Home Forensic Psychology Degree Programs

Forensic Psychology Degree Programs

The field of forensic psychology has grown a lot in recent years. While elements of forensic psychology have been around for over a century, it’s become a recognized discipline within the last 20 years. Thanks to its popularity in TV shows and movies, forensic psychology has also enjoyed the spotlight — although, there’s been some confusion over what the specialty actually entails.

“Forensic” is a Latin word meaning “of the forum,” where ancient Rome held law courts. Basically put, forensic psychology incorporates both psychology and the law. While the Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t offer information specific to the forensic discipline, the job outlook for psychologists in general has a projected job growth rate of 14% — double the 7% average across all occupations.

This page will introduce you to the field of forensic psychology, the type of work practitioners do, salary expectations, and the educational and licensure requirements.

What Is Forensic Psychology?

Forensic psychology combines the study of psychology and the legal system. A forensic psychologist needs to possess knowledge in three primary areas: clinical, forensic, and legal.

The American Psychological Association (APA) officially defines forensic psychology as “the application of clinical specialties to the legal arena.” This arena can include police departments, courts, prisons, and other environments.

Many authors of forensic psychology textbooks identify two specific types of definitions: narrow and broad. The narrow definition of forensic psychology is the application of clinical skills — for example, assessment, treatment, and evaluation — to forensic settings. The broad definition of forensic psychology is the application of research and experimentation in various other psychology disciplines — for example, cognitive psychology and social psychology — to the legal system.

This specialized field requires that practitioners understand legal concepts and psychological fundamentals, such as memory, perception, communication, and state of mind. Forensic psychologists assist individuals involved in the court system.

According to the APA, in practice, forensic psychology “involves investigations, research studies, assessments, consultation, the design and implementation of treatment programs and expert witness courtroom testimony.” As a result, it’s essential to have both training in law and forensic psychology, and good clinical skills. These skills include clinical assessment, report writing, verbal communication (from interviewing a victim to acting as an expert witness in court), and case presentation.

It takes lots of schooling and supervised practice hours to become a forensic psychologist. Practitioners are required to have a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree. Depending on your career goals, you might also need to obtain licensure and become board certified.

Note: It’s important to differentiate forensic psychology from criminal psychology. While sometimes used interchangeably, criminal psychology is a specific sector within forensic psychology. A big distinction between the two is that the former studies the psychology across the criminal justice system, particularly the mental state and health of the suspects, victims, and witnesses. Criminal psychology, on the other hand, studies the psychology of criminals in general. These specialists often work for state or county police departments and work with government bureaus to form policies and advance the criminal justice field.

What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?

Although forensic psychologists perform a range of tasks, one of the more prevalent is to assess the mental health of suspects, criminals, and victims. Other tasks might vary depending on work setting, but can include:

  • Assessing threats in schools
  • Conducting child custody evaluations
  • Evaluating criminal defendants and the elderly for competency to stand trial
  • Providing counseling services to victims of crime
  • Developing death notification procedures
  • Counseling inmates individually and in group therapy settings
  • Screening and selecting law enforcement applicants
  • Assessing post-traumatic stress disorder in police officers
  • Delivering and evaluating intervention and treatment programs for juvenile and adult offenders
  • Consulting with attorneys and other legal professionals

Forensic psychologists are often called upon in “mens rea,” or insanity, cases. “Insanity” is a legal term; the standard of insanity varies from state to state, though there is a federal standard as well. It’s up to the forensic psychologist to determine a person’s mental state at the time of the crime — not in the present day. Much of this work is retrospective and consists of third-party information and statements made around the time of the crime.

This field can play a big role when solving criminal cases. Aside from providing expert testimony, forensic psychologists might be called on to help interpret a motive. This discipline can help with crime prevention, too, from the rehabilitation of perpetrators to research into the types of people who commit crimes.

With that stated, forensic psychology isn’t always the easiest field to work in. Forensic psychologists need to maintain an unbiased viewpoint when dealing with accused individuals and be able to deal with crimes that are disturbing for most people.

Forensic Psychologist Salary

The salary for a forensic psychologist varies depending on experience, workplace setting, and location.

In an article on the APA website, Mary Connell, EdD, a private practitioner in Fort Worth, TX, estimates forensic psychologists earn between $200,000 and $400,000 a year. However, PayScale reports the following:

  • Early-career forensic psychologist (with 1 to 4 years of job experience) average salary: $68,011
  • Mid-career forensic psychologist (with 5 to 9 years of job experience) average salary: $82,868
  • Late-career forensic psychologist (with over 20 years of job experience) average salary: $115,913

Educational Requirements for Becoming a Forensic Psychologist

It takes four to six years of post-graduate study and supervised professional experience to become a forensic psychologist. To become an actual psychologist and provide clinical services you need a doctorate from a program that is accredited by the APA or Canadian Psychological Association (CPA). Note, however, that there are entry-level and assistant jobs that you can get with a master’s degree.

