How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

A forensic psychologist works with the criminal justice system and civil courts to determine psychological competency, evaluate offenders and victims of a crime, provide an objective viewpoint, supply psychotherapy to victims, and perform custody analyses. A forensic psychologist may also be involved in insurance claims and legal disputes. There are many career options for the forensic psychologist. Government agencies are one of the largest employers of forensic psychologists with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), federal prisons, public defender offices, and state police departments having the most jobs. Some people obtain jobs as a police or probation officer, counterterrorism specialist, counterintelligence consultant, victims advocate, or prison mental health official.

Entry-level salaries for a forensic psychologist, also sometime referred to as a criminal psychologist, begin in the $35,000 range and with qualifications and experience can increase to over $100,000 a year. Most jobs come with liberal benefits, such as medical, dental, and vision plans with some forensic psychologists reporting receiving an annual bonus. The highest salaries went to those individuals who had a private practice, worked in private industry, or provided consultation during criminal trials. These individuals are also trained in psychotherapy and therefore can provide counseling to earn additional money. For a person truly interested in applying psychology to the legal profession, there are many ways to enjoy what you do and earn the salary you aspire to make.

The process of becoming a forensic psychologist begins with an education in psychology. For most people, this begins with a bachelor’s degree which takes from two to four years to complete. A foundation in psychology is important because the forensic psychology degree is based upon an understanding of the mental processes of the criminal mind and the impact it has on its victims. The forensic psychology discipline is a meld of psychology within the criminal justice system. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in psychology, some students find work in the field practicing in correctional facilities or within a law enforcement agency.

Often these experiences inspire the individual to pursue an advanced degree in forensic psychology. Some students then apply to a master’s or doctoral program in forensic psychology which is available through many colleges and universities nationwide. There are even online degree programs, which are convenient for the working person and for people who want the flexibility and convenience a virtual program will provide. Course studies will include that the law and legal processes, the jury system, and the role of the psychologist in the courtroom. Students are educated on the differences between law and psychology regarding models of behavior. Training is received on the different theories of change, morality, and the values people hold. Research on relevant sociological, philosophical, and religious viewpoints from a multicultural perspective is also reviewed.

For individuals interested in becoming a forensic psychologist, it is important to know that many courses in research design and statistical application will be required. If the thought of going through this training is not appealing to you, then you might want to consider another profession. The student will receive an in-depth view of the application, construction, design, and research, as it applies to forensic psychology. Forensic research projects will be required as well as studies surrounding the philosophy of science, sampling, validity, and questionnaire construction. All types of social science statistics will be reviewed with a particular emphasis on the application of statistical techniques that apply to research in forensic psychology and the criminal justice system.

Once the student has the needed forensic training, post-training in specialized areas may occur. Some individuals gain training in advocacy, hostage negotiation, de-escalation psychological techniques, serial killing, suicide, and evidence-based intervention.

Forensic Psychology Degree

The field of forensic psychology differs from forensic science. Forensic psychology is the understanding of how psychology works within the legal system. The study of forensic psychology applies to legal situations with families and individuals, jury selection, child custody issues, and client assessments. Forensic science provides the physical evidence that is used to help the legal system reach a verdict on a case The collection of evidence from a crime scene helps lawmakers determine what actually happened and prove the perpetrator of a criminal crime. Forensic science is about finding the “truth”.

Forensic psychology involves the legal system but can utilize any part of this structure. It focuses on the psychological aspects of crimes, which are typically used to show underlying motivations for a crime. This information is collected and used as evidence in a trial. Forensic psychology may also be used to decide the full conscious awareness of a suspect, and whether someone is competent to stand trial. A forensic psychology degree will prepare the student for a career in the field by offering classes on topics such as serving as an expert witness, crime prevention, and crime analysis.

For individuals interested in pursuing a career in the field, the amount of formalized education you pursue will vary. At present, quite a few colleges and universities offer certificate training in the profession. The Chicago School of Professional Psychology is one school in particular that offers a certificate in the study of forensic psychology. The Chicago School focuses on psychology and behavioral science and provides its offerings online. Online studies require the student to have access to a computer and a moderate level of proficiency with the Internet. Lessons are administered online with the school holding discussion forums, web-based conferences, and video lectures. Other benefits to online degree programs include flexibility, convenience, and cost savings. Attending online degree programs do require, however, exceptional time management and organizational skills.

Some schools do offer a two-year forensic psychology degree. These two-year degrees are typically associated with an associate’s degree and give the student an introduction to psychology.

