Forensic psychology is a field that fascinates most people — and like clinical psychology, it can be a challenging but rewarding career. As a result, master’s programs for forensic psychology are growing in their breadth of courses and schools offering the degree. Once you’ve graduated, there is a wide variety of career paths with the potential to earn upwards of $80,000 a year.
Forensic psychology is essentially the application of psychology to the legal system. Professionals within this field may choose to work in criminal or civil law areas and even apply their specialty to counseling and medical careers. Even though forensic psychology is considered a recent degree option, the field has roots dating back to the first known psychology lab in Leipzig, Germany.
If you feel drawn to how behavior science intersects with the judicial and investigative fields, exploring a forensic psychology master’s degree might be an option for you.
Students who are interested in human behavior and the legal system may consider earning a master’s in forensic psychology. A master’s degree in forensic psychology can lead to many career opportunities in the field. This list below ranks the best forensic psychology programs to help prospective students find a master’s program that fits their career goals.
Accredited Online College Programs
Best Master’s Degrees in Forensic Psychology Programs
A private school located in Washington, D.C., GW offers a master of arts in forensic psychology program, which allows students to examine criminal motivations. This program trains students to pursue top careers in law enforcement, homeland security, and community services.
GW's forensic psychology master's program provides two available paths for students: applied forensics and applied psychology. Required courses include theories of criminal behavior, psychopathology, and research and statistics. Students must also complete 250 hours of externship training to gain work experience. Examples of externship sites include correctional institutions, law enforcement agencies, and mental health treatment sites.
The program reviews applications on a rolling basis. They also typically accept 50 students each fall semester. Applicants must take the GRE general test, except those who hold a juris doctor, MD, or Ph.D. Qualified applicants must participate in an interview with faculty prior to admission.
A private school based in Denver, Colorado, DU offers a master of arts in forensic psychology specialized in clinical psychology and law. This program prepares students to work in clinical settings as mental health professionals. Graduates typically pursue careers in crisis intervention, victim assistance, and police consultation.
DU's master's in forensic psychology takes two years for full-time students to complete. Notable courses include psychopathology and criminal evaluations. Field placements supplement coursework by providing direct service experience. Students must also enroll in case consultation and peer supervision as part of their field placement.
Applicants must hold at least a bachelor's degree and a minimum 2.5 GPA to meet admission requirements. Prospective students without backgrounds in psychology must complete a coursework prerequisite of four psychology classes. They must also obtain a minimum 660 on the psychology subject GRE exam. DU's program requires all applicants to complete the GRE general exam.
Located in Bristol, Rhode Island, RWU offers a master of arts in forensic and legal psychology, which prepares students for Ph.D. programs in research. The program teaches students research design, statistical analysis, and clinical assessment.
RWU's 45-credit master's in forensic and legal psychology takes full-time learners two years to complete. Featured courses include research design, psychology and the law, and introduction to clinical assessment. In addition to coursework, students must complete directed research and a comprehensive thesis to graduate. Many graduates earn a doctorate in clinical research, applied psychology, or social psychology. Others act as trial consultants or perform psychological testing with prison populations.
Applicants must hold bachelor's degrees in psychology, criminal justice, or related fields. Their transcripts must demonstrate satisfactory completion of statistics and research methods. Application requirements also include GRE exam results and a research writing sample.
Based in Arlington, Virginia, Marymount's master of arts in forensic and legal psychology program teaches students to use psychological knowledge in the legal system. Students may also apply for a concentration in intelligence studies to learn skills for highly competitive careers in the intelligence community.
Marymount's 39-credit forensic and legal psychology master's program prepares students for work in federal agencies. Students typically study subjects such as forensic assessment, research methods, and legal and investigative psychology. This program also requires students to complete 300 hours of an internship. Students must also complete at least 20 hours of research assistance or teaching experience to graduate.
Marymount's proximity to Washington, D.C. allows students to utilize resources from local agencies such as the FBI. This program also provides study abroad opportunities.
