Master’s in Forensic Psychology Program Guide
A forensic psychology master's degree is a two-year program that provides advanced education and training in concepts, practices, and theories of law and psychology. A master's typically does not fulfill the education requirements needed for clinical psychology licensure, so many students pursue this degree as a stepping stone to a doctoral program. Others earn their master's in order to access advanced, nonclinical career opportunities in the justice system.
Read through this guide to learn more about graduate education in this interdisciplinary field. Topics covered include career options, common admission and curriculum requirements, tips for selecting a program, and additional resources for students.
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What Is Forensic Psychology?
Forensic psychology is the intersection of psychology and the law, where scientific principles and practices are combined with legal theory and procedure. Forensic psychology strives to promote ethical, evidence-based decision-making in criminal justice, social services, and related fields.
Despite being a relatively young discipline, forensic psychology has gained popularity and widespread attention through portrayals in network television shows like "Criminal Minds" and "NCIS." In the real world, forensic psychologists provide services and expertise in a variety of settings, including courtrooms, government agencies, higher education, jails, prisons, and rehabilitation facilities.
All of the potential applications of forensic psychology are too numerous to list here. Forensic psychology is used both in clinical and nonclinical environments. Common examples include assisting attorneys with jury selection, determining an individual's competency level before trial, performing criminal profiling to help law enforcement, and conducting clinical evaluations and treatment of inmates with mental health problems.
Searching for the perfect graduate school doesn't have to be overwhelming. Discover the best online master's in forensic psychology programs on our rankings page.
What You Can 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.
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: $79,010*
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: $53,020*
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: $44,630*
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: $63,380*
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
The psychology field offers work for professionals at all education levels. Visit our career guide to explore popular clinical and nonclinical opportunities in psychology.
What to Expect in a Master's in Forensic Psychology Program
The best online master's degrees in forensic psychology offer advanced study of human behavior, criminal justice, mental health, and ethics in law and psychology. Specific offerings vary depending on the school you select, but the examples below provide a representative look of courses and concentration options available in a forensic psychology program.
Concentrations Offered for a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 to Choose a Master's in Forensic Psychology Program
When reviewing your options and choosing a master's in forensic psychology, keep the following things in mind: accreditation, faculty qualifications, fieldwork opportunities, capstone options, and cost. Discover details about each of these factors below.
Master's in Forensic Psychology Program Admissions
You may encounter slightly different admission requirements depending on the school or program you decide to apply to, but most forensic psychology master's programs adhere to similar prerequisites and procedures. Review these standard expectations in the sections below.
How to Apply
Most graduate schools follow a similar set of admissions procedures. Final application deadlines typically occur about a month before the start of semesters in the spring, summer, and fall. Some schools, especially those offering online degrees, may accept applicants year-round with no firm cutoff dates.
GRE and GMAT test scores stay valid for five years. If you want or need to submit scores along with your applications, consider getting this major requirement out of the way early. Plan to set aside 2-3 months to study before sitting for your exam.
Along with noting final deadlines, find out when your prospective schools begin accepting applications. Avoid a last-minute rush by planning to submit as early as possible. Start gathering transcripts, requesting letters of recommendation, and writing your essays as soon as you can. Submitting early also provides a cushion for unforeseen delays and processing errors.
Resources for Master's in Forensic Psychology Students
American Psychological Association
APA seeks to promote and advance psychological knowledge to help improve lives. The organization includes more than 118,000 members, including psychology researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants, and students. Forensic psychology students can apply for membership at a discounted rate or access free online articles, news, and career resources.
American Psychology-Law Society
AP-LS is a division of APA focused on research, education, and application of psychology in legal environments. AP-LS offers a variety of free and membership-based resources ideal for forensic psychology students, including a guide to graduate programs, research funding and award opportunities, and the academic journal, Law and Human Behavior.
American Board of Professional Psychology
The ABPP website is a vital online resource for graduate students who ultimately plan to pursue a doctorate and clinical licensure in forensic psychology. ABPP provides site visitors with a wealth of resources including comprehensive reviews of certification requirements, application procedures, and exam procedures.
Society for Police and Criminal Psychology
SPCP is a professional organization dedicated to the scientific study of police and criminal psychology and the application of scientific knowledge to criminal justice issues. Membership benefits include access to the Journal of Police and Criminal Psychology, networking opportunities, and conference registration. Students pay discounted membership dues.
David Webb -- lecturer, author, and promoter of forensic psychology -- founded this website in 2006 as a hub for comprehensive information and resources. All-About-Forensic-Psychology.com provides articles and informative pages on forensic psychology topics, historical figures, and career guidance. Other resources include book recommendations and links to free online journals and courses.