Forensic Psychology vs Forensic Science: Career ROI

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Updated: February 26, 2024, Reading time: 9 minutes

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Forensic Psychology and Forensic Science are two fields made more popular by the increasing number of TV shows, series, and movies solving crimes. Although these fields share the topics of using forensics and the law, they are vastly different. 

These fields have different fields of study, educational requirements, and applications. One great distinction between the two is their work environment. Forensic psychologists can be seen working in law enforcement units and courtrooms, while forensic scientists work in labs and at crime scenes. 

A Quick Look At the Differences Between Forensic Psychology and Forensic Science

Let’s briefly review each field’s key characteristics, including their fields of study, educational requirements, applications, and work environments, to help you make an informed decision!

Forensic PsychologyForensic Science
Average Salaries$87,877$79,408
Job Growth6 percent from 2022 to 203213% between 2021 and 2031
FocusApplying psychological principles and techniques within the legal system.Examining and interpreting physical evidence to support judicial procedures and investigations.
License RequiredAssociation of State and Provincial Psychology BoardNone
CertificationAmerican Board of Professional PsychologyForensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB)
Education RequiredDoctor of Psychology or PhD in Psychology with a concentration in Forensic Psychology* Master’s in Forensic Science
* Doctorate for advanced roles

Since forensic psychologists usually work with people who have experienced trauma and crime, they should have good interpersonal skills, empathy, and a strong desire to help others. On the other hand, people interested in Forensic Science should be analytical, have a sharp eye for detail, and be able to deal with potentially unsettling evidence.

What Does a Forensic Psychologist Do?

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Forensic Psychology applies the principles of Clinical Psychology to the legal arena. It involves using psychological principles and techniques within the legal system. It’s one of the relatively new but vastly evolving fields today, given society’s growing interest in learning the inner workings of criminal minds. 

There are three ways that Psychology and the law relate to each other through Forensic Psychology: 

You can pursue several positions in the legal justice system as a forensic psychologist. The specific day-to-day tasks will vary. However, your job as a forensic psychologist will be to do clinical evaluations for those involved with the legal system. Some of the cases or situations you’ll be a part of include:

As a forensic psychologist, you must smoothly combine your knowledge of Forensic Psychology with lucid, understandable communication abilities. You can be called upon to testify in court on behalf of the prosecution or defense. 

Forensic Psychology: Education and Career Path

Becoming a forensic psychologist begins with a Bachelor’s in Forensic Psychology degree. Psychology and Criminal Justice majors also land jobs in the field of Forensic Psychology.

A bachelor’s degree will be the official start of a Forensic Psychology career. Some of the most popular career paths for bachelor’s degree graduates include: 

You can then pursue a Master’s in Forensic Psychology degree designed specifically to equip you with the necessary legal, forensic, and clinical analysis skills for court cases and criminal investigations. 

There are two types of master’s programs in Forensic Psychology:

With a master’s degree, you will become a competitive applicant in treatment centers and correctional facilities. You can apply for various positions that require excellent communication, listening, and leadership skills, including: 

To officially become a forensic psychologist, you would need to earn a Doctor of Psychology or Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology – Forensics concentration. These programs focus on the legal system, mental health issues, forensic report writing, criminal treatment, court testimony, dissertation writing, fieldwork, and licensing exams. 

Some programs offer combined Juris Doctor and Ph.D. programs, combining law and Psychology theory, methodology, public policy, research, and internships.

You must pursue a state license, which varies from state to state, as specified by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Board. In addition to licensure, a certification, which you can obtain from the American Board of Professional Psychology, will boost your career prospects and reputation.

Forensic Psychology ROI: Education Cost and Salaries 

The average cost of undergraduate degrees is as follows, according to College Tuition Compare: 

According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of a doctorate is $133,340. With the high cost of terminal degrees, many students fall into debt. But despite the long and costly journey, a lot of students are still going for Forensic Psychology due to its financial rewards. 

Forensic psychologists have an average median annual salary of $87,877, with the highest-paid professionals in San Buenaventura, CA ($157,408) and Palm Beach Shores, FL ($156,576). You can also work remotely as a forensic psychologist, with an average salary of $266,404. You can also bargain for your pay and benefits package

Psychologists, in general, have a fast projected growth rate of 6 percent from 2022 to 2032.

A career in Forensic Psychology is for you if:

A career in Forensic Psychology is not a great fit if:

What Does a Forensic Scientist Do?

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Forensic Science, combining public discussion and scientific methods, has been applied to solving crimes since the 16th century. It has evolved, involving disciplines like DNA, botany, dentistry, and tool marks. 

Before delving deeper, you need to know that while Forensic Science takes part in solving crimes, it is not a branch of law enforcement. A lot of people seem to have confused this distinction. Forensic Science provides impartial examination and interpretation of the evidence to support judicial procedures and investigations. Although it is different from the actual enforcement of laws, it is an essential tool for courts, attorneys, and law enforcement organizations in resolving criminal cases.

As a forensic scientist, you can expect a challenging and rewarding career as your primary focus would be handling evidence to resolve criminal cases. Your responsibilities include: 

Your everyday workplace will be within a forensic laboratory or morgue. However, you may also be assigned outside of these confined spaces to observe crime scenes and collect evidence. You can find employment in law enforcement, government agencies, private laboratories, hospitals, or as an independent Forensic Science consultant. 

Forensic Science: Education and Career Path

The minimum requirement for a Forensic Science career is a bachelor’s degree in Forensic Science or other closely related fields like Biology and Physical Science. However, due to the demand for advanced knowledge and specialization in certain areas of Forensic Science, many professionals pursue graduate degrees such as master’s or doctoral degrees. 

A Master’s in Forensic Science program will equip you with abilities that will prepare you for Forensic Science careers and law enforcement, crime scene processing, medicolegal, and other criminal professions. You will have advanced skills in Forensic Science through hands-on laboratory activities and equipment. 

The common core curriculum covers these competencies: 

There are no licenses required to become a forensic scientist. However, Indiana had recently developed a Crime Scene Certification Committee that certifies CSI in the state. Nevertheless, many forensic scientists pursue certification in their chosen specialty for enhanced employability. 

You can explore the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) for industry-specific certifications. You’ll find various certificates like forensic toxicology, criminalistics, and document examination.

Other than becoming a forensic scientist, you can pursue other higher-level roles with a master’s in forensics science degree: 

Employers will often require a doctorate in specialized and more advanced Forensic Science fields such as Forensic Psychology, forensic pathology, or forensic anthropology.

Forensic Science ROI: Education Cost and Salaries

The specific tuition fees for undergraduate and graduate degrees in Forensic Science will vary. However, according to College Tuition Compare, the average tuition fees you should expect to spend for bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Forensic Science are:

If you decide to pursue advanced specialties in Forensic Science, you should expect to spend an average of $133,340 for a doctorate. 

Mainly driven by technological advancements in Forensic Science, particularly in presenting evidence to the courts, the field is expected to grow by 13% between 2021 and 2031.

Forensic scientists have an average annual salary of $79,408. The highest-paid professionals are in Berkeley, CA ($101,810) and Bailey’s Crossroads, VA ($96,623). However, if you have a doctorate, you can apply for advanced roles that offer substantially higher pay, like Forensic Psychiatrist ($266,404) and Forensic Pathologist ($219,325).

A career in Forensic Science is for you if:

A career in Forensic Science is not a great fit if: 

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