Marymount's program prefers applicants with a bachelor's degree in psychology, but it accepts degrees in related fields. Applicants must also complete the GRE general exam. Prospective students applying for the intelligence studies concentration complete nine credits per semester their first year and need a minimum 3.0 GPA.
Located in Grand Forks, North Dakota, UND offers a master of science in forensic psychology. This degree prepares students for leading careers as forensic psychologists.
UND's forensic psychology master's program provides students with a foundation in psychological principles and a comprehensive understanding of the U.S. legal system. Students typically complete 30 credit hours in two years. Featured courses include cognitive psychology, behavior pathology, and human nature and crime. Students must also complete supervised field work, faculty-advised research, and a thesis. Many graduates pursue law school or doctoral programs in forensic science or forensic psychology.
Application requirements include the GRE general exam and a minimum 3.2 undergraduate GPA. Prospective students must hold bachelor's degrees in psychology or related fields. Applicants must also submit a personal statement, a CV, and three recommendation letters.
A Catholic university based in Oakland, California, HNU offers a master of arts in forensic psychology focused on restorative justice in the criminal justice system. Graduates typically pursue careers as probation officers, restorative justice advocates, or victim advocates.
HNU's 38-credit master's in forensic psychology prepares students for careers that require legal, forensic, psychological, and cultural competency. This program offers a flexible course schedule for easy enrollment. Notable courses include foundations of counseling, human diversity, and psychology of criminal behavior. Students also obtain practical experience through a required field placement and accompanying seminar. The school offers on-campus workshops and lectures from local professionals for additional learning.
Prospective students must answer questions provided by the program in their admissions essay. Applications require two recommendation letters. Each applicant must attend an interview with the program's admissions committee.
A private school based in New Jersey, FDU's Metropolitan campus offers a master of arts in forensic psychology that teaches students the fundamentals of forensic psychology within an accelerated time frame.
FDU's forensic psychology master's program functions as either a terminal degree or preparation for additional graduate education. Students planning to pursue master's-level forensic careers finish this 36-credit degree in less than two years and begin work in the field.
In addition to coursework, students must complete a 300-hour externship and pass their comprehensive exam. FDU's program also offers an optional thesis. Students interested in doctoral studies are encouraged to participate in research and complete this thesis.
Applicants must demonstrate previous coursework in introduction to psychology, statistics, and abnormal psychology to qualify for admission. They must also submit a CV, a personal statement, and two recommendation letters. FDU's program does not require the GRE exam.
A Baptist school based in Riverside, California, CBU offers a master of arts in forensic psychology, which equips learners to offer psychological services in the criminal justice system. As a Christian school, CBU emphasizes faith and spiritual growth as a part of this education.
CBU's forensic psychology master's program offers evening courses to help students complete the degree with limited career interference. Learners typically study topics such as biological bases of behavior, criminal profiling, and research methods.
CBU's program also requires students to complete a nine-month forensic practicum with on-site supervision in their second year. Placement for the forensic practicum depends on students' interests and career goals. Learners choose between a thesis or comprehensive exam to complete in their last semester.
Prerequisite courses for CBU's program include general psychology, abnormal psychology, and methods of research. Applicants must also submit a comprehensive essay answering questions provided by the school.
One of the top public colleges in the region, John Jay offers a master of arts in forensic psychology, which teaches students the basics of applied forensic psychology.
John Jay's 42-credit forensic psychology master's program studies both offenders and victims. Required courses include psychopathology and research design. Students also select electives in subjects such as violence and aggression, eyewitness identification, and victimology.
In addition to coursework, students choose between a 300-hour externship under professional supervision and a thesis. They can also complete both, if they wish. Many graduates go on to earn doctoral degrees in psychology. Others pursue work in institutions such as prisons, hospitals, and mental health community centers.
Each applicant must hold a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution and demonstrate a minimum 3.0 GPA. They must also have completed 24 undergraduate credit hours in the social sciences. This includes coursework in psychology, experimental psychology, and statistical methods.
