How do I Earn a Forensic Psychology PhD?

Deborah Walker
Deborah Walker
Woman standing behind a stack of books
Woman standing behind a stack of books

The first step to earning a forensic psychology PhD is the completion of undergraduate and master's degrees from an accredited college or university. The second step in the process is to do some research on the various forensic psychology PhD programs that are available, and select the school that will best meet your needs. Prior to applying to a particular post-graduate program, you may need to take a standardized entrance exam. Once you apply and are accepted to a post-graduate program, you will attend classes in psychology and the sciences, do internships for clinical practice, write a dissertation, and finally graduate in approximately three-to-six years. After graduation, you may need to take a licensing exam in order to practice psychology in the area in which you practice and also complete more supervised clinical hours.

You can earn a forensic psychology PhD online or on a college campus. Many students pursue doctorate degrees part-time. When selecting a PhD program, be sure that the college or university is approved by a recognized accrediting agency and that the area in which you plan to practice accepts post-graduate degrees from the school or schools that you are considering. In some countries, forensic psychology PhD programs are run by the government's national health care service.

Many colleges and universities around the world require test scores from the GRE or another standardized test as part of the application process. You can learn more about the tests, which tests are required, and when they are offered, by contacting the school or schools that you are interested in attending, or online at the test publisher's website. Average GRE scores for students in psychology are 471 on the verbal section of the test, 544 on the quantitative section, and 4.4 on the writing section; however, some colleges and universities may require higher scores.

Most of the forensic psychologist PhD programs require classes in abnormal psychology, the psychological aspects of crime, criminal justice and criminology, assessment, interventions, diagnosis, and other electives in an area of specialization, among others. In addition, you will likely work in a supervised practicum directly with patients, perhaps in a prison setting, for one or two years. You may also complete a supervised internship that involves working closely with patients or clients. In addition to required courses and clinical work, writing a major research paper, or dissertation, is the capstone of forensic psychology PhD studies. After successful completing all course work, and once your dissertation is completed and accepted, you will graduate with a forensic psychology PhD.

It is not uncommon for post-doctoral students to complete an additional one or two years of supervised work with clients or patients before taking a licensing exam. Some states and countries require that forensic psychologists take the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology or other equivalent tests to become licensed and begin their own practice.

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