Typically, you will take the following steps to become a forensic psychologist

Get a Bachelor’s Degree

To begin your career in forensic psychology, you need to earn an undergraduate degree from an accredited university. You’ll most likely want to major in psychology (forensic, if available) and consider a minor in criminal justice, pre-law, criminology, or a mental health specialty. While you can consider related programs to major in, note that some graduate schools will only accept students with a bachelor’s of arts or bachelor’s of science in psychology. You’ll also want to get good grades to secure a high GPA and increase your chances of getting into a graduate program.

Typical courses you’ll take in a psychology program include criminal psychology and forensic psychology and classes on human behavior and psychology research. The degree can be completed within four years, though it may take longer if you pursue additional areas of study or internships.

Get a Master’s Degree

A standalone master’s degree is not necessarily required to continue your forensic psychology education. Some schools only require Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores to enroll in doctoral program. Many offer a combined master’s-doctorate degree program. However, some graduates choose to pursue a master’s degree in forensic psychology to boost their chances of getting into the Ph.D. or Psy.D. program of their choice.

A master of science in forensic psychology program traditionally focuses more heavily on psychology and legal issues, and professional training. Most programs will require 36 credits, or about two years, to complete; however, this can vary by school.

Get a Doctorate Degree

Reminder: You have to earn either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree before you can become a bona fide forensic psychologist. A Ph.D. is typically more research-centered, while a Psy.D. tends to focus on the treatment of patients. Depending on your professional aspirations, it might make sense to pursue one degree over another. If you’re not sure which direction you want to head in, review programs at different schools — some degree programs may even offer a similar curriculum.

For either degree, you’ll often take coursework in criminal behavior, police psychology, program evaluations, and more. This program can take four to eight years to complete.

Obtain Licensure

Graduates can apply for licensure and sit for an oral or written exam, depending on the state in which they’ll be practicing. Each state has different licensure requirements for forensic psychologists. Typically, you must complete a specific number of supervised training hours and pass an exam. From there, applicants will most likely go through a background check and have their credentials reviewed by their state board.

For information about individual state requirements, visit the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

Gain Practical Experience

After completing a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree from an accredited doctoral program, forensic psychologists will need “the equivalent of two years of organized, sequential, supervised professional experience, one year of which is an APA- or CPA-accredited predoctoral internship,” according to the APA.

Become Board Certified

While it’s not always a requirement to practice, forensic psychologists can get professionally certified through the American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP). Having board certification is advantageous because it shows that you are a dedicated professional. According to the ABPP, there are two general requirements for forensic psychologists:

  1. Practitioners must complete the credential review, a written and oral examination, and a vote by the ABFP to be accepted.
  2. Practitioners cannot have past serious ethical misconduct or unlawful behavior that the board would deem incompatible with its high standard for board certification.

Optional: Get a Law Degree

Since law and psychology are intertwined in forensic psychology, some students choose to also pursue a law degree. But that’s purely optional.

Online Forensic Psychology Degrees

There are many advantages to taking courses online. Online programs provide you with flexibility, convenience, and the ability to work around your schedule. You might also save money by avoiding commuting costs and campus fees. In addition, a U.S. Department of Education report found that college-level students in online learning programs performed better than students learning on campus — particularly those enrolled in hybrid programs.

Be aware that the APA doesn’t accredit fully online doctoral programs, but some accrediting agencies may. However, the APA does accredit some hybrid doctoral programs. You’ll want to check with individual schools to see if they’re APA-accredited.

