Forensic Criminalistics Degree and Certificate Program Options

Criminalistics involves the use of science to investigate crimes. Many colleges offer certificate and degree programs in criminalistics, sometimes as part of forensics programs. Learn about these programs, as well as about certifications and careers.

Essential Information

Certificate and associate's degree programs give students a foundational knowledge of how to use science in criminal investigations, while bachelor's programs offer advanced training and prepare graduates to work as experts in the field. At the master's level, students conduct research and gain experience through lab work. Course offerings include investigations into physical, digital, and biological evidence as well as standard safety practices and procedures in the collection and analysis of crime scene evidence. Forensic science internships are available at most levels of study.

Admission requires a high school diploma or GED certificate.


Undergraduate Certificate in Criminalistics

The curriculum explores criminalistics as a scientific field of criminal investigation. Studies in criminalistics provide the scientific background necessary to ethically and competently collect evidence, preserve a crime scene, and prepare a criminal case based on crime scene evidence.

Coursework covers subjects like forensic biology, physical evidence, firearms and methods for applying scientific theory to the examination of evidence. Students explore the science of computer forensics, the process by which an investigator retrieves evidence from a personal computer and examines the contents of files and Internet search histories. Additional topics of discussion include:

  • Courtroom testimony
  • Fire and arson
  • Fraud
  • Lab management
  • Evidence preservation

Associate of Applied Science in Criminalistics

The associate's curriculum explores criminalistics as a scientific field of study utilized in criminal investigations. Coursework covers subjects like criminal justice photography, firearms, and fingerprint analysis. Chemistry and biology courses introduce students to methods of examining biological evidence with the use of scientific theories and laboratory instruments. Students learn to ethically and competently collect evidence and prepare a criminal case based on crime scene evidence.

Course offerings include the study of criminology, criminal law, and safety procedures for examining crime scene evidence. Topics of discussion include:

  • Behavioral science
  • Ballistics
  • American justice system
  • Law enforcement
  • Evidence

Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science focusing on Criminalistics

A bachelor's degree program in forensic science with a focus on criminalistics prepares students to enter the field as experts in forensic investigations. The curriculum may include criminal justice courses like criminal investigations and evidence and forensics courses like forensic DNA and biology. Topics of discussion include death investigations, procedures for collecting evidence, and securing a crime scene. Students learn to utilize scientific instruments and materials in laboratories and develop theories of crimes based on forensic evidence.

Coursework prepares students for employment in a forensic lab. Students take courses in liberal arts, forensic sciences, and criminal justice. Courses specific to criminalistics may include:

  • Physical evidence
  • Forensic DNA analysis
  • Trace Evidence
  • Toxicology
  • Latent Prints
  • Questioned documents

Master of Science in Forensic Science Concentrating in Criminalistics

The criminalistics concentration in a master's program includes studies in crime scene variables, forensic odontology, accident reconstruction, and the process of the American justice system. Scientific subjects include pathology, trace evidence, and toxicology; students also spend a significant portion of time engaged in laboratory experiences. Studies in criminal profiling introduce students to the process of using evidence to piece together the circumstances leading to a crime, the execution of a crime, and the individual who most likely committed the crime. The program culminates in a graduate research project and forensic science internship.

Coursework explores the role of a criminalist in a criminal investigation, including professional responsibilities and ethical scientific conduct. Topics in the program include:

  • Criminal law
  • Firearms analysis
  • Biotechnology
  • Laboratory techniques
  • Forensic anthropology

Popular Career Options

Criminalists work in a variety of locations, including forensic labs, federal agencies, universities, private companies, offices of medical examiners, and police departments. Advancement opportunities include lab director or instructor at a college or university. One emerging area in criminalistics is wildlife forensics. Potential job titles for graduates include:

  • Crime scene analyst
  • Crime scene technologist
  • Ballistics analyst

Certification and Continuing Education Information

Graduates who have a bachelor's degree and two years of forensic laboratory experience can sit for the American Board of Criminalistics' Diplomate or Fellow certification exams. Both exams include subjects like drug analysis, crime scene construction, firearms, photography, trace evidence, and more.

Graduates of a master's program who are interested in a career in research or teaching at the college level can enroll in a doctoral (Ph.D.) program in criminology or criminal justice.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that forensic science technicians earned mean annual wages of $60,090 as of May 2015. Employment opportunities were predicted to increase 27% for these professionals from 2014-2024, according to the BLS.

Certificate, associate's degree, bachelor's degree and master's degree programs are all available for those individuals interested in forensic criminalistics. Graduates will be prepared to work in different elements of law enforcement, research, and the justice system and can be certified as a Diplomate or Fellow by the American Board of Criminalistics.


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