Not all heroes wear capes; some, like criminal psychologists, help to prevent crimes by understanding how lawbreakers behave. According to statistics, there are six intentional homicide cases for every 100,000 people worldwide (The World Bank, 2020). With crimes and offenses being reported daily, the world needs more people who can make it a better and safer place—this is where criminal psychology degree majors play an important role.
Students who wish to enroll in criminal psychology degree programs have the potential to become probation officers, expert witnesses, crime analysts, and even go to the top cop schools. As such, they are expected to study courses in psychology, law, and criminology. They also need to undergo training and pass certifications before becoming an expert in their field.
To help break this down, our team discusses the specific requirements, types, and costs of criminal psychology degree programs in this guide. We will also tackle potential jobs and things to look out for in this field to further help degree takers have a better understanding.
Not to be confused with forensic psychology, the criminal psychology definition states that it is the branch of psychology that studies and analyzes criminal human behavior. It dives deep into the motivations behind unlawful acts and tries to provide meaning as to why human beings behave that way.
Other topics that students will encounter throughout their coursework include:
A career in criminal psychology usually starts off with a degree in psychology. In 2020, there was a total of 183,794 psychology degrees awarded to students (Data USA, n.d.). With this, they can advance to graduate studies with a specialization in criminal psychology. Students who have a background in criminal psychology may also pursue several criminology careers.
Professionals in this field are taught how to understand human behavior and what factors affect criminal actions. Degree takers are also trained to accurately profile lawbreakers, especially those involved in intense or violent cases. This not only helps court workers comprehend the backgrounds of criminals but also prevents crimes by helping law enforcers predict or catch perpetrators as early as they can.
The criminal psychology degree tuition may depend on the type of degree taken. Since a direct undergraduate credential in this program is rare, students who wish to pursue this career need to have a bachelor’s degree in a related field. Apart from this, application and test fees, state fees, and institution types can also alter the costs.
The average cost of an undergraduate criminal psychology degree is around $25,856 to $29,516 (College Tuition Compare, 2022). For those looking to take up graduate studies in this field, the cost of tuition will also depend on the courses that you were able to complete during your undergraduate degree program. In cases where you have not completed units for prerequisite courses, you may expect to spend more.
|Public In-State||Public Out-of-State||Private|
|Associate Degree||$2,000 - $5,000||$4,000 - $8,000||N/A|
|Bachelor's Degree||$5,000 - $16,000||$13,000 - $39,000||$15,000 - $55,000|
|Master's Degree||$10,000 - $16,000||$15,000 - $31,000||$16,000 - $40,000|
|Doctoral Degree||$12,000 - $18,000||$18,000 - 35,000||$20,000 - $62,000|
|*Values are estimates.|
|Source: College Tuition Compare, n.d.|
A career in criminal psychology degree does not happen overnight. Serious degree takers need to build their credibility by completing their education and by gaining experience through hands-on work. Students are expected to master the different theories in criminal law and psychology and how to interpret these theories in real-life situations.
Establishing foundations in psychology is crucial for degree takers because it helps them, law enforcers, and court professionals understand how crime can be prevented. As Ward (2019) argues in his work, “Why theory matters in correctional psychology,” “one of the reasons for the relatively small treatment effects is a failure to promote theoretical work in correctional psychology. It is time for psychology, as one of the core disciplines underpinning correctional practice, to take theoretical work more seriously and this means intervening at policy, institutional, and training levels.”
The article, which was published in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior, also states that “correctional and forensic psychology could benefit from increasing the theoretical literacy of researchers, and practitioners. To reduce crime, we have to address its causes, and ideally, this requires an understanding of the mechanisms that initiate and maintain offending. And for this, we need theory.”
Apart from expertise in theory and practice, degree takers must be, above all, level-headed and must not be fazed by sensitive or gruesome criminal cases. If that is the case, then pursuing a criminal psychology degree will be worth it.
Working in the field of psychology and criminology provides countless opportunities to degree holders. In this section, we identify criminal psychology degree jobs that students can aspire for as they advance in their careers.
