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What is Forensic Psychology?
Forensic psychology is the area of study melding psychology to criminal investigations and criminal justice. Forensic psychology professionals are responsible for applying psychological techniques to understanding and identifying underlying causes of criminal behavior in a given case, based primarily on the review of available evidence and materials and interviews with the criminal. They are often called in to discern patterns, methods and other actions necessary for the capture and condemnation of a given criminal, providing testimony and expertise win court when called upon to verify findings obtained through other means. Often forensic psychologists will provide cause and motivation for such behavior, which is necessary in many cases for conviction.
Top Forensic Psychology Degrees
Degree programs in forensic psychology are plentiful from an array of accredited colleges and universities around the country. To help you determine which program is best for you, we have provided a concise overview of each degree level along with quick access to connect with schools to make your college decision-making process as efficient and productive as possible.
Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Psychology
The online bachelor degree programs in forensic psychology are conferred as a Bachelor of Science (BS) at most colleges and universities with a few offering a Bachelor of Arts (BA). The bachelor degree is a four-year program that combines general education courses such as creative writing, sociology, and math with core classes. The core curriculum in forensic psychology will be dependent upon the area of emphasis you decide to pursue. For example, a degree track that focuses on forensics and law will include classes such as psychological disorders, forensic interviewing, forensic assessment, psychological inquiry, forensic investigation, and criminal law. On the other hand, a degree program in forensic leadership will include classes like theories of personalities, public personnel management, human resources, budgeting, psychology of leadership, and social influence on behavior.
Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology
The classroom-based or online master’s degree in forensic psychology is a 2-3 year program depending on course load and pace. The master’s degree is designed to provide deep, rich insight into forensic psychology in a concentrated manner. As such, most colleges offer a number of degree paths within the forensic psychology area of study. Depending on the school, degree paths can include areas of concentration such as: cybercrimes, criminal justice, family violence, legal issues, policy psychology, military, sex offender behavior, victimology, or terrorism. Classes for each area of emphasis will correlate to the specialization of choice.
Doctorate Degree in Forensic Psychology
Online doctorate degrees in forensic psychology are conferred as a PhD or PsyD and known as a terminal degree as no additional degrees exist above it. The PhD degree in forensic psychology is a 4-6 year program with a large portion of that time spent working on a board-approved dissertation project. Much like the master’s degree program, the PhD and PsyD program offers students the ability to select an area of emphasis to invest their time. Tracks can include a general program, victimology, self-designed course, legal issues, crisis response, criminal justice, and criminal justice. Graduates in the PhD program will be equipped to launch a career in private industry, teaching, research organizations, think tanks, or government agencies of all types.
Educational Requirements in Forensics
Forensic psychology is the application of psychological principles in a criminal justice setting. A bachelor's degree can be pursued, but most jobs will only consider those with at least master's degree and prefer PhD holders. For those who wish to work within the criminal justice system, the high level of education required to obtain work is based on the fact that a forensic psychologist will testify in court, and the testimony given must be reliable, otherwise the lack of credibility can negatively impact the legal process. There are few professionals operating in this field due to the high standard and necessary education level required to be recognized as a qualified witness.
A forensic psychologist will, along with a regular course load for psychology, take classes in criminal justice. Classes that will be of benefit include:
- Criminal Law
- Abnormal Psychology
- Motivational Psychology
How to Become a Forensic Psychologist
To begin a career in forensic psychology, you must successfully complete a number of steps from education through board certification. We have outlined the steps below to help you efficiently understand and navigate the process to achieve your goals in forensic psychology.
Step 1 - Research Accredited Colleges and Universities
The first step in becoming a forensic psychologist is the begin with thoughtful, intelligent research on accredited colleges and universities. To make the most of your time, invest your energy into writing down your goals and priorities before collecting information from schools. This will allow you to focus on what is important to you versus chasing the latest rankings reports based on criteria that are global and not personal. From your priority list, you can request information from schools found on this resource portal or utilize our proprietary matching tool to quickly gather information from top colleges in forensic psychology all in one place.
Step 2 – Your College Application
After collecting information from your top schools and their respective doctoral program in psychology, counseling psychology, or clinical psychology, you will need to complete a college application for your top schools. Be organized, detail-oriented, and memorable in your college application. Providing salient information along with relevant work experience in the field will help you compete in a crowed pool of graduate school applicants. In the past, a master’s degree in psychology was sufficient but today a doctoral degree and even post-doctoral work is critical to your success in forensic psychology.
Step 3 – Admissions to Your Degree
After accepting the offer to attend your top college choice, you will need to attend the school’s orientation and register for classes in an approved field of psychology. After investing 4-6 years to complete your PsyD or PhD degree in psychology from an accredited college or university, you will be ready to move to the next step in the process.
Step 4 – Training & Work Experience
During your doctorate program or after graduation, you will need to earn a sufficient number of postdoctoral training hours specializing in forensic psychology along with approved work experience. Such courses and training modules blend law with psychology to help prepare graduates for work in the field.
Step 5 – Board Certification
For most students, earning a board certification from the ABFP will be a segue from school into the work force. By earning your certification in forensic psychology in addition to your degree, training, and work experience will indicate to employers a high degree of competence and motivation to succeed.
Step 6 – Find Work and Continuing Education
After meeting all requisite state requirements, you can seek work in the field of forensic psychology as a specialist, practitioner, administrator, counselor, or contractor. It is important to keep in mind all continuing education requirements mandated by your state to keep current on any certifications and licenses in the field.
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Employment Opportunities in Forensics
A forensic psychologist must have familiarity with the legal system, understand court procedure, and to be able to relay information in a language the court understands. A forensic psychologist can specialize in family court, civil court or criminal court, and will choose a psychology subfield which will be his or her focus. Forensic psychologists may also choose to focus on research, can work to affect public policy, implement programs in correctional institutions, or work in institutions either with victims or perpetrators.
Job Growth, Salary, and Forensic Careers
Forensic psychology is a growing field, but educational opportunities have only recently begun to expand. Most forensic psychologists will pursue a degree in psychology and then specialize in forensics through additional classes and licensing or certification. The average salary for a forensic psychologist is approximately $59,500 per year with an average starting salary of $53,000 per year. A career in forensic psychology can be lucrative, especially for those with doctorates. As with many professions, maintaining high standards, longevity, and professionalism will create more opportunities and higher pay for an individual.
What Do Forensic Psychologists Do?
After earning a degree in forensic psychology, you will be able likely be involved in an array of civil and criminal cases. Cases may include insurance claims, lawsuits, custodial disputes, psychiatric evaluations, expert witness testimony, psychotherapy to victims, and assessments of offenders in the normal course of the job. Each component within forensic psychology requires a high level of expertise, tempered with judicious communication and analysis to provide an accurate assessment of each situation. With extensive training, academic prowess and hands-on application in real situations, a practitioner will become more and more adept at helping provide objective and accurate feedback about criminal and civil infractions.
If you are interested in a degree in forensic psychology you may also be interested in psychology, criminology, forensic science and criminal justice. For more information, check out our Career Guide in Psychology on the MatchCollege blog. Further research is available by reading our blog that illustrate the Top Jobs in Psychology by degree type, industry, and specialty.