Forensic psychology focuses on the intersection of psychology and the legal system. Forensic psychologists may use psychological assessment methods to determine competency to stand trial; evaluate child custody situations; provide expert psychology testimony in trials; and consult on psychological issues in prisons, social services agencies, and other legal environments.
As an interdisciplinary field, forensic psychology requires an understanding of psychological principles and the U.S. legal system. Forensic psychologists also need strong skills in communication and research, along with knowledge of diversity to work effectively with clients of varying backgrounds.
A master’s degree is typically the minimum educational requirement in the field. This page ranks the best master’s in forensic psychology programs. It also includes other important information for prospective students, including typical courses, career and salary outlooks, and scholarships for forensic psychology students.
What is forensic psychology?
Forensic psychology applies psychological concepts to criminal investigations and legal matters. Forensic psychologists commonly offer evaluations and consultations for court cases and other legal proceedings.
How long does it take to earn a master's in forensic psychology?
While completion times vary among programs, most master’s in forensic psychology programs take two years of full-time study to complete.
Can I study forensic psychology online?
Many colleges offer forensic psychology master’s programs online. While courses may occur primarily online, degree candidates may need to complete clinical requirements in person.
What is the difference between forensic psychology and forensic science?
While both disciplines play a role in criminal justice, forensic science applies scientific principles to crime scene investigations. Forensic psychology applies psychological principles to legal proceedings.
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Career and Salary Outlook for Forensic Psychology
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for psychologists to grow 3% from 2019-2029, keeping pace with the national average. The BLS reports an annual median salary of $80,370 for all psychologists, with the top 10% of earners making an annual median salary of more than $132,070.
In general, forensic psychologists offer psychological assessments and consultations in a legal context. They frequently work with individuals involved in legal proceedings. In these settings, they evaluate psychological competency, assess adult and juvenile criminal offenders, and serve as expert witnesses in court trials. In some instances, they may influence the outcomes of criminal trials and the sentences that convicted criminals receive.
Outside of a courtroom setting, forensic psychologists can apply their skills to other areas of the legal system. For example, in a child services setting, a forensic psychologist may investigate child abuse and make determinations about child custody.
Students should always make sure a prospective school holds proper accreditation. Accreditation plays an important role in higher education. The process involves evaluating a college’s academic and administrative functions and ensuring that institutions provide adequate education to their students.
Schools may hold regional or national accreditation, with regional accreditation generally considered the more prestigious of the two. Programs within a school may also hold accreditation. The American Psychological Association accredits forensic psychology programs.
Courses in a Forensic Psychology Master’s Program
Master’s in forensic psychology programs typically include advanced psychology courses in areas such as behavior pathology and social psychology. Programs also offer specialized courses that frame psychology and assessment tools in the context of the legal system. Research also informs all aspects of the field, and most programs include a thesis or capstone component.
While course titles and topics may vary among schools, this list offers a sampling of courses commonly found in master’s in forensic psychology programs.
Most master’s in forensic psychology programs include a course that explores the intersection of psychology and the legal system. This course highlights the forensic psychologist’s role in court cases and other legal proceedings. Topics covered include how to deliver expert testimony and assess the mental state of accused parties and testifying witnesses.
Forensic psychologists must apply high-level psychology knowledge to various legal contexts. Advanced social psychology courses highlight empirical and theoretical perspectives on topics such as interpersonal relationships, group behavior, stereotyping and prejudice, personality, and social cognition.
Forensic psychologists frequently assess and interview eyewitnesses for legal proceedings. This course covers topics like interviewing techniques and strategies, identification procedures, and factors that influence memory. Learners also study the effect of trial testimony when delivered by experts and eyewitnesses.
The legal system serves individuals of all backgrounds. Forensic psychologists must know how to communicate effectively with diverse populations. This course explores major diversity issues in forensic psychology and the legal system, highlighting the influence of factors such as race, class, and gender on legal proceedings.
Assessment and evaluation play a key role in many forensic psychology positions. This course examines the role of assessment approaches in criminal justice, family and child custodial law, and other relevant legal contexts. The course typically introduces the major theories, techniques, and procedures for forensic assessment.
Scholarships for Forensic Psychology
Even students enrolled in the most affordable forensic psychology master’s programs can benefit from scholarships to help offset tuition costs. Some scholarships serve candidates of a specific background, while others cater to those planning to pursue a specific career path upon graduation. This list highlights three popular scholarships for forensic psychology students.
Who Can Apply: The American Academy of Forensic Psychology awards the grants to forensic psychology graduate students performing research in law and psychology, with preference for research addressing clinical-forensic issues. Amount: $1,500-$2,000
Best Master’s in Forensic Psychology Degrees 2021
Our guide ranks the best forensic psychology master’s programs in the country. The schools on this list offer academic rigor, professional preparation, and student support services. Each school also holds regional accreditation.
