Forensic scientists collect and analyze evidence from crime scenes, often serving as expert witnesses in court cases. Technological advances in recent decades continue to reshape the field, and criminal investigations depend on forensic evidence now more than ever.
If you're interested in a forensic science degree, now is an excellent time to enter the field: the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs for forensic science technicians will grow 17% by 2026. This guide explores forensic science bachelor's degree programs, including application guidelines, job prospects, specialization options, and resources for students and professionals in the field.
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Forensic Science?
A forensic science program uses foundational biology and chemistry concepts to develop specialized forensic knowledge in areas like toxicology, instrumental analysis, and DNA analysis. You'll also learn about the legal system and criminal justice ethics. Internships are often a requirement for a forensic science degree, which lets you network with working professionals. As you approach graduation, your school's career resource center may help you find employment.
Bachelor's in forensic science programs can be completed online or on-campus. If you're a new college student, you may prefer the structure and community of a campus program. However, if you work full-time or have family obligations, an online program will allow you to fulfill your other commitments while you complete your degree.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Forensic Science?
A degree in forensic science prepares you for multiple careers. Forensics majors don't just find work with police departments: many pursue careers in laboratory research, finding work in the public and private sectors. The list below details some of the most common jobs for forensic science degree holders.
- Forensic Science Technician
Forensic science technicians collect and analyze evidence for criminal investigations. Many technicians specialize in one area of laboratory work, like fingerprint analysis. These technicians often travel between labs and crime scenes to examine evidence. They may be employed at police departments, government agencies, or private organizations.
Median Annual Salary: $57,850
Projected Growth Rate: 17%
- Biological Technician
Biological technicians work in labs to assist scientists in conducting experiments. They set up lab equipment, perform tests, and use specialized computer programs to model and analyze data. These technicians must also document their findings and write reports that summarize results. They assist many types of biological and medical scientists.
Median Annual Salary: $43,800
Projected Growth Rate: 10%
- Chemical Technician
These technicians assist chemists and chemical engineers. They typically set up lab equipment, prepare chemical solutions, test chemical products, and document their results. Chemical technicians usually work in laboratories, where they focus on experimentation, or in pharmaceutical and chemical manufacturing plants, where they evaluate production processes.
Median Annual Salary: $47,280
Projected Growth Rate: 4%
- Medical Laboratory Technologist
Also known as medical laboratory scientists, these professionals typically work in hospitals, medical laboratories, and doctors' offices. Medical laboratory technologists perform tests requested by doctors, including analyzing bodily fluids and studying blood samples for transfusions. They also perform specialized work and record data for patient records.
Median Annual Salary: $51,770
Projected Growth Rate: 13%
Detectives collect evidence and attempt to solve criminal cases, often specializing in one area of investigation, like narcotics, fraud, or homicide. They investigate crime scenes and analyze evidence, which is ideal work for forensic science grads.
Median Annual Salary: $62,960
Projected Growth Rate: 7%
How to Choose a Bachelor's in Forensic Science Program
When evaluating a school's forensic science degree, you must consider several factors, like program length, course requirements, and concentration options. Check to see which programs offer coursework oriented toward your professional interests, which programs require internships, and which programs offer accelerated options.
If you're a working professional, online education enables you to take courses at your own pace, and most online programs allow you to enroll full or part time. Some colleges allow you to complete your degree entirely online, while others include a practicum or internship that requires regular visits to a campus or professional forensic setting. Recent high school graduates, however, may be interested in on-campus programs. Consider campus location, particularly if you plan to pursue a career in the area, since location can affect internship opportunities and employment prospects.
Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor's in Forensic Science Programs
Always determine the accreditation status of the schools you apply to, as accreditation verifies a program's quality. Schools can be nationally or regionally accredited. Regional accreditation is the more prestigious qualification for four-year public and private schools, and is overseen by the Council of Higher Education Accreditation and its seven regional bodies. National accreditation is typically reserved for trade schools and for-profit universities.
The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission evaluates and recognizes forensic science degrees at the bachelor's and master's level, and the organization maintains a directory of accredited schools. However, many reputable programs may not be accredited through FEPAC, particularly if they offer their forensic science program as a concentration option for another major, like criminal justice.
Bachelor's in Forensic Science Program Admissions
Graduating high school seniors should consider applying to at least six and as many as nine schools, splitting applications between institutions of varying admissions rigor. If you're a working professional, you can apply to fewer schools, particularly if you have specific needs, like program specialization or delivery format. Most colleges allow you to submit your application entirely online. Online programs may feature a slightly lengthier application process, particularly if students aren't required to visit campus.
- Minimum GPA: Most schools maintain a GPA requirement for undergraduate applicants, which typically ranges from 2.5-3.5. Colleges may waive GPA requirements in some situations.
- Application: All schools require you to submit an application with basic information and, often, an essay or personal statement. Many institutions use the Common App, which allows you to apply to multiple schools simultaneously.
- Transcripts: All schools require you to submit high school transcripts (for first-time applicants) or college transcripts (for transfer and returning students). High school transcripts are typically free, while college transcripts usually require a fee.
- Letters of Recommendation: More selective schools may require letters of recommendation from teachers or supervisors. Always contact your recommenders early so they have time to compose your letters.
- Test Scores: Many schools require you to submit SAT or ACT scores as part of your application. Score requirements vary widely between schools, and some institutions may require no scores at all.
- Application Fee: Many colleges require a small application fee, though most offer fee waivers if you demonstrate financial need.
What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's in Forensic Science Program?
