Educational Requirements To Be a Forensic Psychologist

Education RequirementsSchool, School And More School

Forensic psychology is a very broad field, so there are a lot of career opportunities in each of its many different specializations. It’s only natural that most people are intrigued by it, especially because of mainstream media’s influence.

However, the life of a forensic psychologist is not all action and suspense. There’s hard work involved, which you can only do after years of diligent studying. Here we take a look at all the educational requirements and certifications needed in forensic psychology and the different career paths you can choose for each step.

Bachelor’s Degree

As with most professions, the career path of a future forensic psychologist starts with a 4-year Bachelor’s degree. Because of the rising popularity of Forensic Psychology, some colleges and universities now offer Forensic Psychology as a course. However, don’t fret if your target schools don’t offer this course. You can always go for BS Psychology instead.

Whether you take Forensic Psychology or just plain Psychology is not a big deal. What is a big deal is the curriculum for your chosen course. Your curriculum should have the following subjects and modules:

Additionally, it would be better to have a minor in either criminology, sociology, political science, and other similar courses. Take note that a bachelor’s degree in psychology doesn’t make you a full-fledged forensic psychologist. However, if for some reason you can’t pursue post-graduate studies, don’t despair. You can still work in the forensic psychology field in other way.

These careers are also available to people who did not finish their psychology degrees or graduated in a course that is only similar and related to psychology (i.e. criminology or political science)

  • Court Liaison – a court liaison is responsible for most of the administrative tasks in the courtroom. They help pass important information from law enforcement to lawyers and vice versa. They organize court filings, paperwork and other documents prior to a court hearing.
  • Psychological Assistant – While you can’t be a forensic psychologist with just a bachelor’s degree, you can always work for one. You may be tasked with compiling research material and literature that’s relevant to a case. This is a career path that most Psychology graduates choose while they’re undergoing their graduate studies both for money and experience.
  • Victim Advocate – in this career path, you assist the victims in various ways, from chaperoning them to and from the courtroom, to helping them file paperwork for compensation and legal rights. People working in this field are often part of support groups and crisis centers.

Master’s Degree in Psychology

If you choose to pursue your education, you need two more years to get your master’s degree. However, acceptance to a graduate study program in Forensic Psychology is not easy. There are a lot of requirements that you need to meet. To be eligible for graduate school, you need to have a bachelor’s degree in the following courses:

  • Forensic Psychology
  • Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Developmental Psychology
  • Deviant Behavior
  • Criminology
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Sociology or Social Psychology

What if you only developed an interest in forensic psychology after you graduated college? What if your course has nothing to do with psychology? Many graduate studies will still accept you as long as you attended seminars and did well in lab work that’s related to psychology.

Aside from this, you also need to have a good GPA and did well in any research subjects. If you want an advantage over other applicants, it helps if you had an internship, or if you were in clubs and organizations relating to psychology and research.

Once you’re accepted, you can choose to have a master’s degree in the following courses:

  • Forensic Psychology
  • Experimental Psychology
  • Industrial Psychology
  • Organizational Psychology
  • Child Development
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Social Psychology

Depending on what path you chose, this could mean the end of the line for you. For example, once you finish a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, it is not mandatory for you to get a doctorate. You may immediately get your license as a clinical psychologist. A master’s degree opens you up to the following forensic psychology-related career paths.

  • Rehabilitation counselor or therapist
  • Psychology instructor
  • Parole officer
  • Family services and child protection services worker

Doctorate in Forensic Psychology

While attaining a master’s degree is hard, getting a doctorate is both difficult and tedious. Doctorate coursework is very research intensive. To qualify for a doctorate program in forensic psychology, you need to have the following:

  • Great to outstanding results on your Graduate Record Examination
  • The required number of credits
  • Completion of the required subjects in forensic psychology and general psychology
  • Internship hours are an advantage

It is possible to go from bachelor’s degree to doctorate degree without a master’s degree. This is on a case by case basis, and the acceptance board will look at your academic chops to see if you have what it takes to survive its research-intensive coursework. Doctorate coursework also includes more opportunities for internships, at least 800 hours of practicum, and advanced courses depending on your chosen path.

You can either choose a doctorate in clinical psychology or forensic and legal psychology.  Note that you can still work as a forensic psychologist if you choose clinical psychology. Once you finish your doctorate in 2-4 years, you can now pursue the following careers:

  • Profiler
  • Court-appointed psychologist
  • Mental health facility psychologist
  • Prison psychologist
  • Prison psychology administrator
  • Expert witness
  • State forensic psychologist
  • Juvenile court psychologist
  • Criminal psychologist
  • Forensic psychology professional

Some companies will accept you as long as you have a doctorate, while others will require you to have a license. This is especially true if you are pursuing a high-ranking position like administrator, or senior forensic psychologist.

Licensure and Certification in Forensic Psychology

Before you get certified, you need to be a licensed psychologist. The licensure exam is given by your state licensing board. Requirements differ from state to state, but some are universal, such as:

  • A doctorate degree in psychology from a state-accredited educational institution.
  • Proof of coursework. Some states require detailed documentation of practical experience like internships.
  • A passing score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology

Aside from the EPPP, some states require an oral exam, while others require a jurisprudence exam. You also need a set number of hours of clinical hours. The magic numbers are 2,000 hours from internships and another 2,000 hours as part of doctoral coursework. Some states ask for more hours, so check with your state board.

The American Board of Professional Psychology is in charge of regulating the standards followed by forensic psychologists. If you obtain certification from the ABPP, it signifies that you meet the standards of the certification body. If your goal is to one day ascend to the top of the career ladder in your chosen field, a certification is a must.

Take a look at the different specialties within forensic psychology.