What is a Forensic Psychologist?

by Jordan Fabel | Last Updated: November 1, 2021

One of the most specialized positions in the legal system is known as a forensic psychologist. This career requires quite a bit of education. The job is rather important.

If you’re considering a career as a forensic psychologist, you’ll want to know what this person does. Let’s look at the job duties and the steps necessary to become a forensic psychologist.

What is a Forensic Psychologist

Job Duties of a Forensic Psychologist

As a forensic psychologist, you will be specialized in using psychological principles to address things within the legal system. This includes civil and criminal matters. This type of job looks at the psychology behind actions taken. You can assist with many areas of the legal process as a forensic psychologist.

If you enter this type of career, you may work with juries, police, inmates, or attorneys. Let’s look at the job duties with each.

Juries

Working with juries will include helping with juror selection. You will likely look at the psychological matters of the case and inform the jury. It’s also possible you might evaluate why a juror acted in a specific way.

Police

A very common forensic psychologist’s job duty will involve working with the police to evaluate a crime scene. This will also include creating a criminal profile and assessing any possible suspects.

Inmates

When you work with inmates, you will likely provide rehabilitative treatment, along with counseling sessions. In addition, forensic psychologists can help to screen incoming prisoners to determine the risk they may become violent. It’s also possible you may assess an inmate’s readiness for parole.

Attorneys

It’s common for forensic psychologists to work with attorneys. You will evaluate the litigating parties, provide consultation on the state of mind of an individual, and even serve as an expert witness. A forensic psychologist can also help to determine if someone is fit to stand trial.

A few more job duties you might have as a forensic psychologist include:

There are many different job duties you might be expected to perform. It depends on who you work for and what type of forensic psychology you go into.

Steps to Become a Forensic Psychologist

Step #1 – Do Well in High School

If you want to become a forensic psychologist, you want to do well in high school or equivalent. But, first, it’s necessary to get into a good bachelor’s degree program. A high GPA and high scores on the SAT or ACT will help.

The right ACT or SAT prep course can ensure you score high on these tests. Then, with good test scores and a high GPA, you can choose a top bachelor’s degree program.

Step #2 – Earn Your Bachelor’s Degree

Becoming a forensic psychologist requires a bachelor’s degree first. Next, you will want to get a degree in forensic psychology, criminal justice, or psychology. This will help to ensure you build the right foundation to enter into the right graduate program.

It’s common for master’s degree programs only to take students with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. So if you want to become a forensic psychologist, keep this in mind when choosing your major.

Step #3 – Get Your Master’s Degree or Ph.D.

While it’s not required for every type of job in forensic psychology, most employers want you to have at least a master’s degree. Therefore, you want to get a master’s degree in psychology with a forensic psychology specialty. This will help to ensure you have more job opportunities in the future.

It’s also possible to get a Ph.D. in Psychology. This is also known as a PsyD or Doctor of Psychology. If you want to become a licensed forensic psychologist, this will be a requirement in most states.

You will likely need to complete an internship if you enter into a Ph.D. program. This is commonly done through the school’s career center. You may also find an internship through one of your professors.

Step #4 – Earn Your License

A state license will likely be required to work in any psychology. For example, it will be necessary to serve as an expert witness or evaluate people for the legal system. While each state is different, you can expect similar requirements when it comes to exams.

Most states require a doctorate. You will also need to pass the EPPP (Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology). This is an eight-part exam, and you will need to make sure you’re well prepared.

Step #5 – Become Board Certified

While you don’t have to be board certified to work as a forensic psychologist, it will put you at the top of your field. It’s the only postdoctoral certification recognized by the American Psychological Association in this field.

The requirements to earn board certification include a state license, doctoral degree, 1,000 hours of practical experience, and 100 hours of education.

Common Skills of a Forensic Psychologist

Based on the nature of this type of work, you will need the right skills to become a forensic psychologist. However, some of the necessary skills can be learned. Common skills you will need include:

These skills are a big part of becoming a successful forensic psychologist. In addition, of course, you will need to understand psychological strategies and the human mind. Those skills you can learn throughout your education and experience.

Similar Careers to Forensic Psychology

It’s common to go into a program related to forensic psychology and make a career change. Some of the similar career options include:

All of these career options will also require quite a bit of training. However, if you’re already trained as a forensic psychologist, you will have a great foundation for going in one of these directions.

Frequently Asked Questions About Forensic Psychologists

How much can I make as a forensic psychologist?

The average salary of a forensic psychologist is about $72K per year. Your actual salary will depend on where you work and your type of work. For example, if you work for the prison system, you will earn a much lower salary than working for attorneys.

Many forensic psychologists are practicing clinical psychologists. They can bill an hourly rate of several hundred dollars per hour. The top earners in this field will make around $130K per year.

How long will it take me to become a forensic psychologist?

Your bachelor’s degree will take four years, which can land you an entry-level position. However, you will need another two years to complete a master’s degree and two to four more to complete your doctoral degree. If you want to become a board-certified forensic psychologist, you can expect it to take 8 to 12 years.

What type of hours do forensic psychologists work?

Most forensic psychologists work regular hours. While they might not work a perfect 9-to-5 schedule, it will likely be close to this type of daily schedule. It’s uncommon for a forensic psychologist to work nights or weekends.

What type of environment will I be working in?

Depending on your specialty, you might spend most of your time in a courtroom or prison. However, it’s common for a forensic psychologist to work in an office environment, too.

Most forensic psychologists choose their own work environment. While they may provide services to police agencies, attorneys, and others in the legal system, they run a private practice.

Is the field of forensic psychology growing?

Careers in the general psychology field are growing. They are expected to continue to grow by about 14% over the next 10 years. It’s also likely the more specific career of a forensic psychologist is growing and will continue to grow. Many believe the legal system will continue to put their expertise to good use.


Those looking to enter a career as a forensic psychologist will need quite a bit of schooling. While a bachelor’s degree might land you an assistant job, you will need more schooling to become a forensic psychologist. If this career seems exciting to you, the schooling will likely be interesting, too.

Consider the types of job duties performed and what a forensic psychologist does before choosing. It might just be the right career path for you.

Jordan Fabel

Jordan Fabel

Covering different 'paths' that people's lives can take. Creative, foster parent, ticket dismissal, you get the idea. Exploring the requirements, certifications, exams, and obviously, approved courses along each path. I, personally, am the high school dropout son of two teacher parents. So how did I get here? That story is coming soon!