Get Your Ph.D. in Forensic Psychology – Everything You Need to Know in 2024

At a glance

Summary A PhD in Forensic Psychology is an advanced degree that merges psychological principles with the legal system.
Entry Requirements Master’s degree in psychology, criminology, or a related field
Completion Time 4-6 years
Coursework & Credits 80-120 credits, including coursework in general and forensic psychology, research methods, statistics, and legal issues
Cost $11,000 – $38,000 per year
Post PhD Steps After earning the PhD, most individuals need to become licensed to practice as psychologists, which entails additional supervised hours and passing a licensing exam.
Career Opportunities Forensic Psychologist, Correctional Psychologist, Professor, Researcher, Expert Witness, Forensic Evaluator, Forensic Consultant, Policy Advisor and Director of Forensic Services
Earning Potential $115,000+ annually


A PhD in forensic psychology represents the highest level of academic achievement in the field, blending the principles of psychology with the workings of the criminal justice system. This advanced degree prepares individuals to understand and assess human behavior within the context of the legal system typically as a forensic psychologist but this degree opens up a wealth of lucrative career opportunities.

forensic psychologist is a professional who applies the principles of psychology to the legal system. They work in a variety of settings, including courtrooms, correctional facilities, and law enforcement agencies.

The PhD program typically takes around 4-6 years to complete and requires extensive coursework in both psychology and law. In addition to coursework, students will be required to complete research projects and often clinical practicums.

Why get a PhD in Forensic Psychology?

A PhD in forensic psychology provides a unique opportunity to gain expertise in the intersection of psychology and the legal system. With a PhD in this field, you can work to improve the administration of justice, understand criminal behavior and victimization, and work to prevent and solve crimes. You will be able to conduct research, provide expert testimony, and work with individuals involved in the criminal justice system. If you are passionate about this field and have the commitment to pursue a PhD, it can be a highly rewarding and fulfilling career path.
Dr. Eric Hickey, a criminologist and professor of criminal psychology at Walden University

Higher earning potential

Individuals with a PhD in forensic psychology are typically able to earn higher salaries than those with only a master’s degree or bachelor’s degree. The American Psychological Association (APA)’s Graduate Study in Psychology found individuals with a doctoral degree in psychology earn a median annual salary of a little under $100,000 vs master’s degree in psychology holders earn a median annual salary of $70,000.

Additionally, specializing in forensic psychology will likely result in higher career lifetime earnings than other psychology subfields. According to the APA, the median annual salary for forensic psychologists is $97,200, which is 18% higher than the median salary for psychologists overall.

Solid job prospects (and career flexibility)

A PhD in forensic psychology can prepare individuals for a variety of careers in both the public and private sectors, including academia, research, government agencies, and private practice.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that employment of psychologists overall will grow by 3% from 2019 to 2029. However, employment in specialized areas such as forensic psychology may grow at a faster rate due to an increased demand for forensic services in the criminal justice system.

Advance your knowledge and your network

A PhD in forensic psychology provides individuals with an advanced understanding of both psychology and the legal system. This can lead to a deeper understanding of criminal behavior and the ability to conduct complex forensic evaluations and assessments.

PhD programs in general offer excellent networking opportunities with peers, faculty and partnerships with the industry that can set your network up for your entire career.

Entry requirements for a Forensic Psychology PhD program

  1. Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree – A master’s degree in psychology, criminology, or a related field. Some programs accept holders of a bachelor’s degree and will wrap a master’s program within the PhD.
  2. Minimum GPA of 3.0
  3. Letters of Recommendation
  4. Personal Statement
  5. Research Experience – PhD programs may require applicants to have prior research experience, such as working as a research assistant, conducting independent research projects, or presenting research findings at conferences.
  6. Interview – Some PhD programs may require applicants to participate in an interview with faculty members to assess their fit for the program.

What’s covered in a Forensic Psychology PhD program?

Graduate study in forensic psychology is intense and challenging, but it is also highly rewarding. Students in these programs learn to apply psychological theories and methods to real-world problems in the criminal justice system, and they gain the skills and knowledge necessary to make a positive impact in the lives of individuals involved in the system. The program can be demanding, but the experience of conducting research and providing clinical services in forensic settings is invaluable for anyone interested in this field.
Dr. David DeMatteo, a professor of psychology and law at Drexel University

A PhD in forensic psychology provides students with an in-depth understanding of psychology and the legal system, as well as the research and clinical skills necessary to conduct high-quality research and provide effective clinical services.

Here is an overview of the topics frequently covered:

  1. Psychology and the Legal System – the role of psychology in the legal system, and ethical considerations for forensic psychologists.
  2. Forensic Assessment – the assessment of individuals involved in the legal system, including competency to stand trial, criminal responsibility, and risk assessment.
  3. Criminal Behavior – theories and research on criminal behavior, including the psychological factors that contribute to criminal behavior.
  4. Research Methods – research design, data analysis, and statistics.
  5. Clinical Training – clinical training in forensic assessment, interviewing techniques, and report writing.
  6. Elective Courses – choose from a variety of elective courses that align with your research interests, such as victimology, forensic neuropsychology, or the psychology of terrorism.

