Education and Careers
Forensic psychologists are licensed psychologists who apply their knowledge of the mind and human behavior to civil and criminal law. They assess competency to stand trial, help with jury selection, work on child custody cases, and more.
What They Do
Forensic psychologists evaluate criminals to learn what their mindset and motives were at the time of—and leading up to—the crime they committed. They also determine what threat an offender may be to the public, so they work with parole and probation boards. They’re present in courtrooms across the country to help lawyers with jury selection and gauge defendants’ competency to stand trial.
In addition, many forensic psychologists work with children who are caught in custody battles between their parents or other relatives, with the goal of keeping children as safe as possible. And they commonly serve at-risk populations and trauma victims.
Skills You Need
Learn which personality traits and professional skills you’ll need to be a successful forensic psychologist.
You should have…
- Strong communication skills
- High ethical standards
- A desire to collaborate
- Excellent writing skills
- A strong stomach
How to Become a Forensic Psychologist
Forensic psychologists must be licensed to practice psychology in their state. Generally, you’ll need to have a doctorate in psychology and one to two years of clinical experience under the guidance of a mentor to qualify for licensure.
Get a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology
To specialize in forensic psychology, you’ll need the knowledge of other psychologists. Make sure to start with a bachelor’s with a major in psychology.
Get an Advanced Degree in Psychology
Most graduate programs in forensic psychology look for a high score on the GRE, a GPA of 3.5 or higher, and volunteer or paid experience in the field.
Complete an Internship
All psychology programs require you to do an internship. Psychology internships must generally be approved by the American Psychological Association.
Pass the Psychology Exam
Take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. The American Psychology-Law Society also recommends getting certified by the American Board of Forensic Psychology.
Apply for Licensure in Your State
To become a licensed psychologist you need to be credentialed by your state psychology board. Most states require two years of supervised experience after you earn your PhD or PsyD.
Forensic psychologists are considered part of the larger field of psychologists in general, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS lists the median national annual salary for psychologists as $70,700. Actual salaries may vary based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and other factors.
Compare psychology salaries below:
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016-17 Occupational Outlook Handbook.
*The salary information listed is based on a national average, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
Employment of forensic psychologists is expected to grow 19 percent from 2014 to 2024. But with the growing interest in this popular field, jobs will most likely go to those with doctoral degrees. National long-term projections growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
Here are some other fields you might like if forensic psychology isn’t exactly what you’re looking for:
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