There are so many examples of forensic science on television to pull from. We’ve definitely seen Dr. Reed analyze and create a profile of a suspected criminal on Criminal Minds and wonder what skills he has to do that. We’ve seen on The Flash where Barry Allen( who The Flash is by day) as an actual forensic investigator helping the Central City Police Department solve crimes by collecting evidence from a crime scene and analyzing it in his laboratory. And, finally, we can’t forget CSI, possibly the best example of forensic science on TV today! Have you ever seen these shows and marveled at the work of their characters? From constructing a profile on a person based on a few behavioral patterns to analyzing blood spatter to understand how a person was attacked and with what possible weapon, the skills and experience necessary to work in this area is nothing short from fascinating. If you’re interested in a career that allows you to use scientific methods and logic to analyze crime and support a safe environment, read on for how you can learn more about studying Forensic Science in the U.S.
Skip to Sections:Academic Routes Technical Routes Resources
Jump to:2-Year Degree 4-Year Degree Beyond a 4-Year Degree
You can begin your career in forensic science with a high school diploma or less. Careers will look similar to those in the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) field or law and public safety. These careers include security guard; private detective and investigator; police, fire, and ambulance dispatcher; fire inspector; and firefighter. For these careers, you would receive on-the-job training (this means you will be trained while you work the job). Fire inspectors and firefighters usually receive classroom training at a fire academy. You can read more about pursuing these careers in the Technical Routes section.
To become a forensic scientist, you need a minimum of a 4-year degree, but you can take courses at a community college that can be applied to your 4-year degree. Taking these courses can lead to a separate career related to forensic science. Courses in a 2-year program would include introduction to crime scene investigations, forensic photography, criminal evidence, criminal law, crimonology, general sociology, police community relations, general math and introduction to public speaking. Careers with a 2-year degree and no experience can include police officer, asset protection officer, and loss prevention specialist. Jobs you can get with a 2-year degree and a few years experience include private investigator, crime scene technician, criminal analyst, or parole officer. (See Broward College’s Criminal Justice Career Ladder for more information.)
Some schools have career maps to show you how you can progress from studying to working at the highest level in that career field. Here is a career map for law enforcement services which includes forensic science:
To work as a forensic scientist, you need a minimum of a 4-year/bachelor’s degree. Some schools may not have a 4-year program in forensic science, but you can look for similar programs and take extra classes, declare a minor, or do a certificate program to enhance your bachelor’s degree and your experience to work as a forensic scientist. If your selected school has a major called ‘crime science,’ ‘forensic science’ or forensic studies,’ great! If not, similar majors can be crime science, criminal justice, criminology, biology, chemistry (forensic chemistry if available), psychology, nursing, accounting, anthropology. Read Forensic Science – Explained to learn how accounting, nursing, and psychology can play a part in you working in the forensic science field.
Courses you’ll find in a crime science, forensic science or forensic studies program include introduction to forensic science, theories of criminal behavior, forensic investigations, ethics and the criminal justice system, research methods in criminal justice, criminological theory, criminal evidence, crime scene investigation, cybercrime, fundamentals of cybersecurity, and survey of forensic science. Some courses may require you to take a “lab” which is a class where you get to apply theories that you’ve learned in your lecture classes. You can also choose other programs to take as electives such as victimology, juvenile justice system, or patterns of criminal behavior. You will also take chemistry, biology, physics, math, and human anatomy. If you’re interested in becoming a coroner/medical examiner/pathologist, look into getting on a pre-med track; more about becoming a coroner/medical examiner is discussed in the Beyond a 4-Year Degree section.
Beyond a 4-Year Degree
Having a degree beyond a 4-year/bachelor’s degree in the forensic science field is only necessary if you are trying to pursue a particular job or you’re looking to advance yourself in your career. By pursuing a degree beyond a bachelor’s degree, you can become a forensic psychologist, medical examiner, biochemist, research assistant, or forensic investigator. Examples of courses in some of these programs can include:
- Forensic Science program: forensic chemistry, forensic biology, forensioc analysis, forensic DNA chemistry, computer forensics, forensic toxicology, drug chemistry, arson and explosives, chromatography, biochemistry, human genetics, DNA population statistics, forensic DNA typing, and molecular biology.
- Criminal Justice program: criminal justice adiminstration, introduction to criminology theory, research methods in criminology, quantitative (relating to the quantity of something) analysis in criminology, current issues in corrections, terrorism and homeland security, and special seminars in criminology and criminal justice.
- Criminology program: introduction to criminology theory; research methods in criminology; quantitative (relating to the quantity of something) analysis in criminology; criminal justice and public policy; and special seminars in violence, nature and causes of crime, drugs and crime, and social inequality and crime.
