Forensic science programs prepare students to collect crime scene evidence, examine evidence in crime scene labs and prepare evidence for court proceedings. Some of these programs and their courses are available online.
Graduates of undergraduate and graduate programs in forensic science are eligible to sit for professional credentialing examinations offered by the American Board of Criminalistics. Forensic science techs can work for local government, and may specialize in an area such as handwriting analysis, document examination or toxicology.
Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science
Prerequisites for undergraduate study include having a high school diploma or equivalent. The bachelor's curriculum is a combination of laboratory courses and coursework in biology, chemistry, criminal justice, physics and more. Studies in criminal evidence introduce students to the United States justice system, methods for collecting evidence and ethical procedures for preserving and presenting evidence in court. A course in instruments investigates laboratory instruments and techniques for using them in biological investigations. Other areas of focus include crime scene investigations, hair and fiber analysis, toxicological evidence and DNA analysis. At the culmination of the program, students complete an internship experience at a regional crime lab. Program coursework may investigate:
- Human anatomy and physiology
- Physical evidence
- Analytical instrumentation
- Behavioral science
- Blood spatter evidence
Graduate Certificate in Forensic Science
Designed for students with a strong background in the biological sciences, the program prepares students for employment in crime labs and as independent forensic investigators. Coursework includes studies in forensic anthropology, criminalistics, crime scene reconstruction and forensic photography. Laboratory coursework allows students to utilize laboratory instruments and equipment to examine crime scene evidence. A course in investigations explores criminal investigations from the perpetration of a crime to the presentation of evidence in criminal courts. Other areas of focus include the identification of illegal substances and the process of presenting expert forensic testimony. Program course topics include:
- Microscopic identification
- Scene documentation
- Digital imaging processing
- Chemical analysis
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Master of Science in Forensic Science
Offered with the option to choose a concentration area like crime scene investigation, digital forensics or DNA analysis, the program is a combination of traditional classroom coursework and hands-on instruction in forensic laboratories. The two-year program includes scientific subjects like biology and biochemistry, as well as forensic science courses that explore death investigations, forensic science laws and forensic pathology. Other areas of focus include anatomy, physiology, forensic anthropology, toxicology and a survey of U.S. criminal law. The crime scene investigation track includes studies in evidence collection, documentation and techniques for protecting the quality of evidence to be used in a court of law. Towards the close of the program, students complete an internship at a participating crime lab.
Admissions requirements include a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution in a biological or physical science. Students also need to submit satisfactory scores on the Graduate Records Examination (GRE), letters of reference and a statement of purpose essay. Students may discuss topics in:
- Human identification
- Organ systems
- Natural disease
- Forensic odontology
- Injury causation
Popular Career Options
Graduates find jobs in crime labs, research facilities, the government and other institutions or organizations. Forensic science technicians often choose to work in an area of specialization, such as blood spatter evidence, latent fingerprints or firearms. Other possible areas of specialization are:
- Handwriting analyst
- Ballistics analyst
- Trace evidence analyst
- Crime lab director
- Forensic documents examiner
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
Salary expectations for forensic science technicians vary depending on the technician's specialization and the industry in which the technician works. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in May 2015, the mean annual wage among all forensic science technicians was $60,090. The federal government was the highest-paying employer, with a mean average salary of $100,400.
In 2015, the BLS reported that most forensic science technician jobs (roughly 87%) were held in local and state government, with employment expected to increase by 27% between the years 2014 and 2024. This is much faster than the national average of 7% for all occupations. The total number of jobs held by forensic science technicians in the U.S. in 2015 was 14,070.
Continuing Education Information
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences offers a number of opportunities for career development, including annual meetings, educational conferences, mentorships, a job board and a forum for young forensic scientists. Graduates who are interested in a career in research or teaching at the college level can enroll in a Ph.D. program in chemistry, biochemistry or toxicology.
Graduates are eligible to sit for the voluntary Fellow or Diplomat certification examinations, offered through the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC). Certification areas include molecular biology (MB), trace evidence-hairs and fibers (THF) and drug analysis (DA). ABC certificants are required to complete 50 continuing education points every five years to maintain certification.
Those interested in forensic science may pursue a position as a forensic science technician by earning a B.S. in Forensic Science, or if they already have a bachelor's degree in biology, a Graduate Certificate in Forensic Science. Those looking for a career advancement and/or specialization may go on to pursue a M.S. in Forensic Science.