Forensic Psychology: PsyD Programs
Psychologists who use their clinical expertise to work within the legal system can positively impact victims, offenders, law enforcement, and the communities in which they live. With a PsyD in forensic psychology, you can gain the knowledge and experience you need to conduct patient assessments, design treatment programs, and assist with investigations.
Are you interested in applying your psychological knowledge to the legal system? Read on to find out what you can expect regarding the education, employment, and professional opportunities associated with a PsyD in forensic psychology.
What Is Forensic Psychology?
Forensic psychology is a relatively new specialty within the field of psychology. The American Board of Forensic Psychology (ABFP) defines it as “the application of the science and profession of psychology to questions and issues relating to law and the legal system.”
In their roles, licensed forensic psychologists work with individuals involved with the judicial system, legislative bodies, and administrative agencies. They use clinical skills to provide psychological assessments of offenders and victims to contribute to issues related to mental health, jury selection, child custody, parole, and probation. Their work can involve programming and counseling for at-risk populations and trauma victims. They might also serve as an expert witness in court.
Who Should Consider Earning a PsyD?
A PsyD in forensic psychology may be right for you if you’re interested in using your psychological skills within different legal environments. The degree is intended to prepare you for 1-on-1 assessment, treatment, and recommendations related to patient care, as well as provide you with in-depth knowledge of the legal system. This and other doctoral-level psychology programs are a key requirement for state licensure, which allows you to practice independently.
The field of forensic psychology is new and growing. As a result, some accredited schools may not have full forensic psychology programs. You may find that you can gain similar experience with a general PsyD in clinical psychology and a concentration in forensic psychology.
Forensic psychology vs. criminal psychology
The differences between forensic psychology and criminal psychology are subtle but important if you’re considering a career in either of these fields. Both are psychology specialties that interact with individuals in the legal system but from different points of view. Generally, criminal psychology examines forensic incidents more narrowly, from the criminal’s point of view, while forensic psychology deals with external factors of crimes and all types of court cases, including civil matters that don’t involve criminals.
In forensic psychology, professionals work with all types of individuals involved in the legal system. This can involve providing assessment, treatment, and prevention for people of all ages. Forensic psychologists can also provide insight into an individual’s mental capacity, which can have key implications in legal proceedings.
In contrast, criminal psychologists focus on identifying and understanding the psychological perspective of criminals, including motivations and mindset at the time of a specific crime. Criminal psychologists also perform criminal profiling and research to identify patterns and help in investigations.
Forensic psychology PsyD or PhD?
Another popular degree option for those interested in psychology is the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). A PsyD degree and PhD in forensic psychology differ in the focus of their curriculum. A PhD emphasizes scientific research and teaching as a way to generate new knowledge in the field. The curriculum includes the advanced study of statistics and research methods, and requires you to complete and defend a dissertation. A PhD may be appropriate if you want to pursue a career in academia or research.
In contrast, a PsyD program emphasizes applying existing knowledge to deliver clinical services in private, group, or organizational settings. You may prefer a PsyD if you’re interested in working with patients in the hands-on roles associated with forensic psychology, without spending as much time studying research methods.
Despite different focuses, both degrees can qualify you to work in leadership positions, conduct research, teach, or work with patients.
Admission requirements vary by institution. Students typically enter with master’s degrees in psychology or closely related fields. If your degree is in an unrelated field, you may have to take prerequisite courses in psychology, human development, or statistics before beginning your PsyD degree coursework.
Admission requirements for most programs include letters of recommendation, a statement of your goals, academic writing samples, a school-specific essay, and an in-person interview.
Is there a GPA requirement?
Admissions is competitive. Many programs require a GPA of 3.0 or higher, though it’s not uncommon for highly competitive schools to require as high as a 3.5. In addition, some programs have GPA requirements of 3.2 and above for psychology courses specifically.
Do you need to take the GRE?
Many, though not all, PsyD programs require you to have specific scores on the GRE. These requirements vary by program, so it’s best to check with the individual schools you’re applying to. Top psychology grad schools report average scores of around 160 out of 170 on both the Verbal and Quantitative sections, and around a 5 out of 6 on Analytical Writing.
