The Golden State—home to towering redwoods, crystalline sand beaches, and bustling cities—offers a uniquely favorable educational and professional landscape to aspiring forensic scientists. The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) accredits relatively few programs nationally, and only those in forensic science, so this is not necessarily indicative of California program quality. As of May 2020, there are no FEPAC-accredited programs in the state.
That said, the job prospects for forensic scientists in California (CA) are promising. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), California is the top-employing state for forensic science technicians at 2,150 (BLS May 2019). With openings for this profession expected to grow 14 percent between 2018 and 2028, this figure will likely swell in coming years (BLS 2019). Furthermore, California is among the top five highest paying states for this occupation at an average annual salary of $87,000—39.8 percent more than the national average.
To discover more about becoming a forensic science specialist in California, including occupational demand, featured programs, and accreditation information, read on below.
While there are a number of paths to becoming a forensic scientist or technician in CA, many pursue a four-year degree in the natural sciences prior to joining the profession. Here is one possible route to joining this growing career:
Eureka! California is the most populous state in the U.S. and offers an abundance of employment options for graduates in forensic science.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), California is a top-employing state for forensic science technicians at 2,150 total (May 2019). So what are the top regions? Here is a breakdown of the municipalities with the most forensic science technicians. Note that there is some overlap due to the sprawling nature of some California metro areas:
Not surprisingly, the Los Angeles area is the top-employing region of the state and is among the top-paying regions as well. Here are the highest paying regions for forensic science technicians in California listed with the average annual salaries (BLS May 2019):
With the healthy job outlook for forensic science technicians in California, there are also a number of professional organizations, resources, and networking opportunities in the state. For example, the California Association of Criminalists (CAC) features events, training courses, biannual seminars, study groups, salary surveys, job listings, and a variety of awards. Another organization, the California Association of Crime Laboratory Directors, provides similar offerings with its resource lists, job posts, conferences, and other items of interest to these leaders in the industry.
Not only does California boast one of the healthiest job outlooks of any state, but it also offers a wealth of forensic science programs across a range of levels and subfields. Although none of the California programs are accredited by FEPAC, as of 2020, they remain in good standing with their institutional accrediting agencies:
The University of California at Davis, with its campus located close to the Bay Area, hosts a renowned master of science (M.S.) in forensic science program at its scenic campus. Among its 187 graduates since the program was first approved in 2002, more than 90 percent are employed in crime labs or similar places of work. This program is ideal for working professionals with classes offered during afternoons and late evenings and provides extensive training in the major areas of the field, including DNA analysis, arson investigation, toxicology, impression identification, and other cornerstones.
California State University in Los Angeles has an interdisciplinary master of science (M.S.) in criminalistics program. With coursework in areas such as crime scene reconstruction, forensic microscopy, and trace evidence analysis, students are prepared to conduct original research for their graduate thesis, as well as to take the Forensic Science Assessment Test (FSAT) offered by the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC).
California State University at Long Beach offers a broad-based certificate program in basic applied forensic science and crime analysis, ideal for newcomers to the discipline or working professionals looking to learn the fundamentals. With coursework in investigation techniques and crime scene evaluation, this training program can help qualify people for forensic science assignments within their occupation.
The San Jose State University Department of Justice Studies has a bachelor of science (BS) in forensic science program with distinct concentrations in chemistry or biology. The interdisciplinary courses are designed not only to give students a working knowledge of the field techniques through hands-on, supervised instruction, but also to provide students with an awareness of the intersection of law, ethics, and scientific investigation in criminalistics.
California State University at Stanislaus is located just east of the Bay Area and offers a bachelor of arts (BA) with a forensic science concentration. In addition to the typical criminal justice, CSI, and natural sciences coursework, Stanislaus has a number of tantalizing, interest-based electives such as talking skeletons (case studies in forensic anthropology) and the psychology of criminal behavior.
There are also a number of training and education facilities outside of traditional university systems. For example, the California Criminalistics Institute (CCI) of the California Department of Justice enrolls more than 1000 students per year for training in digital evidence, toxicology, and other areas. Designed to keep forensic science professionals abreast of discoveries and innovative methods, these courses are open to city, country, state, and federal employees in the field.
In addition to the national hybrid and online forensic science programs, there are some California schools which have catered their specialty certificate coursework to meet the needs of distance-based students:
California State University at Fullerton offers a hybrid computer forensics certificate program. Highlights of the training include hands-on experience with EnCase, the paramount standard in digital forensic technology, and instruction in the Forensic Toolkit (FTK), a bundle of technologies used to perform computer forensics investigations.
University of California at Riverside has an online forensic nursing certificate program which teaches students how to summarize medical records for legal proceedings and how to act a medical consultant in a wide range of legal settings. Graduates of this program may go on to work in medical examiners’ offices, law enforcement agencies, social service agencies, or specialized hospital units.
As mentioned above, two forensics colleges in California have programs accredited by the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission.
In addition to discipline-specific program approval, prospective students should look for institutions that have been accredited. In California, the most common accrediting agency is the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), including its Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges (ACCJC).
Finally, for forensic science professionals in California that have achieved academic and experiential milestones in their careers, there are a number of specialty-based individual certification agencies. The prerequisites for certification vary by discipline, but generally involve a competitive application process as well as a test of competence. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) provides a list of 10 organizations which are approved to award individual, professional certification. Some of these specialties include:
|The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Los Angeles||Los Angeles||x||85|
|Grossmont College||El Cajon||x||70|
|Alliant International University-San Diego||San Diego||x||63|
|National University||La Jolla||x||55|
|California Baptist University||Riverside||x||x||29|
|East Los Angeles College||Monterey Park||x||28|
|Riverside City College||Riverside||x||25|
|San Jose State University||San Jose||x||21|
|University of California-Davis (UC Davis)||Davis||x||21|
|The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Irvine||Irvine||x||13|
|California State University-Los Angeles||Los Angeles||x||12|
|Long Beach City College||Long Beach||x||11|
|Southwestern College||Chula Vista||x||5|
|Fresno City College||Fresno||x||5|
|Palomar College||San Marcos||x||4|
|City College of San Francisco||San Francisco||x||4|
|Holy Names University||Oakland||x||4|
|Diablo Valley College||Pleasant Hill||x||1|
School "total forensics grads" data provided by IPEDS (2018) for the 2016-2017 school year, and includes all certificates and degrees awarded for the following programs: Criminalistics and Criminal Science, Forensic Chemistry, Forensic Science and Technology, Forensic Psychology, Cyber/Computer Forensics, and Financial Forensics and Fraud Investigation.
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: @oregon_yogini).