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What are the Forensic Psychology Requirements to Start Your Career?

From witness testimonies to child custody disputes, one tenet underlies countless legal cases: forensic psychology. This field is a fascinating and necessary component of the legal system, encompassing the intersection of psychology and the law. 

Suppose you have a passion for the human mind and the judicial world. Forensic psychology may hold a fulfilling future for you, especially as the legal system always needs a qualified licensed forensic psychologist. So, what does it take to get started in the dynamic field?

Getting into law and psychology careers is no simple feat. To find your path, you’ll need to meet specific educational, skill-based, and licensure requirements. This article will dive into the key forensic psychology requirements to pursue a career in this study.

Educational Requirements in Forensic Psychology

Pursuing a career in psychology or law alone is an academic challenge. In forensic psychology, you’ll need a decent understanding of both disciplines. That begins with walking down a lengthy and rigorous educational path supported by programs like the Forensic Psychology program at Alliant International University. 

To prepare for this field, let’s dive into the forensic psychology education requirements you’ll need to achieve along the way.

Undergraduate Education for Forensic Psychology

Regardless of your job or role, you’ll need to start every profession in forensic psychology with the same academic base: a four-year bachelor’s degree. 

A bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology will provide the fundamental psychology concepts you’ll need across your career. However, since forensic psychology is such a dynamic and varied field, you can choose from a wide variety of majors for your bachelor’s degree, such as:1

  • Psychology
  • Criminal justice
  • Criminology
  • Sociology
  • Pre-law studies
  • Forensic science

Graduate Education for Forensic Psychology

While a graduate degree isn’t technically required in forensic psychology, it’s a valuable (and often needed) asset for many roles. These programs will provide the in-depth knowledge, academic specialization, research skills, and real-life skills you’ll need for a long-term career in this field. Here are some common graduate degrees to pursue forensic psychology: 2,3  

  • Master's degree (MA) in forensic psychology – Often lasting two to three years, a master’s degree dives deeper into psychological principles within legal contexts. These programs typically include training in assessment and diagnosing techniques, criminal behavior analysis, and clinical hours for future licensure. A master's degree can also be a stepping stone for those hoping to pursue a doctoral degree.
  • Master’s of Science (MS) in forensic behavioral science – Similar to an MA, an MS in forensic behavioral science is an advanced program that often lasts two to three years. However, this program focuses more on the intersection of human behavior and criminal justice, particularly in the context of criminal activities and legal proceedings. It’s a particularly useful program for careers in criminology or criminal profiling.
  • Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) in forensic psychology – If you dream of working one-on-one with individuals within the legal system, this doctoral degree program will prepare you for clinical practice. Usually lasting five to seven years, a PsyD offers training in psychological assessment, diagnostics, and treatment within the context of legal proceedings. 
  • Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in clinical psychology or forensic psychology – This research-oriented doctoral program combines clinical training with a strong emphasis on research methodologies and psychological theory. Typically, graduates seek careers involving clinical practice and research, such as rehabilitation program design or policy creation. 
  • JD and PhD dual program – If you have equal passions for law and psychology, some universities offer joint programs that lead to a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD or PhD) and a Juris Doctor (JD) degree. This combination is particularly valuable for those who want to specialize in expert testimony, work as consultants to legal teams, or teach at a high academic level.

Key Skills and Competencies for Success in Forensic Psychology

In the legal world, the human mind is an ever-changing puzzle that holds the keys to numerous disputes and cases. Forensic psychologists are the detectives who unravel this enigma, deciphering clues tucked away in the human mind to reveal key facts that influence legal cases. 

So, how do they carry out this masterful work? Besides academic prowess, forensic psychologists also need some essential skills to apply psychology within the lay of the law.

If you wish to pursue a career in forensic psychology, you’ll need to acquire these diverse and crucial skills to find success:4

  1. Psychological proficiency and assessment – At the heart of forensic psychology lies the ability to unravel the human mind. Forensic psychologists decipher psychological assessments, personality tests, and mental health conditions. With their keen insight, they can lead legal professionals to the most accurate and fair outcomes for individuals in legal cases. 
  2. Legal expertise – Forensic psychology is more of a psychology career than a legal one. However, legal knowledge is paramount across this field. A successful forensic psychologist is well-versed in the intricacies of the legal realm, from terminology to procedures. This skill will help translate their psychological findings to attorneys, judges, and juries.
  3. Clear and effective communication – Forensic psychology is an incredibly interpersonal field, often dealing with multiple individuals and professionals within the legal system daily. This makes effective communication skills paramount. The ability to convey complex psychological concepts is a hallmark skill of forensic psychologists, whether presenting findings in court, collaborating with legal teams, or interacting with clients.
  4. Practical experience – While theoretical knowledge is invaluable, practical experience is essential. In forensic psychology, hands-on experience will translate academic learning into real-world solutions. Many students use internships, training hours, and supervised clinical work to achieve practical experience before starting a career. 
  5. Multicultural competency – The legal system touches all corners of society—so forensic psychology does as well. A career in this field will interact with various cultures, ethnicities, and religions, making an unbiased and knowledgeable approach imperative. A multicultural competency will help you understand how cultural factors may influence behavior, perceptions of justice, and interactions within the legal system. 
  6. Ethical decision-making – Without integrity, forensic psychology cannot uphold its best work. Professionals in this field often face ethical dilemmas that require careful consideration and complicated decisions. To prioritize the well-being of their clients while upholding the law, you’ll need to be able to navigate complex ethical terrain.