It’s important to note that most PsyD programs that do require the GRE will only accept scores from within 5 years before the date of your application.
Can you get in without a master’s degree?
Many forensic psychology PsyD programs allow you to enroll with only a bachelor’s degree. These programs, called joint or dual degree programs, allow you to earn your master’s after achieving a specific number of credits in the doctoral program.
Some programs will lead you to a master’s in clinical or forensic psychology. However, some schools may have you earn a master’s in criminal justice or business administration—areas that can complement your understanding of legal issues.
How Long Does It Take?
Most forensic psychology PsyD programs require a minimum of 90 semester hours or the quarter equivalent, though many consist of 120 semester hours or more. The PsyD degree typically requires between 4 and 6 years of full-time study, often including year-round attendance. Some programs have a time limit on the number of years you’re allowed to complete the degree.
To take advantage of accelerated programs, you typically have to attend full-time and apply transfer credits from a previous master’s degree toward your PsyD requirements. Some programs allow you to transfer up to 24 credits from related graduate coursework, though there are often limitations on how far in the past these courses were completed.
Education requirements for a PsyD in forensic psychology include coursework in scientific and theoretical clinical psychology principles. Programs help students develop advanced skills in clinical interviewing and psychological testing, as well as in consulting and collaborating with physicians and other professionals.
All PsyD programs require an internship, with specific criteria that vary by program. In addition, some PsyD programs might require a dissertation or equivalent project, though this isn’t as common as with a PhD.
Common core classes for a PsyD in forensic psychology include the study of:
- Cultural diversity training
- Data analysis, research design, and program evaluation
- Ethics and legal issues
- Foundations of clinical practice
- Human development
- Personality assessment
- Psycholegal assessment and diagnosis
- Psycholegal intervention and treatment
- Psychology and the law
- Social basis of behavior
Is an Internship or Other Fieldwork Required?
All PsyD programs require an internship, often with additional fieldwork leading up to the internship experience. Beginning in your first year, you’ll typically participate in various practicums to observe professionals in the field and apply what you’ve learned on a limited basis. To earn your degree, you’ll then need to complete an APA-accredited internship that includes at least 1 year of full-time clinical psychology experience.
After earning your degree, you may also have to complete additional postdoc supervised hours. Depending on your state’s requirements for licensing, these may total between 1,000 and 2,000 hours.
Can I Get a PsyD in Forensic Psychology Online?
Schools offering online PsyD degrees in forensic psychology allow you to complete some of your coursework outside the classroom at your convenience. However, since a PsyD requires an internship as well as supervised practicums, any online program will require that you allocate time to complete these requirements in-person.
How to Choose a Program
When choosing a forensic psychology PsyD program, explore an individual program’s structure, coursework, and cost to determine whether it matches your resources and goals. Consider:
- Does this program offer the specific curriculum I want to study?
- Is there a part-time and/or online option for working students?
- Does the school offer internship placement assistance?
- How often do students match with their preferred internship?
- What kind of financial aid is offered?
- What are the graduation and employment rates?
- How successful are graduates in licensure and certification exams?
- Can I speak to recent graduates about their experiences?
It’s also important to ensure that the doctoral program is accredited by the APA, CPA, or a national accrediting agency approved by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).Accreditation ensures that your program meets quality standards and the requirements for certification.
The APA is the national accrediting authority for professional education and training in psychology. You can access a searchable database of APA-accredited programs.
State licensure requirements
To work as a forensic psychologist, you’ll have to meet the requirements for certification or licensure in the state that you work. Holding a license is necessary if you wish to work without supervision or within private practice. Most states require that you hold a doctorate and meet specific experience and examination requirements.
All forensic psychologists must earn an undergraduate degree, though not necessarily in psychology. In most states, you’ll also have to earn a master’s degree in psychology specifically to qualify for a license. If your goal is a PsyD in forensic psychology, you may want to investigate programs that allow you to earn both a master’s and a doctorate concurrently.
