Forensic anthropology programs have become more and more popular in recent years, with quite a bit of thanks going to increased awareness about these specialists in the media. From television dramas such as “Bones” to documentaries about the actual work that goes on in the world of forensic anthropologists, it is no wonder that the career is getting more attention. Imagine the thrill of helping police to solve a decades-old crime based on bone reconstruction or the satisfaction that comes from helping families of natural disasters find closure when it comes to what may have happened to a loved one.
Forensic anthropology degree programs are perhaps best suited to those who combine a love for science and investigation with an interest in seeing justice served. The degree should help hard-working students to develop the foundational skills required to succeed in both the field and the lab and ultimately thrive as forensic anthropologists.
Anyone who wants to become a forensic anthropologist will need to be ready to invest heavily in schooling. While some forensic anthropologists have only a master’s degree, in most cases a PhD is required to be able to work in the field, according to the American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA). Those who are working in labs may be able to have a master’s degree and still be able to find work, but many lab scientists pursue doctoral programs to be able to further their careers. The amount of time it can take to complete these degrees varies, but students attending full-time can generally complete a bachelor’s of science (BS) degree in forensic anthropology or a related field in four years.
While attending school full-time, they should then be able to complete a master’s degree in two years and then move on to a PhD in forensic anthropology following that, which can take another two or more years. This is the common path for those interested in entering the forensic anthropology field.
Once a PhD is obtained, many anthropologists will then go on to receive certification. One of the most popular certifications that forensic anthropologists seek is from the ABFA. This certificate may help forensic anthropologists who are looking for new or different employment options or are wanting to make a solid statement about their expertise.
Aspiring forensic anthropologists should know that the occupational outlook for forensic science technicians, a related occupation, is positive. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) predicts an 11 percent rate of growth between 2021 and 2031 and estimates that 2,000 fresh new forensic science technician positions will be needed. With a degree and certification, forensic anthropologists can pursue careers in a variety of industries and earn salaries well above the national average.
Keep reading for forensic anthropology programs that are available to students who are ready to pursue this challenging but fascinating career.
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While a bachelor’s degree is required to eventually become a forensic anthropologist, in most cases, a BS in forensic anthropology is not necessary. Rather, students can choose to major in anthropology, forensic science, or another science such as biology or chemistry.
Some future forensic anthropologists move directly from a bachelor’s degree program to a doctoral track while others earn a master’s degree first.
As with most PhD programs, doctoral programs for forensic anthropology can be extremely competitive. Applicants should be sure to meet all application requirements and be prepared to apply to more than one program if necessary.
Following are a few of the on-campus forensic anthropology programs that are available to interested students:
At Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania, students can earn a bachelor of science (BS) degree in applied forensic science with a concentration in forensic anthropology. Coursework includes coursework in criminalistics, crime scene archaeology, and death investigation. Students in this program complete internships with the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and local legal and medicolegal examination offices.
The Ted A. Rathbun Osteology Laboratory gives students opportunities to learn hands-on forensic anthropology and criminalistics and participate in research. This specialized degree program can be a stepping stone to graduate programs in forensic anthropology or numerous forensic science careers.
Michigan State University is home to the Michigan State University Forensic Anthropology Laboratory (MSUFAL) where students can choose from a master or doctoral level program. The program has ABFA diplomates on staff, meaning training comes from experienced professionals in the field.
There are five specializations for the doctoral program in anthropology, including medical anthropology and physical anthropology which emphasizes forensic anthropology. In partnership with MSUFAL, this institution has a strong international research presence in Central America, Europe, and East Africa. Students in this program have the opportunity to enroll in classes offered by universities in the Big Ten Academic Alliance.
At Texas State University (TSU) students can train at the Forensic Anthropology Center of Texas State (FACTS). TSU offers anthropology programs at all levels (BS, MA, and PhD) with undergraduates being eligible to join the university’s Forensic Anthropology Society. In addition to on-campus curriculum, the undergraduate and graduate programs feature hands-on learning through internship and field school learning. The doctoral program prepares students for careers in government, nonprofit, healthcare, museums, corporate, and academic environments.
It is possible to find some online classes that will be able to help meet a portion of the requirements for degrees in forensic anthropology. However, a fully online forensic anthropology degree is impossible due to the hands-on laboratory requirements for training in this field.
Some courses that students of forensic anthropology programs could find online include basic forensic anthropology, pharmacology, toxicology, osteology, and crime scene preservation. These are not necessarily going to require lab work, and it may be possible to complete these without visiting campus. Obtaining an undergraduate degree from an online program before applying to a graduate program is also possible.
At Oregon State University, students can earn a 180-credit bachelor of science or bachelor of arts in anthropology through the school’s e-campus. Prospective forensic anthropologists may want to choose the archaeology specialization, which also requires 12 hours of fieldwork that can be completed at a location convenient for the students. OSU features an archeology field school experience that awards 12 credits of hands-on experience at locations throughout Oregon.
The University of Florida offers forensic anthropology courses that do not result in a degree, but could help students decide whether they want to pursue the field further. Consisting of two hybrid courses, students can take forensic anthropology courses that emphasize the basic knowledge of human anatomy and osteology. Hands-on learning occurs in a laboratory setting that focuses on human remains recovery and laboratory processes required for forensic anthropology work.
At Arizona State University students can earn an online bachelor of arts degree in anthropology. The 120-credit program includes courses in food and culture, globalization, and medical anthropology. Students take 39 classes in 7.5-week terms. Courses include introduction to cultural anthropology; buried cities and lost tribes; and bones, stones, and human evolution. Graduates from this program are prepared for future careers in forensic science or forensic anthropology programs at the graduate level.
Students can evaluate a college or university for programmatic and institutional accreditation.
Students who are choosing forensic anthropology schools and certifications should always check to see what bodies are accrediting those schools first. Programmatic accreditation evaluates the quality of a specific discipline such as forensic anthropology. However, there are no accrediting bodies that are specific to forensic anthropology. While the Forensic Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) offers accreditation to forensic science programs, they do not currently accredit forensic anthropology programs.
In addition to programmatic accreditation, which represents that the school was thoroughly evaluated for faculty, facilities, and curricula, students should research a school’s institutional accreditation affiliation. Some of the accrediting bodies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) include:
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: @racheldrummondyoga).