Overall, psychology jobs will see a 6% increase over the next 10 years. This will provide 192,900 opportunities by 2031 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022). Because criminal psychology is a relatively new field of psychology, industry demand and educational opportunities will grow even more in the coming years (Indeed, 2021). In addition, pop culture adaptations and interpretations of a criminal psychologist’s career in documentary-crime shows and films could also influence the development in this field.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022
The annual average salary of criminal psychology degree holders is $93,080 (Zippa, n.d.). However, advanced credentials, expertise level, certifications, and location of work can influence the salary range. It is also important to note that criminal psychologists work in various sectors, which can also have an effect on one’s potential earnings.
|Position||Average Annual Salary|
|Correctional Treatment Specialist||$60,250|
|*Values are estimates.|
|Source: U.S. BLS, 2022|
As our team mentioned earlier, criminal psychology degree types initially require undergraduate experience in a related field as there are not a lot of schools that can offer this program as an associate or bachelor’s degree. Students can then decide on a specialization in criminal psychology as they attain their master’s degree. After completing their doctoral degree and training, students can then be board-certified and start practicing their expertise.
Average time to complete: Two years
Unfortunately, associate degree programs specifically for criminal psychology are few and far between. As such, for students who wish to gain field experience before committing to a four-year program, an associate degree in criminal justice or psychology is the top choice. Students need to complete around 60 to 70 credits. They may encounter topics like gender and society, race and ethnic relations, police administration and operations, and crime analysis.
Entry-level jobs: Mental Facility Clerks, Social Service Assistants, Psychiatric Aides
Average time to complete: Four years
Similar to associate degrees, there are not a lot of bachelor’s degree programs that allow one to focus on criminal psychology. Many students often opt to take up an undergraduate degree in psychology instead. Likewise, a degree in criminology will be helpful. These broad fields help to establish the foundation of students’ knowledge in criminal psychology. Students must accomplish 70 to 130 units, and topics to be studied include lessons in biology, chemistry, international relations, and personality and affective science.
Entry-level jobs: Police Officers, Victim Advocates, Human Resources Officers
Average time to complete: Two to three years
Ideally, a master’s degree in forensic science is still the best choice, with a specialization in criminal psychology. In 2020 alone, 29,763 students earned a psychology degree (Statista, 2021). However, some schools are starting to offer specific graduate programs in criminal psychology. Students must complete at least 40 to 70 units. They learn concepts about psychopathology, assessment courses, and victimology.
Entry-level jobs: Researchers, Correction Treatment Specialists, Counselors
Average time to complete: Four to eight years
Depending on whether students choose to take a doctor of philosophy (PhD) in psychology or a doctor of psychology (PsyD), they are required to complete a minimum of 60 credits. Moreover, a doctoral degree in psychology with a specialization in criminal psychology is the best path to take to make a name in the field. Courses in health psychology, social cognition, and psychology practice are part of the curriculum.
Entry-level jobs: Criminal Psychologists, Clinical Psychologists, Postsecondary Professors
We compiled the criminal psychology degree prerequisites to guide students through the admissions process. Keep in mind that some postsecondary institutions and states also have varying requirements.
Source: Zippia, n.d.
Before you take up your criminal psychology degree, it is important to choose a program that can help you achieve your short-and long-term academic goals. Below, our team has listed some relevant criteria that students should take into consideration. In this way, you can make the most out of your investment.
After obtaining skills and knowledge in general psychology from undergraduate studies, a specialization in criminal psychology is the next step to enhancing one’s skills and credibility. Other specializations include victimology, forensic science, and crisis leadership management.
Institutions that are accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA) and the Psychological Clinical Science Accreditation System (PCSAS) are the top schools to enroll in when considering a criminal psychology degree. Currently, there are 46 programs in the U.S. and Canada accredited by PCSAS while APA has 419 accredited doctoral graduate programs.
An ideal student-to-faculty ratio is around 14:1 or 18:1 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2022) for four-year institutions. This ensures quality education through focused hands-on work and an established professional relationship between students and their professors.
Apart from state-funded financial aid and student loans, there are several scholarships available to students pursuing a criminal psychology degree.
In this guide, our team has explained the various types, requirements, costs, and factors that could help criminal psychology degree program takers make informed decisions. In this day and age where the movement against unjust and unlawful acts has become more pressing than ever, it is important to have professionals who can help prevent crime without using violence.
A degree in criminal psychology or an online degree in criminal justice can help change the system for the better. In addition, criminal psychologists have a duty to society to help citizens understand what makes a criminal. By doing this, criminal acts can be avoided and the world will be, hopefully, a much safer place.