If you can imagine yourself counseling a troubled Hannibal Lector-type criminal, forensic psychology might be the perfect fit for you. Forensic psychologists use their extensive understanding of the human psyche to help comprehend and explain the reasons that people engage in violent and harmful behaviors.
This is an excellent career for individuals who want to make a difference in society. Forensic psychology programs teach students the skills for understanding and preventing adverse criminal behaviors and supporting victims in finding positive responses to even the most aggressive and violent actions.
The best forensic psychology students are dedicated, patient and good at communication. Those who graduate with this degree are often employed as forensic counselors, expert trial witnesses and teachers.
There are a number of different degree options for those who want to attend forensic psychology colleges. Many accredited schools offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in addition to graduate certificate programs for forensic psychology.
A bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology, either a bachelor’s of science (for those who want to work predominantly with the legal system) or bachelor’s of arts (for those going into private practice and counseling) is a 4-year degree. There are a number of accelerated programs that combine bachelor’s and master’s degrees in forensic psychology into one program, such as the B.A./M.A. degree available through Fairleigh Dickinson University or the B.S./M.S. degree available through Walden University. These programs cut the total time needed for completion by up to two years, since the M.A./M.S. on its own takes approximately two years (or 40 to 60 credits) to complete.
The doctoral program in forensic psychology can result in a PhD (for those pursuing a research career) or PsyD (for those pursuing a private counseling practice) in forensic psychology. The John Jay School of Criminal Justice is one of the prototypical doctoral programs in the forensic psychology field. It consists of 60 credit hours of study and a dissertation (leading to a research career) or 90 credit hours, dissertation and one-year clinical research internship (leading to a clinical forensic psychology certification).
Graduate certificates are also offered at schools like Argosy University, University of Massachusetts at Lowell and Texas State University. These programs are usually around 15 credits in length and can be completed in two semesters.
Specific degree requirements may vary across programs, but often coursework may be similar. Below we list courses that may be found as part of many degree-level programs.
Prerequisites: An interest in science and biology, good communication skills and a sufficient GPA to enroll in the best forensic psychology schools.
Common Courses: Core education requirements (English, math, science), Introduction to Psychology, Statistics, Abnormal Behavior.
Prerequisites: Completion of a bachelor’s degree (either B.A. or B.S.) in psychology, forensic science or a related field.
Common Courses: Criminal Psychological Assessment, Violence and Aggression, Counseling and Psychotherapy Methods (M.A.), Assessment for Psychological Injury in Legal Cases (M.S.), Thesis or Capstone Project.
Prerequisites: At least a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in a related field, above-average GPA, Statistics and Abnormal Psychology.
Common Courses: Psychology and Criminal Law, Forensic Assessment, Clinical Externship in a Forensic Facility, Research Project or Dissertation.
Prerequisites: A completed bachelor’s degree with a sufficient GPA on the last 60 hours of coursework. Often, the degree does not have to be in psychology, although it may be required by the best forensic psychology schools.
Common Courses: Advanced Crime Theory, Current Legal Issues in Criminal Justice, Learning, Cognition and Motivation.
Fortunately, there are a wide variety of highly-acclaimed online forensic psychology colleges at different educational levels. Southern New Hampshire University is one of the few colleges that offers a completely online undergraduate degree, while Palo Alto University, the University of Massachusetts at Lowell and Montclair State University are just a few of the schools that offer graduate certificates in this field.
There are many more options for online master’s degrees. Nova Southeastern University, Argosy University, Leo University and the University of North Dakota each offers completely online master’s degree programs in forensic psychology. These schools use online webisodes, data-sharing technology and virtual classrooms to share vital information, making them perfect for students on a flexible schedule.
In addition, there are a number of schools that offer hybrid programs. Most of the classes are online, but some key practicum courses must be done in person. For students pursuing a PsyD or PhD, programs like the ones at Alliant International University, California School of Forensic Studies or The Chicago School offer most coursework online, but still require a 2,000-hour externship in order to complete the program.
For doctoral colleges, the American Psychological Association (APA) does not specifically accredit forensic psychology colleges. Instead, the APA will evaluate the general doctoral program in which forensic psychology is an emphasis. A number of online schools, like Nova Southeastern University, have been accredited by the APA for their clinical psychology programs emphasizing forensics.
The American Psychology-Law Society (AP-LS) also accredits doctoral forensic psychology programs, both clinical and non-clinical, in addition to master’s level forensic science colleges. This national accreditation body evaluates a college’s psychology education in relation to the legal system, which is at the heart of forensic psychology.