How to Become a Forensic Psychologist


Updated April 11, 2024 · 5 Min Read

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Forensic psychologists use critical thinking skills at work within the legal system. Learn more about how to become a forensic psychologist. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Forensic psychology blends scientific and clinical practice with the principles of justice and public safety. With a high profile in popular culture and the media, this fascinating field applies psychological science to crime and criminality.

The everyday reality of being a forensic psychologist doesn't usually align with TV and movie portrayals of the profession. Even so, this specialized discipline offers an engaging career path that can have a powerful impact.

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What Is a Forensic Psychologist?

Forensic psychology is a relatively new psychology specialization. Broadly, these professionals evaluate and explore human behavior in the context of crime, criminality, and the justice system.

The American Psychological Association (APA) identifies the common duties of forensic psychologists as:

  • Studying crime and criminality to identify patterns and characteristics shared by specific types of criminals
  • Evaluating the mental states of justice-involved people to determine whether an accused individual is fit to stand trial
  • Working with victims to develop testimony that may help convict perpetrators
  • Advising authorities on matters of child custody, dispute resolution, and jury selection

Forensic psychologists sometimes serve as expert witnesses in criminal trials. Some professionals also examine crime scene evidence alongside police, looking for clues and psychological signatures that may help investigators identify a suspect.

In addition to working with police, forensic psychologists also operate in settings, such as rehabilitation facilities, prisons, public agencies, and educational institutions. Some run their own private practices.

How to Become a Forensic Psychologist

Your journey to becoming a licensed forensic psychologist could take up to a decade or more. While the APA notes there's no single path to entering the profession, successful professionals almost always hold advanced forensic psychology degrees.

The following subsections describe the steps involved in greater detail.

  1. 1

    Earn a Bachelor's Degree

    Begin by earning a four-year degree. Most aspiring forensic psychologists major in psychology, but you can also consider a criminal justice program with a psychology minor.

    Some schools specifically offer undergraduate and graduate forensic psychology programs. Others feature it as a general psychology or criminal justice concentration.

  2. 2

    Earn a Master's Degree

    Specialized forensic psychology degrees become readily available at the master's level. Some schools also offer intensive graduate programs that lead to combined master's and doctoral degrees.

  3. 3

    Earn a Doctoral Degree

    A forensic psychology doctorate can take the form of a doctor of philosophy (Ph.D.) or a doctor of psychology (Psy.D.) designation. Ph.D. programs emphasize research, while Psy.D. programs focus more on professional practice.

    APA-accredited programs give you an advantage if and when you seek licensure. Be sure to check for proper accreditation when applying for doctoral programs.

  4. 4

    Consider Postdoctoral Training

    Postdoctoral academic programs, fellowships, and residencies offer an opportunity to pursue advanced, highly specialized professional development. They typically consist of practice- or research-focused experiences designed to deepen your applied expertise in the field.

    In some cases, you may need a provisional state license to pursue postdoctoral training.

  5. 5

    Pursue State Licensure

    In the U.S., you need a state-issued license if you want to practice professionally under the "psychologist" title. This rule also applies to forensic psychologists.

    As an adjunct to licensure, you can also pursue board certification. The American Board of Professional Psychology issues this voluntary credential, which may enhance your career growth prospects.

Forensic Psychologist Licensure

Specific licensure requirements vary by state, but they always include an advanced degree. In some jurisdictions, you must hold an APA-accredited doctoral degree to qualify for a license. Research the standards in the state where you plan to work to ensure you choose a doctoral program that satisfies applicable guidelines.

To obtain a license, you must also accrue the specified number of supervised clinical experience hours mandated by your state. Then, you must pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Some states also include a jurisprudence exam among their licensing requirements.

States typically require psychologists to renew their licenses every two years. In addition to maintaining good professional standing, you will likely need to complete continuing education courses or professional development training as part of the renewal process.

Twelve states have reciprocity agreements that allow licensed psychologists to move between jurisdictions without getting a new credential. However, if you move to a state where your current license is not recognized, you must apply for a new one. This may involve meeting additional requirements, such as completing further supervised experience hours.

Forensic Psychology Career Outlook and Salaries

As of March 2024, Payscale reports that forensic psychologists earn average annual salaries of about $78,800 per year. Those at the 10th percentile of the earning scale make around $50,000 per year, while those at the 90th percentile earn approximately $127,000 per year.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) groups forensic psychologists in its general category for psychologists. According to BLS projections, jobs for psychologists will increase by 6% from 2022-2032, which is faster than average for all occupations.

Forensic Psychology Career Salary Range
Annual Salary Percentile Annual Salary
10% $138,860
25% $124,020
Median (50%) $106,420
75% $68,410
100% $40,000
Source: BLS

Frequently Asked Questions About Forensic Psychology

What exactly does a forensic psychologist do?

Forensic psychology professionals apply the principles of psychological science to crime and criminal investigations. Among other duties, they study psychological influences on criminal behavior, assist police investigations, serve as expert witnesses in criminal trials, and aid crime victims.

It takes 10-15 years of education and training to become a forensic psychologist. You must earn a bachelor's degree, then a master's degree, followed by a doctorate. You must also work under the supervision of a licensed psychologist before earning your license. The specific state regulations vary.

You should expect forensic psychology programs to challenge your abilities. Forensic psychology is a complex specialization that requires deep knowledge of both the criminal justice system and multiple psychology subfields. Excelling in the profession requires a combination of commitment, perseverance, and genuine passion for the subject matter.

The APA describes forensic psychology as one of psychology's most popular growth areas, suggesting valuable appeal in related career paths. Many forensic psychologists find their jobs rewarding and fulfilling. However, it is not the highest-paid psychology specialization. If you're purely seeking financial rewards, it might not be the right field for you.

Page last reviewed on March 24, 2024

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