Forensic Investigator: Education Requirements and Career Info

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a forensic investigator. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and certification to find out if this is the career for you.

Forensic investigators visit crime scenes and collect evidence. They perform various duties, commonly working with medical examiners and coroners, as well as interviewing suspect family members, friends, and witnesses to the event. An undergraduate degree in forensic science or a related field is preferred, though relevant experience may be substituted.

Essential Information

Forensic investigators usually work for a medical examiner's office. They assist in solving cases by going out to death scenes to collect evidence and conduct interviews. Education requirements for forensic investigators vary. Many employers prefer an associate's or bachelor's degree, while others may accept similar work experience in place of formal education.

Required Education Varies by employer; associate's or bachelor's degree generally preferred, but previous experience may be accepted in place of formal education
Other Requirements Certification requirements vary by state and/or employer; knowledge of causes of death required
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 27% for all forensic science technicians (including forensic investigators)
Median Annual Salary (2015)* $56,320 for all forensic science technicians (including forensic investigators)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Forensic Investigator Education Requirements

Different employers may have different educational requirements for forensic investigators, or forensic science technicians. While some may require an associate's degree, others prefer that applicants complete a bachelor's degree program. A few employers may accept work experience as a substitute for formal education or a college degree. Some majors that can prepare one for a career as a forensic investigator include biology, criminology, medical technology, administration of justice and related subjects.

Forensic investigators may be required to have knowledge of medical terminology and digital photography, and college courses on these subjects can be helpful. They should also be familiar with causes of death, as well as investigative techniques used when researching cases of death. Many employers may also prefer that candidates have experience working as a criminal investigator or in law enforcement. In addition, some employers or states may require that job candidates pass a board examination to earn certification and complete continuing education to maintain certification.

Forensic Investigator Career Information

Forensic investigators work on cases involving a person's death and determine whether the death was a homicide, accident or by natural causes. Responsibilities may include organizing case records for the deceased, documenting evidence, reporting the circumstances surrounding the death, obtaining family history and reviewing medical records. These professionals may also be dispatched to death scenes to collect evidence, such as drugs, weapons, fingerprints or poisons, and to transport the body to the medical examiner's office.

Forensic investigators must conduct interviews to obtain information about the person's physical appearance and personal habits. Job duties may also include notifying family members of deaths and arranging for them to identify the bodies. They also research missing person reports and compare physical descriptions with bodies that come in. Other responsibilities that a forensic investigator may have include preparing death certificates, assisting in performing autopsies and operating office equipment.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

From 2014-2024, jobs for all forensic science technicians--which includes forensic investigators--are expected to increase by a much-faster-than-average rate of 27%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In 2015, forensic science technicians earned an annual median salary of $56,320.

Forensic investigators aim to confirm the cause of death in criminal or suspicious circumstances. These professionals commonly earn a bachelor's or associate's degree, but not all employers require postsecondary education; however, some do require certification.

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