Additional Psychology Schools
Adelphi University (Garden City, NY)
  • Master of Arts in General Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Adler School of Professional Psychology (Chicago, IL)
  • Criminology
    (online)
  • Industrial & Organizational Psychology
    (online)
  • MA in Counseling - Forensic Psychology
  • Specialization in Military Psychology
    (online)
Alliant international University (San Diego, CA)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Behavioral Studies - Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Behavioral Studies - Criminal Policy & Law
  • Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Behavioral Studies - Criminal Psychology
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology - Civil Forensics
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Forensic Psychology - Clinical Licensure
  • Doctor of Philosophy in Forensic Psychology - Psychology, Policy, and Law
  • Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology - Civil Forensics
  • Doctor of Psychology in Forensic Psychology
Alvernia University (Reading, PA)
  • Bachelors in Arts Psychology - Forensic Psychology
American International College (Springfield, MA)
  • Master of Science in Forensic Psychology
Antioch University Seattle (Seattle, WA)
  • Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology - Forensic psychology
Bay Path College (Longmeadow, MA)
  • Major in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Bluffton University (Bluffton, OH)
  • Major in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
California Baptist University (Riverside, CA)
  • Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology
  • Master of Science in Counseling Psychology - Counseling/Forensic Psychology
    (online)
California State University-Fresno (Fresno, CA)
  • Bachelor of Science in Forensic Behavioral Sciences
Cambridge College (Cambridge, MA)
  • Master of Education in Counseling Psychology - Forensic Counseling.
Castleton State College (Castleton, VT)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Cedar Crest College (Allentown, PA)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Chestnut Hill College (Philadelphia, PA)
  • Certificate in Forensic Treatment
  • Master of Arts in Clinical and Counseling Psychology - Forensic Treatment
  • Master of Science in Clinical and Counseling Psychology - Forensic Treatment
College of Saint Elizabeth (Morristown, NJ)
  • Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology - Forensic Psychology and Counseling
CUNY John Jay College Criminal Justice (New York, NY)
  • BA/MA in Forensic Psychology and Public Administration
  • Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Psychology
  • Certificate in Forensic Psychology.
  • Doctor of Philosphy in Psychology - Clinical Forensic Psychology
  • Doctor of Philosphy in Psychology - Experimental Forensic Psychology
  • Master of Arts in Forensic Mental Health Counseling
  • Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology
DeSales University (Center Valley, PA)
  • Major in Psychology - Forensic
Fairleigh Dickinson University (Teaneck, NJ)
  • Master of Artsin Forensic Psychology
Fairmont State University (Fairmont, WV)
  • Bachelor of Science in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Florida Tech - Online (Melbourne, FL)
  • BA in Applied Psychology/Forensic Psychology
    (online)
Forest Institute of Professional Psychology (Springfield, MO)
  • Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Holy Names University (Oakland, CA)
  • Certificate in Forensic Psychology
  • MA Counseling and Forensic Psychology
  • Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology
John Carroll University (Cleveland, OH)
  • Major in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Keiser University (Fort Myers, FL / Lakeland, FL / Orlando, FL / Port St. Lucie, FL / Sarasota, FL)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology - Fort Myers, FL
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology - Lakeland, FL
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology - Port St. Lucie, FL
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology - Sarasota, FL
  • Master of Science in Psychology - Orlando
Keuka College (Keuka Park, NY)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Lincoln University of Pennsylvania (Lincoln University, PA)
  • Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Lynn University (Boca Raton, FL)
  • Psychology - Bachelor
    (online)
Madonna University (Livonia, MI)
  • Major in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Marymount University (Arlington, VA)
  • MA in Community Counseling & Forensic Psychology - Community Counseling with Forensic Psychology
Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (Boston, MA)
  • Master of Arts in Forensic & Counseling Psychology
Minnesota State University-Mankato (Mankato, MN)
  • Certificate in Forensic Vocational Rehabilitation
Mount Aloysius College (Cresson, PA)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology - Forensic Investigation
Mount Ida College (Newton, MA)
  • Bachelor of Science in Forensic Psychology
Nebraska Wesleyan University (Lincoln, NE)
  • Master of Forensic Science - Behavioral Sciences
New York University (New York, NY)
  • Master of Arts in General Psychology - Forensic psychology
Northwestern College (Orange City, IA)
  • Master of Arts in Psychology - Forensic
Northwestern University (Evanston, IL)
  • Major In Psychology - Forensic psychologists
Ottawa University (Online, )
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
    (online)
Ottawa University (Phoenix, AZ)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
Ottawa University (Ottawa, KS)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
    (online)
Ottawa University (Brookfield, WI)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology
    (online)
