Search For Schools


PhD Programs in Forensic Science – Accredited Doctoral Programs

There are various doctoral programs in forensic science for forensics professionals with niche research interests, several years of experience, and an unbreakable work ethic. While most of the programs at this level fall into one of the discipline’s subfields, such as chemistry, clinical psychology, or anthropology, there are a few terminal degree options in forensic science.

Preparation at the PhD level is crucial to furthering the discipline of forensic science for several reasons. First, graduate students and professors are typically responsible for revolutionizing the technologies and methods behind forensic technologies. By illustration, Discover Magazine published a piece on Dr. Robert Hare—one of the pioneers in forensic psychology—and explained that in the 1950s, he was working in uncharted waters. Dr. Hare is well-known for his Psychopathy Checklist (PCL), which he developed in 1980 to identify psychopathic tendencies. While forensic psychology was still in its infancy, this groundbreaking researcher pinpointed 20 items associated with psychopathy, including exhibiting a lack of empathy, impulsivity, a tendency toward short-term relationships, and a failure to take responsibility for one’s actions.

Dr. Hare was also one of the first researchers to use physiological arousal studies to study the disease. People with mental illness generally do not show the same arousal in response to stressful stimuli as control subjects. Dr. Hare is one example of a forensic scientist who pioneered new methods in the subfield of clinical psychology to measure mental illness.

Second, achieving a terminal degree in forensic science may require employment at the highest levels of universities, forensic laboratories, research organizations, and other institutions. Having a PhD can enhance one’s candidacy for leadership and teaching positions and may also increase one’s salary potential.

Lastly, it may be wise to pursue a PhD in forensic science or a subfield to prepare oneself for professional certification. In fact, several credentialing boards of the discipline require applicants to have a doctoral degree, including the American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA), the American Board of Forensic Odontology (ABFO), and the American Board of Forensic Toxicologists (ABFT), specifically for credentialing at the Fellow level. In addition, please visit the forensic science careers page to learn more about the credentialing organizations accredited by the esteemed Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB).

Read on to learn about the wealth of accredited PhD programs in forensic science and the relevant psychology, chemistry, and anthropology subfields.

Featured Forensic Science Graduate Programs
Arizona State University Forensic Science (PSM)Visit Site
Grand Canyon University MS - Forensic ScienceVisit Site
Stevenson University Online Online Master of Forensic Science (MFS)Visit Site
Stevenson University Online Online MFS - Biology ConcentrationVisit Site
Stevenson University Online Online MFS - Chemistry ConcentrationVisit Site

THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST IN Southern New Hampshire University Online MS - Construction Management

Doctoral Degree Programs in Forensics

While few doctoral programs focus exclusively on forensic science, there are many PhD options in the varied subfields. Prospective students in forensics are urged to verify the accreditation status of their institutions and programs. To learn more about accreditation, please read the section at the end.

Doctoral Degree Program Requirements

To gain entry into a PhD program, admissions committees typically call for the following from students:

  • Official transcripts from all undergraduate (and graduate) institutions with a stellar GPA (e.g., >3.5)
  • Proof of having completed specific coursework in a relevant major (e.g., forensic science, natural science, chemistry, biology)
  • A resume with one to two years of professional experience in forensic science
  • Letters of recommendation
  • A personal statement (typically 1,000 words or less)
  • Interview (in-person, phone, or web-based)
  • Competitive Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores
  • GRE Subject Test scores (generally optional)
  • TOEFL scores (for non-native speakers of English only)
  • Proof of professional publications (recommended, but not always required)
  • A background check (especially for competitive internships for program credit)
  • Application fee

Doctoral Programs in Forensic Science

There are currently limited options at the PhD level for forensic science programs, but they are on the rise.

Sam Houston State University

At Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas, students can pursue a doctor of philosophy (PhD) in forensic science. As one of the only programs in the US, this 86-credit-hour program generally takes four to five years of full-time study to complete. Sam Houston’s curriculum comprises core coursework, electives, and dissertation research.

In addition, the degree plan includes classes such as forensic instrumental analysis; trace and microscopical analysis; forensic toxicology; research methods; and forensic laboratory management.

Notably, Sam Houston State University has a master’s degree in forensic science that is FEPAC-accredited.

  • Location: Huntsville, TX
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four to five years

West Virginia University

West Virginia University (WVU), based in Morgantown, is another program that offers a PhD specifically focused on forensic science. According to the school, the program “is strongly science-based and prepares students to work across the foundations of criminalistics.”

