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Guide to forensic psychology master’s degree programs

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Master’s degrees in forensic psychology teach students how psychological knowledge is applied to the legal system. They are intended for students preparing for a doctorate program or who wish to pursue other careers in law enforcement.

Most forensic psychologist jobs require applicants to have a license to practice psychology. In most states, a doctorate degree in psychology is the minimum education required to obtain licensure. Although some doctorate programs don’t require that you have a master’s degree to be admitted—or a master’s in forensic psychology specifically—it could make you a more competitive doctoral candidate.

In this Article

Should I get an MA or MS degree?

There are Master’s of Arts (MA) and Master’s of Science (MS) degrees available in forensic psychology, so what’s the difference?

An MA typically has a more well-rounded curriculum with a focus on the application of the subject at hand. An MS focuses more on research and empirical study. Both degrees give you advanced knowledge of the subject, and neither one is superior to the other.

Choosing which degree to pursue depends on your personal interests in the field, and what type of career you hope to have.  

What will I learn from a master’s in forensic psychology?

Your curriculum will be slightly different depending on which degree type you choose, but both have a lot of overlap in the courses they teach. You will learn topics in advanced psychology, the criminal justice system, and the fusion of both. Common courses include:

  • Social and cultural psychology
  • Psychology and the legal system
  • Theories of criminal behavior
  • Psychopathology of crime
  • Offender rehabilitation and reintegration
  • Correctional psychology
  • Fundamentals of forensic psychology research

Master’s degree programs often culminate in a final project that allows you to showcase what you’ve learned over the course of your degree. Every program has different requirements, but you may have to complete one or more of the following, or some hybrid of these types of projects:

An extensive research paper
A multifaceted project that may have a thesis paper as part of it
A field experience that is usually satisfied by working a certain number of hours

Some programs even offer a choice of what type of final project you would like to complete.

Admission requirements

Every program has different admission requirements, but there are some similarities. A bachelor’s degree is required for admission to nearly all master’s degree programs. Some forensic psychology programs require that your undergraduate major be in psychology or a related field, or that you have taken a certain number of psychology/social science credits. Some programs do not have requirements for your undergraduate major. Be sure to speak with an admissions advisor to determine if you have the necessary degree and/or credits to be admitted to their program.

Many master’s programs also require a GPA of 3.0 or higher from your undergraduate degree, in addition to a personal statement or essay and letters of recommendation.

Can I get a master’s in forensic psychology online?

There are several online master’s programs for forensic psychology, in addition to traditional in-person programs and hybrid learning formats. You should consider your own scheduling needs and learning style when considering what type of program you want to pursue. An online program may provide more flexibility if you are juggling work and other personal commitments.

Keep in mind that most online programs still require a certain number of in-person, practical experience hours to graduate. 

How long will it take to earn my degree?

Most master’s programs take two years to complete if you are a full-time student. Your degree may take longer to complete if you take classes part-time, or if you have to take other prerequisite courses first to be admitted to the program.

After graduating: What comes next

You may be wondering what to do with your master’s in forensic psychology, and what your next steps are after graduation.

Advance your education

If you’re hoping to become a licensed forensic psychologist, then you may want to start exploring doctorate degrees since they are required in most states to obtain licensure.

Most forensic psychologist positions require this as well.

Enter the workforce

Perhaps your end goal is not to be a forensic psychologist, or you want to gain experience or stabilize your finances before applying to doctorate programs. Either way, you can enter the workforce with your master’s in forensic psychology.

There are positions available in the social services or law enforcement that your degree can be relevant to. Some of these positions may even work under a supervising licensed psychologist, forensic or otherwise.

kendall upton

Written and researched by:

Kendall Upton

Staff writer