Forensics Colleges & Universities

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For those who love puzzles and problem-solving, working in forensics can provide a fulfilling and impactful career. Forensics is “the application of scientific methods and techniques to the investigation of a crime.” In other words, these professionals occupy the intersection of law enforcement and science. They help solve crimes by processing and analyzing varied types of evidence, including biological, chemical, and digital. Those interested in examining biological samples such as blood can become forensic science technicians or DNA analysts. Others may choose to study cybersecurity to prevent computer-based crimes, track down malicious hackers, and recover digital evidence. And still others who are mathematically inclined may consider becoming forensic accountants to detect fraud and expose white-collar crimes.

In short, there’s a wealth of forensics programs—including online options—to accommodate all subfields of this high-growth discipline. Read on to explore the varied specialties and forensics colleges below.

Computer Forensics

Computer or digital forensics is the study of how technology is used to commit crimes. Computer forensic specialists use computer hardware and software to recover information from machines that could be used in criminal trials.

Crime and Intelligence Analysis

Using a combination of old school behavioral criminology, tried-and-tested statistics, and cutting edge tech, criminal intelligence analysts take a data-driven approach to lowering the crime rate. Their work can inform policies and strategic operations that prevent violent crime, gang activity, drug trafficking, and terrorist operations.

Crime Scene Investigation (CSI)

Crime scene investigation is the field of collecting, documenting, and analyzing information from a crime scene with the goal of recreating a crime and then using the evidence in criminal trials.

Criminal Justice (CJ)

For students interested in a versatile degree, majoring in criminal justice may prove a wise decision. Criminal justice graduates go on to occupy a variety of exciting, impactful positions, becoming private detectives; probation officers; fraud investigators; DEA agents; law enforcement officers; secret service agents; state troopers; fish and game wardens; and criminologists.

Criminal Profiler

Criminal profilers use their knowledge of psychology and behavior to determine the motivations of criminals and anticipate crimes based on this “profile.” Crime scene data collection is the basis for informing their theories.

Cybersecurity

Cybersecurity is the area of forensics that is devoted to actively protecting information. Cybersecurity specialists use computer hardware and software to track data thieves, thwart e-terrorists and protect sensitive electronic information.

DNA Analyst

DNA analysis is bringing new meaning to the phrase 'crime-solving.' Of course, not every DNA sample results in a wanted outcome, but DNA analysts make their best effort to help assist with and solve cases.

Forensic Accounting

A forensic accountant uses basic accounting and investigative skills to find defects in financial statements that may be indicative of criminal activity. They perform audits on financial and legal files and present their findings in trials.

Forensic Anthropology

Forensic anthropologists analyze and apply scientific techniques in order to diagnose posthumous death by violent force or trauma. Skin tissue, bone observation and demographics are key areas of study.

Forensic Biology

Charged with the task of examining tissue samples to identify victims and crime scenes, forensic biologists provide essential information in criminal investigations to pinpoint the cause and time of death. These professionals can also serve in pivotal roles during public health crises and environmental disasters (e.g., oil spills) by providing scientific legal testimony through their analyses.

Forensic Chemistry

A two-in-one degree program that straddles the disciplines of chemistry and criminal justice, forensic chemistry can be best described as laboratory detective work. Read on to learn more about forensic chemistry programs. Using the scientific method to examine evidence in a laboratory, forensic chemists play a critical role in the criminal justice system by ruling out or confirming a crime was committed.

Forensic Engineering

Forensic engineers are individuals that are experts in their field (electrical, mechanical, construction, etc.) that are called to analyze and testify in situations where criminal activity may have occurred relating to this field.

Forensic Nursing

Forensic nurses learn how to identify and treat victims of violent acts such as abuse and rape. Forensic nurses are also trained on how to gather and present evidence of these actions in court.

Forensic Pathology

Forensic pathologists conduct autopsies and post-mortem examinations on individuals whose deaths may have been caused by unnatural circumstances. They also work closely with law enforcement officials and legal teams to provide expert opinions on their findings.

