Forensic science is full of exciting opportunities and solid career options. Most people probably are familiar with the forensic sciences already—in shows such as “Bones,” “CSI,” and “Dexter,” forensic technicians are working all manner of criminal cases, and even though they are highly fictionalized examples, they do provide a sense of what it might be like to work in the field.
Most who pursue training through forensic science technician programs have a keen interest in science, great attention to detail, and an investigative nature. Success typically requires a detective’s instincts and a desire to see justice. Forensic science education builds on these foundational traits to provide instruction in forensic science theory and lab-based training, with courses in specialties like ballistics and blood spatter analysis. Many successful forensic technicians have an undergraduate background in a science field, such as biology or chemistry, and go on to study the specifics of forensic analysis at a graduate level.
Unlike some careers, there is no single path that every forensic technician must take in order to find employment. Because forensic technicians are most often employed by law enforcement agencies, each of which has their own specific requirements for their forensic labs, experience, background, and education requirements can vary widely. However, with a foundation of knowledge of forensic terminology and techniques, aspiring forensic technicians can give themselves the best chance of finding gainful employment.
Online learning is not for everyone. Some learners simply fare better in a face-to-face, campus-based classroom environment. Further, campus-based forensic science programs allow for more hands-on laboratory experience.
Florida International University (FIU) located in Miami, offers a certificate in forensic science program. The certificate is available to students who already hold or are in the process of earning a bachelor’s degree. Many students who enroll in the certificate program have a BS in chemistry, biology, or another science but wish to expand their knowledge of the field of forensic science. The 19-20 credit program is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).
California State University Long Beach (CSULB) offers a non-credit continuing education certificate in basic applied forensic science and crime analysis. The 80-credit program is aimed at preparing students for careers as crime scene investigators. The program consists of eight modules and includes courses such as fingerprints at the crime scene, biological and trace evidence at the crime scene, firearms evidence and scene analysis, and photography for the crime scene investigator. CSULB provides some assistance to qualified graduates of the program to find internships at local crime investigation agencies.
Arcadia University, located in Glenside, Pennsylvania, offers an on-campus master of science (MS) program in forensic science. The comprehensive forensic science program includes classroom training in fields including forensic chemistry, forensic biology, forensic toxicology, and trace analysis. A distinct feature of the program is that it includes both a guaranteed internship experience and extensive hands-on lab facilities such as a crime scene house and a professional forensic laboratory. The 72-credit program includes a minimum of 38 credits of required graduate coursework, 6 to 12 semester hours of research, 6 to 12 semester hours of practicum/internship, and mandatory participation in a symposium/seminar series.
Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond offers a bachelor of science degree in forensic science. Students can choose from three concentrations, all of which could be highly applicable in a career as a forensic technician. Those concentrations are: forensic biology, forensic chemistry, and physical evidence. The program and each concentration within the degree program is accredited by FEPAC.
Earning an online certificate in forensic science or crime scene investigation can be a good boost to a fledgling career as a forensic technician. Many online certificate programs are set up with an ideal student in mind: someone who is already working in the periphery of forensic investigation, and who has already earned a bachelor’s degree. These certificates allow working professionals to continue to work full or part-time while expanding their education in order to specialize in forensics.
Who should enroll in an online certificate program for forensic technicians?
An online certificate program can be useful for a variety of people. For instance, someone who wants to pursue a career as a forensic technician and who has already earned a bachelor of science degree in another field, such as biology or chemistry, may not need to complete another full undergraduate program. Also, the online format of the following programs means flexibility for working professionals and others for whom distance learning is the right choice.
National University, based in Washington, DC, offers an online program that culminates in a graduate certificate in forensic and crime scene investigations. Applicants must already have an undergraduate degree in order to apply and credits earned can be applied to a master of forensic science degree at National University for those who choose to further their studies. This program is designed to expand CSI expertise and is recommended as professional development for current law enforcement officers, attorneys, judges, and prosecutors, forensic technicians, and medical professionals. Courses required for the certificate include forensic pathology, advanced criminalistics, and fingerprint analysis.
The University of Florida School of Pharmacy offers four separate certificates in forensic science fields that could ultimately be quite helpful for aspiring forensic technicians. These certificates focus on:
Unlike some other forensic certificates, these are highly specialized and applicable to different areas where a forensic technician might find work. The certificate programs take just a year to complete and credits are applicable to a UF master’s program for those that meet all other admissions requirements.
Like online certificate programs, an online degree can be a flexible way to earn either a bachelor of science or a graduate-level degree in forensic science in order to pursue a career as a forensic technician.
Who should enroll in an online degree program for forensic technicians?
Applicants to online degree programs for forensic technicians should be advised that many jobs like to see hands-on experience prior to hiring, so finding an online program that also has a practicum or internship component is a good idea when possible.
The University of Central Florida (UCF) offers an online master of science degree in forensic science. The program is created to offer a full, specialized educational experience for both working professionals and full-time students. Students in the program can choose from three concentrations: forensic analysis, forensic biochemistry, and forensic professional. The first two options require a thesis while the third instead culminates in an independent study project.
When a forensic science program has accreditation from the proper agencies, it certifies that it is providing a high standard of education, and one that is geared to help prepare students to be able to achieve in the field of forensic sciences. Accreditation may be obtained for a specific program, such as a forensic science degree, or for the institution as a whole.
Some of the agencies that are able to offer accreditation to forensic technician programs include FEPAC, and the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). FEPAC is the most widely recognized accrediting body for forensic science programs; however, it accredits very few programs. Students interested in pursuing this type of education should consider that FEPAC only accredits those programs focused heavily on lab work and natural sciences, meaning crime scene investigation and other programs may not be eligible for FEPAC accreditation. In this case, students should consider a program’s institutional accreditation status.
Institutional accreditation takes into account the school as a whole. Accrediting bodies for this type of accreditation should be recognized by the US Department of Education and are typically organized by geographical region. For instance, school accreditation may come from an organization such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools or the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Forensic Science Technician Credentialing
Because the title “forensic technician” can include different types of jobs, there is no standard certification for forensic technicians. Rather, some technicians may earn certifications that are specific to their area of focus, or specific to the state or jurisdiction where they work. For instance, the Texas Department of Public Safety allows forensic technicians to apply for voluntary certification. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) has compiled a list of a number of certifications in areas such as criminalistics, forensic toxicology, and bloodstain pattern analysis. A full list of certifications is available on the FSAB website.
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).