If you want to work in a challenging and fulfilling career where you can blend your interests in psychology, forensics, criminology, and the judicial system, then consider pursuing a master's in forensic psychology.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), forensic psychologists determine the mental status and communication skills of criminals to assist in conviction and the prevention of future crimes. They also ensure the ethical treatment and questioning of their clients. Forensic psychologists often determine whether a client can plead an insanity defense in trial, perform threat assessments, or provide expert witness testimony. Forensic psychologists earn an average salary of $62,698, and experienced professionals may earn six-figure salaries, according to the APA. With a job outlook projected to grow by 14% by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), earning a master's in forensic psychology sets graduates up for an excellent career.
Should I Get a Master's in Forensic Psychology?
Forensic psychology students need to master specialized skills in clinical applications. The career challenges both students and professionals to stay up to date on state and federal regulations, clinical research, and ethical guidelines. Academically driven learners who find these characteristics appealing may find pursuing a graduate education in forensic psychology fulfilling. Additionally, because gaining licensure as a forensic psychologist requires earning a doctoral degree, students need to prepare for a long-term commitment.
Students can complete their forensic psychology master's either online or on-campus. Online programs appeal to students who need to work while attending school, cannot find a program close to their residence, or hope to switch careers. On-campus programs; however, often attract students who recently graduated from a bachelor's degree in a related field and know they want to continue towards this specialization. On-campus programs include the added benefits of a close cohort of students attending classes together, alumni networking, on-site resources, and career services.
What Can I Do With a Master's in Forensic Psychology?
Forensic psychologists learn about clinical psychology, the judicial system, and criminology. As such, they prepare for an interesting and varied career working in corrections centers, social services departments, the department of homeland security, or law enforcement offices. Serving a variety of different people, they offer psychological profiling, diagnosis, treatment, advocacy, or expert testimony in legal proceedings. Students should research their desired career path to ensure that they can work with a master's degree or whether they need to move onto Ph.D. studies.
- Forensic Psychologist
Licensed forensic psychologists offer clinical care to patients involved in criminal cases and provide recommendations to social services and law enforcement. They diagnose mental illness, treat victims of abuse, and write reports for the involved parties. After completing their master's degree, students may earn their doctorate and sit for licensing examinations to become licensed forensic psychologists.
Median Annual Salary: $77,030
Projected Growth Rate: 14%
- Probation Officer and Correctional Treatment Specialist
These specialists work with law offenders and provide counseling, rehabilitation, resources, and job training. In many cases, correctional treatment specialists testify in court concerning the background and status of the offender. Typically, a bachelor's degree represents the minimum educational requirement, but those hoping to pursue supervisory positions benefit from earning their master's degree.
Median Annual Salary: $51,410
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
- Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselor
These counselors specialize in working with substance abuse, abnormal or deviant behaviors, and mental health difficulties, helping clients modify destructive and dangerous behaviors. Graduates from a master's in forensic psychology may apply their skills to treating and working with law offenders suffering from addiction and other issues affecting their behavior.
Median Annual Salary: $43,400
Projected Growth Rate: 23%
- Police and Detectives
Police and detectives help uphold the law. They respond to and analyze crime scenes, search for and arrest wanted criminals, and testify in court cases. Earning a master's in forensic psychology assists detectives in evaluating their suspects and recommending the correct course of action; it may even allow them to specialize in working with a specific population.
Median Annual Salary: $62,960
Projected Growth Rate: 7%
How to Choose a Master's Program in Forensic Psychology
Learners should consider several factors before making their final decision, including the timeframe, offerings, capstone or research requirements, and presentation style. Earning a master's in forensic psychology typically takes two years of full-time study, though this may increase for part-time learners or decrease in certain accelerated programs. As forensic psychology studies includes three main focus areas -- clinical, forensic, and legal -- the curriculums between different programs vary depending on their emphasis.
Look through the course catalogue of each program to ensure that the school offers classes that interest you. Additionally, some programs require a final capstone project that entails experiential learning time or a written thesis. Thesis papers often necessitate extensive researching and an oral defense. Understanding the final requirements before entering a program sets students up for future success.
The presentation style of each master's program also dramatically changes student experience. Online programs cater to working professionals with busy lifestyles or to students switching careers. On-campus programs tend to attract students coming straight from their bachelor's program. The course format also affects total cost. Online learners often pay less for total tuition, generally do not need to pay increased fees for out-of-state residency, and do not need to pay transportation or living costs.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's Programs in Forensic Psychology
Always verify school accreditation before selecting a program. Accreditation indicates that a school meets or exceeds nationwide academic standards and plays a role in credit transfer and academic reputation. More importantly, employment as a forensic psychologist requires licensing, and licensing boards require that students attend an accredited school.
