Forensic Psychology Degree: Is It Worth It?
Earning a forensic psychology degree makes great sense for students who feel passionate about applying psychological principles and frameworks to complicated behavioral issues. In an effort to understand why some individuals demonstrate dangerous, criminal, or violent behavior, the field of forensic psychology combines studies in both psychology and the criminal justice system, creating an interdisciplinary field.
Forensic psychology degrees exist at every academic level, with each leading to different career outcomes. Those who want to work as psychologists must earn a doctorate. Prospective students wondering whether a forensic psychology degree is worth it can find plenty of information to help make an informed decision about next steps, including common career paths, available degree programs, and answers to commonly asked questions.
Forensic Psychology Career Information
Here are some potential career outcomes for forensic psychology graduates with salary and career outlook data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Median Salary: $55,690
Career Outlook: +4% (2020-2030)
Responsibilities: Working with both those who are currently incarcerated and those on probation or parole, these professionals help individuals in the legal system connect to social services that can support their rehabilitation. They interview each individual to understand specific needs and see how much progress they have made before creating a rehabilitative plan of action. Some of the services they may connect individuals with include addiction treatment, job training, and healthcare. Corrections officers also keep case files on each client and update as needed.
Required Education: Bachelor's Degree
Median Salary: $67,290
Career Outlook: +7% (2020-2030)
Responsibilities: Sometimes known as special agents, detectives and criminal investigators collect evidence from crime scenes, covertly observe suspects, and look for connections between motives and outcomes. They keep detailed reports on their findings, including any interviews they conduct and data they collect. Detectives work closely with law enforcement and may also testify in court about their findings as part of legal proceedings.
Required Education: Bachelor's Degree
Median Salary: $47,660
Career Outlook: +23% (2020-2030)
Responsibilities: These professionals work with their clients to identify and treat issues such as addiction, mental health disorders, and problematic behaviors to help them reach their goals. They work with clients to build the skills needed to recover from addictions, cope with issues, and modify their behaviors to function in society.
Required Education: Bachelor's Degree
Median Salary: $82,180
Career Outlook: +8% (2020-2030)
Responsibilities: Forensic psychologists use their advanced education and deep knowledge to better understand why people behave the way they do and what drives aggressive, antisocial, and violent behaviors. Some work in research positions, conducting tests and studies to produce new data. Others start a forensic psychology private practice. Still, others may work within the courts and justice systems, providing expert witness on criminal behavior in high-profile cases. To pursue this career, you need a graduate-level degree from an APA-accredited institution.
Required Education: Doctorate
Forensic Psychology Degree Info: Choosing The Best Degree
Forensic psychology degrees can be found at every academic level, beginning with undergraduate degrees and moving through doctoral programs. Understanding what each degree allows graduates to do career-wise can help them make an informed decision about which one best serves their professional goals.
Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Psychology
Time to complete: Four years of full-time study, six years of part-time study. Three years for an accelerated pathway.
Required credits: Approximately 120
Sample coursework: The criminal mind, introduction to substantive criminal law, forensic psychology research methods, criminology, psychology of criminal investigation, psychology and law.
Online availability: Many forensic psychology bachelor's degrees can be completed fully online, allowing students to consider schools further afield from where they live. Some of these programs require learners to complete a semester-long internship to gain real-world skills and begin networking with other professionals prior to graduation. If enrolled in an online program, students can typically work with their advisors to find a suitable internship site near their place of residence.
Master's Degree in Forensic Psychology
Time to complete: Students usually spend two years working towards their master's degree in forensic psychology if enrolled on a full-time basis. Part-time learners may need three years, while some accelerated programs may allow them to graduate in as few as 12-18 months.
Required credits: Most programs consist of 36-48 credits, depending on individual program requirements.
Sample coursework: Intermediate statistics in the social sciences, projective and objective personality assessments, theories of personality and counseling, clinical interviewing and assessment, and criminal, psychological, intellectual, and cognitive assessments.
Online availability: Colleges routinely offer master's degrees in forensic science online since they do not mandate any in-person learning components. Some programs end with a comprehensive examination, which can usually be proctored near the student's place of examination. Others require learners to research and write a thesis.
Doctoral Degree in Forensic Psychology
Time to complete: Doctoral degrees in forensic psychology programs vary in length depending on whether a learner pursues a Psy.D. or Ph.D. Psy.D. programs prepare graduates for clinical psychology roles and usually take between three and five years to complete, depending on enrollment status. Ph.D. in forensic psychology programs prepare graduates for research and academic roles and typically takes between 4-7 years to complete.
Required credits: Credits can range anywhere between 60 to 125, depending on the school and type of degree.
Sample coursework: Advanced topics in forensic psychology, law and mental health, adult forensic psychology, forensic assessments, sex offender evaluation and treatment, and police psychology. Some programs may also provide concentrations in areas such as victimology, legal issues in forensic psychology, criminal justice, crisis response, or crisis leadership management, among others.
Online availability: While students can find an online doctorate in forensic psychology programs, many require in-person residencies that bring students together and allow them to complete intensive training. These usually last less than a week.
Psy.D. programs may also require learners to participate in a year-long field experience focused on forensic work in order to secure licensure. If studying at a school further away from their place of residence, students can typically work with their advisor to find a suitable location. Common examples include outpatient or inpatient treatment clinics, legal advocacy organizations, forensic residential treatment facilities, or correctional facilities.
What should I major in to become a forensic psychologist?
- Many forensic psychology programs are now available, but students can also enroll in programs such as criminology, criminal justice, or even general psychology to get a good foundational set of knowledge.
Is a forensic psychology degree worth it?
- Forensic psychology is a great degree path for students interested in using psychological principles to address criminal and civil questions around psychological behaviors and disorders. Graduates can go into clinical, research, or academic positions.
Is forensic psychology a hard major?
- The difficulty level of a forensic psychology degree program depends on many factors. Students who understand psychological principles and enjoy applying them to real-world situations may find the program challenging at times, but ultimately doable.
How much do forensic psychologists make?
- Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that psychologists earned median annual wages of $82,180 as of 2020. Those with bachelor's or master's degrees typically earn less than graduates of doctoral programs.