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. Even though these characters are highly fictionalized examples, they do provide a sense of what it might be like to work in the field of forensic science.
Most forensic science technician programs students have a keen interest in science, great attention to detail, and an investigative nature. Success in this career 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. Common courses include specialties like ballistics and blood spatter analysis. In addition, many forensic science 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 to find employment. Because law enforcement agencies most often employ forensic technicians, each has specific requirements for their forensic labs, experience, background, and education requirements vary widely.
However, with a solid foundation of knowledge of forensic terminology and techniques, aspiring forensic science technicians can position themselves to find gainful and rewarding employment. Like all fields, opportunities abound for specialization in forensic anthropology, forensic toxicology, and forensic nursing.
Read on to learn more about featured forensic science technician programs, including professional certificates, two-year degrees, four-year degrees, graduate certificates, advanced master’s degrees, and doctoral programs.
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 an undergraduate certificate in forensic science program. The certificate is available to students who already hold a bachelor’s degree in science or earn a bachelor’s degree in chemistry or biological sciences at FIU. This certificate program helps students with scientific backgrounds expand their knowledge of forensic science.
Prerequisite courses include calculus and statistics, while required courses include forensic biology, forensic science internship, and the courts and forensic science. The 19-20 credit certificate program is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).
California State University Long Beach (CSULB) offers law enforcement employees a non-credit continuing education certificate in basic applied forensic science and crime analysis. The 80-hour program is approved by the International Association of Identification (IAI) and 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. In addition, this program’s continuing education hours are approved for certification or recertification through IAI. CSULB also offers a ten-module crime scene investigator (CSI) program for students without law enforcement backgrounds.
The University of North Texas in Denton, Texas, offers a 19-credit undergraduate certificate in forensic science. This program is offered as a degree add-on for biology, biochemistry, and chemistry students. Courses include criminal investigations, biomedical criminalistics, forensic chemistry, and instrumental analysis. Students with this forensic certificate are prepared for entry-level careers in forensic laboratories in local, state, federal, or research laboratories.
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 forensic chemistry, forensic biology, forensic toxicology, and trace analysis.
Distinct features of this program are a guaranteed internship experience and extensive hands-on lab facilities such as a crime scene house and a professional forensic laboratory. In addition, the 72-credit program includes courses in crime scene investigation, forensic serology, molecular biology, a 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.
In addition, the VCU Department of Forensic Science holds a weekly seminar series for faculty, students, and visiting lecturers to present research findings. FEPAC accredits the program and each concentration within the degree program.
The University of Mississippi in Oxford, Mississippi, offers a bachelor of science in forensic chemistry. This 120-credit program includes courses such as forensic DNA analysis, biochemistry, genetics, and introduction to statistical methods.
A key feature of this program is a 10-week required internship with a state or federal crime laboratory to prepare students for real-world professional experience and connections. To graduate from this program, students must complete an original research project, present it to three faculty members, and present at a local, regional, or national conference.
Earning an online certificate in forensic science or crime scene investigation can boost a fledgling career as a forensic technician. Many online certificate programs are set up with an ideal student in mind: someone 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 to specialize in forensics.
An online certificate program can be helpful for a variety of people. For instance, someone who wants to pursue a career as a forensic technician and has already earned a bachelor of science degree in another field, such as biology or chemistry, may not need to complete another entire 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 on-campus and online graduate certificate in forensic and crime scene investigations (FCSI). Applicants must already have an undergraduate degree to apply, and credits earned can be applied towards 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 professional development for current law enforcement officers, attorneys, judges, prosecutors, forensic technicians, and medical professionals. Courses required for the certificate include forensic pathology, advanced criminalistics, and fingerprint analysis.
Florida International University, in tandem with the National Forensic Science Technology Center, offers an online introduction to crime scene investigation certificate. This 16-hour online program is designed for new crime scene investigation professionals and first responders and emphasizes evidence collection and scene processing techniques.
Topics covered include physical evidence, crime scenes, and evidence collection for biological, trace, latent prints, etc. Upon completing and passing the course with a 75 percent or higher, students receive a certificate of completion. In addition, some law enforcement agencies allow credits earned from this program to be applied towards continuing education requirements.
The University of Florida (UF) School of Pharmacy offers four separate online certificates in forensic science fields for aspiring forensic technicians. These 15-credit certificates focus on forensic death investigation, forensic DNA and serology, forensic toxicology, forensic drug chemistry.
Unlike some other forensic certificates, these are highly specialized and applicable to different areas where a forensic technician might find work. In addition, the online certificate programs take just a year to complete, and credits are relevant to a UF master’s program for students who 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 to pursue a career as a forensic technician.
Applicants to online degree programs for forensic technicians should be advised that many jobs like to see hands-on experience before hiring, so finding an online program with a practicum or internship component is a good idea.
Arizona State University offers an online bachelor of science in forensic science. In this 120-credit online program, students learn professional forensic science knowledge through didactic classes and get hands-on experience to prepare for local, state, and federal law enforcement work.
In addition, courses include the history of genocide, sacred crimes: religion and violence, fundamentals of genetics laboratory, and general organic chemistry. High school students applying to this program should demonstrate strong academic backgrounds in math, science, and English.
University of Central Florida (UCF) offers an online master of science degree in forensic science. The program consists of 32 to 34 credits and is created to provide a specialized educational experience for both working professionals and full-time students. Students in the program can choose from three concentrations in forensic analysis, forensic biochemistry, and forensic professional. The first two options require a thesis, while the third culminates in an independent study project.
West Virginia University has one of the oldest and most reputable forensic sciences departments in the nation and offers an online forensic and investigative science (FIS) minor program. This program is designed as an add-on to a bachelor’s degree program and covers fundamental issues and applications in forensic science.
In this 21-credit program, students take courses in forensic identification, crime scene investigation, and professional ethics in forensic science. Electives include biological evidence, expert testimony, and the principles of forensic photography.
When a forensic science program has accreditation from the appropriate agencies, it certifies that it is providing a high standard of education, 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 the institution.
The agency that offers accreditation for forensic technician programs is the Forensic Education Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). 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 Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), the national voice for accreditation and quality assurance for 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.
Because the title “forensic technician” can include different jobs, there is no standard certification for forensic technicians. Instead, some technicians may earn credentials 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 a list of several certifications in areas such as criminalistics, forensic toxicology, and bloodstain pattern analysis. A complete list of certificates is available on the FSAB website.
|Featured CSI & Forensic Science Programs
|BSCJ - Crime Scene Investigation
|Grand Canyon University
|MS - Forensic Science
|Arizona State University
|Forensic Science (BS)
|Arizona State University
|Forensic Science (PSM)
|Stevenson University Online
|Online Master of Forensic Science (MFS)
|Stevenson University Online
|Online Master's in Crime Scene Investigation
|University of West Alabama (Campus)
|Chemistry Comprehensive - Forensic Chemistry (BA/BS)
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.