You may see regional and national accreditation labels as you search for programs. Regional accreditation goes to degree-granting institutions with traditionally high academic standards. National accreditation focuses on vocational and technical schools. Both the U.S. Department of Education and the Council of Higher Education Accreditation help in the accreditation process, and students can research accredited schools on their websites. Most master's in forensic psychology programs hold regional accreditation. While no agencies award programmatic accreditation for this master's program, doctoral programs receive specific programmatic accreditation from the American Psychological Association's Commission on Accreditation.
Master's in Forensic Psychology Program Admissions
Gaining admission into a forensic psychology master's program takes dedication. Students should earn their bachelor's degree in a related field like psychology or criminal justice before applying, and most programs want students with a minimum 3.0 GPA. While not required for admission, applicants should also consider gaining professional experience to boost their application. After completing their prerequisites, learners need to submit an application with transcripts, letters of recommendation, test scores, and an essay. As many students go on to earn their a doctoral degree, schools tend to search for high-achieving students with a plan for their future career goals. Applicants typically apply to several different schools to help ensure admission.
- Bachelor's Degree: Graduate schools require their applicants to earn a bachelor's degree from an accredited school before submitting an application. In some cases, schools accept unrelated degrees from students with completed coursework in the appropriate subjects.
- Professional Experience: Most forensic psychology master's programs do not require professional experience to apply, as many students come straight from a bachelor's program. However, work experience does increase your competitiveness.
- Minimum GPA: The majority of master's programs require a minimum GPA of 3.0 to ensure that applicants can succeed in graduate coursework. Some schools list lower requirements, though others allow different application components to offset a lower GPA.
- Application: Completing an application can take several months, as it requires essays and information gathering. Fortunately, programs typically ask for the same basic information.
- Transcripts: Transcripts provide an official record of your undergraduate coursework and grades. You can order your official transcripts from your alma mater for a small fee and request that they go to your designated schools.
- Letters of Recommendation: Graduate programs typically require two letters of recommendation. Try to obtain recommendations from professors in this field of study, giving them at least a month to write and submit.
- Test Scores: Some graduate programs require that students complete the GRE. A few schools even waive their requirement if a student achieves a certain GPA. Research each school's specific requirements when applying.
- Application Fee: Application fees vary widely from school to school. Make sure you research the amounts and budget for the cost of several applications. Programs tend to average between $50 and $80 per application.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's Program in Forensic Psychology?
Each program offers its own concentrations and foci. For example, some emphasize clinical treatment while others focus on the judicial system. Read on for a sampling of potential concentrations and careers.
|Child Protection||Graduate students with a concentration in child protection focus on the nuances of working with a juvenile population. They work on both the evaluation and treatment of youth and assist victims of abuse or neglect.||Forensic psychologist specialized in child protection|
|Corrections||Correctional psychology studies mentally ill inmates, determines their mental state when they committed the crime, and decide if they can stand trial. Corrections also focuses on diagnosis, treatment, and future management to prevent additional offenses.||Correctional counselor, correctional psychologist|
|Legal Studies||Learners who want to learn to make psychological assessments and sentencing recommendations to the court should consider a legal or criminal justice specialization.||Forensic psychologists with expertise in the judicial system often work as expert witnesses in court proceedings.|
|Applied Clinical Psychology||This concentration emphasizes clinics and prepares students for careers in research or the psychological diagnosis and treatment of either victimized or at-risk populations.||This concentration prepares clinical psychologists to work with specific offending populations at psychiatric institutions, correctional facilities, and nonprofit and governmental agencies.|
|Sex Offenders||This specialization track studying sex offenders looks at the assessment and treatment of criminals who commit forced, threatening, or illegal sexual acts. A forensic psychologist with this concentration performs risk assessments and makes recommendations for rehabilitation.||Forensic psychologist|
Courses in a Master's in Forensic Psychology Program
Programs vary in their course offerings, specialization options, and range of materials covered. Read on for a sampling of classes that you may see in a master's program, but make sure to research each specific school's curriculum to see whether it offers the classes that interest you.
Covering a range of mental disorders and abnormal behavior, this course teaches students to diagnose mental illness and determine appropriate treatment plans. Forensic psychologists practicing in clinical settings and those who determine whether an offender can stand trial benefit from this course.
- Sex Offender Behavior
This course prepares forensic psychology learners to work with the sex offender population. It focuses on the deviant behaviors of sex offenders. Students look at diagnosis, risk assessment, treatment plans, and the legal issues raised in sex offenses.
- Mental Health Law
Coursework in mental health law analyzes previous court cases, criminal responsibility, and legal precedents surrounding criminal acts committed by mentally disabled individuals. It emphasizes the rights of persons with mental illness and discusses different punishments that may arise from an offense. This course prepares learners to provide expert witness testimony in court cases.
