Forensic psychology is a relatively young sub-field of psychology, but there’s not a psychology specialization more prominent on the cultural landscape. From true crime podcasts to blockbuster films and TV shows, the intersection of law and psychology is a convenient location for gripping narratives.
Earning a graduate degree in forensic psychology prepares students with the necessary skills for careers in fields such as criminal justice, healthcare, and private practice. Forensic psychologists boast strong analytical and problem-solving skills and utilize their training to objectively analyze various legal proceedings from a psychological angle.
Throughout the following page, we explore the field of forensic psychology, its career prospects, and how you can begin your forensic psychology career. Keep reading to learn more about this fascinating and growing career option.
What Is A Forensic Psychologist?
A relatively new sub-field of psychology, forensic psychology exists at the intersection of law and psychology. These professionals utilize their years of academic work and hands-on experience to lend their expertise to various civil and criminal legal proceedings spanning from murder investigations to custody battles.
These professionals work in various professional settings, including law enforcement, private practice, and other governmental positions. Other careers for forensic psychologists include detectives, correctional psychologists, and legal consultants.
Students pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree in forensic psychology tackle a mix of foundational psychology classes and specialized courses in forensic psychology. Standard forensic psychology classes include topics such as criminal behavior, forensic assessment, mental health issues in policing, and eyewitness testimony and memory.
The following section highlights the career outlook and earning potential for forensic psychologists, how to know if the career is right for you, and the steps individuals can take to begin their forensic psychology career.
Forensic Psychologist Salary and Career Outlook
While these numbers point to middle-of-the-road salaries, BLS notes that the top 10% of psychologists earn more than $133,890—experience and additional certifications can significantly enhance earning potential.
The BLS also projects that the psychologist field will grow by as much as 8% between 2020 and 2030—this translates to the addition of a projected 13,500 jobs. Year over year, BLS estimates 13,400 job openings for licensed psychologists.
How to Know if You Would Enjoy a Job as a Forensic Psychologist
The personal traits necessary for a satisfying career in forensic psychology can vary between students. But future forensic psychologists typically hold strong communication skills, compassion, attention to detail, and critical thinking skills. Additionally, because this profession relies on advanced academic work, these professionals have a strong work ethic, organization skills, and a finely tuned attention to detail.
Continue reading as we lay out the steps you can take to become a forensic psychologist.
Steps to Becoming a Forensic Psychologist
Forensic psychologists build their toolbox of professional competencies over multiple years. These professionals complete advanced degrees, gain hands-on experience in clinical settings, and complete the requirements necessary for licensure. Keep reading to see how you can jumpstart your forensic psychologist career.
The first step for individuals pursuing a forensic psychology career begins with their undergraduate education. Before enrolling in a master’s program, future forensic psychologists must complete a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university.
While undergraduate students don’t necessarily need to complete a psychology degree to gain admission into a psychology master’s/doctoral program, a bachelor’s in a relevant field can prepare students for graduate-level coursework. Some popular undergraduate degrees include psychology, criminal justice, and criminology.
Because an applicant’s GPA plays a significant role in the graduate admission process, undergraduates should work hard to maintain a GPA of 3.0 or higher.
To secure your psychology licensure, clinicians must complete a doctoral degree in psychology. And while some psychology-related careers only require a master’s degree, those wanting to max out their career options and earning potential should complete a doctoral degree.
Most master’s in psychology programs require students to complete between 30 and 60 credits before graduation. Alongside core requirements, students often have the option to pursue academic concentrations in areas such as clinical psychology, school psychology, sports psychology, and forensic psychology.
While the program length can vary between schools, most students spend about five years completing their doctorate in psychology. Most programs require that degree-seekers complete between 60 and 90 credits. Standard doctoral-level courses include research methods, professional ethics in psychology, and human development across the lifespan. Before graduation, students gain hands-on experience through an internship and clinical hours.
Doctoral applicants must submit a completed application along with GRE scores, letters of recommendation, a professional resume, and an admission essay outlining academic and career goals.
Upon graduation, students can pursue licensure for clinical psychologists. The licensure exam encompasses more than 200 multiple choice questions culled from eight content areas, including biological bases of behavior, growth and lifespan development, and assessment and diagnosis.
Additionally, the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers multiple professional certifications for licensed psychologists. These professional certifications include forensic psychology, neuropsychology, and school psychology.
How Long Does it Take to Become a Forensic Psychologist?
The time it takes to become a forensic psychologist can vary dramatically between students, but most take about ten years following graduation from high school. Future forensic psychologists complete a four-year bachelor’s degree, two years for a master’s degree, and four-to-five years for their doctoral degree.
Enrolling as a full-time or part-time student can impact a professional timeline. Some individuals can accelerate the process by gaining admission into a doctoral program after completing a bachelor’s degree.
Adult students and working professionals can seek out online programs. These flexible academic options allow students the freedom to meet academic requirements while keeping up with personal and professional obligations. Additionally, programs with an asynchronous delivery allow students to complete class requirements at their own pace.
Online programs can also be cheaper than in-person options. Online students avoid various on-campus fees and extraneous costs incurred by travel and campus housing.
What does a forensic psychologist do?
- Forensic psychologists have multiple responsibilities and utilize their expertise to conduct research, analyze data, and evaluate various elements of criminal activities. These professionals work closely with law enforcement and often testify in civil and criminal legal proceedings.
How long does it take to become a forensic psychologist?
- The timeline can vary, but future forensic psychologists traditionally complete bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees. This often takes students more than a decade to complete academic and licensure requirements.
What is the difference between criminal psychologist and forensic psychologist?
- While criminal psychologists primarily focus on criminal behavior, forensic psychologists utilize their expertise in a broader range of legal proceedings and often take part in academic research.
What education do you need to be a forensic psychologist?
- To begin a career as a forensic psychologist, students must complete both undergraduate and graduate-level coursework. The majority of forensic psychologists complete a doctoral degree over multiple years and meet various academic and professional benchmarks to secure licensure.
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