Types of Criminal Psychology Degree Programs

A career in criminal psychology or forensic psychology can be a good fit for a psychologist who wants to dedicate their career to studying the thoughts and behaviors of criminals. Interest in this field has grown in the last decade because of numerous TV programs that depict that criminal psychologists do. Some of the most common TV shows that feature criminal psychologists are Criminal Minds and CSI. The field is related to forensic psychology, and both terms can be used.

Before embarking upon a career in criminal psychology and getting a degree in the field, you should learn what exactly this type of psychologist does.

What a Criminal Psychologist Does

The majority of what a criminal psychologist does every day is to study why exactly people commit crimes. However, criminal psychologists also may be asked to perform assessments on criminals to determine how likely it is that the criminal may re-offend in the future. A criminal psychologist also may be asked to make educated guesses about the actions the criminal might have taken after a crime was committed.

Criminal psychologists frequently help law enforcement officials to solve crimes and to analyze the behavior of possible criminals. These types of psychological professionals also are asked to provide expert testimony in criminal court.

One of the most common duties of this type of psychologist is to do criminal or offender profiling. This type of activity started in the 1940s, and today the FBI and other federal and state law enforcement agencies provide psychological assessments of criminals and suspects. This is useful for law enforcement who want suggestions and strategies that may be used in the criminal interviewing process.

One of the most common questions about this career is whether it is as exciting and dramatic as what is seen on television. Most criminal or forensic psychologists say that TV shows often show the psychologist having a more active role in the arrest and apprehension process than they really do. Also, most experts say that most criminal cases can take weeks, months or even years to solve, and the case isn’t usually as easy to solve as is shown on TV.

Psychologists generally are in strong demand around the US, with 19% increase in job demand expected by 2024.

Where a Criminal Psychologist Works

Most psychologists in this field will spend a lot of time either in the office or in court. You would typically spend a great deal of time doing suspect interviews, researching the life history of an offender, or giving expert testimony in court.

Some cases may require you to work with federal agents and state and local police to solve violent crimes. You may work in a police office of some kind coming up with accurate profiles of kidnappers, rapists, murderers and other violent people.

Some criminal psychologists also can be employed as private consultants and work with law enforcement and courts on an as needed basis.

Remember, as a criminal or forensic psychologist, you will work heavily on the psychological aspects of the legal and criminal justice systems to assist judges and attorneys to understand the psychological aspects of the case and potential suspects.

Licensing and Certification

To become any type of psychologist, you must earn at least your master’s degree or doctoral degree in psychology. To practice independently, you must have a doctoral degree and a licenses.

After you have graduated from your master’s or doctoral program, you will then need to take the National Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. To learn about the requirements for your state, you should visit the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

Types of Degrees in Criminal Psychology

As noted above, to become a psychologist, you have to earn at least your master’s degree.

Master’s Degree in Psychology

A master’s degree in psychology with a focus on criminal psychology is a graduate level degree that requires at least two years of education beyond an undergraduate degree. The most common sorts of master’s degrees in psychology are a Master of Arts and a Master of Science.

Usually, a master of arts will have more of a liberal arts focus, and a master of science may be more focused on research and sciences.

A master’s degree in criminal psychology or forensic psychology will have a focus on advanced psychological aspects of crime and psychology. Students then learn how to use these advanced theories regarding criminal justice and the legal system. In your master’s program, you will learn to work closely with judges and lawyers to select the right types of jurors, and also will learn how to apply appropriate psychological tests to prosecutors and defendants.

A master’s degree to consider in forensic or criminal psychology is available at Southern New Hampshire University. You will gain a deep understanding of this booming field by applying the most advanced criminal psychology methods and theories. You also will learn the responsibilities that are involved in this intense field and how they best relate to ethical and legal issues.

To be considered for admission for this master’s program, you need to have a suitable background in psychology at the bachelor’s level. It is required for you to have taken classes in statistics, psychology and research methods.

Required classes in this two year, online master’s program are:

  • Research Methods in Psychology
  • Research Methods in Psychology II
  • Social Psychology
  • Cognitive Processes
  • Measurement and Assessment
  • Theories of Personality
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Psychology in the Courtroom
  • Intersection of Law and Psychology

Ph.D. in Psychology

If you eventually desire to have a better understanding of the criminal justice system and the mental health problems that drive criminal behavior, you may want to eventually earn your Ph.D. in psychology with a concentration in forensic or criminal psychology. The Ph.D. is more of research-based doctoral degree but can be appropriate for the practicing forensic psychologist or criminal psychologist.

The online Ph.D. program at Walden University will explore the many ways to evaluate programs that are made for all forensic populations, such as people who are on trial, those who have been incarcerated, the mentally ill and also juvenile offenders. A specialization in criminal psychology will offer you a much deeper grasp of how to create changes for the better in the legal system. This degree program is typically suited for the experienced forensic psychologist who wants to continue their career as a consultant or researcher in criminal psychology.

Your classes in this four year, online program are:

  • Foundations for Graduate Study in Psychology
  • Criminal Behavior
  • Intersection of Crime, Psychology and the Law
  • Psychology of Personality
  • Understanding Forensic Psychology Research
  • Abnormal Behavior
  • Quantitative Reasoning and Analysis
  • Ethical Issues and Professional Responsibilities in Forensic Psychology

Remember that earning your Ph.D. in this field will require you to do years of independent research. You may decide to choose one area of study in criminal psychology, such as risk assessment, clinical intervention or evaluating witnesses.

Psy.D. in Psychology

Another option in the field of psychology is to earn your Psy.D. degree in forensic or criminal psychology. This degree is more focused on practicing as a psychologist and is less academic and research based.

There are few online Psy.D. programs but one of them that is worth a look is Capella University. This program consists of 145 credit hours and takes five years to earn. Your basic doctoral degree classes are:

  • History and Systems of Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Lifespan Development
  • Advanced Biological Psychology
  • Orientation to Professional Psychology
  • Advanced Psychotherapy
  • Psychological Testing
  • Theories of Psychology
  • Evidence Based Practice in Psychology


You should be sure that your master’s or doctoral online degree program in psychology has been accredited by one of these regional organizations that are recognized by the Department of Education:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education,
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

By assuring that the school has been accredited by the  appropriate regional body, you can be confident that you will be receiving a very high quality master’s or doctoral degree in psychology.