Florida, famous for its citrus, theme parks, and sunshine, is the second-largest employer of forensic science technicians. Moreover, the Sunshine State has plenty of fodder for forensic imagination. For example, the popular television series Dexter features a fictional anti-hero protagonist based in Miami: forensic blood spatter analyst by day and murderer of serial killers by night.
In the real world, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that Florida boasts the second-highest number of forensic science technicians among all states in the country, with 2,260 currently employed (BLS May 2022). Also, the BLS estimates that between 2021 and 2031, openings for forensic science technicians nationally will swell by 11 percent, which is much higher than the average 5 percent growth expected across all occupations during that period (BLS 2022).
Florida is notorious for having some of the country’s most gruesome, bizarre, or perversely creative criminal cases worldwide. By illustration, the Huffington Post has a section dedicated to “Weird Florida.” But before heading out to see just how exciting the swamp-filled crime-fighting landscape can be in Florida, check out how to become a forensic scientist in this state, as well as relevant job outlook statistics, salaries, program details, and professional certification information.
There are several paths to becoming a forensic scientist for those intrigued by the prospect of the strange and amusing world of forensics in Florida. Some of these professionals may start at a police academy or in law enforcement. Others jump straight into a college program to train. There also are many ways to prepare as a forensic scientist specializing in evidence collection, analysis, and event reconstruction.
According to CareerOneStop (2022), 31 percent of forensic science technicians in Florida hold a bachelor’s degree. Given the discipline’s emphasis on the scientific method and fields such as biology (e.g., DNA analysis) and chemistry (e.g., toxicology), it’s no surprise that many of these crime solvers hold at least bachelor’s degrees.
Here is one common path to becoming a forensic scientist in Florida:
Following the steps above, aspiring forensic scientists in Florida may seek jobs in various contexts, such as police crime labs, psychiatric hospitals, and government at all levels, to name a few.
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There’s excellent news for aspiring forensic scientists and technicians in Florida. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are 2,260 currently working, the second most of any state in the nation (BLS May 2022).
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2021) projected an 11 percent increase in openings for forensic science technicians around the country between 2021 and 2031, much faster than the average growth expected across all occupations during that period (5 percent).
The outlook is even brighter for residents of Florida. Projections Central (2023) found that demand for forensic science technicians in Florida, specifically, is expected to grow 14.6 percent between 2020 and 2030.
So what are the top-employing regions for forensic science technicians in Florida?
It’s no surprise that job opportunities are concentrated in urban areas. Here is a breakdown of the two top-employing regions in Florida (BLS May 2021):
It’s clear to see why the Showtime hit series “Dexter” about the life and times of a blood-spatter analyst who moonlights as a serial killer takes place in Miami, one of the top-employing and top-paying regions for forensic scientists in the state.
Forensic science degrees can be versatile and graduates in Florida may go into a variety of careers such as medical examiners, forensic engineers, crime scene examiners, crime laboratory analysts, physical anthropologists, document examiners, behavior scientists, criminal profilers, and digital analysts.
The training, experiential requirements, and education may vary for these professions. The American Academy of Forensic Scientists (AAFS) provides a wealth of resources for these professionals, including a list of networking organizations, journal articles, continuing education opportunities, and support for the Young Forensic Scientists Forum (YFSF), a group committed to the betterment of the next generation of crime-solvers.
Finally, the ForensicsColleges blog offers several in-depth career articles for graduates in forensic science in its How to Become series, with step-by-step instructions to becoming a profiler, crime scene technician, forensic psychologist, forensic accountant, detective, and more.
Not only are forensic science technician occupations among the fastest growing in Florida, but the state also employs the second most workers in this field relative to other US states. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2022) reported that there were 2,260 forensic science technicians in the state.
Furthermore, BLS found that the salary figures are somewhat lower than the national salary ranges. As proof of point, the United States employs 17,590 forensic science technicians with an average annual salary (mean annual wage) of $69,260. In FL, the average salary in this field is $60,990.
In more detailed terms, here is a breakdown of the salary percentiles among all forensic science technicians in the country compared with those in Florida (BLS May 2022):
|Number of Forensic Science Technicians Employed||17,590||2,260|
|Annual Mean Wage||$69,260||$60,990|
The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, PayScale (April 2023), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the forensic science techs reporting their annual salaries, Payscale found these percentiles for the US:
Although the average Florida wages for forensic science techs were somewhat lower, FL also has a cheaper cost of living than many states in the country. As proof of point, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2023) found that FL is the 33rd most affordable in the country, boasting particular savings in transportation costs. Prospective forensic science technicians should keep this in mind.
Not surprisingly, the wages for forensic science technicians tended to vary by region within the state of Florida as well. The 420 forensic science technicians in Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL earned the highest average salary of $81,940.
