How to Become a Criminal Psychologist [2024 Guide]

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Learn how to become a criminal psychologist, and explore this rewarding field. Discover the common steps toward this career path in this comprehensive guide.

If you’re interested in a career that allows you to assess suspects or evaluate offenders of crime, then you may be wondering how to become a criminal psychologist.

How to Become a Criminal Psychologist

Criminal psychology is a branch of psychology that focuses on criminality, behavioral decision-making, criminal profiling, and criminal justice.

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Pursuing a career as a criminal psychologist may lead you down a rewarding professional path, as criminal psychologists tend to earn higher than average salaries.

How to Become a Criminal Psychologist

There are a number of steps involved in the process of becoming a criminal psychologist, including fulfilling academic and state licensure requirements.

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Here are some common steps on the path to becoming a criminal psychologist:

  1. Earn a bachelor’s degree. Some criminal or forensic psychology graduate programs prefer undergraduate degrees to be accredited and in a discipline related to clinical psychology, such as psychology or criminal justice.
  2. Obtain a graduate degree. To become a practicing clinical criminal psychologist, many licensing boards require a PhD or PsyD. Some entry-level positions, though, may allow you to act as a psychologist with only a master’s degree.
  3. Gain work experience. To become licensed, you’ll typically be required to complete a specific number of work hours in the field of criminal psychology through internships or residencies.
  4. Pass professional examinations. In order to become fully licensed, you’ll generally be required to complete the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) with a passing score.

After completing all of these steps, you may be qualified to obtain your license to practice as a criminal psychologist in the state of your choosing.

Top 3 Things You Can Do As a Criminal Psychologist

Criminal Psychologist Jobs

As a criminal psychologist, there are a number of career paths that may be available to you.  Common careers in this field include criminal psychologist, college professor, and researcher.

1. Criminal Psychologist

Some criminal psychologists play an important role in helping law enforcement professionals solve crimes. They also evaluate criminal offenders  to better understand the decision-making behind their actions as well as their mental fitness to stand trial.

Criminal psychologists can work closely with law enforcement officials, legal professionals, young offenders, or adult offenders. Professionals in the field may also act as expert witnesses in court cases, providing a jury with an understanding of an offender’s state of mind.

2. Professor

Criminal Psychology Professor

Due to the extensive academic experience required to become a criminal psychologist, you may be qualified to take on teaching roles at various postsecondary institutions.

As part of this role, you may have the opportunity to provide instruction on criminal justice, criminology, criminal psychology, or forensic psychology. You may wonder what you can do with a master’s in forensic psychology. While a masters degree can help prepare you for teaching roles at community colleges, a PhD can qualify you to pursue work for universities and higher-level postsecondary programs.

3. Researcher

Your experience as a PhD or PsyD student can help prepare you for positions in research. Researchers can work for academic institutions, research firms, and even state and federal governments.

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In a research role, you may have the opportunity to contribute to the existing breadth of knowledge on offender behavior, criminal profiling, criminal decision-making, juvenile delinquency, forensic mental health, or crime analysis.

Criminal Psychology Specialty Areas

Criminal Psychology Specialty Areas

Within the field of criminal psychology, there are a number of areas that you may choose to focus your expertise and career path on. These specialty areas include corrections, juries, policing, crime analysis, and criminal profiling.

  • Corrections: The area of corrections focuses on convicted offenders of crime in either a juvenile or adult offender population setting. This work may include performing interviews and assessments of individuals in custody.
  • Juries: Some criminal psychologists provide expert testimony to juries or help legal teams select jury members.
  • Policing: Criminal psychologists can support police departments in solving crimes by providing insight into criminal behavior and helping in crime scene assessment.
  • Crime Analysis: This specialty area focuses on crime data, such as demographics of criminals and other socioeconomic indicators of criminal behavior.
  • Criminal Profiling: Profilers can support law enforcement by developing profiles of potential criminals through the use of various personality and behavioral characteristics.

Depending on your career goals, you may also choose to further focus your career on clinical support, teaching, or research in the field of criminal psychology.

Criminal Psychology Careers & Salaries

Criminal Psychology Careers & Salaries

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, pursuing the field of criminal psychology at the graduate level can open a number of doors into different professional areas. These career opportunities can range from clinical psychology and academia to research and leadership.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Sociologists $83,420
Detectives and Criminal Investigators $83,170
Psychologists, All $80,370
Social Scientists and Related Workers $80,220
Clinical, Counseling, and School Psychologists $78,200
Postsecondary Psychology Teachers $76,620
Social and Community Service Manager $67,150
Postsecondary Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers $62,860
Probation Officers and Correction Treatment Specialists $54,290
Substance Abuse, Behavioral Disorder, and Mental Health Counselors $46,240

Positions in the field of criminal psychology can exist in hospitals, government organizations, schools, ambulatory care services, law firms, and police departments. Operating as an independent consultant is also an option. In fact, 31% of all types of psychologists are self-employed (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

How to Choose a Criminal Psychology Program

Criminal Psychology Program

When comparing the various degree programs offered by different schools, there are a number of factors to consider in what degree you need to be a forensic psychologist, ranging from the accreditation status of a program to a program’s completion time.

Before deciding on a program, you may want to consider the following questions:

  • What enrollment options are available?
  • What concentrations or specialties are available?
  • Is the program offered online, in-person, or both?
  • Is the program and school accredited?
  • How long will it take to complete the program?
  • What additional features and resources does the school offer?

