What are the Differences Between a BS and BA in Forensic Psychology?

Forensic psychology has become one of the most popular specializations in this field over the last couple of decades. Part of the reason for this is that forensic psychology has broad applications in law, criminal justice, and psychology, to name a few. In other words, there is excellent potential for employment.

The question is, where do you start your education? The answer is simple: with a bachelor’s degree in forensic psychology! However, should you choose a Bachelor of Science (BS) program or a Bachelor of Arts (BA) program? Let’s find out!

What are the Differences Between a BS and BA in Forensic Psychology?

BS Vs. BA in Forensic Psychology

The primary difference between a BS and BA in forensic psychology is their focus. A BS in forensic psychology focuses on the scientific and technical aspects of the field, emphasizing research methods, statistical analysis, and the biological basis of behavior. A BA in forensic psychology offers a broader education in psychology, incorporating social sciences and humanities.

In a general psychology program, a BS has more research and statistics requirements. A BS is also preparatory for continuing your education in a research-focused master’s program. A BA in general psychology has a greater emphasis on the humanities and social science aspects of psychology. Frequently, BA programs have fewer research and statistics course requirements and instead replace those with opportunities to take electives of your choice.

These same differences play out in BS and BA programs in forensic psychology. For example, in a BS program, you will likely take more courses in experimental design and statistics than you would in a BA program. Conversely, a BA program might offer you opportunities to take courses outside of psychology that are related to forensic applications, like Criminology, Criminal Behavior, and Juvenile Delinquency.

Let’s examine these and other differences between these more thoroughly.

Differences in Coursework

Whether you pursue a BS or BA in forensic psychology, you will need around four years to complete your studies. Typical BS and BA programs are roughly 120 credits, which works out to 15 credits per fall and spring semester.

But, the coursework you take to meet graduation requirements can vary. For example, let’s say you have enrolled at a local university in a forensic psychology BS program. Looking at the required course load, you might notice you have to complete a lab science as part of the general education requirements for all majors. But, you will likely see additional lab science requirements as part of the forensic psychology major.

Often, these additional lab science requirements take the form of forensic science, chemistry, biology, or biochemistry. So, a course in forensic science might teach you about common methods of collecting and processing crime scene evidence.

What’s more, you are likely to take more math and statistics courses in a BS program. A good example of this is taking Introduction to Psychological Statistics, Advanced Psychological Statistics, and Tests and Measurements courses. Some programs may also require higher-level math, like trigonometry or calculus, as part of their BS programs in forensic psychology.

Now let’s assume you are enrolled in a BA program in forensic psychology. Instead of seeing so many science, math, and statistics courses, you will likely notice a greater number of elective options. For example, a BS in forensic psychology might allow 24 credit hours of elective courses, whereas a BA program might allow 30 or more elective credits.

As a result of this, you might take courses like Social Psychology, Addictions, and Psychopharmacology instead of advanced science, math, and statistics specialization for a BS degree. Not only does this enable you to take a greater variety of courses, but it also allows you to specialize your studies, if you wish. For example, you might focus your elective coursework in the area of Cognitive Psychology and study concepts like learning, memory, sensation, and perception.

Differences in Learning Outcomes

The differences in learning outcomes for BS and BA programs in psychology are a direct result of the coursework they contain. A BS, for example, is likely to have more science-based learning requirements, such as:

  • Demonstrate an ability to design psychological studies to test hypotheses
  • Demonstrate an ability to conduct psychological experiments in an ethical manner
  • Evaluate psychological data for meaning
  • Develop strong written communication skills, particularly pertaining to academic writing for reporting purposes
  • Demonstrate effective research skills, including the ability to evaluate information for bias

A BA program, on the other hand, usually has broader learning outcomes that speak to the multidisciplinary nature of the program:

  • Demonstrate an understanding of psychology’s development as a science
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the history of psychology
  • Demonstrate effective verbal and written communication skills
  • Demonstrate the ability to apply broad psychological concepts to explain behavior
  •  Demonstrate the ability to compare and contrast major psychological theories

These lists of learning outcomes aren’t complete. Instead, they represent a very small portion of what you are likely to learn in a BS or BA program. These examples highlight the differences between both programs. However, the coursework and learning outcomes are much more similar than they are different. In fact, some BS and BA programs have the same curricula, apart from a handful of classes that are different.

