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The basics
Study abroad : Subject Guides

What is forensic psychology?

Feeling inspired by your favourite crime TV shows? Find out what you can do with a forensic psychology degree and what to expect from the course.

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Forensic psychology involves applying psychological theory and knowledge within the legal and criminal contexts. It is a sub-category of psychology focusing on the analysis of criminal behaviour. You may have come across this type of work on popular TV shows such as CSI or Silent Witness. But you may not know exactly how to train and what you can expect to cover in a forensic psychology degree. That’s why we’ve put together this subject guide to help you decide if this is the right course for you.


What does a forensic psychologist do?


To pursue a career in forensic psychology, you will need to gain a degree which is accredited by an official body such as the British Psychological Society, if studying in the UK for example. You may also be required to study forensic psychology at the postgraduate level once you have completed your bachelor’s degree. This will depend on the country and role you apply for.


Once qualified, you can start looking for work within the field. Your day to day responsibilities might include:


  • Analysing the behaviour of an individual in a criminal investigation
  • Deducing the motive for a crime
  • Risk-assessment for reoffending
  • Research
  • Development of rehabilitation programmes 
  • Influencing government policy
  • Psychotherapy for victims


Forensic psychologists can choose to work in a variety of settings such as police stations, courtrooms, law firms, prisons, detention centres and so on.


Want to find a forensic psychology degree in the UK? Check out the following institutions offering this course:



What will I learn during a forensic psychology degree?


Forensic psychology involves a combination of clinical skills and specialist knowledge within the disciplines of psychology and law. This role requires a range of skills to succeed:


  • Complex problem-solving
  • Independent research
  • Analysis
  • Statistics
  • Critical thinking
  • Attention to detail
  • Compassion
  • Strong communication skills


This job can be challenging as you will be working with a range of people from violent or sexual offenders, children, and people with severe mental health issues. This requires you to work in often stressful and demanding situations. A degree in forensic psychology will prepare you for this type of work. During this course you are likely to cover the following topics:


  • Psychological research skills
  • Data analysis
  • Social and developmental psychology
  • Crime and society
  • Mental health 
  • Legal frameworks
  • Cognitive psychology 
  • Biological psychology
  • Developmental psychology
  • Sexual offenders
  • Psychology and criminal investigations
  • Neuroscience
  • Statistics
  • Personality disorder and violence


The modules will vary according to the institution so you should make sure you compare the course content for each university you are interested in. You should also consider the facilities and reputation of the programme. 


For example, forensic psychology students at the University of Portsmouth in the UK, have the opportunity to use a forensic interviewing suite with thermal imaging cameras and advanced video analysis tools. This type of feature could enhance your experience and learning and should be something to keep in mind when comparing universities and courses.


Check out the following universities in the USA offering forensic psychology degrees:



What are the entry requirements for forensic psychology degrees?


Undergraduate forensic psychology students need to possess both numeracy and writing skills, and so subjects like English, historymaths, biology or social science at A-level (or equivalent) will put you in a strong position when applying for a bachelor’s degree in this field.


Entry requirements do vary according to each institution so make sure you check the university website for specific admissions criteria.


If English is not your first language, you will also need to provide proof of your proficiency. Most universities offer a choice of exams such as IELTS, TOEFL, or PTE Academic, to name a few. The required IELTS scores for entry can range from 6.0 to 6.5 with a minimum of 5.5 in each section.


These scores can also differ depending on whether you are applying for a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Check your prospective university’s website for their English language entry requirements.


What can you do with a forensic psychology degree?


A degree in forensic psychology is relevant for becoming a forensic psychologist but you can also use these skills across a range of other professions within and outside of this area such as:


  • Police officer
  • Social science researcher
  • Detective 
  • Probation officer
  • Correctional psychologist
  • Victim advocate
  • Jury consultant
  • Court liaison officer
  • Clinical psychologist

Gaining a degree with such a range of transferrable skills can also prepare you for other industries so long as you can demonstrate your interest and relevant experience.


Expected salary for forensic psychology graduates


If we take the UK as an example, trainee forensic psychologists can earn a starting salary of between GBP 27,021 and GBP 37,218 within the HM Prison Service. As a fully qualified registered psychologist working in a prison, you can earn up to between GBP 41,586 and GBP 53,952 per year (Prospects 2020).


You can also choose to work in the civil service or health services, but this does depend on your country of residence and the services on offer. Salaries within healthcare tend to be similar to those outlined above.


So now you know more about forensic psychology at university. Are you ready to find a course? Use our course matcher tool to find the right degree tailored to your preferences and qualifications. 


Make sure you also stay up to date with the latest in international education with our student news bulletin.


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