Other considerations can include the range of courses that are available, internship requirements, support provided by the institution in finding internships, and requirements relating to final thesis, dissertation, or project options.


Criminal Psychology Accreditation

In order to receive regional accreditation, a program or school needs to pass a set of predetermined quality standards for its educational offerings.

Attending an accredited institution is an important consideration, as it can impact your ability to transfer credits and enroll in other educational programs. It can also impact your ability to register with different professional associations and obtain necessary licensing.

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For more information on the accreditation status of the program you’re interested in attending, you can visit the US Department of Education‘s website.

American Psychological Association (APA) Accreditation

American Psychological Association (APA) Accreditation

Programmatic accreditation is another important consideration when it comes to selecting a PhD in Criminal Psychology program.

Programmatic accreditation through the American Psychological Association (APA) focuses strictly on accreditation of doctoral graduate programs. A degree from an APA-accredited program is sometimes required in order to qualify for a license to practice as a criminal psychologist. This requirement can vary by state.

For criminal psychology degrees, the American Psychological Association is the top accrediting agency.

What Is a Criminal Psychologist?

What Is a Criminal Psychologist

Much like the question, what is a forensic psychologist, a criminal psychologist is often a licensed clinical psychologist whose work focuses on criminal behavior, the criminal justice system, and elements of forensic psychology.

A criminal psychologist may work closely with law enforcement professionals in the assessment of a crime scene or the development of a criminal profile. They use personality and behavioral characteristics to identify potential offenders.

Criminal psychologists may also act as expert witnesses during a trial or provide advice to legal teams on jury selection.

What Do Criminal Psychologists Do?

Criminal Psychologists Careers

In order to successfully perform their duties, criminal psychologists are required to have an in-depth understanding of the relationship between fundamental psychological principles and the criminal justice system.

This expertise may allow them to perform various roles, including criminal profiler, clinical psychologist, police consultant, teacher, or researcher. It is common for criminal psychologists to work as prison psychologists, providing counsel to inmates while gaining insight and perspective into their criminal behavior and mindset.

What Qualifications Do You Need to Be a Criminal Psychologist?

In order to become a forensic psychologist, you’re typically required to complete a number of steps.

These steps can include earning a bachelor’s degree in a criminal psychology major or related discipline, ultimately earning your PhD or PsyD from an accredited institution.

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Your state licensing board may also require that you complete a number of work hours in the field before writing and passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP).

Where Do Criminal Psychologists Work?

It’s common for criminal psychologists to work in the legal and criminal justice system. This can include working for law firms, police departments, and state and federal government institutions.

Professionals in the field can also find rewarding teaching and research positions. Notably, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychologists working in government and hospital settings tend to earn more per year than those who work in ambulatory care or education.

How Much Does a Criminal Psychologist Make?

Criminal Psychologists Salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, criminal psychologists earner a higher than average annual salary. A criminal psychologist’s salary will vary depending on a number of factors, including their position, employer, and years of experience.

The average annual salary for all psychologists is $80,370 while psychology teachers at post-secondary institutions earn an average of $76,620 per year (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Government institutions and hospitals pay psychologists the most on average, with psychologists in these sectors earning average salaries of $96,870 and $88,480 respectively.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Criminal Psychologist?

Bachelors degree in criminal psychology

How long it takes to become a criminal psychologist can vary depending on a number of factors. One factor is the speed at which you graduate from your various educational programs.

Traditionally, bachelors degree programs take 4 years to complete when attending on a full-time basis. Earning your PhD in Psychology may take anywhere from 3 to 5 years when enrolled full-time.

Choosing to pursue your masters in criminal psychology before advancing into a PhD or PsyD program can also extend or alter the length of time required.

Once your educational requirements have been met, you can fulfill your state’s requirements for licensure. Each state board has varying requirements, but the completion of a specific number of work hours and a passing score on a professional examination are generally required.

What Is the Difference Between Criminal Psychology vs Forensic Psychology?

Criminal Psychology vs Forensic Psychology

Criminal and forensic psychology are closely related disciplines, but they do have a number of key differences.

  • Criminal psychology: Criminal psychology focuses on the behavior and profiling of offenders of crime as well as the relationship between criminal justice, psychology, and criminal decision-making.
  • Forensic psychology: Forensic psychology extends beyond the focus of criminals and includes the psychological impact on victims of crime, witnesses of crime, and law enforcement and legal professionals.

There are often strong overlaps in the education and academic journey of both disciplines.

Getting Your Masters in Criminal Psychology Online

Masters in Criminal Psychology Online

The study of criminal minds explores why individuals commit crime and how personality and behavioral characteristics can help predict criminal behavior.

If you’re interested in the criminal mindset, then becoming a licensed criminal psychologist may be a career path for you to consider. Graduates with a doctoral degree in criminal psychology tend to pursue positions in clinical counseling settings, government institutions, research firms, or academic institutions.

Many students find it well worth their time to pursue an online psychology degree. For example, an online masters degree in criminal psychology can help equip you for entry-level positions, and it can also prepare you for doctoral studies.

If you’re ready to begin your journey toward becoming a criminal psychologist, you can start today by researching accredited online degrees in criminal psychology.

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Brenda has a bachelor’s in sociology from the University of Waterloo, with a minor in legal studies. She obtained a graduate certificate in human resource management from Georgian College. Brenda focuses on employment, business, and training and development.