Licensure and Certification Requirements in Forensic Psychology

A licensed forensic psychologist has the power to wield great influence on many lives. In this field, you could decide whether a parent is fit for child custody, a defendant can plead mental illness, or if a potential suspect had qualified motives for a dangerous crime.

Considering this great power, many governments believe that education can’t be the only barrier to entry in this field. Instead, workers in forensic psychology must also earn licensure to practice. Additionally, they may also earn specialty certifications to further their career. Let’s explore both types of documentation in this field. 

State Licensure

Like many healthcare and mental health professionals, forensic psychology jobs often need to be licensed. However, if you wish to become a practicing clinical forensic psychologist, you must earn a license—and that will be dictated by your state.

To practice as a licensed forensic psychologist within your resident state, you’ll need a license from that state (not another state or location). While state license requirements vary, they typically include the following: 5,6 

  • A bachelor’s degree from an accredited program
  • A doctoral degree (PsyD or PhD program) from an accredited program
  • Clinical hours under a licensed psychologist (1,500 to 6,000 hours)
  • A passing score on the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP), as offered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB)
  • Any associated fees (licensure application, board certification, exam signup, etc.)

You’ll also have to renew your license continually to maintain legal practice. Most states require license renewal applications within five years, which may include continual learning hours.7

Specialty Certifications

Forensic psychology is a vast field encompassing criminal profiling, rehabilitation, treatment, and legal advising. To shape your path, earning a specialty certificate could further your career by showcasing your commitment and professional excellence.

While not required, forensic psychologist employers may prefer board-certified candidates. To become board-certified, you must take the Specialty Board Certification in Forensic Psychology (SBCFP), an oral and written exam conducted by the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).8

Curious about other niche areas in this field? The ABPP and American Psychological Association (APA) both recognize and designate certain professional certifications in psychology, including:9

  • Addiction psychology
  • Behavioral and cognitive psychology
  • Clinical child and adolescent psychology
  • Geropsychology
  • Police and public safety
  • Rehabilitation

Explore Alliant's School of Forensic Psychology

Between law and the human mind lies forensic psychology,  a fascinating intersection to explore. While rigorous and demanding, forensic psychology can be a good career path for those who wish to pursue justice and compassion. 

Captivated by the allure of this dynamic field? The desire for a career in forensic psychology is a call to forge a unique path—one that kicks off with a robust education.

At Alliant International University, our forensic psychology program equips students to handle the multifaceted and complex demands of this discipline. Our MS in Forensic Behavioral Science program hands you the real-life experience, academic expertise, and flexibility needed to find your path in this field—whether that’s conflict resolution, trial consulting, or one-on-one clinical treatment. 

Begin your career odyssey by exploring the Forensic Behavioral Science programs at Alliant International University today. 


  1.  Careers in Psychology. “How To Start a Forensic Psychology Career”. N.d. Accessed August 20, 2023.
  2. Chamlou, Nina. “How To Become A Forensic Psychologist”. July 11, 2023. Accessed August 18, 2023.
  3. Staff. “Forensic Psychology Degree Overview”. July 12, 2023., Accessed August 18, 2023.
  4. National Careers Service. “Forensic psychologist”. National Careers Service. N.d.…. Accessed August 18, 2023.
  5. Perry, Christin. “How To Become A Forensic Psychologist.” Forbes Advisor. May 18, 2022.…. Accessed August 20, 2023.
  6. Dittman, Melissa. American Psychological Association. “What you need to know to get licensed”. N.d. Accessed August 20, 2023.
  7. N.A. “How to Become a Psychologist in 2023: Step-by-Step”. Student Training and Education in Public Service. April 27, 2023. Accessed August 20, 2023.
  8. Perry, Christin. “How To Become A Forensic Psychologist.” Forbes Advisor. May 18, 2022.…. Accessed August 20, 2023.
  9. Indeed Editorial Team. “Psychology Certifications: Definition, Types and Tips To Earn One”. March 3, 2023.…. Accessed August 20, 2023.

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