WVU is the only school in the nation boasting forensics programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. WVU’s bachelor’s and master’s programs are accredited by the prestigious Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). FEPAC is the gold standard in program approvals for forensic science at the bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

Applicants to the PhD program should possess a bachelor’s or research-based master’s degree from an accredited university or college which includes at least one year of the following courses: fundamentals of chemistry, biology, organic chemistry, physics, or calculus. They should have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 and GRE scores of 300 or better.

Students in this program must successfully complete a minimum of 71 credits. Each student may apply a maximum of 31 credits of research toward the 71-credit requirement and the remaining 40 credits must be earned in graduate-level courses in forensic science. The program also includes a dissertation proposal presentation, an oral defense of the dissertation, and an oral qualifying examination.

The curriculum includes courses such as foundations of criminalistics; forensic informatics; forensic laboratory management; trace evidence examination; research design in forensic science; arson and explosives analysis; analysis of seized drugs; and analytical forensic toxicology.

  • Location: Morgantown, WV
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four to five years

Doctoral Programs in Forensic Psychology

The American Psychological Association’s (APA) American Psychology-Law Society maintains a detailed guide to legal and forensic psychology programs. In addition, there are PhD programs and PsyD and PhD/JD combined options.

Palo Alto University

Palo Alto University (PAU) in California provides a four-year PhD in clinical psychology with a forensic area of emphasis. Core coursework for this specialized PhD includes forensic assessment, an advanced forensic psychology seminar, assessment and treatment of trauma in adults, child and adolescent development, biological psychology, psychopharmacology, adult development and aging, neuropsychological assessment, and cross-cultural issues in psychology.

In addition, by dividing students into small, faculty-guided research groups, PAU ensures that students get empirical instruction in research methods and proper leadership through all phases of developing their dissertations.

  • Location: Palo Alto, CA
  • Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC); American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Three years

Sam Houston University

Sam Houston University provides a 108-credit PhD program in clinical psychology with a forensic emphasis. In addition to clinical training and coursework, the forensic track helps students specialize in applying psychology to legal issues by learning how to perform court evaluations, mental health assessments, court consultations, and more.

The program’s coursework includes classes related to profession-wide competencies, discipline-specific knowledge, and forensic psychology as well as dissertation, thesis, practicum, and internship credits.

Sam Houston’s forensic psychology classes include psychopathology; assessment of personality and psychopathology; assessment of intelligence and achievement; cognitive and affective bases of behavior; law and social psychology; forensic assessment; and mental health law.

  • Location: Huntsville, TX
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four to five years

Doctoral Programs in Forensic Chemistry

Forensic chemistry specializes in forensic science and can provide many career avenues. For example, forensic chemists holding PhDs can go on to work at a university in academia or may end up heading a forensic research lab.

Florida International University

Florida International University (FIU) in Miami is one of the top 25 largest universities in the nation and provides a PhD program in chemistry, forensic sciences, and biochemistry. With over 100 graduate students and a $4 million annual research budget, FIU’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry has a multidisciplinary approach to the forensic science field.

For example, the forensic science track focuses on the environmental impact of trace elements (e.g., mercury and arsenic), an essential line of work primarily in the wake of the Flint, Michigan water crisis. Other projects involve the study of hydrocarbons, airborne particulate matter, free radicals, and organophosphates. The forensic track also focuses on advanced aspects of biomedical research, such as the synthesis of essential molecules, protease enzymes, and how macular pigments are impacted by diet and nutrition.

Notably, Florida International University has a bachelor’s as well as a master’s degree in forensic science that is FEPAC-accredited.

  • Location: Miami, FL
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four to five years

University at Albany

The University at Albany in Albany, New York, offers a PhD in analytical and forensic chemistry. This program is committed to advancing the techniques in forensic analysis at a molecular level and features classes such as advanced forensic chemistry, pharmacology, toxicology, analytical methods, comprehensive biochemistry, experimental methods of organic structure determination, and a forensic drug chemistry internship.

Finally, all students must pass the American Chemical Society graduate exams in organic and physical chemistry and inorganic or biological chemistry.

  • Location: Albany, NY
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Three to five years

University of Central Florida

The University of Central Florida (UCF) in Orlando offers a PhD in chemistry and four concentration areas: materials chemistry; environmental chemistry; biochemistry; and forensic science.

The 72-credit forensic science program requires coursework in forensic analysis of explosives; forensic molecular biology; forensic analysis of ignitable liquids; forensic analysis of biological materials; population genetics and genetic data; frontiers in chemistry; radiochemistry; advanced instrumental analysis; and directed research in forensic science. Students at UCF will also have access to the National Center for Forensic Science (NCFS), a highly regarded research center.

  • Location: Orlando, FL
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Three to five years

Doctoral Programs in Forensic Anthropology

Forensic anthropology is an essential part of the crime-solving goals of all forensic sciences. PhD programs in forensic anthropology will allow students to deepen their understanding of how human remains and other evidence can help in the legal process.