A private liberal arts college based in Springfield, Massachusetts, AIC offers a master of science in forensic psychology. This degree develops forensic practice skills for study and work in the field.
AIC's forensic psychology master's program prepares students with undergraduate degrees in psychology and related fields for further graduate study. Learners must complete 36 credits of coursework in psychology and criminal justice. Required courses include behavioral statistics, ethics in criminal justice, and assessment techniques. Students must also complete an externship in forensic psychology to earn the degree.
AIC's program accepts applications throughout the year on a rolling basis. Prospective students must demonstrate a minimum 2.75 GPA in undergraduate courses. Inability to demonstrate a 2.75 GPA requires an interview with the program director. Applicants receive the program's decision up to four weeks after submission.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Master in Forensic Psychology
How much do speech pathologists make with a master's degree?
Forensic psychology is defined by the American Board of Forensic Psychology as the application of psychology to the legal and law system. Often it refers to accessing the psychology and mental state of someone standing trial for a crime or otherwise involved in the legal system. Professionals in the field need in-depth knowledge of both psychology and the law.
What is the difference between forensic psychology and forensic science?
Forensic psychology focuses on human behavior and psychology, more focused on social sciences. Forensic science professionals examine crime scene evidence and typically work in a laboratory, , focusing on natural sciences like chemistry.
Do you need a master's degree to work in forensic psychology?
Most jobs in forensic psychology require at least a master’s degree in the field. Aspiring forensic psychologists should pursue a doctorate to remain competitive as professionals with advanced degrees often dominate the area. Some states also require a doctoral degree to be licensed as a forensic psychologist.
Master’s in Forensic Psychology Overview
Forensic psychology intersects psychological training with criminal justice and law application. A master’s in this degree can take many forms, and each university offers different options for how you prefer to apply for the degree.
Some universities will have programs that focus more on the treatment and clinical side of forensic psychology with studies in mental health, victimology and rehabilitation. While other programs may focus on the law and courtroom portion of forensic psychology with courses like legal studies, profiling, and police application. And some master’s programs focus on research and statistical analysis within forensic psychology.
Typically, it will take two years to complete a master’s degree in forensic psychology. Because of a wide variety of ways to complete the degree, your timeline could look different depending on the courses you take.
Common courses within the forensic psychology degree include:
Psych in the courtroom
Ethics in psych
The admission requirements for a forensic psychology master’s program are similar to other graduate programs, but they will vary from school to school.
You will need to have earned a bachelor’s degree or will soon be completing one. Though not a requirement, it is usually preferred that the degree is in a field related to forensic psychology — like criminal justice, law, psychology, human resources, social work, or public policy. If your bachelor’s degree is in an unrelated field, you may be required to complete some psychology prerequisites before the master’s program.
Most programs require at least a 3.0 undergraduate GPA and a GRE test score. Some programs will accept a test score from a comparable graduate-level standard exam like the LSAT, GMAT, or MCAT.
It’s also common for master’s degree programs to ask for multiple letters of recommendation and a relevant writing sample. The application may ask for previous work, sometimes research-focused or topically relevant, or a personal essay.
Concentrations in forensic psychology
A forensic psychology degree can be applied in several ways across the legal system, government agencies, and the mental health space. Some forensic psychology graduate programs offer concentrations that allow you to study one of the many fields forensic psychology can be applied to.
Alternatively, some universities don’t offer a forensic psychology master’s but rather a master’s in psychology or criminology with a forensic psychology concentration.
If you prefer working directly with victims and patients on rehabilitation and treatment, we’d suggest a counselor concentration. This concentration will allow you to focus more on psychology practices with direct client contact, victim rehab, evaluation, and treatment. Course you might take include: victimology, evaluation and treatment of sex offenders, children and adolescents in the legal system, and individuals with mental illness in the legal system.
Students in this course learn basic skills necessary to provide forensic evaluations. Learners prepare to assess cases of criminal insanity defenses, competency to stand trial, and risk of violence. Students learn how to write assessment records and communicate them to the court, and they develop an understanding of the legal and ethical responsibilities related to forensic assessment.