Pacific University (Forest Grove, OR)
  • Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Palo Alto University (Redwood City, CA)
  • Certificate in Forensic and Correctional MHC
  • MA in Counseling - Forensic and Correctional Emphasis
    (online)
  • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Phillips Graduate Institute (Encino, CA)
  • Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology - Forensic
Post University - Online (Waterbury, CT)
  • B.A. in Psychology
    (online)
  • B.S. in Human Services / Counseling
    (online)
  • M.S. in Human Services / Forensic Mental Health Counseling
    (online)
Prairie View A&M University (Prairie View, TX)
  • Master of Science in Juvenile Forensic Psychology
Roger Williams University (Bristol, RI)
  • Masters in Forensic Psychology
Saint Ambrose University (Davenport, IA)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Psychology
Saint Peter's University (Jersey City, NJ)
  • Bachelor of Science in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Southern New Hampshire University - Online (Hookset, NH)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
  • MS Psychology: Forensic Psychology
    (online)
  • MS Psychology
    (online)
Spalding University (Louisville, KY)
  • Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology - Forensic Psychology
St Andrews Presbyterian College (Laurinburg, NC)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Science - Psychology
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology (Irvine, CA)
  • M.A. Forensic Psychology - Irvine, CA
  • Psy.D. Clinical Forensic Psychology - Irvine, CA
The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey (Pomona, NJ)
  • Certificate in Forensic Psychology
  • Master of Arts in Criminal Justice - Forensic Psychology
Thomas College (Waterville, ME)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Tiffin University (Tiffin, OH)
  • Major in Forensic Psychology
  • Master of Science in Criminal Justice - Forensic Psychology
Trinity Lutheran College (Everett, WA)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology - Forensic
University of Massachusetts-Boston (Boston, MA)
  • Master of Science in Mental Health Counseling - Forensic Services
    (online)
University of Denver (Denver, CO)
  • MA in Forensic Psychology
University of Evansville (Evansville, IN)
  • Major in Forensic Psychology / Pre-Law
University of New Haven (West Haven, CT)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
  • Certificate in Forensic Psychology
University of North Dakota (Grand Forks, ND)
  • Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology
    (online)
  • Master of Science in Forensic Psychology
University of Phoenix (Dunwoody, GA)
  • BS in Psychology
    (online)
University of Phoenix (Meridian, ID)
  • BS in Psychology
    (online)
University of Phoenix (Guaynabo, PR)
  • BS in Psychology
    (online)
University of Phoenix (Nashville, TN)
  • BS in Psychology
    (online)
University of South Carolina-Beaufort (Bluffton, SC)
  • Bachelor of Arts in Psychology - Forensic
University of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA)
  • PhD in Clinical Psychology - Forensic Clinical Psychology
Walla Walla University (College Place, WA)
  • BS in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Kaplan University (Cedar Falls, IA / Cedar Rapids, IA / Davenport, IA / Des Moines, IA / Mason City, IA)
  • BSCJ - Forensic Psychology - Cedar Falls, IA
  • BSCJ - Forensic Psychology - Cedar Rapids, IA
  • BSCJ - Forensic Psychology - Davenport, IA
  • BSCJ - Forensic Psychology - Des Moines, IA
  • BSCJ - Forensic Psychology - Mason City, IA
Kaplan University (Learning Center - Indianapolis, IN)
  • BSCJ - Forensic Psychology
  • MSPY - Addictions
  • MSPY - General Psychology
Kaplan University (Hagerstown, MD / Learning Center - Rockville, MD)
  • BSCJ - Forensic Psychology
  • BSCJ - Forensic Psychology - Hagerstown, MD
  • MSPY - Addictions
  • MSPY - General Psychology
Kaplan University (Augusta, ME / Lewiston, ME / South Portland, ME)
  • BSCJ - Forensic Psychology - Augusta, ME
  • BSCJ - Forensic Psychology - Lewiston, ME
  • BSCJ - Forensic Psychology - South Portland, ME
  • MS in Psychology
  • MSPY - Addictions
  • MSPY - General Psychology
Kaplan University (Learning Center - St. Louis, MO)
  • BSCJ - Forensic Psychology
  • MS in Psychology
  • MSPY - Addictions
  • MSPY - General Psychology
Kaplan University (Lincoln, NE / Omaha, NE)
  • BSCJ - Forensic Psychology - Lincoln, NE
  • BSCJ - Forensic Psychology - Omaha, NE
Kaplan University - Online (Online, )
  • BSCJ - Forensic Psychology
    (online)
Liberty University Online (Online, VA)
  • Bachelor of Science in Psychology: Criminal Psychology
    (online)
Walden University - Online (Minneapolis, MN)
  • M.S. in Forensic Psychology - Forensic Psychology in the Community
    (online)
  • M.S. in Forensic Psychology - Mental Health Applications
    (online)
  • M.S. in Forensic Psychology - Program Planning and Evaluation in Forensic Settings
    (online)
  • M.S. in Forensic Psychology - Psychology and Legal Systems
    (online)
  • Master of Social Work - Forensic Populations and Settings
    (online)
University of Liverpool (Online, )
  • MS - Forensic Psych & Criminal Investigation
    (online)
Adler University (Chicago, IL)
  • M.A. in Criminology and Criminal Justice
    (online)
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology Online (Online, IL)
  • M.A. Forensic Psychology, Professional Counselor Licensure Track
    (online)
  • M.A. Forensic Psychology: Non-Licensure Track
    (online)
  • M.A. Forensic Psychology
    (online)
  • MA Forensic Psychology: Non-Licensure Track AND Master of Legal Studies
    (online)
University of the Rockies Online (San Diego, CA)
  • MA - Criminology and Justice Studies Specialization
    (online)
  • PhD - Criminology and Justice Studies
    (online)