Pursuing a career in forensic psychology can be an exciting way to enter the field of forensics for someone who has an undergraduate background in psychology. A forensic psychologist is someone who uses their training in psychology, including evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment, to work within some aspect of the criminal justice system. A forensic psychologist could be a therapist in a prison, an expert witness in court, a criminal profiler, or any combination of those.
While forensic psychologists must have graduate level training, they do not necessarily have to study in a forensic psychology master’s or doctorate program. Those that choose to seek a master’s degree in forensic psychology should consider the necessary prerequisites for this type of program, the types of courses they might end up taking, and how they would like to pursue this advanced degree.
As with any master’s degree program, any student wishing to apply to forensic psychology masters programs must have completed, or be on track to complete, an undergraduate degree. Most programs do not require that degree to be in forensic psychology, or in psychology at all. However, certain courses are usually required, such as Statistics and introductory level courses to psychology and to experimentation. For promising candidates, many schools exercise the option to grant conditional admission for students that have not completed all requisite courses, provided they can complete them within their first semester of the graduate program.
Many selective programs also have a minimum GPA for applicants to their graduate level programs. This helps narrow the applicant field to those who have proven they can function successfully at an institute of higher learning. Most master’s degree programs also require applicants take the GRE and may have established minimum scores for admission.
Applicants should always keep in mind the requirements for individual programs can vary greatly and be sure to check with a program before applying.
MS in Psychology - Forensic Psychology
Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice (MSCJ)
Online MS in Criminology
Every curriculum is different, but some generalizations can be made about the standard courses required for a master’s degree in forensic psychology. Once prerequisites have been met, students can begin to take advanced courses in psychology, including general courses in research, psychopathology, and advanced statistics.
When some basic advanced requirements have been met, students can begin to explore courses that focus on the forensic aspect of the forensic psychology master’s degree. While these courses can vary at different schools, they may include such course titles as:
This is not an exhaustive list, only a sampling of the kinds of courses found in the course catalogs for forensic psychology master’s degree programs.
Many programs may also offer courses that deal with the intersection of forensic psychology and other professions, including law enforcement and social work. It is also important to note that the majority of master’s degree programs in forensic psychology do require an externship or practicum which involves students working in the field, under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. Some schools may offer assistance in obtaining these positions while others may leave the process largely up to the students themselves.
Any student who chooses to pursue graduates studies may find him or herself concerned about where they will be able to attend school, particularly if they hope to continue working while furthering their education. Luckily, some forensic psychology master’s degree programs do offer the option to study online, in part or in full, which can make attending graduate school that much more convenient. For instance, the Center for Psychological Studies at Nova Southeastern University offers an entirely online master’s of science degree in forensic psychology. Argosy University, which focuses on online learning for all their courses of study, also offers an entirely online Master of Arts degree in forensic psychology. Some schools offer programs that are mostly or partially online. For example, the University of North Dakota offers a Master of Arts degree in forensic psychology that includes online lectures and one campus visit. Students in the UND program are eligible for in-state tuition no matter where they reside.
Students should remember that these programs may still require some degree of in-person work, particularly when it comes to practicums that may required for the completion of the degree or for future licensing.
Finding a school that is accredited is essential, particularly for those students who plan to seek licensure in the future.Accreditation means that the forensic psychology master’s degree program meets certain requirements in terms of its curriculum, faculty, and facilities. Schools may be accredited as an institute for higher learning, by an organization such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). Similar commissions exist for different areas of the country. As an example, John Jay College of Criminal Justice has accreditation from the MSCHE.
However, forensic psychology programs themselves can also earn accreditation separately from such professional organizations as the American Psychological Association (APA). In many instances, those students wishing to pursue an internship and eventually licensure may be required to study at an APA-accredited school.
Barry is Managing Editor of ForensicsColleges.com, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, which he co-founded. Barry was previously VP for a financial software company, and currently sits on the board of a K-8 school and lives with his wife and daughters in the San Francisco Bay Area.