Forensic Photography

Forensic photographers document a crime scene visually. This work includes taking images of tire tracks, fingerprints, sustained wounds and blood spatter patterns that comply with evidence collection legal standards. Discover what it takes to join this high-growth career.

Forensic Psychology

The study of forensic psychology examines how criminals behave and the emotional and mental effects on victims. Forensic psychologists are often asked to present findings in court, especially in cases where mental illness may have caused a violent act.

Forensic Science

Forensic science is the general study of how science can be used for legal purposes. Forensic scientists range from biological researchers to chemists and have many specialized skills.

Forensic Tech

Forensic science technicians complete detailed lab analyses in order to assist law enforcement officials in identifying criminals. These technicians perform blood, weapons and fiber analyses in order to support a criminal investigation.

Forensic Toxicology

Toxicology is the study of poisons. Forensic toxicologists use scientific knowledge to aid in criminal investigations to determine if accidental or intentional poisoning was a cause of death and to determine fault in criminal trials.

Mobile Forensics

A career as a mobile forensics expert can be launched by by learning about the file systems and data retrieval process in cellular phones, smart phones, and other mobile devices.

Pathologists’ Assistant

A pathology assistant is able to do most of the work of a pathologist except for diagnosis of a post-mortem patient. Pathology assistants collect samples, perform autopsies, and do clerical work in pathology labs. Discover what to expect from an online or on-campus PA program, as well as details about professional credentialing.

FORENSIC SCIENCE COLLEGES

In a ForensicsColleges.com interview about the future of forensic science, three prominent professors from U.S. universities offered their advice for aspiring students. All three stressed the importance of not only studying forensics methodologies, but also investing time in hard science courses such as chemistry, biology, and physics.

One way to ensure that a forensics program offers adequate scientific instruction is checking its accreditation status. Accreditation is the process of ensuring that a school or program has met baseline standards of quality with respect to faculty, facilities, and student outcomes, among other measures. For programmatic accreditation, the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is the gold standard. While FEPAC typically accredits bachelor’s and master’s degree programs only, there are also forensics programs at the associate and doctoral levels, as well as certificates and diplomas. These degree programs cover the gamut of specializations such as forensic science, criminal justice, forensic accounting, crime scene investigation, forensic psychology, cybersecurity, and forensic nursing, among others. Some of these even have sub-specialties available, including criminalistics, toxicology, or molecular biology.

Associate degrees in forensic science typically include instruction in criminal law, physiology, and other general science courses such as biology and chemistry. There are both associate of applied science (AAS) and associate of science (AS) programs available. Bachelor’s degrees in forensic science generally offer courses such as ethics in criminal justice and more advanced science courses such as biochemistry, microbiology, and forensic chemistry. There are bachelor of science (BS) programs and bachelor of arts (BA) options, particularly in criminal justice. Master’s degrees in forensic science feature even more sophisticated coursework in areas such as serology, advanced research methods, DNA analysis, forensic toxicology, and trace evidence analysis, among others. There are both master of science (MS) and master of arts (MA) programs available.

One of the standout schools in the nation for forensics is the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which not only boasts relatively low student debt, but also provides a wide array of degree levels and forensics specializations. By illustration, at the bachelor’s level, JJC CUNY offers majors such as forensic science, cell and molecular biology, criminal justice, criminology, fire science, forensic psychology, fraud examination and financial forensics, and toxicology, to name a few.

Please visit of the specialty pages above or the state pages below to discover accredited forensics programs by subfield or region, respectively.

ONLINE FORENSICS PROGRAMS

In addition to the accredited, campus-based forensic science programs, there’s also a range of distance-based options as well. In the past, working professionals and those with family responsibilities had difficulty finding programs to accommodate their schedules in terms of time or location. Fortunately, there are now programs beyond the traditional, brick-and-mortar model of education. A growing number of forensics students are choosing to study online, where they can tailor their studies to meet their individual needs.