While most forensic science bachelor's degrees emphasize the same general skills, exact curriculum details vary. Many schools offer specialized concentrations for specific forensic science areas.
|Forensic Chemistry||Combining chemistry with forensics, this concentration trains students to analyze chemical properties of physical evidence. Like many areas of forensic science, this concentration requires extensive lab work.||Chemical technician, forensic science technician|
|Computer Forensics||This specialization trains students to investigate cybercrime, examining digital evidence in computers and storage media. Computer forensics specialists learn to recover, preserve, and analyze digital information and evidence.||Information security, digital forensic investigator|
|Investigative Forensics||Investigative forensics teaches students about traditional practices, including evidence collection, processing, and reporting. Students study criminal procedure, evidence analysis, and crime lab procedures, which trains them to synthesize evidence and develop informed theories about crimes.||Forensic science technician, detective|
|Forensic Biology||This concentration trains students to examine biological evidence, with coursework in areas like toxicology and criminal procedure.||Forensic biologist, forensic science technician|
|Forensic Anthropology||This concentration applies anthropological principles like archeology and ethnology to criminal investigations. Students explore practices like excavation and osteology as they relate to evidence collection. Field and lab work are required.||Forensic anthropologist, criminal investigator|
Courses in a Bachelor's in Forensic Science Program
While course requirements vary, most forensic science degree curriculum explores the same fundamental concepts. Below, you'll find a general overview of common forensic science courses.
- Introduction to Forensic Science
This foundational course teaches students the guiding principles of forensic science. Lectures explore general investigative skills and the history of the field, preparing students for further study.
- Introduction to Criminal Justice
This course introduces students to the operation of the U.S. criminal justice system, including police forces, courts, and prisons. Students learn about regulatory agencies, criminal justice philosophy, and ethics.
- Law and Criminal Evidence
This course examines the philosophy and legal bases of evidence, especially as it relates to constitutional and procedural standards. Students study evidence collection, scientific analysis, and the trial process.
- Forensic Chemistry
This course trains students in the practices of chemical forensics. Lectures include chemical separation techniques, controlled substance examinations, forensic toxicology, and materials analysis. The course commonly includes a lab component.
- Forensic Science Internship
Most programs encourage or require degree candidates to complete a forensic science internship, typically in a professional lab. An internship enables students to apply classroom learning to practical forensic experience while building professional connections.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor's in Forensic Science?
Most bachelor's programs require 120 credits to graduate, which typically takes full-time students four years to complete. Credit requirements for a forensic science degree will vary between schools: some offer accelerated courses for heavier course loads each semester, and some departments offer summer classes. If you're employed full-time, many programs offer part-time enrollment, which allows you to take courses online or during evenings and weekends. A lighter course load means more time in school, which can increase your total tuition, but it provides more flexibility for students with prior commitments.
How Much Is a Bachelor's in Forensic Science?
Many factors affect tuition rates, including whether a school is public or private. Public colleges receive state subsidies, enabling them to offer more affordable tuition than private colleges. CollegeBoard reports that for the 2017-2018 school year, the average annual tuition rate at a public college is $9,970, while private school tuition totals $34,740, more than three times higher. However, low tuition rates for public schools typically only apply to in-state residents, as public schools generally charge a higher tuition rate to out-of-state students (though some states maintain reciprocity agreements). While private colleges uniformly charge higher tuition rates, they also usually offer strong financial aid packages.
Several other factors can also affect the cost of your education, like housing, commuting, and technology fees. If you plan to live on-campus, research the cost of room and board. If you live off-campus, consider the costs of commuting, including gas and parking passes. Schools typically include an additional technology fee for online courses.
Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor's in Forensic Science Prepares For
- Certified Cyber Forensics Professional
- (ISC)² offers a certification in cyber forensics for professionals to verify their knowledge of ethical and legal standards for collection and presentation of digital evidence in courtrooms.
- International Association of Identification Forensic Certifications
The International Association of Identification offers a host of certifications for forensic scientists, including fingerprint, footwear, and bloodstain pattern identification. Each certification requires approved training and periodic recertification.
- American Board of Criminalistics Certifications
The American Board of Criminalistics certifies forensics professionals in fields like drug analysis, hairs and fibers identification, and fire debris analysis. Applicants must pass an exam and the certification awarded depends on years of fieldwork experience.
Resources for Forensic Science Students
Founded in 1988, the National Center for Biotechnology Information is a comprehensive resource for molecular biology information. The agency offers comprehensive databases and training resources.
With more than 55,000 readers, Forensic Magazine is one of the top professional publications in the field, with articles about new industry developments for academics, law enforcement officials, and forensic scientists.
This open-access academic publication showcases the latest research developments in forensics, printing work from scientists worldwide, including reviews, scholarly articles, case studies, and commentaries.
Professional Organizations in Forensic Science
Professional organizations offer a valuable platform for forensic scientists to connect with one another, sharing information, resources, community, and career opportunities. Because the field encompasses many different disciplines, forensic scientists have many opportunities to join organizations aligning with their professional interests. These five organizations rank among the most popular and longest-standing in the field.
Founded in 1948, the American Academy of Forensic Scientists has more than 6,000 members. The organization hosts annual conferences and offers educational resources for students, teachers, and professionals.
The American Board of Criminalistics promotes professional standards for knowledge in forensics, offering certification programs and proficiency testing. Regional and national chapters ensure strong networking for professionals.
Founded to promote success among female forensic scientists, the Association of Women in Forensic Science offers workshops, mentorship, education programs, and conferences.
Established in 1970, the Society of Forensic Toxicologists provides forensic toxicologists access to academic publications, annual meetings, continuing education programs, awards, and job listings.
Part of the U.S. Department of Justice, the National Institute of Justice offers dedicated resources for forensic scientists, including funding for research projects, capacity enhancement programs, academic publications, and professional training programs.