- Crime, Psychology, and the Law
This class introduces forensic psychology to learners and covers basic principles and sub-specialties within the field. Students analyze ethical and legal issues that arise when working with law offenders; they discuss criminal profiling, correctional psychology, and criminal court proceedings.
- Violence and Risk Assessment
Forensic psychologists need to determine whether an offender presents a risk to society. Completing this course in violence and risk assessment proves vital to professionals working in correctional facilities, with violent criminals, and with sex offenders. Students learn to evaluate offenders, use assessment tools, implement strategies to reduce risky behavior, and provide recommendations to the court.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Forensic Psychology?
Students can earn their master's degree in forensic psychology in two years of full-time study. Most schools require 33-36 credits for graduation. However, the timeframe to complete these credits may vary for some learners. Students who attend part time may take between four and six years to complete their master's degree as they take fewer classes per term. Others may attend one of the few programs designed to only take 15 to 18 months. Whether or not your school requires an internship component may also affect the total length of study.
Additionally, class format plays a role in the program timeframe. Some schools offer classes with an individually paced format that allows students to complete their work at their own speed. Thus, learners may finish the required credit load and graduate sooner. The total cost to complete a degree is generally determined by credit hours.
How Much Is a Master's in Forensic Psychology?
Students need to do their research to ensure that they can afford a master's in forensic psychology. According to U.S. News and World Report, students in these master's programs may end up paying between $11,000 and $27,000 in tuition fees alone. This breaks down to a per-credit cost of between $335 and $750. Several factors can explain this difference. Private universities traditionally cost more than public universities due to the differences in funding. If you plan to attend a private school, prepare for correspondingly higher fees. Even public schools, though, can get pricey. Students attending an on-campus program out of their state of residency may pay significantly higher dues than in-state residents. Alternatively, online students often pay the in-state, on-campus rate at these same institutions.
In addition to tuition fees, consider the additional costs that come with graduate school. Students need to buy books and supplies and pay for transportation, housing, and technology fees.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Forensic Psychology Prepares For
- Speciality Board Certification in Forensic Psychology
The American Board of Professional Psychology and the American Board of Forensic Psychology offer board certification in this speciality. Applicants need to complete a doctoral degree in forensic psychology, receive 100 hours of specialized training after graduation, and complete either five years of forensic psychology professional experience or complete a 2000 hour postdoctoral training program before taking written and oral examinations.
- Forensic Psychologist Licensure
Forensic psychologists need to obtain a license in order to practice, diagnose, treat, and provide expert testimony. Licensure requirements vary by state, but typically students need to graduate from a doctoral program and complete a certain number of professional experience hours before earning licensure.
- National Organization for Victim Assistance Credentialing
Though not required for employment as a victim advocate, graduates from a forensic psychology master's program who wish to work closely with victims through legal processes and questioning may benefit from this certificate. Applicants must complete pre-certificate training and sit for 32 hours of continuing education every two years.
Resources for Graduate Forensic Psychology Students
LearnPsychology.org provides undergraduate and graduate students with educational resources, current data, and information on mental health trends. It includes a detailed section on forensic psychology education and the potential career paths available.
This professional, peer-reviewed journal provides free access to articles and additional resources utilized by students and professionals alike. It offers consolidated information created for forensic psychology professionals.
A simple but comprehensive web resource, Reddy's Forensic Page provides an introduction to the field from a law enforcement standpoint; it includes reading lists, journal articles, and useful definitions for students and professionals.
This site provides an extensive list of codes and guidelines, professional organizations, journal articles, recommended books, and online resources for forensic psychologists.
The premier organization for psychologists, the APA offers a publication database, current news, and a help center that students and professionals can reference.
Professional Organizations in Forensic Psychology
Forensic psychology master's program students and recent graduates should join a professional organization. Professional organizations offer guidance and resources to ensure that their members stay up-to-date with research and regulations. They also promote the profession and advance the field by providing networking opportunities, professional certifications, continuing-education resources, and funding options.
This organization focuses on advancing the field of psychology as it intersects with the judicial system. It promotes continuing education and the dissemination of current research to its members.
IACFP promotes psychological assessment and treatment in a criminal justice setting. Membership includes discounts on books and conferences, access to journal articles, and professional networking opportunities.
The AAFP is a nonprofit board made up of board certified forensic psychologists who seek to develop the field. They offer board certification examinations, sponsor educational workshops, and host networking forums.
The American Psychological Association establishes the standards of the field of psychology as a whole and provides resources for its members in the form of education, meetings, professional contacts, publications, and annual reports.
The SPCP welcomes anyone interested in the field of criminal justice. It encourages the application of science and the study of human behavior in criminal settings. Members receive continuing education resources and access to an annual conference.