Differences in Career Opportunities

With a BS in forensic psychology, you might be inclined to pursue a job as a psychology research assistant. These jobs are typically in laboratories where psychologists seek to answer critical questions about human behavior and criminality. As a research assistant, you might help design and oversee experiments with human subjects, collect and analyze data, and assist with writing articles for publication in journals.

Another option you might pursue with a BS in forensic psychology is to work as a crime analyst. This career involves a lot of research, most often on trends in criminal behavior. For example, you might work for a federal agency like the Department of Health and Human Services to research rising crime rates and make recommendations for prevention programs that can help mitigate the rise in crime.

Since a BA in forensic psychology tends to focus less on science and research, your training will be more attuned to applications in social service settings. Many graduates of BA forensic psychology programs work as probation and parole agents and as case managers for organizations like the Department of Family Services. Many graduates also work in law enforcement as patrol officers, deputies, and investigators.

Another option is to work in victim advocacy. With a social service-oriented background in forensic psychology, you would have the necessary skills to work on behalf of victims to ensure their rights are respected and their stories are heard.

One thing that BS and BA programs in forensic psychology have in common is that there aren’t a wealth of career opportunities after graduation. Most forensic psychology jobs require at least a master’s degree, if not a doctorate. That being said, the entry-level positions outlined above can help you gain real-world experience that will prove valuable for continuing your education in a graduate program.

Is it Hard to Get a Forensic Psychology Degree?

Forensic psychology is a fascinating subject to study, so you will likely be highly interested in the subject matter in your program. The more interested you are in what you’re learning, the easier it is to learn it!

That being said, forensic psychology involves complex studies of human behavior, criminal justice, law, and science, so the coursework can be challenging. Some programs require you to conduct research and may require you to complete practicum placements in real-world settings. Often, there are extensive writing requirements, and you might also be required to present research at academic conferences.

Of course, getting any college degree can be a challenge. But with a dedication to your studies and using resources like tutoring for help, you can make it more likely that you complete your program with greater ease.

What Master’s Degree Should I Get With a Bachelor’s in Forensic Psychology?

The master’s degree you choose will likely be based on the bachelor’s program you complete. If you finish a BS program in forensic psychology, it makes sense to continue your studies in a Master of Science program. Alternatively, a Master of Arts in forensic psychology is ideal if you complete your undergraduate work in a BA program.

However, you don’t have to align your undergraduate and graduate programs like this. Most master’s programs in forensic psychology don’t specify the type of psychology bachelor’s degree you have. In fact, many graduate programs only require that you have a bachelor’s degree in psychology or a related field.

Is a Master’s in Forensic Psychology Psychology Worth It?

As noted earlier, most mid-level and upper-level forensic psychology careers require at least a master’s degree, so from that perspective, a master’s in forensic psychology is definitely worth it. Opening up additional professional opportunities often leads to better pay, too.

Additionally, a master’s degree is worth it because of the advanced knowledge and training you will receive. Where a bachelor’s degree’s purpose is to teach you the essential skills in forensic psychology, a master’s degree’s purpose is to give you specialist training. For example, you might take one undergraduate course in Criminology. But in a master’s program, you might take courses in Abnormal Behavior, Psychopathology, Assessment of Psychological Disorders, and many others that equip you for greater responsibilities as a forensic psychologist.

Another advantage of earning a master’s degree in forensic psychology is that it is the minimum education requirement needed for many certifications. Though you need a doctorate to be licensed as a psychologist in most states, you might seek licensure as a counselor so you can work in one-on-one therapeutic settings with your clients. For example, you might specialize in providing forensic psychology services to crime victims or contract your services to a state’s correctional department to provide counseling to incarcerated individuals.

There’s an element of pride in getting your master’s degree, too. Having an advanced degree is a feather in your cap, and the personal gratification from completing a master’s program in this field can be enough to make all the hard work and effort worth it!

Which One is Better? A BS or a BA?

Ultimately, a BS or BA in forensic psychology will help you achieve the same ends. If you want to start work after graduation, both degrees will equip you with the essential skills to do so. If you prefer to enter graduate school after completing your undergraduate degree, a BS or BA will be equally helpful in making that happen.

So, this isn’t so much a question of which degree is better, but which degree is better for your situation. As explained earlier, a BS focuses more on research, math, and statistics. If those are your passions, or if the career you have in mind relies more on those types of skills, a BS is the way to go. But if you want an education with broader studies in forensic psychology and related fields with fewer science and research and more opportunities for elective studies, a BA is the better of the two.

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