A correctional concentration will focus on how forensic psychology can be applied to probation services, correctional facility design, prisons, and juvenile facilities. Courses you might take include: criminal evaluations, the psychology of criminal behavior, psychology and treatment of the juvenile offender, interventions and treatment in forensic psychology, and advanced issues in correctional and community counseling.
If you want to work in the courtroom, a legal concentration will get you there. The legal studies portion of forensic psychology will involve evaluating accused parties and witnesses, lending expert testimony, and advising law offices. Courses you might take include: consultation and testimony, psychology and the law, issues in the American legal system, death penalty and mitigation, and field experience in criminal court.
Police psych/intelligence studies
You could also choose to focus on the criminal investigation application of forensic psychology. This would involve studying interrogation, investigation, police psych, and terrorism with plans to work closer to a government agency or in the intelligence community. Courses you might take include: interrogation and interviewing, profiling, investigative psychology, terrorism, and counterterrorism.
Career and Salary Outlook for Forensic Psychologists
There are a few ways to apply a degree in forensic psychology. You can work directly in the criminal justice system evaluating criminals, treat those who have committed crimes at a correctional facility, and focus on the investigation and profiling of potential criminals or focus on mental health counseling for victims.
What is the ROI for a forensic psychology master’s degree?
Tuition for a forensic psychology master’s degree can range from $11k to $40k, depending on the program. The careers you can pursue with this degree also vary in salary. For example, according to the BLS, victim advocates or social workers may be on the lower end of the scale at $35k a year, while a clinical psychologist could earn around $80k a year. Typically, public service and government work offer a lower salary than clinical work or intelligence agency employment.
Certifications and Licences
There are no specific certifications or licenses required for forensic psychology. The credentials you need will depend on the job you’re seeking. To establish credibility in the space and be a more appealing choice for employment, a license in psychology is an ideal baseline. You can also complete a forensic psychology certification with the American Board of Professional Psychology. Some degree tracks include licensure at the end of the master’s program.
Licensure requirements vary by state. For example, candidates for forensic psychology licensure in Virginia, like in most states, must hold a doctorate in psychology. Virginia candidates must also complete internship hours and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. Licensed professionals in Virginia must fulfill continuing education and professional development requirements to maintain their credentials. The Association of State and Provincial Psychology provides licensure information for each state.
Scholarships, grants, and financial aid for forensic psychology students
There are a few notable scholarships available for forensic psychology students. And of course, general graduate and psychology degree funds you can apply for.
APA Dissertation Research Award: 30-40 grants of $1,000 each with some larger grants of $5,000. The award is for forensic psychology graduate students who are working on a research dissertation.
Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford Grant: A $1,500 grant for graduate students researching the understanding, prevention, or treatment of traumatic events. Applicants must demonstrate affiliation with an institution, such as a nonprofit organization or government agency, for educational or charitable purposes.
How to become a forensic psychologist
Complete a bachelor’s degree in psychology
The first step to building a career in forensic psychology is obtaining an undergraduate degree in psychology or a closely related field. This will build a foundation for the advanced research, study, and expertise the field requires
Most graduate programs include an externship requirement and set you up for a real-life experience. You should also take any licensure or certification tests to prove your expertise and qualify you for whichever career path you desire.
Network with professionals and pursue jobs
Once you’ve secured the required education, you can begin your career search. Along your journey, it’s wise to connect with fellow professionals who currently work in a field you admire. Reach out to those connections and begin applying for jobs in forensic psychology.
Taylor Freitas is a contributing writer who covers higher education, online graduate programs, college planning, and more for Grad School Hub. Her writing has also appeared in La Weekly, Safety.com, and Hospitality Technology.
Angelica Leicht is an editor for Grad School Hub. A proud University of Houston alum (go Cougs!), she previously served as an education reporter at Kearney Hub, and an editor at the Dallas Observer and Houston Press. Her writing has appeared in Affordable Colleges Online, Bankrate, The Simple Dollar, and elsewhere.