Criminal Psychology Schools and Colleges in the U.S.

Criminal psychologists, often referred to as forensic psychologists, analyze the various psychological factors involved in legal court cases. These psychologists may specialize in assessing the mental competency of court witnesses or defendants, evaluating child custody cases or counseling victims of crime. Licensed criminal psychologists must have a doctoral degree, such as a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Forensic Psychology.

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How to Select A Criminal Psychology School

A bachelor's or master's degree alone is of little value to a prospective criminal psychologist, since professional state licensure guidelines typically require individuals to hold a doctoral degree in the criminal/forensic psychology field. However, because doctoral programs in criminal psychology tend to have competitive admissions standards, students may benefit from seeking schools that offer a solid undergraduate or graduate program in this area of study.

Postgraduate criminal psychology students can choose programs that lead to either a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. degree. Ph.D. degree programs in this field focus on training graduates for careers conducting research or teaching at universities. Psy.D. programs, which emphasize clinical experience, are designed for students who wish to gain employment as practicing criminal psychologists. A student enrolled in a criminal psychology Psy.D. program may have the opportunity to gain practical work experience within the court system.

To qualify for state licensure upon graduation, prospective criminal psychologists should ensure that their school of choice offers a doctoral program that is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, APA-accredited programs include those that provide doctoral students with internship opportunities within their chosen field of study (www.bls.gov). Criminal psychology students need to complete an internship before obtaining licensure and should select schools that offer these opportunities as part of a program curriculum.

Criminal Psychology Program Overviews

Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Psychology

Students can gain introductory knowledge of the criminal psychology field by earning a bachelor's degree in forensic psychology or criminal justice. Subjects covered at the undergraduate level include personality assessment, evaluation of offenders and psychopathology. Students may take courses on topics such as psychology of abnormal behavior, social psychology and intervention strategies.

Master's Degree in Criminal Psychology

A master's degree in criminal psychology can be applied to further schooling at the doctoral level or to careers in administration or research with mental health agencies. At the graduate level, criminal psychology students may be required to complete coursework, research projects and community internships. Course subjects may include forensic mediation and dispute resolution, victimology and mental health law.

Doctoral Degree in Criminal Psychology

A Psy.D. in Clinical Forensic Psychology program prepares students to obtain licensure as forensic psychologists so that they can provide their expertise in family, criminal and civil court cases. Psy.D. programs combine hands-on career training with coursework in areas such as family systems and biological basis of behavior. A Ph.D. in Clinical Forensic Psychology program, which involves both coursework and fieldwork, may focus on topics such as research and evaluation, advocacy and ethical legal standards.

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