean UniversityBA Psychology: Forensic PsychologyMA Forensic PsychologyNR49%14%$16,839

Select Forensic Psychology Degree Programs

Traditional Master’s Programs

John Jay College of Criminal Justice

Since 1978, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which is part of the City University of New York (CUNY) system, has offered a Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology (MAFP). A minimum of 42 credits are required to earn the degree, which takes an average of two years to complete. The MAFP is designed to train practitioners to provide psychological services for the criminal justice system and to prepare students for doctoral study in the field. Applicants must score a minimum combined score of 297 on the GRE (the Psychology Subject GRE is not required) and have a minimum of 3.0 GPA in their undergraduate program. The curriculum focuses on how to understand, evaluate, and treat offenders and their victims. Students can choose between completing a thesis or completing an externship with a minimum of 300 hours in a psychological setting (under the supervision of a licensed psychologist or another approved trained mental health professional). A postgraduate certificate program in forensic psychology, as well as two combined degrees in forensic psychology and law (MA/JD), are also offered at the college.

Oklahoma State University

The Center for Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University (OSU) offers a Master of Science in Forensic Sciences (MSFS) degree that is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. The program requires students to take a total of 39 credits (many of which are offered online) and complete a research project, graduate seminars, and a comprehensive exam. The program takes full-time students two to three years to complete, and while the degree will not qualify graduates to be forensic psychologists, it gives students a good foundation to begin a career in the field. Courses in the program include Survey of Forensic Sciences; Ethics in Forensic Leadership; Molecular Biology for the Forensic Scientist; Advanced Forensic Toxicology; Forensic Accounting and Fraud Investigation; and Forensic Management and Organizational Development.

University of Denver

The University of Denver (DU) offers a Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology (MAFP), a program that has been offered since 1999 at the Graduate School of Professional Psychology, which has been accredited by the APA since 1979. The MAFP requires 90 credits to graduate, and the coursework typically takes students about two years of full-time study to complete. A minimum undergraduate GPA of 2.5 is required for admittance, as well as GRE scores. During their two years of study, students will learn how to apply psychological theory, knowledge, skills, and foundational and functional competencies to the civil and criminal justice systems. Courses include Interviewing and Theories of Psychotherapy; Issues in Forensic Psychology; Trauma and Crisis Intervention; and Socio-Cultural Issues in Forensic Psychology.

Traditional Doctoral Programs

John Jay College of Criminal Justice

The John Jay College of Criminal Justice and the Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY) jointly offer an APA-accredited Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Clinical Psychology that has been in existence since 2009 and focuses on proficiencies in clinical forensic applications. The program takes a median of five years for students to complete degree requirements, which consist of 90 credits, a comprehensive exam, a master’s thesis, and an empirical dissertation project. The PhD program is based on the Boulder (science-practitioner) model, placing an equal emphasis on research and professional practice competencies. In addition to regular coursework and a dissertation, students are required to complete a minimum of two years of supervised clinical practicum experience and take two doctoral examinations before graduating. Students admitted to the program pay no tuition, and, working as graduate assistants, receive a stipend and health insurance.

Sam Houston State University

Sam Houston State University (SHSU) offers a PhD program in Clinical Psychology with a strong emphasis on forensics. The first PhD in Clinical Psychology at SHSU was awarded in 2002. PhD students take courses ranging from Mental Health Law to Forensic Assessment and during their schooling will do forensic evaluations, consult on court cases, and participate in the treatment of forensic populations. Students in this program must complete 108 credit hours within six years. In addition to the coursework, students must take a comprehensive exam, complete an empirical master’s thesis, and write an empirical dissertation before graduating. There is no minimum GRE score or GPA required for admittance into the program. For the practicum requirement, students at Sam Houston State have worked in inpatient and residential settings, private practices, and correctional settings. Students in the program also provide services at the program’s Psychological Services Center serving community clients.

Online and Hybrid Programs

Arizona State University

At Arizona State University (ASU), students can earn a Master of Science (MS) in Forensic Psychology completely online. A total of 33 credit hours are required, which are spread over 11 classes; students spend 7.5 weeks on each class. The MS degree at ASU prepares graduates for advancement in their current careers or further graduate study through coursework in criminal law, behavior, the diagnosis of mental disorders, the treatment of mental disorders, and the legal system. Coursework includes Advanced Legal Psychology, Advanced Correctional Psychology, Psychopathology, Quantitative Analysis, and seminars in Criminal Justice as well as Courts and Sentencing. While ASU’s MS program does not qualify graduates for clinical practice, it can open up opportunities for students employed in law enforcement, corrections, mental health, or related fields. A bachelor’s degree in psychology, criminal justice, or another related field is required for admission and successful applicants must have at least a 3.0 cumulative GPA.

University of North Dakota

The University of North Dakota (UND) offers a Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology (MAFP) that is completely online, aside from one one-week culminating experience at the end of the program that takes place on the Grand Forks campus. Requiring 30 credits to graduate, the part-time program typically takes students a minimum of two years to complete, depending on their availability to take classes. UND’s MAFP gives graduates a solid foundation in advanced psychological concepts, theories, and statistical skills as well as a deep understanding of the role of forensics in the legal system. In addition, students will learn how to testify in court as expert witnesses, assist courts and state agencies with evaluations, and conduct focus groups to assist lawyers in trial preparation. The completion of this program will also prepare students for entry into a PhD or PsyD program. A minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or graduate GPA of 3.5 is required for entry, but no GRE scores are necessary for entrance.

