Forensic Science Studies: Career Options for Graduates

Learn about the field of forensic science and related occupations, the education and training required, and the job duties of a forensic scientist or technician to determine if this is the career for you.

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With a bachelor's degree, it is possible to begin a career as a forensic science technician. Forensic science technicians process, analyze, and document physical evidence from crime scenes.

Essential Information

The field of forensic science can be viewed as a bridge between science and law. Forensic professionals process, analyze and document the scientific components of physical evidence from criminal investigations. Depending on the education level attained, completion of degree programs in forensic science may lead to employment as a forensic scientist or forensic lab technician.

Required Education Bachelor's degree in forensic science
Projected Job Growth* (2014 to 2024 ) 27% (for forensic science technicians)
Median Salary* (2015) $56,320 annually (for forensic science technicians)

Source *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Students interested in forensic science careers may pursue certificate programs or associate's, bachelor's or master's degree programs in forensic science or forensic technology. Many forensic science degree programs of all levels are accredited by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences' Education Program Accreditation Commission.

Certificates and Associate's Degrees

Certificate programs, the most basic educational option for those wishing to enter the field, teach students the foundations of forensic science. These include theories of criminal justice photographing, fingerprinting and crime scene analysis. Associate of Science programs in forensic science and related areas delve more deeply into the criminal justice system, educating students in such topics as the foundations of criminal investigations, evidence collection, crime scene analysis and forensic report writing. Many associate's degree curricula are designed to prepare students for transfer into bachelor's degree programs.

Bachelor's Degrees

Bachelor's degree programs combine science and criminal justice coursework to give students an in-depth understanding of a forensic scientist's job responsibilities. Most course curricula include applied and theoretical studies in all relevant areas of science, including physics, biochemistry, anatomy, pharmacology and toxicology. They also provide education in criminology and teach students how to conduct thorough crime scene analysis according to the above-mentioned scientific principles.

Master's Degrees

Master's degree programs provide students with thorough educations in highly specialized areas of forensic science, such as DNA analysis, weapons and homicide investigation, forensics research design and pattern evidence analysis. Completion of a thesis and clinical practice in a forensics lab are generally required for graduation. Both bachelor's and master's degree programs allow students to specialize in the area of forensic science that most closely fits their career goals, such as toxicology, biomedicine or forensic anthropology.

Career Options

Entry-Level Positions

The forensic science industry offers numerous career options, most of which differ in terms of title, salary and responsibilities according to the level of forensic science education achieved. As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a bachelor's degree is often required in order to obtain an entry-level forensic science position (www.bls.gov). However, certificates or associate's degrees in forensic science technology can often lead to entry-level employment as a forensic laboratory technician or crime scene photographer. Forensic lab technicians are primarily responsible for the processing and written documentation of crime scene evidence.

Forensic Scientists

Completion of a bachelor's or master's degree program is usually sufficient preparation to begin a career as a forensic scientist (sometimes called a forensic science technician). Forensic scientists run laboratory tests on various crime scene evidence, such as tires, blood, DNA, fingerprints and weapons, in order to find physical clues that tie the evidence to a suspect. Many scientists specialize in one or more of the above-mentioned evidence types. Forensic scientists are also considered expert witnesses in the eyes of the law. They're often called upon in trials to give testimony on the physical aspects of evidence collected in criminal cases, as well as providing expert commentary about the evidence's meaning to the case.

Forensic scientists are commonly employed by various branches of the government, including municipal, state and federal courts or law enforcement agencies. Forensic scientists may also work for such private businesses as commercial laboratories or private investigation firms. According to the BLS, forensic science technicians made a median average annual wage of $56,320 as of May 2015 (www.bls.gov).

The job growth for forensic science technicians will be 27% from 2014-2024, which is much faster than average when compared to all occupations. Forensic science technicians are typically required to have a bachelor's degree in their field. They can expect to work irregular hours processing evidence from crime scenes.

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