Here is a sample curriculum for a forensic psychology PhD program:


First Year

  • Psychology and the Legal System
  • Research Methods and Statistics
  • Cognitive and Affective Bases of Behavior
  • Social Psychology
  • Ethics and Professional Issues in Forensic Psychology

Second Year

  • Forensic Assessment and Evaluation
  • Psychopathology and Personality Assessment
  • Criminal Behavior and Victimization
  • Advanced Research Methods
  • Elective Course 1

Third Year

  • Advanced Forensic Assessment and Evaluation
  • Advanced Topics in Criminal Behavior
  • Legal and Professional Issues in Forensic Psychology
  • Elective Course 2
  • Practicum in Forensic Assessment and Evaluation

Fourth Year

  • Advanced Research Seminar
  • Advanced Topics in Forensic Psychology
  • Elective Course 3
  • Practicum in Forensic Assessment and Evaluation
  • Dissertation Proposal Development

Fifth Year

  • Dissertation Research and Writing
  • Clinical Supervision
  • Advanced Elective Course
  • Advanced Practicum in Forensic Assessment and Evaluation

How much does a PhD in Forensic Psychology cost?

According to the APA’s Graduate Study in Psychology report, the average tuition and fees for a PhD program in psychology for the 2020-2021 academic year were $11,248 for in-state students at public institutions and $38,686 for out-of-state students at public institutions. Private institutions had an average tuition and fees of $37,124.

It’s important to note that these figures are for all types of psychology PhD programs, not just forensic psychology.

Many PhD programs provide financial support to students in the form of scholarships, assistantships, and fellowships. These opportunities can help offset the cost of tuition and living expenses, although the availability and amount of financial support may vary by institution and program.

What to look for in a PhD program

Choosing a program in forensic psychology is a significant decision that will impact the trajectory of your career.

Here are a few key ways to compare programs/institutions:

Job Placement and Alumni Network

Research the program’s job placement rates for graduates and the types of positions they obtain. A strong alumni network can provide support and job opportunities post-graduation.

Cost and Financial Aid

The cost of tuition and fees for a PhD program in forensic psychology can vary widely depending on the institution and location. Consider the overall cost of the program, as cost of living varies considerably around the country. Consider also the availability of financial aid such as scholarships, grants, fellowships, and assistantships.

Location and Career Opportunities

The location of the institution can impact the availability of career opportunities and resources. Proximity to courts, correctional facilities, or other related institutions might provide practical experience opportunities. Additionally, consider the quality of research facilities, labs, libraries, and other resources.

Consider also the future potential career opportunities in the area, as well as the quality of life (and as discussed, the cost of living) in the location.

Faculty Expertise

The expertise and research interests of the faculty members in the program can impact the quality of education and training that students receive. Review faculty members and their areas of expertise ahead of committing to a program.

Cultural and Diversity Considerations

Check if the program fosters diversity and inclusivity. This can shape your educational experience and better prepare you for working with diverse populations. A study published in “Training and Education in Professional Psychology” emphasized the importance of multicultural competency in psychology training.

What jobs can you do with a PhD in Forensic Psychology?

A PhD in forensic psychology can open up a wide range of career opportunities for individuals interested in the intersection of psychology and the legal system:

  1. Forensic Psychologist: assess offenders, provide expert testimony in court, and advise on issues like parole.
  2. Correctional Psychologist: work in correctional facilities, providing counseling and treatment to inmates and conducting assessments to determine appropriate levels of security and supervision. Explore available correctional psychology positions.
  3. Professor: academic faculty member who teaches courses in psychology and conducts research in the field.
  4. Researcher: conduct research in areas such as criminal behavior, lie detection, witness credibility, or the reliability of eyewitness testimony. This could be in academic settings, government agencies, or private research firms.
  5. Expert Witness: provide expert testimony in court cases on matters such as criminal responsibility, risk assessment, and mental health.
  6. Forensic Evaluator: evaluate individuals involved in the legal system, such as defendants, witnesses, or victims, to assess their mental health and other factors.
  7. Forensic Consultant: consult with law enforcement agencies on matters such as criminal investigations, hostage negotiations, and crisis management.
  8. Law enforcement: there are a variety of positions in law enforcement which either require or encourage an education in forensic psychology e.g. border patrol agent however many of these do not require education to a PhD level.
  9. Consultant for Legal Firms: offer insights on jury selection, witness preparation, or how psychological principles might impact a case.
  10. Policy Advisor: Work with government agencies to develop or refine policies related to criminal justice, corrections, or mental health based on psychological principles and research.
  11. Private Practice: Provide therapy and counseling services, often specializing in areas related to trauma, crime, or the aftermath of legal issues.
  12. Director of Forensic Services: Oversee forensic services in mental health institutions or correctional facilities, ensuring that practices align with current standards and research.

How much can you earn with a PhD in Forensic Psychology?

Specializing in forensic psychology will likely result in higher career lifetime earnings than many other psychology subfields. According to the APA, the median annual salary for forensic psychologists is $97,200, which is 18% higher than the median salary for psychologists overall.

  1. Forensic Psychologist: $101,000 annual salary
  2. Professor: $85,050 annual salary
  3. Research Psychologist: $79,000
  4. Correctional Psychologist: $65,000 – $95,000
  5. Expert Witness: Salaries can vary greatly due to the nature of the work, but experienced psychologists can charge $200 – $600 per hour or more when testifying.
  6. Forensic Evaluator: $70,000 – $95,000
  7. Criminal Profiler: $50,000 – $100,000, with those in federal roles (like the FBI) potentially earning more.
  8. Police Consultant: $60,000 – $95,000
  9. Consultant for Legal Firms: $70,000 – $150,000+, depending on experience and the scope of consultation.
  10. Policy Advisor: $55,000 – $120,000
  11. Private Practice: Earnings can vary widely based on client fees, specialization, and location but $200,000+ is not uncommon.
  12. Director of Forensic Services: $90,000 – $150,000+

Best Forensic Psychology PhD Programs