Located in Grand Forks, North Dakota, UND is the largest and oldest college in the state. It’s a public research university offering more than 225 fields of study. Specifically, the university has two master’s programs in forensic psychology. You can earn an MS on campus or an MA online. Here, we’ll focus on the on-campus MS program.
The Master of Science in Forensic Psychology at UND requires 30 credits of study. This includes 18 credits of required coursework, 6 elective credits, and 6 credit-hours for thesis work. Electives allow students to explore special areas of interest like:
Human Nature and Crime
Psychological Profiling and Criminal Behavior
Seminar in Juvenile Justice
UND provides a tremendous amount of support to students in this program. Historically, all graduate students in the MS program have received a full tuition waiver of required and elective courses. Every student also receives a monthly stipend for graduate teaching assistantship work.
The Chicago School of Professional Psychology, known as The Chicago School, is a not-for-profit institution specializing in psychology. It offers over 20 degree programs in psychology and related behavioral sciences. The campus in Irvine, California is a paradise for networking and job opportunities. In fact, Irvine headquarters over 100 national and multinational business.
The MA in Forensic Psychology program at the Chicago School takes two years to complete. Students learn to integrate psychology into the legal and public policy arenas through coursework and hands-on experience. Like the field of forensic psychology itself, the program provides variety, including courses such as:
Trauma and Crisis Interventions
Mental Health Law
Tactical and Field Psychology
At the Irvine campus, students in the Forensic Psychology program apply what they’ve learned at the Forensic Training Institute. They provide forensic assessment, clinical treatment, and staff training for attorneys and police officers. Students also have the option to complete a concentration in Police Psychology. Through these hands-on experiences, students develop essential contacts within the forensic community.
The University of Denver is a private university near the Rocky Mountains in south Denver, Colorado. It serves about 12,000 students and offers over 300 academic programs. This includes an MA program in Forensic Psychology that originated in 1999. Discovery, research, and hands-on experience form the basis of DU’s educational philosophy.
The two-year Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology combines clinical psychology training with course work and practicum experiences in psychology and law. It prepares students to work in a variety of settings including adult, juvenile, and child populations; victim assistance; police consultation; correctional institutes; domestic violence and child abuse programs; and trial consulting. Typical courses include:
Interviewing and Theories of Psychotherapy
The Psychology of Criminal Behavior
Ethical Issues in Forensic Psychology
Psychopathology, Evaluation, and Treatment of the Adult Offender
Curriculum and practicum experiences at UD are extensive and comprehensive. Students are engaged in direct service throughout their two years in the program. Upon graduation, 29 percent of alumni have gone on to doctoral programs. They have entered the workforce at a rate of 71 percent, with positions including correctional settings, community mental health, law firms, law enforcement, courts, and district’s attorney’s offices. Other students start their own businesses or clinics.
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice is a college within the City University of New York in midtown Manhattan. It is an international leader in educating for justice and has a community of over 15,000 students. The newly expanded, state-of-the-art campus features laboratories and research facilities for disciplines including forensic psychology.
John Jay’s 42-credit Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology focuses on understanding, evaluating, and treating both criminal offenders and their victims. Students acquire in-depth knowledge of personality assessment, psychological development and psychopathology, research methods, and psychotherapeutic techniques. With only four required courses, students have plenty of choices, such as:
Violence and Aggression
Social Science Evidence in Court
Mental Health Issues in Policing
Personality Profiles of the Homicidal Offender
Assessment and Counseling of the Juvenile Offender
Students in this program may take an “externship” requiring a minimum of 300 hours under the supervision of licensed psychologist or trained mental health professional. Alternatively, students may complete a thesis. Graduates pursue further study or enter the workforce in a wide variety of agencies. Some become forensic researchers who study and evaluate at-risk populations, while others are accepted into federal law enforcement agencies.
Headquartered in Oakland, California, Holy Names University is a private Roman Catholic university. The school welcomes students from all religious backgrounds. Its mission is to prepare all students for lifelong personal and professional growth. Ranked as one of the most diverse universities in the nation, HNU offers seven master’s degree programs, including an MA in forensic psychology.
The 39-credit Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology degree is based on a philosophy of therapeutic, restorative justice. Coursework focuses on forensic assessment through a lens informed by knowledge of co-occurring mental health, substance abuse, and post-traumatic stress disorders. Students also learn to engage in critical analysis of our criminal justice institutions. They are prepared to become change agents in forensic settings. Courses include:
Psychology of Criminal Behavior
Advanced Issues in Correctional and Criminal Counseling
Substance Abuse Assessment and Treatment
Assessment, Diagnosis, and Treatment of the Victim
Forensics: Psychometrics and Assessment
HNU’s forensic psychology program is designed for working adults. Classes are scheduled in the late afternoons and evenings Mondays through Thursdays. Some Saturday classes are also required. In addition to coursework, students complete a supervised practicum and case seminar.
