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Forensics Colleges in California

The Golden State—home to towering redwoods, crystalline sand beaches, and bustling cities—offers a uniquely favorable educational and professional landscape to aspiring forensic scientists. There is a number of renowned forensics colleges in the state—including programs accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC)—and a few online and hybrid programs as well.

In addition to the bright educational outlook, the job prospects in the state are also promising. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2014), California is the top-employing state for forensic science technicians at 2,050. With openings for this profession expected to grow 6% between 2012 and 2022 (BLS 2014), this figure will likely swell in coming years. Furthermore, California is among the top five highest paying states for this occupation at an average annual salary of $74,880—a stunning 27.8% more than the national average. 

To discover more about becoming a forensic science specialist in California—including occupational demand, featured programs, and accreditation information—read on below.

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How to Become a Forensic Scientist in California

While there are a number of paths to becoming a forensic scientist or technician in CA, many pursue a four-year degree in the natural sciences prior to joining the profession. Here is one possible route to joining this growing career:

 

  • Graduate from high school. Successful forensic science techs typically have strong backgrounds in mathematics and physical sciences.
  • Get a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, a natural science, or a subfield (4 years). According to Career One Stop (2015)—a data organization sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor—46% of these specialists have at least a bachelor’s degree. Some possible majors include chemistry, biology, physics, psychology, or physical anthropology. Other people may choose criminal justice, law, or an interdisciplinary approach as a starting point, but due to the frequent use of laboratory equipment and experimentation, most of these professionals typically receive solid scientific training. In fact, the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC)—the premier accreditation agency for forensics programs—tends to focus its accreditation on schools with science-heavy curricula (e.g., chemistry, physics, and biomedicine).
  • Apply for professional certification through a national organization (optional, timeline varies). Some professionals in forensic science choose to get certified or licensed for their skills. While this may not be necessary for employment, it may lead to a more competitive resume, increased job responsibilities, and even higher pay, all contingent on one’s employer. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) has 17 professional certification organizations in a range of specialties including criminalistics, forensic engineering, handwriting analysis, and more. Each of these agencies has its own educational and experiential criteria for membership, and may also require an exam.
  • Get a master’s degree in forensic science or a related field (optional, 2 years). According to Career One Stop (2015), 15.1% of forensic science technicians hold advanced graduate degrees. This extra training and research experience may result in greater employment prospects, leadership opportunities, and higher pay.

Occupational Demand in California Today

Eureka! California is the most populous state in the U.S. and offers an abundance of employment options for graduates in forensic science.  

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2014), California is a top-employing state for forensic science technicians at 2,050 total. So what are the top regions? Here is a breakdown of the municipalities with the most forensic science technicians:

 

  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA: 730 employed
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division: 530
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA: 360
  • Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA: 290
  • Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, CA Metropolitan Division: 280

 

Not surprisingly, the Los Angeles area is the top-employing region of the state and is among the top-paying regions as well. Here are the highest paying regions for forensic science technicians in California listed with the average annual salaries (BLS 2014):

 

  • San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA Metropolitan Division: $89,160
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA: $82,280
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division: $81,550
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA: $80,450
  • Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, CA Metropolitan Division: $80,210

 

These are significantly higher than the national average pay for these professionals at $58,610 annually. 

With the healthy job outlook for forensic science technicians in California, there are also a number of professional organizations, resources, and networking opportunities in the state. For example, the California Association of Criminalists (CAC) features events, training courses, biannual seminars, study groups, salary surveys, job listings, and a variety of awards. Another organization—the California Association of Crime Laboratory Directors—provides similar offerings with its resource lists, job posts, conferences, and other items of interest to these leaders in the industry.  

Featured Forensic Science Programs in California

Not only does California boast one of the healthiest job outlooks of any state, but it also offers a wealth of forensic science programs across a range of levels and subfields, including two FEPAC-accredited programs:

The University of California at Davis—located close to the Bay Area—hosts a renowned master of science (M.S.) in forensic science program at its scenic campus. Among its 142 graduates in 2014, more than 80% are employed in crime labs or similar places of work. This program—ideal for working professionals with classes offered during afternoons and late evenings—provides extensive training in the major areas of the field, including DNA analysis, arson investigation, toxicology, impression identification, and other cornerstones. 

