Scientific investigators are sought to help solve crimes, provide counseling, and offer professional testimony during legal proceedings. These individuals rely heavily on the evidence obtained from crime scenes and from individuals with knowledge pertaining to the crime. As evidence is often highly detailed and can be subjective, public safety institutions, legal practices, and various types of laboratories seek out individuals qualified to investigate crime scenes. Technological and legal advances have created an increasing awareness toward the field of forensics, and today individuals can study this discipline by earning a master’s degree in forensic psychology.
Forensic technicians will take detailed notes in gathering data and event timeframes so that more seasoned technicians can review and assess the information to create testimony and add relevant evidence in legal investigations. Forensic psychology master’s programs help students build skills needed to deliver expert witness testimony in a courtroom, negotiate in hostage situations, and offer therapy in juvenile detention systems.
Why a Master’s Degree in Forensic Psychology?
A master’s in forensic psychology will enable a forensic technician, clinical psychologist, or other trained individual to obtain a higher paying position with added prestige. Most organizations require a forensic technician to have a bachelor’s degree to work in a crime lab. By obtaining a master’s degree, the forensic technician progresses to offer expert witness testimony to jurors, and work with police in negotiations. They can pursue professional counseling careers, work in a clinic and potentially open one of his/her own, or use master’s training and skills to serve as juvenile prison systems liaison for parents and caretakers.
In some communities, a forensic scientist will not require a master’s degree in forensic psychology to receive a job. However, a master’s program in this field will prepare students for their role in police investigations and trials; for this reason, forensic scientists with a master’s degree are in high demand. Some opt to continue their education and earn a doctorate degree in forensic psychology.
Getting into a Forensic Psychology Master’s Program
Top candidates for graduate programs in forensic psychology usually have previous experience as a forensic technician, counselor or clinical psychologist. Their undergraduate studies must include psychology coursework, and most programs also require applicants to have a bachelor’s degree in general psychology. Other students who enter these programs will have earned a bachelor’s degree in similar fields like criminology, law enforcement, or crime scene investigation. Course prerequisites vary based on the number of psychology courses taken and are specific to program focus. General requirements of the candidate are as follows.
- Bachelor’s degree transcript from an accredited university, usually with a GPA of 3.0 or higher
- Test scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT)
- Writing sample and/or Statement of Purpose
- Letters of recommendation (usually three) from professors of previous institutions or, if the candidate has been out of school for some time, from supervisors in a position to recommend the candidate based on work performance
Inside a Forensic Psychology Master’s Degree Program
During the course of the program, forensic psychology master’s students participate in course work to meet minimum academic core and elective credits. Depending on the institution, there may be required courses that cover criminal psychology, mental health and personality assessments, and human behavior. Many students concentrate their elective courses on areas that are useful or of interest to their careers. These may include studies of violence and aggression, terrorism, forensic science and social science in the courts, and alcohol abuse, counseling and rehabilitation
The master’s student over a year or two of study will likely participate in 100-300 hours of fieldwork. Some courses have simulated field experiences to practice skills, such as hostage negotiation, counseling in juvenile detention centers, and/or providing expert testimonial with participating experts and legal counsel in a courtroom setting. In place of internships some institutions require students to complete thesis dissertations in selected areas of study.
What’s Next for Forensic Psychology Master’s Degree Holders?
Graduates typically seek promotions in their role as a crime scene investigator or forensic technician. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), crime scene investigators earned a median salary of $52,180 in 2011, and the job growth in this field is expected to reach 19% between 2010 and 2020. The BLS also reports that forensic technicians earned a slightly lower median salary of $51,570 in 2010. Forensic psychologists often pursue advanced counseling or clinical opportunities serving with schools, corporations and as individual practitioners. The psychology job sector is expected to grow 22% between 2010 and 2020.