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What is Forensic Science?
Forensic science is the method used to apply various sciences and techniques to evaluate and investigate a crime scene. Individuals pursuing a career in forensic science will be responsible for:
- Maintaining a crime scene to collect samples
- Proper care of material
- Reviewing and testing of samples in a laboratory setting
- Evaluating results to solidify evidence and knowledge
- Documentation of findings
Forensic scientists must be strong will due to the exposure to disturbing material, particularly those who specialize in crime scene investigation. Individuals wanting to work in CSI should be prepared to witness disturbing sights.
Best Forensic Science Degrees
A large variety of degree programs and certificate programs exist in the forensic science space. From an undergraduate certificate to a graduate degree in the field, students can learn and grow within the rapidly-evolving area of study from top professors around the country. A summary of each program is listed below along with an associated means to quickly connect to accredited colleges and universities.
Forensic Science Certificate Programs
Classroom based or online certificate programs will come two different versions when searching for programs: undergraduate and graduate. The undergraduate certificate programs are designed to be a short, intensive collection of classes to introduce the fundamentals of forensic science to a student.
These fundamental elements will help prepare students for entry-level jobs in the field or to be used as a stepping stone into a degree program. The graduate certificates are educational tools used by working professionals and qualifying students to upskill, learn new techniques, advance a career, or prepare a working professional for an upcoming career transition.
Examples of graduate certificates offered by colleges around the country include forensic psychology, forensic computer investigations, arson investigation, computer security, fire science, and national security.
Forensic Science Associate’s Degrees
An online associate’s degree in forensic science is a 2-year program and is most commonly conferred as an Associate of Science or AS degree. The associate’s degree track combines general education classes such as creative writing, philosophy, and sociology with core forensic courses to provide students with a well-rounded educational footing.
Core classes will typically include subjects of study such as: identity theft investigations, criminal justice, computer-based crimes, web-based investigations, profiling hackers, forensic crime investigations, software piracy, copyright infringement, operating systems, network security, and ethical hacking.
Forensic Science Bachelor’s Degrees
The online bachelor’s degree in forensic science is conferred as a Bachelor’s of Science (BS) and is a 4-year program based on full-time matriculation. The bachelor’s degree program provides students with more core classes and additional general education classes to help build a robust set of integrative thinking skills.
The core curriculum will vary from school to school but will generally include classes, labs, and seminars such as: criminal justice, forensic biology, crime scene investigation, criminalistics, advanced forensic science, ethics, chemistry, calculus, genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology. Students can elect to major in forensic science as a stand-alone degree or add a second major or minor in an associated field of study to add heft to a resume.
Adjacent degree options in the field of forensic science include criminal justice, forensic psychology, crime analysis, investigative services, paramedicine, computer science, forensic technology, cyber-systems, fire science, public affairs, national security, and forensic computer investigation.
Forensic Science Master’s Degrees
On-site or online master’s degrees in forensic science is a 2-3 year graduate degree often conferred as a Master of Science or MS degree. The length of time it takes to complete the program is dependent upon student course load, curricular design, and time invested in a thesis project.
Upper-level courses may include programs such as forensic anthropology, forensic DNA analysis, forensic microscopy, toxicology, law, firearms examination, and bloodstain pattern analysis. Upon completion of the program, students will be equipped to with a variety of institutions that can include police departments, FBI, fire departments, colleges, forensic science labs, DOJ, local government agencies, crime labs, state government, and private industry.
Forensic Science Requirements
A degree in forensic science prepares individuals to apply scientific methods to the investigation of crime. A forensic science program will provide an education in various sciences along with courses in law, investigation and methodology. Such programs will educate individuals in the gathering and analyses of evidence.
An education in forensic science requires an individual to be attentive and meticulous, and able to examine seemingly insignificant material for clues. Degrees in forensic science can range from diplomas to master's degrees, with a bachelor's degree most often pursued for entry level positions. Courses offered in a forensic science program include:
- Crime Scene Investigation
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Court Procedure
- Criminal Psychology
Employment in Forensic Science
A career as a forensic science technician can lead to varying specialties. Forensic science is used in all manner of test procedures that run the gamut from DNA testing to firearms scarring to soil sample examination. A forensic science technician must be careful in how he or she gathers and stores evidence, and may often be called on to offer testimony on procedure or evidence.