California State University in Los Angeles has an interdisciplinary master of science (M.S.) in criminalistics program—the only FEPAC-accredited offering of this kind in the nation. With coursework in areas such as crime scene reconstruction, forensic microscopy, and trace evidence analysis, students are prepared to conduct original research for their graduate thesis, as well as to take the Forensic Science Assessment Test (FSAT) offered by the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC).

 

Here are some additional forensic science schools in California with exemplary programs:

California State University at Long Beach offers a broad-based certificate program in basic applied forensic science and crime analysis, ideal for newcomers to the discipline or working professionals looking to learn the fundamentals. With coursework in investigation techniques and crime scene evaluation, this training program can help qualify people for forensic science assignments within their occupation.

San Jose State’s Department of Justice Studies has a bachelor of science (B.S.) in forensic science program with distinct concentrations in chemistry or biology. The interdisciplinary courses are designed not only to give students a working knowledge of the field techniques through hands-on, supervised instruction, but also to provide students with an awareness of the intersection of law, ethics, and scientific investigation in criminalistics.

California State University at Stanislaus—located just east of the Bay Area in the heart of CA—hosts a bachelor of arts (B.A.) with a forensic science concentration. In addition to the typical criminal justice, CSI, and natural sciences coursework, Stanislaus has a number of tantalizing, interest-based electives such as talking skeletons (case studies in forensic anthropology) and the psychology of criminal behavior.

 

There are also a number of training and education facilities outside of traditional university systems. For example, the California Criminalistics Institute (CCI) of the California Department of Justice enrolls more than 700 students per year for training in digital evidence, toxicology, and other areas. Designed to keep forensic science professionals abreast of discoveries and innovative methods, these courses are open to city, country, state, and federal employees in the field. 

Hybrid and Online Program Options

In addition to the national hybrid and online forensic science programs, there are some California schools which have catered their specialty certificate coursework to meet the needs of distance-based students:

California State University at Fullerton offers a hybrid computer forensics certificate program. Highlights of the training include hands-on experience with EnCase, the paramount standard in digital forensic technology, and instruction in the Forensic Toolkit (FTK), a bundle of technologies used to perform computer forensics investigations.

University of California at Riverside has an online sexual assault examination training certificate program for nurses with courses in DNA technology, collection of forensic evidence, and preparation for court testimony.

Program Accreditation and Certification

As mentioned above, two forensics colleges in California have programs accredited by the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). In addition to this discipline-specific program approval, there are a number of regional and institutional accreditation agencies such as:

 

 

Finally, for forensic science professionals in California that have achieved academic and experiential milestones in their careers, there are a number of specialty-based individual certification agencies. The prerequisites for certification vary by discipline, but generally involve a competitive application process as well as a test of competence. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) provides a list of 17 organizations which are approved to award individual, professional certification. Some of these specialties include:

  • Toxicology
  • Criminalistics
  • Medicolegal death investigations
  • Document examination
  • Forensic engineering
  • Forensic odontology

 

School Name City Website Degrees Awarded Certificates Awarded Total Forensics Grads
Alliant International University San Diego 153 0 153
ICDC College Huntington Park 17 82 99
Grossmont College El Cajon 33 40 73
National University La Jolla 51 1 52
Santa Barbara Business College-Bakersfield Bakersfield 43 0 43
Riverside City College Riverside 0 38 38
East Los Angeles College Monterey Park 0 32 32
University of California-Davis Davis 19 0 19
Santa Barbara Business College-Santa Maria Santa Maria 19 0 19
California Baptist University Riverside 17 0 17
San Diego Miramar College San Diego 4 11 15
Long Beach City College Long Beach 0 14 14
California State University-Los Angeles Los Angeles 14 0 14
Allied American University Laguna Hills 0 13 13
Santa Barbara Business College-Ventura Ventura 11 0 11
City College of San Francisco San Francisco 0 10 10
Holy Names University Oakland 9 0 9
Fresno City College Fresno 5 4 9
Southwestern College Chula Vista 3 6 9
Diablo Valley College Pleasant Hill 0 8 8
Norco College Norco 0 6 6
Palomar College San Marcos 5 0 5
Solano Community College Fairfield 2 1 3
Golden West College Huntington Beach 3 0 3
Contra Costa College San Pablo 0 3 3

School data provided by IPEDS (2013), and includes all certificates and degrees awarded for the following programs: Arson Investigation, Computer Forensics, Forensic Accounting, Forensic Chemistry, Forensic Psychology, Forensic Science and Technology, and Law Enforcement Investigation

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