What Degree Do You Need to Be a Forensic Psychologist?

By Joy Cromwelle
Edited by Briana Sukert
Updated on April 13, 2024
Edited by Briana Sukert
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What degree do you need to be a forensic psychologist?

Forensic Psychologist Degree

Forensic psychologists are professionals who use their psychology knowledge to influence matters related to law and criminal justice.

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As a forensic psychologist, you may play a role in civil or criminal court cases, community improvement, or the corrections system. By choosing this profession, you may become a champion for justice who makes a lasting difference for individuals and communities.

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Forensic Psychologist?

Forensic Psychologist talking to a family

There are various careers related to forensic psychology for every level of college education, from a bachelors through a PhD. To become an official forensic psychologist, though, a doctoral degree is required.

The first step is to earn a bachelor’s degree. Psychology can be a good field to study. Social work, counseling, and criminal justice are other majors to consider.

Next, you may choose to earn a master’s degree. An MS in Forensic Psychology will likely include numerous classes on psychology statistics and research. Those acquired skills can be helpful during your doctoral program.

Alternatively, some doctoral programs welcome applicants straight out of undergraduate programs. There may be more coursework involved in bachelors-to-doctorate programs, but they may still save you time in the long run.

Either way, earning a professional doctorate or a PhD in Forensic Psychology is required for anyone who plans to become a licensed forensic psychologist. In some states, the doctoral program must be accredited by the American Psychological Association.

After earning your doctorate, you’ll work toward gaining supervised work experience. After meeting your state’s fieldwork requirements, you may apply to your state board for licensure and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Then, you may be a licensed psychologist.

3 Things You Can Do with a PhD in Forensic Psychology

Forensic Psychologist with a patient

After your doctoral program, you may work as a forensic psychology practitioner or begin a research-oriented career.

1. Forensic Psychologist

Criminal profilers are just one type of forensic psychologist. Others may provide counseling services for criminals or law enforcement officers.

Forensic psychologists may be called on as consultants or expert witnesses. As a consultant, you may run training sessions for police departments or help lawyers select jury members. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists may earn between $46,270 and $137,590 annually.

2. Psychology Professor

psychology professor teaching in a university

A doctorate in forensic psychology may qualify you to teach college classes at the undergraduate and graduate levels. This might include both general psychology classes and courses with a forensic focus.

College faculty members are often engaged in research as well. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that postsecondary psychology teachers make an average of $78,180 each year.

3. Social Scientist

Social Scientist interviewing a patient

Psychology researchers are often known as social scientists. You may lead studies to investigate crime patterns, mental health issues, or best practices for corrections, criminal justice, and law enforcement.

Social scientists are often employed by local, state, or federal governments. Other employers include research and development firms, grant writing institutions, advocacy groups, and educational support organizations. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists an average annual salary of $87,260 for social scientists and related workers.

Forensic Psychology Licensing Requirements

Forensic Psychologist studying online

Before you can seek forensic psychology licensure, it’s necessary to complete a doctoral degree from a program accredited by the American Psychological Association.

A certain number of hours of fieldwork experience is also required for licensure. A licensed supervisor will provide guidance and oversight. Psychology licensure is granted by state boards. After applying to the board, you can take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

Licensing requirements, such as the number of required work hours, are set by individual states. You can consult your state licensing board for specifics.

What Is a Forensic Psychologist?

Forensic Psychologist talking to a client in his office

You may have wondered exactly what a forensic psychologist is. A forensic psychologist is an expert in psychology as it relates to legal matters and criminal justice.

As a forensic psychology professional, you may study thought patterns and behaviors associated with criminal activity. You may also investigate policies and practices that may reduce crime or promote community improvement.

Some forensic psychologists work as practitioners in the field. You may be employed by law enforcement departments or correctional facilities. You may also be a consultant who is called in on a case-by-case basis.

Research and teaching are other ways that forensic psychologists can make valuable contributions. Evidence-based practices and programs are often borne from scientific studies.

Is Forensic Psychology a Good Career?

Forensic Psychologist in a meeting

Forensic psychology has become more popular due to television and media, but whether it’s the right career for you depends on your interests and goals.

If you are fascinated by psychology and also have a passion for justice, this field may allow you to combine those two interests. Whether you become a researcher or a practitioner, your efforts may make a difference for individuals and contribute to community development.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, life, physical, and social science jobs are set to grow at 5% over the next 10 years, faster than the average for all occupations. Common careers in this field include forensic psychologist, jury consultant, university professor, and social scientist.

What Major Do You Need to Be a Forensic Psychologist?

Forensic Psychologist with a patient during consultation

Forensic psychology degrees are available at the bachelors level. Some colleges have programs specifically dedicated to this field. You could also choose a psychology or criminal justice major with a concentration in forensic psychology.

Although there may be some prerequisite course requirements, most masters and doctoral programs don’t require previous forensic psychology studies. To broaden your knowledge base, you may consider an alternate undergraduate major. Programs to consider include criminology, child psychology, and social work.

After your bachelor’s degree, you may choose to pursue a master’s. Many schools offer a forensic psychology degree either as a standalone program or as a specialization track of the psychology program.

Finally, a doctoral degree is required if you plan to be a licensed forensic psychologist. You can find both PhD and Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) programs in forensic psychology.

How Hard Is It to Become a Forensic Psychologist?

forensic psychology student taking her doctorate degree

Becoming a forensic psychologist requires a doctorate. Getting a bachelor’s degree often takes 4 years with some universities offering 2-year psychology degree online programs. A master’s program may take at least 1 or 2 years, and many people spend over 3 years on their doctoral studies.

Doctoral studies involve research and statistics. The courses may cover both qualitative and quantitative reasoning. You’ll apply those skills as you prepare a dissertation or another doctoral project.

Other classes you might take in forensic psychology programs include psychology and the court system, cognitive psychology and behavior, criminal psychology ethics, and personality assessments.

What Skills Do You Need to Be a Forensic Psychologist?

Forensic Psychologist interviewing a patient

Forensic psychology doctoral programs may teach you the ins and outs of this field, but possessing certain personal strengths may also contribute to your success as a psychologist.

One of the top skills that can benefit a psychologist is being a good communicator, including both talking and listening. From writing reports to interviewing clients, you may find that communication plays a prominent role in your career.

As a forensic psychologist, you may spend a great deal of time interacting with people who are going through difficult situations. Doing this job well often requires a careful balance between exhibiting empathy and remaining objective.

Earning Your Forensic Psychology Degree Online

Earning Your Forensic Psychology Degree Online

As a forensic psychologist, you may be able to make a difference in the court and criminal justice system as a profiler, an expert witness, or a researcher.

From bachelors classes to a forensic psychology doctoral program, online degree programs in psychology and related fields can make a college education more accessible.

Accredited online forensic psychology degree programs are flexible, reliable, and respected. If you’re ready to begin your journey toward becoming a licensed forensic psychologist, you can start exploring what accredited online psychology programs have to offer.

Ready to start your journey?