- Cybercrime program: introduction to criminology theory; research methods in criminology; quantitative (relating to the quantity of something) analysis in criminology; cybercrime and criminal justice; profiling cybercrime; cybercrime law and social policy; technology adoption and crime; digital evidence recognition and collection; digital forensic criminal investigations; and special seminars in criminology and criminal justice. (More courses can include introduction to digital evidence and network forensic criminal investigations.)
If you are interested in specifically becoming a coroner/medical examiner/pathologist, you would need to have a medical background which probably means going to med school. A pathologist specifically studies the causes of death and diagnoses such by examining body tissue and body fluids (sounds gross, I’m sorry). A coroner can be a medical coroner or non-medical coroner, meaning you could be required to have a medical background or not for the specific position you’re pursuing.
To see more posts like these, subscribe for monthly updates:
The following are technical routes you can take to achieve a career in forensic science:
Jump to:Apprenticeships & Internships Vocational Training
Apprenticeships & Internships
Apprenticeships provide on-the-job training and education while you work. This can look like working or volunteering with little experience but being trained to improve your skills. Not only are you learning the necessary job skills, but also the demands, hours, ways to interact with the public, procedures, and problems that usually arise on the job. This is an all-encompassing experience. Apprenticeship and internship opportunities in forensic science can be found through internet searches, networking, or through your school. These may exist at research labs under a researcher or lab technician.
If there is a business, organization, or person whose work interests you, ask them for the opportunity to intern or shadow them to learn more about the field and career. This is a great way to show your interest in the field and secure future opportunities to gain experience.
There are several occupations in the law and public safety field that do not require a degree that could be your stepping stone to get a start in forensic science. These include firefighter, emergency medical technician (EMT) and paramedics. These careers do not require any formal degrees but will require hands-on training to learn the trade. The length of a vocational program is usually measured in hours to complete rather than months and then converted to the approximate equivalent in months. For example, a paramedic program is usually completed within 1100 hours, which is approximately 12 months. The range of programs mentioned earlier can take anywhere from 4 months to a year to complete depending on the program and your schedule. They can also lead to high-paying opportunities from meeting the demands of the economy. (Learn how to build a career starting out as an EMT/paramedic with Broward College’s Emergency Medical Services Career Ladder.)
Try not to decline unpaid opportunities especially if you have no experience. Eventually, you may become a paid worker. Through volunteering, you are gaining valuable hands-on experience that can be recorded on your résumé/CV, and you are building a network that you can lean on once you’ve elevated in your career. Ask different departments on campus about job shadowing, internship, or volunteer opportunities on campus or in the surrounding community.
You can review the Minnesota State CAREERwise website to explore careers similar to Forensic Science in the Law, Public Safety, and Security career cluster. Here are more resources to learn more about careers in Forensic Science:
- U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook: Forensic Science Technicians | Similar Occupations: Biological Technicians, Chemical Technicians, Chemists and Materials Scientists, Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians, Fire Inspectors, Police and Detectives, Private Detectives and Investigators
- Professional Associations: American Academy of Forensic Psychology (AAFP) | American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) | American Society of Forensic Odontology (ASFO) | Association of Forensic DNA Analysts and Administrators (AFDAA) | National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) | International Association of Forensic Toxologists (IAFT) | International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI) | International Association of Bloodstain Pattern Analysts (IABPA) | International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) | International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA) | International Association of Law and Forensic Sciences (IALFS) | Society of Forensic Toxicologists (SOFT)
- Regional Organizations: Midwestern Association of Forensic Scientists | Mid-Atlantic Association of Forensic Scientists | New Jersey Association of Forensic Scientists | Northeastern Association of Forensic Scientists | Northwest Association of Forensic Scientists | Southern of Forensic Scientists | Southwestern Association of Forensic Scientists
- Publications: Forensic Chemistry | Forensic Magazine | Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine | Journal of Forensic Nursing | Journal of Forensic Sciences
- Free Coursera courses: Introduction to Psychology (Yale University), Introduction to Psychology (Uinversity of Toronto), Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination (West Virginia University), Introductory Human Physiology (Duke University), Introduction to Forensic Science (Nanyang Technological University, Singapore), An Introduction to American Law (University of Pennsylvania), Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Comparing Theory and Practice (Universiteit Leiden), Chemistry (University of Kentucky), Chemical Biology (University of Geneva), The Effects of Fires on People, Property and the Environment (University of Maryland, College Park), Stayin’ Alive! First aid in Emergency (E-Learning Developmemt Fund), Precision Medicine (University of Geneva), Methods of Molecular Biology (Peter the Great St. Petersburg Polytechnic University), Introduction to Chemistry: Reactions and Ratios (Duke University)
- Other Resources: CrimeSceneInvestigatorEDU.org | Young Forensic Scientists Forum (YFSF)
Check with your institution of interest to find out more about their admissions application, program requirements, and the best way to map out your future for studying forensic science.
Unsure about what Forensic Science is? Read our explanatory post here.