How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

Working in forensic psychology lets you make a positive impact on the criminal justice field. Learn how to become a forensic psychologist.
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Published on April 26, 2023
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  • Forensic psychologists help law enforcement solve crimes and counsel offenders and victims.
  • States regulate the forensic psychology field by requiring a license and continuing education classes.
  • Entry-level jobs for forensic psychologists may require only a bachelor's or master's degree.
  • You must complete a doctoral program and pass at least two exams to earn a license.

Becoming a forensic psychologist takes significantly more education and training than most careers. It takes about a decade to earn the required degrees, gain experience, and pass exams. Researching the field of forensic psychology now can help you plan your professional future.

Payscale reports that forensic psychologists earned an average of $74,810 per year as of March 2023. Experienced professionals made over $115,000, much more than the national median salary.

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Ready to Start Your Journey?

What Is a Forensic Psychologist?

Forensic psychology involves studying the relationship between psychology and criminal justice. Professionals use their expertise to interview suspects and victims, assist lawyers with jury selection, and testify in court.

Entering the forensic psychology field takes many steps, including earning an advanced degree and state licensure. Use the following resources to help decide what jobs for forensic psychologists align with your career goals.

4 Steps to Becoming a Forensic Psychologist: Educational Requirements

You can become a forensic psychologist through education, experience, and examination. Some requirements vary by state.

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree in psychology, forensics, or a similar topic qualifies you to apply to graduate school. You may also use your degree to explore entry-level positions in the forensic psychology field.

In a bachelor's program in forensic psychology, you'll learn the basics of applying psychology to matters of the law. An internship during your undergraduate education can help you explore different careers.

Featured Bachelor's in Forensic Psychology Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

Step 2: Complete Your Doctoral Degree

A doctoral degree combines coursework, independent research, fieldwork, and a capstone experience. Options include a Psy.D. in forensic psychology or a Psy.D. in psychology with a concentration in forensics. Contact universities' admissions departments to learn which option can help you reach your career goals.

If you study full time, expect to graduate in 4-5 years. You may graduate sooner if you already hold a master's in psychology.

Step 3: Gain Field Experience and Complete Exams

Your state may let you complete up to half of its supervised experience requirement during your doctoral education. Fieldwork involves working alongside licensed forensic psychologists in different settings.

You take examinations after completing your doctoral degree. Typical requirements include the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology and an ethics exam unique to your state.

Step 4: Become Licensed or Certified by Your State Board

Jobs for forensic psychologists exist in every state. In California, the nation's most populous state, you must hold a doctoral degree, show 3,000 hours of supervised experience, and pass exams. You maintain your license by taking continuing education (CE) classes.

Start researching these and other requirements during your undergraduate education. Your college's career counselors can help you plan your academic and professional future.

Featured Master's in Forensic Psychology Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?

Forensic psychologists interview witnesses, victims, and suspects to help law enforcement professionals understand why a crime happened.

These interviews also reveal whether a psychological condition caused a suspect's actions. Forensic psychologists' court testimony can sway a jury's decision significantly.

Some of forensic psychologists' main responsibilities include:

  • Performing specialized research for lawyers and law enforcement professionals.
  • Teaching law enforcement officers new methods to de-escalate dangerous situations.
  • Holding group and one-on-one counseling sessions for incarcerated individuals.
  • Providing court testimony on suspects' states of mind.
  • Analyzing the connection between an area's crime statistics and its socioeconomic and cultural makeup.

Skills Forensic Psychologists Need

Forensic psychologists use many skills to work with law enforcement, suspects, victims, and witnesses. These skills help them discover the truth of what happened at a crime scene and provide expert testimony in court.

Coursework and fieldwork during your graduate education can help you develop these skills. The latter involves applying the feedback you receive from experienced forensic psychologists.

Forensic Psychologist Skills

  • Listening to suspects' versions of events without expressing judgment.
  • Using critical thinking skills to analyze people's states of mind and emotions.
  • Analyzing the latest research to uncover new techniques and best practices.
  • Staying sensitive to others' psychological needs, even suspects accused of terrible crimes.
  • Desiring to improve your skills through completing CE and networking with more experienced professionals.

Forensic Psychologist Salary

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that licensed psychologists earned a median salary of $81,040 in 2021. Psychologists employed by government agencies and hospitals made considerably more than their peers.

The BLS projects the need for these professionals to grow by 6% between 2021 and 2031. Many factors impact your earning potential, including geographic location and the industry you work in.

Joining a Professional Organization

Joining a professional organization as a student can help you stay on track for graduation and launch your career.

The American Psychological Association (APA) offers a student membership program with career development workshops, leadership opportunities, and networking events. Experienced psychologists join APA to connect with top grant and CE opportunities.

Specialized professional organizations include the American Academy of Forensic Psychology. Members can take unique CE classes and gain access to board certification.

Frequently Asked Questions on How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

How difficult will it be to become a forensic psychologist?

It will be challenging: In order to become a forensic psychologist, you'll need to complete about a decade's worth of education and training.

You will need to spend four years earning a bachelor's degree in psychology (or a closely related field), and 4-6 additional years in graduate school earning a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in forensic psychology.

After that, you'll need to obtain a license to practice in your state –– which typically requires an extended period of supervised practice as well as an extensive licensing exam.

What is the best degree for a forensic psychologist?

The best degrees for forensic psychologists are a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. with a specialization in forensic psychology.

How long will it take to become a forensic psychologist?

It takes most students 10-12 years to complete the education and training required to become a forensic psychologist, counting a undergrad, graduate school, and supervised practice.

BestColleges.com is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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