University of Florida

The University of Florida (UF) in Gainesville provides a PhD program in biological anthropology focusing on forensic science. Students receive advanced instruction in recovering human remains and analyzing trauma. Classes include evolutionary biology; human gross anatomy; biostatistics; forensic pathology; biomechanics; archaeology; human development; and radiology and osteology.

UF also boasts a state-of-the-art forensics lab: the C.A. Pound Human Identification Laboratory (CAPHIL), which services other agencies around the state. This school’s multidisciplinary approach to forensic anthropology involves collaboration with departments in entomology, laboratory medicine, and soil and water analyses. Please note that this program is highly competitive, with fewer than 3 percent of applicants gaining admission. Typical admittees have high GPAs (>3.5) and GRE scores are not required for admission.

  • Location: Gainesville, FL
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Three to five years

The University of South Florida

University of South Florida (USF) in Tampa offers a doctoral program in applied anthropology. In addition, students may choose a concentration in archeological and forensic sciences (AFS). The program requires 42 credits beyond the master’s degree. The concentration in archeological and forensic sciences includes courses such as seminars in archaeology; forensic anthropology; advanced methods in forensic anthropology; introduction to forensic sciences; and bioarchaeology.

As the first institution in the US to offer a doctoral-level degree in applied anthropology, USF helps forensic anthropology students prepare for careers in the public and private sectors.

  • Location: Tampa, FL
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Three to five years

International PhD Programs in Forensic Sciences

For forensic science professionals seeking to advance their knowledge while living abroad, there are some PhD programs in forensic science in other countries.

Deakin University

Among them is a doctoral program at Australia’s Deakin University. Deakin, based in Geelong in the state of Victoria, provides a PhD program in chemistry, biotechnology, and forensic sciences.

Key research emphases at Deakin include forensic chemistry, forensic biology, forensic entomology, materials chemistry, and agricultural biotechnology, to name a few.

  • Location: Geelong, Victoria, AUS
  • Accreditation: N/A
  • Expected Time to Completion: Three to five years

Hybrid and Online Graduate Programs in Forensic Science

The American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS) recognizes several online graduate programs related to forensic science. Still, there are no PhDs in forensic science that students can complete 100 percent online. This is mainly due to the importance of being present in a lab to analyze research findings and learn the empirical techniques of forensic science in a clinical context.

Oklahoma State University offers a notable PhD in forensic science program in a hybrid format.

Oklahoma State University

Oklahoma State University offers a PhD in forensic science program which is a highly interdisciplinary research degree involving advanced coursework in several forensic disciplines. Graduates of this PhD will have advanced knowledge conversant in a broader range of forensic disciplines than one with a master’s degree.

Applicants to the program must have a master’s degree. The curriculum includes courses such as survey of forensic sciences; technical aspects of forensic document examination; quality assurance in forensic science; ethics in forensic leadership; fire dynamics in forensic investigations; population genetics for the forensic scientist; advanced forensic laboratory experience; and forensic osteology and anthropology.

  • Location: Tulsa, OK
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years

That said, there are some online programs related to forensic science, including:

University of Massachusetts

University of Massachusetts offers a graduate certificate in forensic criminology that can be completed entirely online. Courses completed in this certificate can be applied toward UMass Lowell’s online master’s degree in criminal justice.

The program’s 12-credit curriculum includes courses such as criminal profiling; forensic psychology; victimology; and sex crimes and offenders.

  • Location: Lowell, MA
  • Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Nine months

University of North Dakota

The University of North Dakota offers an online master’s degree in forensic psychology preparing students for a variety of psychology-related careers in the criminal justice and legal systems. This top-ranked online program is offered entirely online on a part-time basis and can be completed in about two years.

Applicants to the program must have a baccalaureate degree from an accredited college or university with a behavioral or social science major allied with psychology and a cumulative undergraduate grade point average of 3.0 or above. There are no residency requirements or GRE requirements.

Made up of 30 credits, the program includes courses such as psychology and law; research methods in forensic psychology; cognitive psychology; eyewitness testimony memory; diversity psychology; and behavior pathology, among others.

  • Location: Grand Forks, ND
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years

University of Florida

The University of Florida (UF) UF offers four online master’s programs related to forensics which can also be completed as web-based, 12 to 15-credit graduate certificates. These may be ideal for master’s-prepared forensic scientists seeking to enhance their knowledge in a subfield before committing to a PhD program. The four featured subfields at UF include forensic drug chemistry, forensic death investigation, forensic DNA and serology, and forensic toxicology.

