Forensic psychology degree programs allow students to enter a field that makes significant impacts in law enforcement by focusing on trying to figure out criminal behavior. Primarily, forensic psychologist work in both the healthcare and legal setting in order to establish who commits crimes, why certain individuals or groups commit these crimes, and to determine the mental state or competency of suspects or convicted criminals.
In order to start a career as a forensic psychologist, most prospective candidates must first obtain a master’s degree or a PhD in Forensic Psychology. However, in order to initially qualify for these post-graduate degrees, many students opt to receive a bachelor’s degree in Forensic Psychology.
Like most bachelor’s degrees, a Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Psychology usually takes 4 years of full-time study in order to complete the program, and the program requires a high school diploma or GED for enrollment. This bachelor’s degree program introduces candidates into the field of forensic psychology with fundamental courses such as:
- Introduction to Psychology
- Statistics and Research methods
- Criminal Forensics
- Sociology of Crime and Violence
Moreover, with the interdisciplinary focus that the job of forensic psychology entails, a bachelor’s degree also requires courses in understanding the law. Some of the criminal justice courses that aid forensic psychology students in understanding their places within the legal system include:
- Introduction to Criminal Justice
- Law, Justice, and Family
- Forensic Law
- The American Legal Tradition
Lastly, due to the liberal arts aspect that most bachelor’s degree programs demand, students must take general education courses such as English, writing, college algebra, or a foreign language requirement in order to complete their degree. Similar requirements and courses are needed to complete an online forensic psychology degree.
The next academic steps that most aspiring forensic psychologist take is to pursue a master’s degree in forensic psychology, which could help gain entry level positions into private or governmental offices depending on the requirements of the position. A master’s degree in forensic psychology focuses its coursework on integrating forensic psychology theory into law enforcement; giving students the tools necessary to enter their field. Moreover, a master’s degree in forensic psychology promotes professionalism and research, with some programs requiring students to complete a capstone project or fieldwork in order to obtain their degree. The coursework generally taught in a master’s degree program includes:
- Abnormal Psychology
- Criminal Behavior
- Research Methods
- Juvenile Delinquency
Graduates of a forensic psychology master’s degree program tend to work as consultants for law enforcement by giving professional testimonies during trials and by working in a variety of other law enforcement liaison fields such as community corrections officers, clinical and program directors, or jury consultants. Nevertheless, in order to pursue a career as a licensed psychologist, students must receive a doctorate in forensic psychology in order to work as a licensed psychologist who works with patients directly.
A doctorate in forensic psychology tends to be a doctorate in psychology or clinical psychology with an area of specialization in forensic psychology. In order to enroll into top forensic psychology programs, prospective PhD students should have either a bachelor or master’s degree in forensic psychology or other psychology fields along with a well-rounded application that includes a competitive GPA, previous research or fieldwork, and stellar letters of recommendation. Once students are enrolled into forensic psychology programs, they will be taught rigorous and advanced theories in criminal psychology, mental illness and crime, and clinical interviewing. Doctoral candidates are also expected to complete a 1-2 year clinical rotation with the supervision of a trained and licensed psychologist in order to gain experience with real patients. Completing clinical rotations allows the students to gain first hand experience in a specific field of interest within the law such as working with juveniles, sex offenders, or crime victims.
However, in order to start practicing as a licensed forensic, a student must obtain board certification through the American Board of Professional Psychologist. Once students receive certification through passing a written exam and providing proof of 1,100 hours of specialized training in forensic psychology, students then must pursue a state license. In order to obtain the license, the candidate must complete all the requirements listed by the state. The requirements for a state license vary greatly across the country and a license from one state does not transfer to another.
Once an individual starts practicing as a forensic psychologist, the work environment that the professional may enter depends on their field of interest and their desire to work with certain patients. The environment for a forensic psychologist can vary from courts, to prisons, to mental hospitals in an office setting. Moreover, in these law enforcement settings, forensic psychologist would be expected to evaluate the mental state or possible conditions of both criminals and witnesses, providing recommendations with court proceedings and final judgments. Prospective forensic psychologist could expect to earn a median pay of $61,489 per year and a pay range of $38,772--$122,849 per year depending on their chosen career, experience, and career setting.
Ultimately, becoming a forensic psychologist means investing into a career that aids law enforcement and provides a guiding voice in legal proceedings that have to deal with the mentally ill or traumatized individuals.