Degrees And Careers In Forensic Science: Everything You Should Know (2024)

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In movies and television shows, forensic scientists are often portrayed as experts who use specialized equipment to examine medical samples and help identify crime victims or perpetrators. However, these depictions oversimplify the complexity of a career in forensic science. This field demands advanced expertise and precision.

Forensic science professionals spend numerous hours studying, working in laboratories and examining evidence to refine their skills and expand their knowledge. While some people may find the idea of investigating crime scenes and examining human remains emotionally challenging, others may find this career path rewarding.

If you desire a career that allows you to use science to solve cases and bring criminals to justice, read on to learn about careers in forensic science, including education requirements and professional certifications.

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What Is Forensic Science?

Forensic science applies scientific methods to collect, study and analyze evidence from crime scenes. Our criminal justice system relies on forensic science to help solve crimes and frequently uses it to investigate crimes and identify and prosecute those who commit them.

Some government agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), have their own forensic laboratories. While many forensic science professionals work in forensic laboratories, others work in non-laboratory settings, such as medical facilities, universities, coroners’ offices, insurance investigation agencies or in private practices.

Forensic Science Degree Options

While educational and experience requirements vary by job, most forensic science careers typically require a degree. Below we cover degree programs that can lead to careers in forensic science.

Associate in Forensic Science

An associate degree in forensic science covers the basics of the field, and for many people, it’s a precursor to a bachelor’s degree. The degree teaches students how to gather, process and analyze crime scene evidence for criminal court cases.

An associate in forensic science may include coursework in death investigation, an introduction to criminal justice, drug identification and abuse, crime scene investigation, fire and arson investigation, biotechnology, fingerprinting and chemistry.

An associate degree in forensic science consists of around 60 credits and takes about two years to complete, depending on your specific program and if you study full-time or part-time.

Bachelor’s in Forensic Science

A bachelor’s degree in forensic science prepares you for a wide range of forensic science careers. The bachelor’s program equips students with forensic knowledge and hands-on experience in the field and crime laboratory. The typical coursework in this degree program may include fingerprint identification, explosives chemistry or drugs and toxicology.

Forensic science bachelor’s degree programs may offer specialization in specific areas of study. Depending on your program, these areas of concentration or specialization vary, but the following are a few examples:

  • Forensic biology
  • Forensic chemistry
  • DNA analysis
  • Physical evidence
  • Toxicology
  • Molecular biology
  • Criminalistics

A bachelor’s degree in forensic science consists of around 120 credits and takes about four years. You may need more or less time, depending on your specific program and if you study full-time or part-time.

Master’s in Forensic Science

A master’s in forensic science may be your next step if you’re currently employed in the forensic science field and seeking career advancement into a leadership position.

A master’s degree in forensic science provides advanced classroom and laboratory experience in subjects such as forensic biology, toxicology, trace evidence, crime scene investigation, forensic analysis of DNA, blood distribution and spatter, ethics and criminalistics.

A master’s degree in forensic science typically consists of 30 to 44 credits and takes one to three years to complete. You may need more or less time, depending on your specific program and if you study full-time or part-time.

Forensic Science Certifying Bodies

Due to the complexity of the field and the requirement for specialized education, clear standards are essential across various forensic science disciplines. Therefore, professional certification is often a prerequisite for some positions in addition to your degree.

Earning professional certification attests to your mastery of the knowledge and skills you need to meet the standards required for careers within the forensic science field.

Below is a list of organizations that provide certifications for forensic science professionals.

American Board of Criminalistics (ABC)

The ABC provides certifications for the following criminalistics disciplines:

  • Biological Evidence Screening (ABC-BIO)
  • Comprehensive Criminalistics (ABC-CC)
  • Drug Analysis (ABC-DA)
  • Forensic DNA (ABC-DNA)
  • Molecular Biology (ABC-MB)

American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (ABFDE)

The ABFDE provides board certification for forensic document examiners. Document examiners are forensics professionals who analyze handwriting, detect computer or photocopier manipulation of documents, restore erased text and identify different types of inks.

American Board of Forensic Odontology (ABFO)

The AFBO provides board certification for odontology, which involves evaluating dental evidence from a forensics perspective. This includes identifying homicide victims using dental records, dental remains and bite marks.

American Board of Forensic Toxicology (ABFT)

The ABFT provides a Certification of Qualification for professionals with high expertise level and knowledge in forensic toxicology.

American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI)

The ABMDI offers two certifications for medicolegal death investigators, who investigate deaths with unclear causes, including unexplained or violent deaths. The Registry Level certifies basic knowledge in the field, while the ABMDI Board Certification recognizes mastery of the required skills and knowledge of medicolegal death investigations.

International Association for Identification (IAI)

The IAI is a professional membership association that provides certification for several specific skills used in forensic science. These include:

  • Bloodstain Pattern Analyst Certification
  • Crime Scene Certification
  • Footwear Certification
  • Forensic Art Certification
  • Forensic Photography Certification
  • Forensic Video Certification
  • Latent Print Certification
  • Tenprint Fingerprint Certification

International Board of Forensic Engineering Sciences (IBFES)

The IBFES provides certification for forensic engineering professionals, which includes those who handle engineering analysis and forensic engineering reports for courtroom proceedings.

What Can You Do With a Degree in Forensic Science?

Forensic Anthropologist

Average Annual Salary: Approximately $67,300
Required Education: Master’s degree; doctoral degree sometimes preferred
Job Overview: Forensic anthropologists recover and analyze human bones and remains to identify characteristics about people, such as their age, sex and height. They may also work with homicide investigators or other forensic science professionals to determine how long ago a person died.

Criminal Investigator

Median Annual Salary: $86,280
Required Education: High school diploma or GED, plus police academy training; bachelor’s degree sometimes preferred
Job Overview: Criminal investigators are police officers who gather information and investigate crimes, such as assaults, homicides or robberies. This may involve interviewing people, monitoring suspects and participating in arrests or raids.

Forensic Science Technician

Median Annual Salary: $63,740
Required Education: Bachelor’s degree in forensic science, biology or a related field
Job Overview: Forensic science technicians collect and analyze evidence for criminal investigations. This may include working in a laboratory or at crime scenes. Forensic science technicians have diverse responsibilities, and some specialize in specific areas. Job titles for these specialists include:

  • Forensic biologist
  • Forensic chemist
  • Forensic computer examiner
  • Digital forensics analyst

Forensic Toxicologist

Median Annual Salary: $99,930
Required Education: Ph.D. or medical degree
Job Overview: The forensic toxicologist career falls under the umbrella of medical scientists. Medical scientists gather and analyze medical samples and other evidence to determine the causes of toxicity or pathogens in humans.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Forensic Science Careers

What are some examples of careers in forensic science?

Forensic science encompasses a large selection of career options. Individuals interested in this career path can explore roles such as forensic science technician, forensic anthropologist, criminal investigator and forensic toxicologist.

What is the highest-paying forensic job?

It’s important to note that forensic science job salaries vary by location, industry, job duties and education level. Payscale reports an average annual salary of around $73,000 for all careers involving forensics skills. Forensic pathologists, who earn an average salary of around $130,400, are among the highest-paid professionals in the field. Forensic engineers make an average salary of around $90,700.

Degrees And Careers In Forensic Science: Everything You Should Know (2024)


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