Forensic science technicians are typically employed by local or state governments, but can be found at the federal level as well. Technicians working in evidence gathering will have a abnormal schedule, and will typically be on call day evening, night and weekends. A lab technician will generally work normal hours, but may be on call to review gathered samples if the need arises. Some specialties available to forensic science graduates include:
- Lab Forensics
- Computer Forensics
- Forensic Pathologist
- Forensic Psychology
- Crime Scene Investigator
Forensic Science Job Growth & Salary
Job growth in forensic science is expected to increase steadily over the next decade adding some 4,000 new jobs to this area of specialty. This job demand is due to the increased use of forensics in the prevention and solving crimes as well the matching rate of crime to population growth, resulting in an overall increase in criminal activity with little change in percentage. The average salary for a forensic science technician is approximately $56,750 per year.
Top 5 Best Paying Careers in Forensic Science
When thinking about a career in forensic science, it is important to understand your vocational options after graduation. Given the list of three dozen job paths above, it is easy to see the number of specialties that exist in forensic science. From a forensic lab tech working in a laboratory to a fire investigator working on-site, the work is varied from job to job. Below you will find a list of the top five paying careers in forensic science based on data gathered from Payscale, U.S. Department of Labor, and BLS.
- Forensic Engineer: Annual mean income for a forensic engineer is $82,868 with the top 25% making an average of $99,000 a year and the bottom ten percent take home sixty-seven thousand dollars annually. The job growth is forecast to vault 23% in the coming decade which is greater than three times the national average during this time. This increase in jobs will translate to as estimated 10,900 job openings during this reporting period.
- Forensic Medical Examiner: The median annual income for a forensic medical examiner is $80,000 with the top 10% averaging $193,990 and the bottom ten percent averaging just under thirty-thousand dollars a year. The large variation in pay is rooted in education, experience, and geographic location. Top paying professionals in the field hold a graduate degree, have over eleven years of experience, and live in California.
- Forensic Psychologist: Forensic psychologists make an average of $73,270 annually with an expected job growth of 14% in the coming ten-year reporting period. This job growth will translate to some 63,800 job openings in the field of psychology which can provide ample opportunity for graduates to enter the field and grow in this career over time.
- Forensic Computer Analyst: The mean annual income for a forensic computer analyst is $68,573 a year with the top ten percent making $114,594 a year and the bottom 10% taking home just over forty-two thousand dollars annually. On average, pay increases occur quite rapidly after investing five years in the field with an average of a 30% increase from entry-level positions.
- Forensic Accountant: The national median income for a forensic accountant is $63,027 a year with the top 10% making over $91,000 a year and the bottom ten percent averaging around forty-three thousand dollars a year in annual pay. Top paying jobs for a forensic accountant exist in California and New York for experienced professionals.
Top Forensic Science Careers
The variety of careers in the field of forensic science is vast. In fact, there are new specializations and sub-disciplines being created with regularity as technology and market demand dictate solutions for forensic-based enigmas.
With the right training, a knowledgeable and eager graduate can find themselves working for a number of organizations from government agencies to private consulting firms around the country. As you consider a career in forensic science, think about a few of the specialties below that peak your interest. The top careers in forensic science include the following vocational paths:
|Forensic Medical Examiner||Forensic Biologist|
|Forensic Ballistic Expert||Forensic Pathologist|
|Bloodstain Pattern Analyst||Forensic Nurse|
|Forensics Documents Examiner||Forensic Odontologist|
|Forensic Psychologist||Forensic Examiner|
|Forensic Investigator||Forensic Artist|
|Crime Scene Photographer||Coroner|
|Crime Lab Technician||Computer Investigations|
|Forensic Toxicologist||Cybercrime Analyst|
|Polygraph Examiner||Latent Print Examiner|
|Forensics Accountant||Forensic Technician|
|Criminal Investigations||Forensic Serologist|
|Forensic DNA Analyst||Forensic Hypnotist|
|Crime Scene Technician||Fingerprint Analyst|
|Forensic Computer Analyst||Criminology|
|Forensic Anthropologist||Arson & Fire Investigator|
Largest Employers of Forensic Scientists
- Local Government
- State Government
- Medical & Diagnostic Laboratories
- Engineering and Architectural Firms
- Research and Development Organizations
States with the Highest Employment of Forensic Scientists
- California 2,040
- Florida 1,480
- Texas 1,030
- Arizona 760
- New York 720
Top Paying States of Forensic Scientists
- California $80,150
- Nevada $74,480
- Connecticut $74,470
- New Hampshire $71,690
- Virginia $69,310
Forensic Science Resources
Individuals interested in forensic science may also be interested in criminology, criminal justice, forensic psychology or pathology. For additional information, read our Complete Guide to a Career in Forensic Science on our blog here. The AAFS and the NAFS provide specialists in the field member benefits and career opportunities not found elsewhere.