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Forensic Science Degree

Forensic scientists locate, investigate, and evaluate evidence from crime scenes. Impartial investigation and observation is the key to identifying and prosecuting criminals, so forensic scientists must be fact-driven and analytical. To pursue a career as a forensic scientist in a crime lab or as a crime scene investigator, a forensic science degree is a necessary and valuable tool. Forensic science students develop the analytical skills necessary to process and evaluate evidence in a criminal investigation in order to assist in the successful closing of cases. Forensic science programs can lead to either a two- or a four-year degree, and though forensic scientists must be experts in a variety of fields, most students choose a concentration in a specific area of interest such as forensic toxicology, forensic entomology, forensic anthropology, digital forensics, or other exciting specialties.

Forensic Science Training and Courses

Core forensic science courses include crime scene investigation, DNA analysis, fingerprint analysis, ballistics, biology, computer science, and others designed to help the student learn the skills necessary to work in a crime lab. Forensic scientists must learn to observe a crime scene for traces of evidence that first responders and other investigators missed, collect that evidence in a way that ensures that it is not contaminated and will stand up in court, and interpret the evidence through careful analysis of what it is, where it was found, and how it may have played a part in a crime. This complex process and the importance that this evidence plays in proving the guilt or innocence of a suspect is why students must have a degree to work in the field of forensic science.

Examples of courses in a forensic science degree curriculum include:

  • Introduction to Forensic Science
  • General Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry
  • Forensic Pathology
  • Forensic Trace Evidence
  • Physical Evidence
  • Forensic Toxicology
  • Crime Scene Processing
  • Forensic Science Laboratory Internship
CJDS FACT: Scientific analysis by forensic scientists can put criminals behind bars or free innocent people who have been falsely accused. According to the Innocence Project, there have been over 260 post-conviction exonerations from newly discovered DNA evidence. DNA evidence is now a core area of study for a forensic science degree.

Forensic Science Degree Requirements

Many schools offer programs for two-year associate’s degrees and four-year bachelor’s degrees in forensic science and related disciplines. Though students can begin working as a forensic scientist after just two years with an associate’s degree in criminal justice with a concentration in forensics, in order to advance in this field, forensic scientists will want to work towards a bachelor’s degree or higher. Jobs in this field are highly competitive, meaning that advanced degrees often lead to better opportunities.

Profiles of Forensic Science Degree Programs

Boston University offers a Master of Science in Biomedical Forensic Sciences (MS.BMFS) through its School of Medicine that prepares graduates to pursue careers in multiple areas of forensics including death investigations, crime scene response, and DNA analysis. This 38-credit hour program is designed to be completed in two years, with each program start occurring at the beginning of the fall semester. Many of the program’s courses involve lab work and hands-on experience components, such as core courses in Crime Scene Investigation, Trace Evidence Analysis, Directed Studies in Biomedical Forensic Sciences, and Criminal Law II-Mock Court. All program faculty continue their active involvement in casework while teaching and are able to apply their experience to teaching students about forensic science and its applications to legal theory and practice. The program is housed at Boston University Medical Center. The MS.BMFS program at Boston University is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Committee.

Arcadia University awards a Master of Science in Forensic Science (MSFS) that provides a state-of-the-art education to aspiring forensic scientists and professionals. The program requires 67 to 73 credit hours to complete across all degree requirements and can be completed in two years of full-time study, although part-time study options are available. Core courses include Forensic Pattern Analysis, Statistical Analysis and Biostatistics, Research Methods in Forensic Science, and Forensic Serology. During the first summer term, students participate in a research project in collaboration with university faculty members or college partners. Students are additionally guaranteed an intensive 15-week internship with the Center for Forensic Science and Education that provides real-world experience in forensic biology, toxicology, and chemistry as well as trace analysis. Arcadia University’s MSFS is offered in partnership with the Center for Forensic Science Research and Education and is one of few programs holding accreditation by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Committee.

Marshall University awards a Master of Science in Forensic Science that equips students with the skills that employers of forensic professionals are seeking. Students are required to choose one emphasis area from DNA Analysis, Forensic Chemistry, Digital Forensics, or Crime Scene Investigation, and may optionally complete all four areas of emphasis. The core curriculum involves 38 credit hours, plus 7 to 11 credit hours for each area of emphasis completed. The program of study includes a summer internship selected to complement the student’s area(s) of emphasis that takes place in a partner specialty or crime laboratory. A unique component of the program is the school’s Crime Scene House, a mock crime scene facility that offers real-world simulation in proper crime scene handling and analysis. Marshall University also offers a Graduate Certificate in Digital Forensics. The Master of Science in Forensic Science program at Marshall University is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Committee.

Forensic Science Salaries and Job Outlook

The job outlook for forensic scientists is bright, with the US Bureau of Labor Statistics estimating 27% employment growth for forensic science technicians through 2024.1 As of 2015, forensic science technicians earned a median annual wage of $56,320.1

Additional Forensic Science Resources

Online Forensic Science Degree Information and Criminal Justice Schools

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What Jobs Can You Get With a Forensic Science Degree?

Graduates of a forensic science degree program can go on to apply their education in various roles within a law enforcement, government, and the private sector.

Some examples of forensic science careers include:

You can also visit our criminal justice job board for current job openings in your state and to learn more about specific job requirements. For more information about forensic science degrees, check out our Top 25 Forensic Blogs page.

References:
1. US Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, Forensic Science Technicians: http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/forensic-science-technicians.htm