Guide to Forensic Science Degree Programs

While there are a limited number of programs focused specifically on forensic science, many schools offer related programs that can be applied to positions in that field. Subjects can include forensic psychology, general criminal justice programs, and computer forensics - the latter being an increasingly more important field with each day. Find highly-rated online forensic science and criminal justice degrees below or search for other degrees using the widget to the left.

Purdue University : The BS in Forensic Psychology Program at Purdue University features general education/criminal justice requirements that deliver an overview of material on critical thinking, technology, communications, and criminological theory. The Forensic Psychology portion of the degree covers the uses of psychology in law enforcement and crisis intervention techniques. Purdue also offers an online program for a BS in Crime Scene Investigation degree.
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Colorado Technical University : Offered through Colorado Technical University's American School of Professional Psychology, the online BSCJ in Forensic Investigation degree focuses on clinical, counseling, and neuropsychology skills within the criminal justice and civil legal systems. Graduates are prepared to join the law enforcement team, serving as mental health professionals, counselors, and caretakers.
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Liberty University : Liberty University has two (2) accredited, online degrees in the field of Forensic Science added to their course catalog. The bachelor program in Crime Scene Investigation explores the investigative process of the justice system, and students enter the workforce with knowledge, skills, and resources they can apply to real-world issues and situations upon graduation.
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American InterContinental University : AIU's online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and Forensic Science program educates students in a variety of topics, including the criminal justice system, juvenile justice process, criminology, law enforcement, law adjudication, and corrections. Concentrations are available in crime documentation and evidence handling.
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What types of forensic science programs exist and what are they called?

Some, but not all, schools offer specialized degree programs in forensic sciences. A few online colleges offer certificate programs. Here is a list of some of the programs that would prepare you to be a crime scene technician or a crime lab technician:

  • Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science (B.S.): This degree program is a traditional bachelor’s degree with a concentration of forensic science courses.
  • Master of Science in Forensic Science (M.S.): You’re not required to have a Bachelor’s in Forensic Science to get a Master’s in Forensic Science, but any bachelor’s degree in science will prepare you.
  • Certificate in Forensic Science : This is a general certificate that is designed to prepare you to work in a forensic crime lab.
  • Certificate in Forensic DNA: Learn about collecting and analyzing DNA samples when you take these courses.

Forensic Science School Rankings

When trying to decide which is the best school for you to attend to get a forensic science education, there are a number of factors you should consider. You may want to find out whether the program is accredited by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Another question you should ask is whether the school offers courses that will fit in with your desired specialty.

Other considerations are the school’s rate of successful job placement within your prospective career field. Is the degree program flexible enough to allow you choices in the event that you cannot find a job in the forensic sciences? Finally, research the costs of each program.

The problem, however, is that there exists no reliable forensic science degree ranking. While there are a few for-profit companies that purport to offer one, their results are so flawed as to make them useless. So for now, your best option for finding the right campus or online forensic science school for you is to understand what factors should be considered and do your research.

Will my forensic science credits transfer?

When starting a bachelor’s degree program that leads to a concentration in forensic science, or even a general science degree such as biology or chemistry, you can be fairly sure about a couple of things. First of all, if you are taking core classes such as English composition or American history, or even Chemistry 1, you can be fairly confident that your credits will transfer from one college to another. Once you begin taking more advanced classes, this is going to depend upon your individual school.

Some regionally accredited schools may not accept forensic science courses from a nationally accredited school, but every school is different. If you are trying to transfer forensic science courses to a school that does not offer a similar course, this will most likely not work.

What sorts of careers are common for students with this degree?

There are many different types of forensic scientists:

  • Criminalists: A criminalist’s main job is to examine the available physical evidence and analyze it.
  • General Forensic Scientist: This category encompasses many different facets of forensic science, such as a ballistics expert, facial reconstruction artist, crime scene investigator, polygraph examiner, and aviation accident expert.
  • Odontology:: This field is forensic dentistry. You must have a dental degree in order to specialize in this field.
  • Forensic Pathology: A forensic pathologist is a medical expert who performs autopsies in order to research the manner of death.
  • Physical Anthropology: Forensic anthropologists are needed to help identify remains in cases where the body is not immediately identifiable due to disaster, foul play or age.
  • Psychiatry & Behavioral Science: Forensic psychiatrists and psychologists are required to assist in determining competence of a defendant to stand trial and other issues.
  • Toxicology: A forensic toxicologist’s job is to study the evidence and answer the question if illegal or prescription drugs cause a person’s death or incapacitation. They must work with law enforcement and other forensic investigators.

How to Become a Forensic Scientist or Criminalist

Many students of forensic science do so with the objective of becoming a forensic scientist or criminalist. A forensic scientist, also referred to as a criminalist studies physical evidence, many times in a laboratory environment, in order to analyze it and use it as evidence in a criminal case. According to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the minimum degree requirement is a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, biology, physics, molecular biology, or another related major. You should take at least 24 hours in chemistry and biology as part of your degree. Math courses are also extremely important.

Some colleges offer a specialized forensic science degree at the bachelor’s level, but this is not necessary to obtain, and the current trend is to save the specialized degree for the master’s level. However, taking courses in forensic science is recommended if they are available.

New criminalists start out working as a “bench scientist” in a police department, medical examiner’s office, private company, or even a federal agency. After two years of experience, you may become certified by the American Board of Criminalistics by passing a very difficult exam. On-the-job training and continuing education is critical.

What are the average salaries of a person with a forensic science degree?

The average annual salary of a forensic science technician is $57,340, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics. Salaries in this career can vary widely depending on the experience level and the area of employment. For example, forensic science technicians working in the federal executive branch make an annual average wage of $93,940, while someone working for a local police department will likely make much less. In order to get one of the highly coveted federal jobs, you will most likely need to get experience at the state or local level first.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the field of forensic science is expected to continue to grow at a rate of approximately 19% between now and 2020 as the analysis of scientific evidence, such as DNA, becomes more complex. This makes this an attractive field that anyone who is interested in science should consider.

Forensic Science Scholarships and Forensic Science Grants

Write an essay explaining why you have chosen forensic science as a career and you could win a scholarship from The Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners (AFTE). The AFTE is made up of scientists who specialize in identifying firearms using physical evidence.

Students who have completed their first two years of study are eligible to apply for scholarships from the American Society of Crime Lab Directors. The maximum award is $1,000.

Also, don’t forget to apply for general scholarships and grants available from your chosen college. The road to getting financial aid starts with filling out the FAFSA (Federal Application For Student Aid) form, available online. Then you can work with your school’s financial aid department to find out what kind of grants and scholarships are available to you.

The popularity of television shows such as CSI, Bones, Law & Order, and Cold Case has spawned a major interest from people who would like to have a career in the field of forensic science. While working as a forensic science technician isn’t always filled with the excitement and glamour you see on television, it is a worthwhile career that will provide opportunities for advancement as the science continues to evolve. Keep reading to learn more about becoming a forensic science technician.

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