There are several quality forensics programs in Florida, many of which are accredited by the Forensic Science Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). Using standards such as facility quality, curriculum comprehensiveness, and student outcomes, FEPAC is the premier organization that evaluates forensic programs.
Florida International University in Miami boasts a distinct FEPAC-accredited certificate in forensic science, coupled with either a bachelor of science (BS) in chemistry or biology. This 16-credit interdisciplinary program pays thought to both the didactic and empirical (i.e., hands-on) underpinnings of an understanding of forensic science. With classes such as principles of forensic biology and a supervised internship in facilities nearby, graduates are prepared for an entry-level career in a forensic laboratory.
FIU also offers several other graduate degrees in forensic science. The master of science in forensic science comprises 32 credits and includes coursework in forensic chemistry; forensic biology; and forensic analysis. This MS degree prepares students for careers in state, national, and local forensic laboratories and also serves as preparation for doctoral instruction.
Notably, Florida International University also offers a professional science master’s in forensic science that includes online courses coupled with practical skills including hands-on learning and a capstone internship. Details of this program are profiled in the hybrid and online section below.
Florida Gulf Coast University offers a master of science program in forensic studies, allowing students to gain academic credentials and advanced knowledge. This master’s degree program offers comprehensive training and education in two applied research concentrations: human identity and trauma analysis and forensics behavioral analysis.
This 43 to 44-credit program includes courses such as human osteology; social constructs of crime; advanced quantitative research; forensic psychology; human trafficking; forensic analysis of juries; research in violent behavior; and forensic anthropology.
Palm Beach Atlantic University offers a bachelor of science degree in forensic science that opens the door for students to a career in criminal justice as forensic scientists and trains them to present their findings as expert witnesses in a court of law. Graduates of this program are prepared for roles such as analytical chemists, detectives, forensic scientists, scientific laboratory technicians, and toxicologists.
As part of this 120-credit program, students will delve into topics such as forensic investigation; introduction to forensic science; instrumental analysis; analytical chemistry; organic chemistry; genetics; molecular biology; general chemistry; medicinal chemistry; forensic psychology; and a forensic science internship.
The University of Central Florida’s National Center for Forensic Science in Orlando hosts an abundance of programs in the field, including a bachelor of science (BS), a master of science (MS), a digital forensics master of science (MS), and a PhD program, all interdisciplinary work with solid foundations in chemistry or biomedical science.
The BS in forensic science is FEPAC-accredited and offers two distinct tracks: chemistry and biochemistry. The chemistry track features the application of modern chromatographic, spectroscopic, and microanalytical techniques. The biochemistry track has a heavy DNA focus on crime scene reconstruction and criminal justice. Both tracks feature in-depth laboratory work that prepares graduates for forensic science positions in local, state, and federal law enforcement.
The program’s core curriculum includes courses such as biochemistry; applied physical chemistry; introduction to forensic science; forensic microscopy; trace evidence; forensic analysis of controlled substances; forensic biochemistry; forensic science in the courtroom; and forensic crime scene investigation.
The University of Tampa offers a bachelor of science (BS) in forensic science that FEPAC has fully accredited. In addition to rigorous coursework, students of this program get opportunities to receive hands-on forensic training in internships, with sites ranging from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Crime Laboratory in Tampa, the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner, and Field Forensics, Inc.
This 86-credit program includes courses such as the survey of forensic sciences; organic chemistry; fire debris and firearms; analytical chemistry; forensic chemistry; forensic toxicology; professional practice in forensic science; genetics; crime scene investigation; forensic DNA analysis; and biochemistry.
In addition to the FEPAC-accredited Florida forensic science programs above, other high-quality forensics programs are available. Here are some other reputable options:
The Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, a scenic city on the east-central coast of the state, has a unique bachelor of arts (BA) in forensic psychology program. Students can intern with the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) to prepare them for future careers with real-world practice.
Students also participate in faculty research teams that tackle forensic psychology’s most challenging current issues, which prepare graduates for master’s degree programs and career advancement. Featuring low student-to-faculty ratios and faculty from diverse backgrounds, this program also emphasizes problems related to child advocacy for those who plan to work in pediatric forensic psychology.
This 120-credit program includes courses such as introduction to psychology; personal and professional development; survey of forensic psychology; introduction to American criminal justice; integrated theories of crime; forensic behavior investigation and identification; and legal psychology.
The CSI Academy of Florida in Alachua, just outside of Gainesville, may be a desirable option to law enforcement personnel, aspiring private investigators, and newcomers to the field. Rather than a traditional degree program, these a la carte classes let students pick and choose their specific training regimen.
Focusing 70 percent of each course on hands-on instruction with experienced forensics professionals, the CSI Academy offers classes such as advanced bloodstain pattern analysis, courtroom testimony, and human remains recovery. Students can choose from 40-hour, three-day, two-day, or one-day courses depending on their time constraints and career interests.