There are many factors contributing to the spread of online forensics programs. For instance, as technology has spread, so too has the acceptance of online education, including among academic leaders. By illustration, Bay View Analytics (formerly the Babson Survey Research Group) has been tracking online education for 15 years. The group's final "online report card" publication, Tracking Online Education in the United States (Feb. 2016), found that 74.1 percent of academic leaders surveyed viewed online learning as equal or superior to on-campus instruction, and 70.8 percent saw it as critical to the school’s long-term strategy. Bay View also found that there were approximately 5.3 million students taking online courses in the U.S., an all-time high.

So how do online programs work? There are three main types of online learning.



  • Synchronous learning refers to video lectures, online discussion forums, web-based exams or assignments, and other program features accessed at the same time by students and faculty from different locations. Technologies such as Blackboard Learn and Google Classroom have empowered people in different locations to access course material and interact as if they were in the same room.

  • Asynchronous learning does not occur in real time, but rather students login at their convenience to complete a given task. They may have a weekly or monthly deadline to finish an assignment or test.

  • Hybrid or blended learning combines elements of both asynchronous and synchronous learning. It may also refer to a program with a mix of online and on-campus requirements.


Due to the hands-on nature of many forensics specializations, many programs are not 100 percent online, especially at the undergraduate level. While classes may be delivered at a distance, online forensics schools may require in-person laboratory training either at the campus or through an approved site close to a student’s home. Other online forensics programs have mandatory on-campus attendance for orientations or intensive seminars a few times per year. These sessions may give distance-based students the opportunity to interact with their colleagues and professors, offering a much-needed sense of community.

Regardless the program structure, prospective online students are strongly advised to verify the “state authorization” status of their program prior to enrollment. Due to differing state laws surrounding distance-based education, a student residing in one state may not be eligible to enroll in an online forensics program based in another state. For instance, Florida International University provides many online forensics programs and notes on its state authorization page that students from Utah are currently not eligible for distance-based admissions.

Finally, check out the main online forensics programs page. This guide examines the admissions requirements and coursework in accredited online forensics programs across fields such as crime scene investigation (CSI), forensic accounting, forensic nursing, forensic psychology, computer forensics, and other subfields.

Careers in Forensic Science

With an education in forensics and training in a lab environment, some of the job possibilities for these graduates include becoming a medical examiner, crime lab analyst, toxicologist, forensic biologist, forensic chemist, crime scene examiner, forensic engineer, forensic odontologist, criminal profiler, or a forensic science technician, among others. Check out the career guides below to learn in-depth about the typical education and credentialing across each of these fields.

Arson Investigator

An arson investigator uses in-depth knowledge of fire chemistry and mechanics to investigate possible arson cases. They also gather evidence and eyewitness accounts, talk with insurance companies and provide expert testimony in court proceedings.

Computer Forensics Examiner

Computer or digital forensics is the study of how technology is used to commit crimes. Computer forensic specialists use computer hardware and software to recover information from machines that could be used in criminal trials.

Crime Scene Investigator

Crime scene investigators spend time at crime scenes in order to collect evidence necessary in order to recreate a violent crime. Through careful documentation and evidence analysis, crime scene investigators provide proof that is the keystone of most criminal trials.

Criminalist

Criminalists use scientific and investigative methods to deduce how a particular crime took place. Although today’s criminalists utilize modern tools like 3-D imaging and DNA sequencing to help law enforcement, they still build upon the same foundation of this profession that dates back to the around 700 AD, when the Chinese used fingerprints to identify documents and clay sculptures.

DNA Analyst

A DNA analyst takes human tissue samples like blood, hair or semen and finds genetic code that will identify the victims and perpetrators of violent crimes. This is primarily a lab job, and DNA analysts do not spend much time at crime scenes, although they may be asked to testify in court about their findings.

Forensic Accountant

A forensic accountant uses basic accounting and investigative skills to find defects in financial statements that may be indicative of criminal activity. They perform audits on financial and legal files and present their findings in trials.

Forensic Anthropologist

Forensic anthropologists analyze and apply scientific techniques in order to diagnose posthumous death by violent force or trauma. Skin tissue, bone observation and demographics are key areas of study.

