Forensic biologists can seek many different types of careers and occupations. The FBI, for instance, has career positions posted on its laboratory website that include those for biologists, DNA biologists, biologist forensic examiners, and biology DNA program specialists.
Forensic biologists provide invaluable skills in the lab and at crime scenes, including biometric analysis, forensic response, forensic science support, and scientific analysis. With so many different careers available, it’s important for students to choose an education that appropriately prepares them with an appropriate scientific depth of knowledge and requires hands-on skills needed to enter the profession.
Below are 15 standout forensic biology programs that have degree programs available either at the undergraduate or graduate level.
1. Boston University in Boston, Massachusetts offers a master of science (MS) degree in biomedical forensic sciences as part of its School of Medicine. The BU program has earned accreditation from the Forensic Education Programs Accreditation Council (FEPAC) and offers students a unique opportunity to learn skills that will be applicable in crime scene analysis as well as evidence processing. Students at BU also have the unique advantage of earning a degree at a major medical center, which means access to high-caliber equipment and facilities.
2. Fayetteville State University in Fayetteville, North Carolina has a 122-credit program leading to a bachelor’s of science (BS) degree in forensic science. It is the first and only FEPAC-accredited program in North Carolina. The forensic curriculum is in-depth and includes classes like cellular biology, principles of biology, and molecular biology.
By their senior year, students are taking classes such as forensic microscopy, microbiology/immunology, population genetics, and DNA analysis. A capstone project is required in the last semester of the senior year to allow students to demonstrate the skills they have learned and gain professional experience. Several types of equipment are available to students to help develop their hands-on skills, such as a thermo cycler, genetic analyzer, a real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) system, centrifuge/spinning systems, polarized light microscopes, a comparison microscope, and fingerprint database software. Graduates of the forensic science program have successfully obtained employment in the crime laboratories and in the biotechnology sector.
3. Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio offers a bachelor of science (BS) degree in forensic biology. The program has a two-fold purpose: to provide students with fundamental knowledge in the forensic sciences by offering a core of four forensic biology courses, and to ensure students have the scientific techniques to analyze physical evidence found at a crime scene by requiring five upper-level forensic science classes.
Facilities for this program include ten laboratory classrooms, a cadaver dissection laboratory, a physiological measurements laboratory, and 11 independent research laboratories. Students can also network by joining associations like Beta Beta Beta, the Biology Student Association or the Midwestern Association of Forensic Scientists.
4. Delaware State University in Dover, Delaware has a bachelor’s degree in forensic biology that allows students to work closely with professionals and agencies in the field that strongly emphasize practical, hands-on experience. The program partners with Dover Air Force Base, regional law enforcement agencies, and other institutions to help students explore skills such as analyzing crime scenes, conducting cause-of-death investigations, and writing up reports and findings. Students should be prepared to pursue an advanced degree in biology or another field or to enter medical school upon completion.
5. Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania offers a bachelor’s degree in forensic biology that requires at least 121 credit-hours of coursework for graduation. Undergraduate level classes include cell biology, genetics, human anatomy and physiology, principles of biology and others. At the upper level, students take courses such as immunology, microbiology, and molecular biology. A senior seminar in biology is part of the degree program and helps to round out student learning.
Students who have at least a 3.0 GPA in the field and a 3.0 GPA overall could be invited to join the national science and mathematics honor society known as Sigma Zeta.
6. The University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, Oklahoma offers a bachelor of science (BS) degree in forensic science with a molecular biology concentration. The BS program is offered as part of the university’s Forensic Science Institute and requires at least 42 credits of general education coursework and an additional 36 credits of forensic biology coursework.
Furthermore, students completing this degree must also complete a BS in biology. Upon graduation, students will have satisfied the National DNA Advisory Board Guidelines for education.
7. Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Michigan offers a bachelor’s degree in biology with a forensic biology concentration. The program includes courses in genetics, forensic biology, human anatomy and physiology, and microbiology. Students learn how to analyze biological evidence for application to legal investigations, and receive in-depth training in laboratory and field settings.
While completing this program, students learn how to isolate, purify, and amplify DNA, as well as how to collect and analyze plants, insects, and other biological evidence gathered from a crime scene.
8. The University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, Mississippi offers a forensic science program in the biological sciences, leading to a bachelor’s degree. This 124-credit-hour program includes 43 to 45 credit-hours that need to be specifically completed in the major. In this program, students take classes that include an introduction to forensic science, forensic analysis laboratory, and fingerprint analysis and techniques. Students also complete three credit-hours of field work that gives them practice with research in a forensic science setting.
9. Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia offers a bachelor’s degree in forensic science with a concentration in forensic biology, which has FEPAC accreditation. Approximately 50 credits of this program are in core classes in forensic science and 33 credits are in forensic biology. Students in this program are able to do crime scene investigation and reconstruction; understand the ethical and professional duties of the occupation; and use principles and procedures to apply biology to forensic science. The degree is well-suited for those who want to pursue a graduate degree or work in forensic biology in a laboratory in the public or private sector.
10. The University of North Texas in Denton, Texas offers a FEPAC-accredited bachelor of science (BS) degree in forensic science with a concentration on both biology and chemistry. Although the program is general, its accredited status makes it a good choice for students seeking a forensic program with strong emphasis in science. In addition to the BS program, the university offers a forensic science certificate program for those applicants who have already earned a BS in biology, chemistry, or biochemistry.
11. Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona offers a forensic biology program that leads to a bachelor’s degree and provides students with fundamental laboratory skills and theoretical frameworks that forensic investigators use in the occupation. Extensive hands-on lab experience is part of this 124-credit program. Thirty-one of these credit hours are in biology, while 20 are in chemistry and another 19 are in security and intelligence studies and social science. Upon completion, students have many of the requirements needed to continue into medical careers, law school, or the field of forensic biology.
12. Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts allows students to pursue a bachelor’s degree in forensic biology that thoroughly integrates research with classroom work. Students learn in lecture hall and laboratory settings and the program has its own forensics lab located within the school’s $40 million Center for the Sciences and Pharmacy.
Students learn about general biology, cell biology, genetics, organic chemistry, and more as part of their curriculum. Practical labs, independent research, and professional internships are part of the degree and these academic requirements allow students to further practice and develop forensic science skills and techniques.
13. Michigan State University in East Lansing offers a research-intensive master of forensic science (MS) degree with a forensic biology track that provides students with in-depth laboratory experience. Nearly half of the 38 overall required credits are in or related to biology and entail classes such as DNA profiling, forensic serology, molecular biology, and statistical methods for biologists.
Students further explore the forensic biology field through master’s thesis research and nine elective credits. The school has a DNA Extractions Laboratory, a PCR Laboratory, and a Teaching Laboratory, and is accredited by FEPAC.
14. The University at Albany in Albany, New York provides a 40-credit master’s degree in forensic biology that gives students understanding of the theories and techniques behind forensic biology. This program is divided into two core areas: ecology and evolutionary biology (EEB) and molecular, cellular, developmental, and neural biology (MCDN).
The program is built around a partnership between the school’s Department of Biological Sciences and the New York State Police’s Forensic Investigation Center, which is adjacent to the college campus. As part of their degree, students take 29 credits in biology coursework, including classes such as advanced molecular biology, human population genetics, and forensic biology laboratory. This program requires students to complete an internship, field experience, a study abroad component, or clinical experience in addition to core biology courses.
15. The George Washington University in Washington D.C. offers a 36-credit master of forensic science (MFS) in forensic molecular biology degree to help prepare students for careers as DNA analysts and technical leaders.
Students take common core courses that are aimed at providing them with the practical and theoretical aspects of forensic molecular biology. They learn about DNA extraction, data interpretation and population genetics as part of the program, which has full accreditation through FEPAC. Students also take a one-credit graduate seminar. Students have access to the Forensic Molecular Biology Laboratory, which is 1,100 square feet, and includes a scanning electron microscope, digital photography equipment, and comparison microscopes for trace evidence analysis.
Many different characteristics of school programs were considered when deciding what schools to place on this list. Schools that offer students hands-on skills with laboratory classes, seminars and internships, or field study were highly-rated. Other factors that were considered included the facilities at a school, its partnerships, and career placement opportunities.
Schools on this list may have state-of-the-art lab equipment to help with learning. For example Michigan State University features equipment for doing single nucleotide polymorphism analysis, as well as mitochondrial DNA research in their PCR laboratory.
Many of the schools such as Delaware State University have built extensive partnerships into their programs to help students progress with learning and to develop deeper skills to be prepared to work in the field of forensic biology.
Schools with a stated track record of placing students in jobs or master’s degree programs after graduation were also highly considered for this list. For example, students at Ohio Northern University generally go on to work at places such as the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratories, private forensic testing laboratories, or to pursue advanced degrees at schools such as Clemson University and Ohio State University.
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @oregon_yogini).