Missouri State University is a public university in Springfield, Missouri. The university’s mission is in public affairs, and it focuses on ethical leadership and community engagement. Across its four campuses, MSU serves over 24,000 students. The university’s 100 graduate options include a Forensic Child Psychology Graduate Certificate Program.
One of the first of its kind, the Forensic Child Psychology Graduate Certificate Program at MSU provides training specifically for professionals working with children. The program works in partnership with the local Child Advocacy Center and the Greene County justice system. Students learn to protect the reliability and integrity of child interviews in criminal cases. Required courses include:
Forensic Child Psychology
Psychology of Child Abuse and Exploitation
Forensic Psychology: Child Abuse and the Law
Courses are taught by professionals who have first-hand experience with children in forensic settings. Students participate in hands-on practicum opportunities at agencies in the Springfield community. Program graduates continue their education or work in education, law enforcement, or criminal investigation settings.
One of 23 colleges in the California State university system, this CSU campus is located in the heart of Los Angeles. The university is enjoying record growth and currently enrolls over 25,000 students. According to the New York Times, Cal State LA is number one in the nation for the upward mobility of its students. The university is divided into eight colleges and offers an MS in Forensic Psychology.
Consisting of 33-34 units of coursework, the Master of Science in Forensic Psychology program emphasizes theory and research while providing practical training. The program is designed to accommodate both students seeking a PhD and those looking to enter the field. Courses include:
Courtroom and Legal Issues in Criminalistics
Theories and Perspectives in Criminal Justice
Seminar: Administration of Justice
Students in this program form a close mentoring relationship with a faculty member. This faculty member oversees the student’s progress toward his or her individual career goals. The program also includes a 9-month practicum. Students receive hands-on practice and supervision related to their area of interest. This may include work in a rape crisis center, Department of Children and Family Services counseling center, prisons, probation, Sheriff’s Office, or Dependency Courts.
California Baptist University is a private, Christian university in Riverside, California. The liberal arts university integrates academics with spiritual and social development opportunities. Based on the belief that everyone serves a unique purpose, the university offers over 76 majors. It also has over 150 programs, lots of palm trees, and an MA in Forensic Psychology.
The two-year Master of Arts in Forensic Psychology program prepares students to provide critical psychological services within the criminal justice system. It focuses on human development, the biological nature of crime, criminal profiling, and psychopathology. Students gain hands-on experience and take interesting courses like:
Biological Bases of Behavior
Advanced Psychopathology and Criminology
In the final year of the program, students complete a nine-month practicum. In the past, students have worked with US Marshals, victim advocacy, trial advocacy, trial consultant firms, conflict resolution and mediation, probation, parole, and rape crisis centers. Some students have even landed FBI internships.
Located on Mt. Hope Bay in Bristol, Rhode Island, Roger Williams is a private coeducational university. It focuses on liberal arts, and it offers over 45 majors and over a dozen graduate degrees. This includes a two-year Forensic and Legal Psychology program. Roger Williams enrolls 6,500 students, and 96 percent receive some form of financial aid.
The two-year Master of Arts in Forensic and Legal Psychology is designed to prepare students for research-focused PhD programs. Students design and implement studies addressing issues in forensic or legal psychology. They are trained in research design, statistical analysis, clinical assessment, and psychological testing. Core requirements include:
Psychology and Law
Introduction to Clinical Psychology
Multicultural Competence in Psychological Practice
Advanced Developmental Psychology
Successful completion of the program requires a thesis, as well as research practicums or directed research. Most graduates go on to doctoral programs. However, they are also prepared to conduct psychological testing, direct treatment groups with special populations, act as trial consultants, and investigate prosecutorial misconduct.
A private university in West Haven, Connecticut, the University of New Haven offers a wide range of innovative and interdisciplinary programs. After six years, 96 percent of alumni report that they are succeeding in their chosen fields. And of the top 12 English-language newspapers in the world, eight quote UNH’s faculty on a regular basis. The university offers an MS in Criminal Justice with several possible concentrations, including Forensic Psychology.
The course requires 36 to complete the Master of Science in Criminal Justice. As a final requirement, students either complete a thesis or take a comprehensive final exam. The forensic psychology concentration is offered jointly by the departments of criminal justice and psychology. Courses include:
Theories of Criminal Behavior
Abnormal Psychology in Forensic Populations
Forensic Treatment Models
Mental Health, Law, and Criminal Justice
All degree candidates begin by completing the core curriculum. After consulting with an advisor, they then select electives from a list of approved courses. Before exiting the program, students register for six thesis credits or take an exam that is oral, written, or both. The exam is based on the program of study that the individual student has completed for the degree.
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