Classes are taught by IAI (International Association for Identification)-certified instructors and can be tailored to specific group needs. Topics include alternate light sources, latent print techniques, courtroom testimony, and human remains recovery.
Apart from the ones mentioned above, there are several more programs related to forensic science. These include:
In addition to online forensic programs all over the country, there are a few predominantly web-based options within the state of Florida:
Miami Dade College offers a two-year online associate’s degree in crime scene technology. This 60-credit program prepares students to become forensic identification specialists. Graduates are prepared for entry-level work in forensic science law enforcement with local, state, and federal agencies or can continue their studies and receive a BAS in public safety management.
Courses include human behavior in criminal justice; introduction to criminal justice; forensic science; crime scene technology; criminal investigation; basic fingerprinting; and the American federal government.
Florida International University offers a 16-month cohort-based program that includes online courses, hands-on learning opportunities, and a capstone internship. For individuals working full-time, the program also includes a distance learning opportunity. This innovative program enables graduates to pursue advanced training in forensics while developing crucial management skills.
Made up of 33 credits, the program includes courses such as forensic analysis; forensic biology; forensic chemistry; leadership & decision making; chemistry & analysis of drugs; public finance & budgetary process; and organizational behavior.
Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee has programs in criminology at all levels, including online bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Both programs require no on-campus visits.
The master’s degree program consists of 36 credits and includes courses such as survey criminological theories; survey of criminal justice theory & research; computer applications in criminal justice; research methods in criminology; applied statistics in criminology; criminal law, procedures & individual rights; comparative criminology & criminal justice; and victimology.
The student testimonials show that graduates of FSU’s program have gone on to become police chiefs, college program directors, and legal advocates for non-profits, to name a few of the opportunities available. In addition, graduates from the bachelor’s program are prepared for forensic science roles. At the same time, master’s degree holders can work in various positions in criminal justice or teach community college courses.
The University of Florida (UF) offers reputable degree programs in forensic science. The American Distance Education Consortium (ADEC) gave the online forensic science program the Award for Excellence from the American Distance Education Consortium (ADEC). As the largest forensics college in the world, UF’s faculty has extensive experience training its students in toxicology, DNA and serology, and drug chemistry, to name a few of the class modules.
Boasting four master’s degrees and four certificate programs, this school awards credentials in a wide range of specialties such as forensic DNA & Serology; forensic death investigation; and forensic drug chemistry.
The master of science degree in forensic science comprises 32 credits and includes courses such as biological evidence and serology; principles of forensic science; forensic toxicology; applied statistics for data analysis; forensic toxicology; crime scene investigation; and biosecurity and microbial forensics.
Florida Atlantic University (FAU) in Boca Raton has an online executive master’s program in accounting with a concentration in forensics. Exploring white-collar crimes such as money laundering and fraud, this two-year program boasts a diverse student body from 35 states and several international students.
The GMAT is not required for admission, and optional live lectures allow students to attend classes on-campus on weekends or live to stream them online. The prestigious Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accredits the FAU School of Accounting Executive Programs (SOAEP).
As mentioned above, the primary accrediting body for forensics colleges in Florida is the Forensic Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). While graduating from one of these programs can indicate merit to future employers or graduate program admissions committees, completing a FEPAC-accredited program to practice forensic science in Florida is not necessary.
Before enrolling in a program, it’s wise to ensure that a school has some recognition from a regional accreditation organization such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), the leading regional accrediting body for colleges in Florida.
Finally, some forensic science professionals choose to get certified. For example, their field. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) offers a range of individual certifications. This process not only brings aspiring forensic scientists recognition for their competence but can also serve as a valuable networking resource. Some of these certifying agencies include:
|Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale||Fort Lauderdale||x||x||121|
|St Petersburg College||Clearwater||x||x||99|
|Palm Beach State College||Lake Worth||x||91|
|Florida Gulf Coast University||Fort Myers||x||55|
|Miami Dade College||Miami||x||x||49|
|University of Central Florida (UCF)||Orlando||x||x||31|
|Nova Southeastern University||Fort Lauderdale||x||x||29|
|Florida International University (FIU)||Miami||x||26|
|Florida State University (FSU)||Tallahassee||x||23|
|Florida Institute of Technology (FIT)||Melbourne||x||16|
|Broward College||Fort Lauderdale||x||14|
|Pensacola State College||Pensacola||x||x||13|
|Eastern Florida State College||Cocoa||x||x||12|
|Florida SouthWestern State College||Fort Myers||x||10|
|Hillsborough Community College||Tampa||x||9|
|Saint Leo University||Saint Leo||x||8|
|Lynn University||Boca Raton||x||6|
|Palm Beach Atlantic University||West Palm Beach||x||5|
|The University of Tampa||Tampa||x||5|
|Florida State College at Jacksonville||Jacksonville||x||x||1|
|Gulf Coast State College||Panama City||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.
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.