Forensic Psychologist Career Information

How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

To become fully licensed as a forensic psychologist, you will need to pursue a doctoral degree (Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) or a PhD in Psychology) as the minimum educational requirement. You will also have to complete a certain number of hours (typically over a year or two) of supervised clinical experience in your field. All states also require licensed psychologists to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). The basic steps to become licensed as a forensic psychologist include:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree and (optionally) a master’s degree in psychology or a related field.
  2. Earn an accredited PsyD or PhD in Forensic Psychology.
  3. Complete the supervised clinical experience required by your state.
  4. Pass the required exam(s), including the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).
  5. Apply for and receive a forensic psychology license.
  6. Begin practicing as a forensic psychologist.
  7. Complete the continuing educational requirements in your state in order to keep your license current.

Job Description

The completion of a forensic psychology degree will open the door to a variety of job fields, including homeland security, the fields of law and law enforcement, correctional systems, and social services. Forensic psychologists may help determine whether a suspect suffers from mental illness and they may be involved in the treatment of criminals suffering from addiction. Forensic psychologists may also counsel children and minors who are suspected victims of abuse. They may spend their time writing reports, giving testimony, or treating patients. Prospective forensic psychologists should possess excellent critical thinking skills, science skills, strong writing and oral presentation skills, and a calm demeanor. Work hours for forensic psychologists can be long and grueling, especially in those weeks leading up to an important trial. According to the APA, forensic psychologists might expect to work eight- to 12-hour days, but they are usually well-compensated for their time.5

With a doctorate degree in forensic psychology graduates can pursue a postdoctoral specialization in forensics. While the job title of forensic psychologist requires a PhD or a PsyD in the field, master’s-level graduates in forensic psychology can still participate in the field, but in more supportive roles. Possible job titles include:

  • Case manager
  • Clinical and program director
  • Criminal justice clinical specialist
  • Correctional officer
  • Criminal profiler
  • Forensic clinician
  • Forensic mental health liaison
  • Forensic psychologist*
  • Forensic treatment specialist
  • Juvenile offender counselor
  • Law enforcement advocate
  • Rehabilitative counselor
  • Victim advocate

*A doctoral degree is usually required for this job title.

Salary and Job Outlook

The outlook for forensic psychologists is good. Included under the umbrella of “other psychologists” by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), jobs in this field are expected to increase by 12% through the year 2028, equating to 210 new jobs added to the workforce each year.6 According to the APA, the field of forensic psychology is a young, growing specialty which offers high salaries, especially for those in private practice.1 The BLS reports that “all other” psychologists earn an average of $98,230 per year, with the top-earning 10% earning $129,530 or more per year.7 It typically takes some years of earning experience before getting up to higher pay tiers.

Additional Resources

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need a doctorate degree to be a forensic psychologist?

Yes, according to the APA, licensed forensic psychologists must possess a PhD or PsyD from an APA- or CPA-accredited doctoral program, including two years of supervised professional experience (one year of which must be accredited by the APA or CPA). After the degree is obtained, candidates will complete any other steps needed for licensure, such as completing supervised experience, applying for licensure, and sitting for an oral or written exam (depending on the state) before becoming licensed. After gaining substantial specialized training and earning postdoctoral experience (at least five years), some forensic psychologists will elect to become board-certified by the American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP).

Should I attend a traditional or online forensic psychology program?

The answer to this question is largely based on personal preference. Online programs tend to provide more flexibility for students, allowing them to work and to complete coursework on their own time. However, the field of forensic psychology offers very few online degrees, so you should ensure that the school you choose (whether traditional or online) is accredited and will adequately prepare you for the career path you are seeking.

How long will it take for me to get a forensic psychology degree?

Depending on the program and the level, a degree in forensic psychology can take between two to six years on average to complete, with master’s degrees taking one to two years of full-time study and doctorate degrees taking four to six years.

Do I have to get board certified by the ABFP in order to become a forensic psychologist?

Board certification is not required to become licensed as a psychologist; however, Board certification does signify that a psychologist has met established professional standards and possesses a high level of competence in the field. Forensic psychologists who plan on testifying in court may seek additional certification from the American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP) in order to further improve their expert status.

Can I become a forensic psychologist with a master’s degree?

While master’s degrees are offered in this field, it is important to note that a doctorate degree from an APA-accredited or Canadian Psychological Association (CPA)-accredited program is required to be a licensed forensic psychologist.5 Further, the APA does not accredit master’s-level graduate programs, only doctoral graduate programs.

Does the FBI hire forensic psychologists?

Yes, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may hire forensic psychologists to be expert witnesses in case consultations or as full-time criminal profilers in the Behavioral Analysis Unit (BAU).

References:
1. American Psychological Association (APA), Forensic Psychology: https://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/forensic
2. National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator: https://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/
3. US News & World Report National University Rankings: https://www.usnews.com/best-colleges/rankings/national-universities
4. College Factual: https://www.collegefactual.com/
5. American Psychological Association (APA), What is forensic psychology?: https://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/psn/2013/09/forensic-psychology
6. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Psychologists: https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/psychologists.htm
7. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, Psychologists, All Other: https://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193039.htm