Lab technicians and forensic investigators with an understanding of the forensic sciences painstakingly perform the laboratory procedures the criminal justice system depends on to help resolve criminal investigations. Their expertise comes from a comprehensive, well-rounded education in forensic science, or one of the natural sciences.
Before pursuing an education through forensic science schools or degree-granting colleges, it is important to develop a game plan that ensures success. This guide provides a detailed explanation of everything from core requirements of undergraduate programs, to options for graduate work.
Core Requirements of a Forensic Science Education
Before deciding on a degree program, it is important to understand the program’s core requirements.
In general, an associate’s degree allows students to prepare to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree in forensic science through a scientific curriculum and plenty of hands-on experience in analyzing and processing the physical evidence found at crime scenes. A comprehensive associate’s degree program will incorporate physical science and law in the context of forensic investigations.
Core requirements for an associate’s degree in forensic science therefore often include:
- Forensic Psychology
- Forensic Aspects of Death Investigation
- Fire and Arson Investigation
- Physical Identifiers
- Firearms and Toolmarks Identification
- Basic Accident Investigation
A bachelor’s degree in forensic science not only provides an education in the technical aspects of forensic science, but in the biological sciences, physics, and chemistry, as well. As such, a bachelor’s degree in forensic science is rather cross-disciplinary, with students engaging in both criminal justice and science courses. Through a comprehensive bachelor’s degree program in forensic science, students are provided with an appreciation of the scientific and social environment of crime and of the criminal justice system.
Core coursework in a bachelor’s program in forensic science therefore often includes:
- Principles of Biology
- Organic Chemistry
- College Physics
- Analytic Geometry
- Seminar in Forensic Science
Choosing a Track Relevant to Forensic Work
It is not uncommon for forensic science degrees, both in bachelor’s and graduate programs, to offer students a number of tracks, including biology, chemistry, and crime scene investigation. The option chosen is based on specific careers within the forensic science field, so it is important that students be familiar with their targeted career objectives when choosing a degree track.
A program or track in biology generally includes the following core coursework:
- Molecular Biotechnology
- Methods in Molecular Biotechnology
- Biochemistry Lab
A program or track in chemistry generally includes the following coursework:
- Organic Chemistry
- Organic Chemistry Laboratory
- Analytical Chemistry
- College Physics
- Calculus-Based Physics
A program or track in forensic science often includes the following coursework:
- Clinical Microbiology
- Crime Scene Investigation
- Crime Scene Photography
- Bloodstain Evidence
- Criminal Investigation
- Introduction to Criminal Justice Administration
- Criminal Procedures
- Forensic Pathology
- Logic and Critical Thinking
Choose a Focus or Area of Study
Many forensic science degree programs allow students to focus their degree on a specific area of forensics, such as:
- Physical Evidence
- Trace Evidence
- Latent Prints
- Questioned Documents
Choosing a focus allows students to take specific coursework that will best prepare them for their desired forensic science career. For example, students focusing their forensic science education on DNA will likely focus their coursework on biology, genetics, and biochemistry, while students focusing their degree program on physical evidence will likely take courses in the natural sciences and mathematics.
Obtaining a Specialized Graduate Certificate in Forensic Science
Students with general undergraduate degrees in biology, chemistry, or forensic science may seek a graduate certificate in forensic science or a similar program so as to achieve an interdisciplinary education in both scientific principles and analytical methods relating to criminal investigations. These post-baccalaureate programs are generally reserved for students who already possess a bachelor’s degree in one of the natural sciences.
The coursework in forensic science graduate-level certificate programs typically includes the following:
- Principles of Genetics
- Principles of Cell Biology
- Survey of Forensic Sciences
- Current Issues in the Forensic Sciences
- Legal Systems in American Society
- Statistics and Data Analysis
- Criminal Law and Practice
- Forensic Anthropology
- Instrumental Methods
- Forensic Biology
- Crime Scene Investigation and Reconstruction
Obtaining a Graduate Degree in Forensic Science
Graduate programs in forensic science and related areas of study are increasing in numbers for this swiftly evolving, highly technical field. As such, it is not uncommon for forensic scientists to seek graduate programs so as to achieve higher-ranking positions in local, state and federal forensic laboratories and to focus their careers on one of the many subspecialties of forensic science.
Just a few of the graduate programs in forensic science found throughout the nation’s colleges and universities include:
- Master of Science in Forensic Science
- Master of Science in Criminal Justice – Forensic Science
- Master of Science in Forensic Science Administration