Although there are certificate programs and numerous associate degrees available in psychology, to seriously be considered in the profession, a minimum of a bachelor’s degree is required. A bachelor’s degree will provide entry-level opportunities in the profession. Entry-level jobs in forensic science include caseworker, probation officer, or youth residential counselor. The required coursework in the degree focuses on psychology and criminal justice. Required courses include systems of law, police science, theories of personality, correctional psychology, general and social psychology, and the psychology of criminal behavior. Some of the “softer skills” to be successful in the profession include excellent listening and speaking skills, research abilities, intuition, crisis intervention, research abilities, and adaptability.

A bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology teaches the student to work with mentally ill patients who may be victims of crime and/or need some type of crisis intervention. Courses will teach the student about various psychological theories and standards in the legal system.

To complete a bachelor’s degree, courses in the justice system, psychology, and sociology are required. Courses in gender and the justice system, rehabilitation services, juvenile delinquency, social inequality and social justice, deviant behavior, patterns in violence and abnormal psychology will prepare the forensic psychologist to work with judges and attorneys.

The average salary for a forensic psychologist ranges from $44,000 – $83,000 a year, with top salaries reaching over $110,000. Most people with a bachelor’s degree and three years of experience will earn about $52,000, and individuals with over fifteen years in the field can earn about $70,000.

To obtain more information on the field of forensic psychology, you may contact the American Board of Forensic Psychology for a calendar of oral examinations, to locate a board certified expert, or to apply for ABFP/ABPP Forensic Board Certification.

Forensic Psychology Schools

Forensic Psychology is a rapidly growing field. Recent attention to this profession can be attributed to shows such as CSI which has brought new life to the field of science. Forensic psychology schools have seen an increase in enrollment, with many students surprised to find that actual procedures, timing, and equipment vary significantly from what they see on the television shows. Crime lab processing, equipment used in the field, procedures to collect forensics, and the interrogation of suspects on television are not typical of a true forensic setting. This leads to unrealistic expectations of not only students, but also jurors serving on a trial. Some prosecutors have claimed that their clients have not received fair trials because the jurors expected data from forensic psychology that simply cannot be produced.

Forensic psychology schools are throughout the country. The process of applying is the same as any other college application. Once the student has determined that forensic psychology is his desired field of study, he must then research the type of programs that exist. To assist in the process of researching schools, a student can seek assistance from his local high school guidance counselor, library, bookstore, or the internet.

The internet also has an immense amount of information that can be helpful in your college search. Websites, such as, will identify colleges and universities with degree programs and majors in forensic psychology. No matter the resource you use, the following information can be found and used to help you make the right decision:

Forensic Psychology Schools

    1. Names of schools
    2. At present, the top ten traditional-style forensic psychology schools are:

      1. CUNY John Jay College Criminal Justice
      2. Marymount University
      3. Argosy University
      4. Chicago School of Professional Psychology
      5. Tiffin University
      6. University of Denver
      7. American International College
      8. Rogers Williams University
      9. Alliant International University
      10. Prairie View A & M University
      11. In addition, there are two online programs:

      12. Kaplan University
      13. Walden University

There are also other schools that offer these programs. This website will provide information on all forensic psychology schools and their programs. In addition, you will find:

    1. The location of schools. Perhaps you have always desired to go to school in another state, or you may prefer to attend a school that is closer to home. Some people like the online school option. Your research will uncover the logistics of your education and help you determine whether a traditional classroom-based education or an online option is for you. The number of students attending a school, demographics, diversity numbers, age range, athletic programs, percentage of international students versus those from out of state, number of full-time versus part-time students, and graduation rates might help you determine the best school for you.
    2. Types of degrees based on the amount of money you have and time commitment. Your research will help you determine if a certificate program, associates, bachelor’s, master’s degree, or PhD is best for you.
    3. Expenses associated with your education. Generally, public colleges and universities cost less than private ones. Keep in mind that most forensic psychology schools offer tuition assistance, so spend some time researching scholarships, loans, grants, work study, and other types of aid. Another expense is housing, whether it be on-campus or off-site, as well as the cost of meals. For students who reside within the state of the school they choose to attend, they will benefit from in-state tuition versus that of out-of-state students.
    4. Admissions information to help you narrow down your school choice. Look at the acceptance rate, required SAT and/or ACT scores, and how most students score on the standardized tests. Some schools require a certain GPA and class rank. Some extracurricular activities and recommendations are also required. Be realistic with your expectations and evaluate your probability of acceptance.

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