Forensic Autopsy Technician

It might never be a boring day on the job for a forensic autopsy technician. From helping prep materials to moving bodies for examinations to assisting pathologists, the responsibilities are always different.

Forensic Biologist

By examining bodily fluids, bones, hair, insects, plants, and animals at a crime scene, a forensic biologist prepares detailed analysis of their findings which can be used in legal cases to determine the cause of a crime. Read on to learn more about the rewarding opportunities available in forensic biology careers.

Forensic Chemist

Forensic chemistry involves the use of scientific methods to investigate physical evidence. Forensic chemists analyze evidence collected from crime scenes and give conclusive testimonies based on laboratory test results. The analyses of the collected evidence help law enforcement determine the cause of a crime or who is at fault.

Forensic Engineer

While the field of engineering is primarily tasked with designing and constructing reliable structures and designs that will operate safely, failures can still occur. Even with extensive structural and product testing, the most meticulous designs can still falter during and after construction or in the manufacturing stages.

Forensic Entomologist

Forensic entomologists are experts in the fields of criminal justice and science who, using their knowledge of how insects aid in bodily decomposition, can determine the time and source of death.

Forensic Investigator

Forensic investigators share many responsibilities and competencies with detectives: conducting interviews, securing crime scenes, analyzing public and private records, and writing detailed investigative reports.

Forensic Medical Examiner

A medical examiner is a government employee that investigates human bodies that have died under unusual or unnatural circumstances. They are able to perform autopsies and post-mortem exams, but may more often perform administrative duties.

Forensic Nurse

Forensic nurses learn how to identify and treat victims of violent acts such as abuse and rape. Forensic nurses are also trained on how to gather and present evidence of these actions in court.

Forensic Nurse Examiner

If you already are working as a registered nurse and have an interest in protecting the welfare and health of others, you may want to consider training to become a forensic nurse examiner. As such, you will continue to work in nursing, but will learn to recognize and document the signs of abuse and violence that could be used to prosecute a criminal in a courtroom.

Forensic Pathologist

Forensic pathologists conducts autopsies and post-mortem examinations on individuals whose deaths may have been caused by unnatural circumstances. They also work closely with law enforcement officials and legal teams to provide expert opinions on their findings.

Forensic Psychologist

The study of Forensic Psychology specializes in how criminals and their victims behave and how it affects them emotionally and mentally. Forensic psychologists are often asked to present findings in court, especially in cases where mental illness could be a cause of violent acts.

Forensic Scientist

Forensic Science is the general study of how science can be used for legal purposes. Forensic scientists range from biological researchers to psychologists and have many specialized skills.

Forensic Sketch Artist

As high-tech digital advancements sharpen the accuracy and validity of law enforcement evidence-gathering, forensic artists with backgrounds in criminal justice should be pleased to learn that the use of analogy paper and pencil sketches still play a major role in criminal investigations.

Forensic Technician

The primary role of a forensic technician is to collect and analyze physical evidence. This can consist of biological material, as well as glass, hair, fingerprints, fabric, bullets, various chemicals, and anything else that can help identify what happened during a crime.

Forensic Toxicologist

When it comes to portrayal in television, the nitty-gritty details of careers in forensic toxicology often end up on the cutting room floor. Read on to get a realistic glance at the typical responsibilities, specialties, salaries, and career paths for forensic toxicologists.

Legal Nurse Consultant

For those considering working at the intersection of the legal and medical fields in a dynamic, high-growth career, this guide provides a detailed discussion of the career outlook, salary prospects, and pathway to becoming a legal nurse consultant.

Pathologists’ Assistant

A pathology assistant is able to do most of the work of a pathologist except for diagnosis of a post-mortem patient. Pathology assistants collect samples, perform autopsies and do clerical work in pathology labs.

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Fire investigators, also known as arson investigators, perform an invaluable service to society: they determine the causes of fires, and when necessary, whether a criminal act of arson was involved. These professionals employ both the skills of a scientist and those of a detective in their investigations.