Most states require that your doctoral program is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) or the Canadian Psychological Association (CPA). A program designated by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) is also accepted.
After graduating from a doctoral program, all aspiring psychologists must take the Examination for Professional Practice Psychology (EPPP) administered by the ASPPB. In general, you must earn a score of at least 500 out of 800 to pass, though your state might have a different requirement. Most states also require an additional psychology exam specific to their state laws prior to earning licensure.
Financial Aid for Forensic Psychology Students
You’ll need a solid financial plan to meet the cost of earning a PsyD in forensic psychology. According to Education Data Initiatives, in 2022 the cost of a doctorate in psychology was:
- Doctorate: $114,300
- Doctorate of Psychology: $132,200
As a PsyD student in forensic psychology, you’re not as likely to qualify for teaching or research assistantships that cover the cost of tuition. Those opportunities are typically reserved for PhD students. However, you may qualify for fellowships or scholarships to help offset your education costs. These financial awards may be short- or long-term and, in the case of fellowships, may provide additional stipends and benefits.
You can also apply for many other types of financial aid. The first step is to determine your eligibility for need-based aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). If you qualify, you also can earn money by working part-time in positions funded by the Federal Work-Study program.
You may also qualify for financial awards based on academic merit or other criteria. Some potential sources of funding include:
- State incentive programs
- Financial awards from your school or program
- Private businesses
- National and local chapters of psychology associations
- Professional or community organizations
- Nontraditional student scholarships
- Employer tuition reimbursement
- Military or other government service scholarships
- Student loans
Does Forensic Psychology Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness?
Graduates of doctoral forensic psychology programs might qualify for student loan forgiveness by meeting specific requirements. Federal loan forgiveness programs typically require that you’ve made at least 120 repayments and that you work full-time in a government agency or non-profit organization. Other requirements can include working in areas where there’s a shortage of forensic psychologists.
Loan forgiveness programs funded by the U.S. government include:
- Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) Program
- Federal Perkins Loan Cancellation Program
- National Health Services Corps Loan Repayment Program
- National Institutes of Health (NIH) Student Loan Repayment Program
You might also benefit from state-sponsored loan forgiveness programs, which typically have their own repayment and employment criteria. Find out what’s available where you live by contacting your state Department of Health.
While certification isn’t required for employment or licensure in most states, having the credential can give you a competitive advantage. The American Board of Professional Psychology awards board certification in forensic psychology. Prior to applying for the certification exam, your credentials will be reviewed by the American Board of Forensic Psychology—the recognized specialty board of the ABPP—to ensure that you meet the specific requirements for certification.
The certification exam is open to graduates of an APA- or CPA-certified doctoral program or an ABPP-approved accrediting agency. In addition, you must have at least 100 hours of specialized postdoctoral training in forensic psychology. Also required is a postdoc experience of 1,000 hours of direct work over a minimum of 5 years or a full-time, 2,000-hour formal training program in forensic psychology.
Certification is awarded after passing a written exam as well as an intense 3-hour oral exam.
Professional Organizations for Forensic Psychologists
Joining a professional organization can help you stay informed on news and trends in the field of forensic psychology. Some groups also offer networking, mentoring, professional development, and job placement services. Key professional organizations to explore include:
The AAFP, which includes certified forensic psychologists, emphasizes study, research, and practice. The AAFP serves as the education and training arm of the ABFP.
The AAFS is a worldwide organization of forensic specialists across 11 disciplines dedicated to the application of the forensic sciences to the law.
The ACFP is a private, worldwide educational association that includes practicing psychologists and students. It is APA-certified to provide continuing education and publishes a quarterly journal.
The APLS (Division 41) is one of APA’s 54 special interest groups. It promotes the application of psychology to the law and legal institutions through research, education, and service.
- Association for Scientific Advancement in Psychological Injury and Law (ASAPIL)
The ASAPIL promotes the scientific understanding of psychological injury as it relates to legal issues by disseminating research, organizing scientific meetings, and publishing a peer-reviewed scientific journal.