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 the scientific depth and needed hands-on skills to enter the field. Below we list 15 top forensic biology programs that have degree programs available either at the undergraduate or graduate level. These are not the only forensic biology programs available but rather can act as a starting point for students who are searching for the perfect school.
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 will 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 126-credit program leading to a bachelor’s of science (BS) degree in forensic science with a concentration in forensic biology. 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 and population genetics. 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 skills, such as a genetic analyzer, a real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) system and centrifuge/spinning systems.
3. Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio offers a bachelor of science degree in forensic biology 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 10 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 and that strongly emphasizes practical and hands-on experience. The program partners with Dover Air Force Base, regional law enforcement agencies and others to help students explore in greater depth 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 can take coursework 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 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 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 addition 36 credits of forensic biology coursework. Further, 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 will learn how to analyze biological evidence for application to legal and similar investigations, and will receive in-depth training in the laboratory and in field settings. While completing this program, students learn how to isolate, purify and amplify DNA and to collect and analyze plants, insects and other biological evidence that might be at a crime scene.
8. 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 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 and 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 will be 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 degree in forensic science with a concentration on both biology and chemistry. Although the program is a bit more general, its accredited status makes it a good choice for those students who want a science-heavy forensic program. In addition to the BS program, the university offers 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 the theoretical background that 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 should have all the requirements needed to continue into medical, nursing or law school or to start work in the forensic biology field.
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 through both the school’s lecture halls and laboratories, including in its forensics lab that is 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 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 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 has been accredited by FEPAC.
14. 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. 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 located 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. Six internship credits and six credits in biology electives are other requisites for the degree that help to round out student learning.
15. 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 a PCR hood.
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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 important in decision-making. Other factors that were considered included the facilities at a school, its partnerships and career placement opportunities. Of course, students can find many different quality programs, but should deeply explore those they are considering to determine which ones may best meet their needs.
Partnerships: 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.
Facilities: Schools on this list may have state-of-the-art lab equipment to help with learning. For example, at Michigan State University, the PCR laboratory features equipment for doing single nucleotide polymorphism analysis, mitochondrial DNA research and more.
Placement: Schools successfully sending students onto jobs or to master’s degree programs were considered for our list. For example, students at Ohio Northern University went to work at places such as the Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratories and private forensic testing laboratories, or to continue their education at the graduate level at schools such as Clemson University or Ohio State University.