  • Location: Gainesville, FL
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Two years

While there are limited distance-based options for PhD programs in forensic science, some advanced programs in the subfield of digital forensics offer web-based coursework.

Sam Houston State University

For example, Sam Houston State University offers a PhD in digital and cyber forensic science. This program is intended for students who have a bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, digital forensics, or computing science, and provides students with the conceptual, theoretical, computational, and methodological skills needed to understand the role of cyber and digital forensic science in post-technological societies.

Students in this program must complete 85 credits beyond the bachelor’s degree. Courses include file system forensics; cyber forensics principles; ethics for digital forensics; operating system forensics; network forensic analysis; mobile device forensics; live system & memory forensics; and computational forensics, among others.

  • Location: Huntsville, TX
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four to five years

Purdue Polytechnic Institute

The Purdue Polytechnic offers a PhD in technology with a specialization in cyber forensics. Students in this specialization will complete all the requirements of the PhD in technology degree along with 15 credits in core cyber forensics courses. Courses include basic computer forensics; advanced research topics in cyber forensics; cyber forensics of file systems; and cyber forensics of malware.

  • Location: West Lafayette, IN
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years

Please visit the online forensic science programs page to learn more about distance-based options in this field.

Common Courses and Requirements for Forensic Science PhD Programs

To complete a PhD program in forensic science, students typically need to complete the following:

  • Advanced didactic coursework (generally 60-85 credit-hours)
  • Internships, externships, or clinical practicums
  • A dissertation on original scientific research
  • Oral examination (i.e., oral defense of one’s thesis or dissertation to a program committee)
  • Other exams (e.g., American Chemical Society graduate-level exams for forensic chemists)

These programs generally take four to six years to complete.

Organized by the popular subfields of forensic science, here are typical classes within each of the doctoral programs discussed above:

PhD in forensic science: forensic instrumental analysis, law and forensic sciences, forensic toxicology, controlled substance analysis, trace and microscopical analysis, ethical conduct, scientific communications, research methods, forensic lab management, forensic analysis of ignitable liquids, population genetics and genetic data analysis, forensic analysis of explosives

PhD in forensic psychology: mental health law, developmental psychopathology, psychological assessment, research methodology, psychometrics, multicultural psychology, effective intervention, theories and methods of diagnosis, experimental design, advanced statistics, consultation and supervision

PhD in forensic chemistry: microscopy, DNA in forensics, applied organic synthesis, chemical thermodynamics, kinetics and catalysis, drug chemistry, computer-assisted data analysis, questioned documents, toxicology, comprehensive biochemistry, advanced synthesis laboratory, toolmark and ballistics analysis, infrared spectroscopy, chromatography, solid phase extraction, medicinal chemistry and pharmacology, techniques in polymer science

PhD in forensic anthropology: forensic entomology, human growth and development, comparative analysis, archaeological methods and techniques, human variation, evolutionary medicine, anthropology of genocide, biophotography

Forensic Science Programmatic and Institutional Accreditation

Aspiring PhD candidates are encouraged to verify the accreditation status of their schools and programs. This program approval process is essential for several reasons. It helps establish a requisite quality level in the faculty, curricula, student outcomes, program resources, and other aspects that can impact a student’s education and experience. Also, graduating from an accredited institution may be a prerequisite to professional credentialing for some organizations.

There are two main types of accreditation: programmatic and institutional.

Programmatic Accreditation

The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is the gold standard for programmatic accreditation. As of early 2024, FEPAC has not accredited any PhD programs. However, it is worthy of note that West Virginia University (WVU) has both FEPAC-accredited bachelor’s and master’s programs. Since WVU’s new PhD in forensic science program will share facilities and faculty with these FEPAC-accredited offerings, prospective students can presume that the doctoral program may also reflect this tradition of excellence.

Also, additional programmatic accreditation agencies may exist depending on one’s intended subfield of forensic science. For example, the American Psychological Association (APA) accredits forensic psychology programs at the doctoral level. Likewise, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accredits graduate programs in forensic accounting.

Institutional Accreditation

There are six leading institutional accreditation agencies, which are organized according to region. They have been recognized by the US Department of Education’s Council of Higher Education Agencies (CHEA). These include:

  • Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC) Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
Chief Content Strategist

Jocelyn Blore

Jocelyn Blore is the chief content officer of Sechel Ventures and the co-author of the Women Breaking Barriers series. She graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley and traveled the world for five years. She also worked as an addiction specialist for two years in San Francisco. She’s interested in how culture shapes individuals and systems within societies—one of the many themes she writes about in her blog, Blore’s Razor (Instagram: @bloresrazor). She has served as managing editor for several healthcare websites since 2015.