Working in forensic science can be a fascinating and rewarding experience. Forensic science technicians get the opportunity to work closely with law enforcement officials and other criminal justice professionals to solve a wide range of crimes. In order to become a forensic scientist, students should expect to build a strong educational foundation in the sciences, and in the specifics of forensic analysis.
Those who are looking for an opportunity to learn more about forensic science and wanting to work in the Illinois (IL) area will find that they have a few options for both online and on-campus programs. Forensic science professionals working in the state, many of whom work in the Chicago metropolitan area, may be employed with crime labs, police departments, or in private investigations. Students who are considering a career in the field can learn more about resources, potential jobs and fellowships through the website of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS).
People come to the forensic science profession from many different walks of life and at many different points in their careers. However, for the students that know they want to pursue a forensic science career, it is important to start preparing as early as possible to stay competitive in the job market in Illinois and beyond. The following steps are the most common for new forensic science technicians who do not attend the police academy first.
In the U.S. as a whole, the demand for forensic science technicians is expected to grow by 17 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the BLS (2017). In Illinois, demand for this job is expected to grow by 21 percent, according to Career One Stop. The most dense employment opportunities are available in the following regions:
Additionally, Illinois is actually one of the highest paying states for the job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017). The salary ranges for forensic science technicians in Illinois, as reported by BLS in 2017 are:
The average salary for forensic science technicians across the entire U.S. is $61,220, making forensic scientists in IL much better paid, relatively speaking. The city where a technician decides to work can have an impact on how much they can make. The breakdown of the median salary data for cities in IL, as collected by the BLS, is as follows:
Although there are only 50 forensic technicians employed in Springfield, they are clearly very well compensated so competition for jobs in that region is likely to be tough.
Students looking for forensic science schools in Illinois will find a number of options and degree programs. Some of these programs are specifically focused on forensic science, while other schools offer training in related fields such as criminal justice or in niche areas, such as forensic nursing. One way to distinguish forensic science programs from one another is through programmatic accreditation, specifically from the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). Illinois has two programs that have earned the prestigious FEPAC accreditation, as noted below.
The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) provides options to students interested in forensic science. As part of its Biopharmaceutical Sciences program at the College of Pharmacy, the University of Illinois at Chicago offers a master of science (MS) in forensic science with an “emphasis on the integration of analytical and interpretative skills.” The MS program has earned accreditation from FEPAC.
Loyola University Chicago offers a bachelor of science (BS) degree in forensic science through a program that has also been accredited by FEPAC. The 88 credit hour program includes coursework across a spectrum of departments, including anthropology, biology, chemistry, criminal justice, mathematics and physics.
While FEPAC accreditation can certainly be an indicator of a high-quality forensic science program, there are also worthwhile programs in Illinois and elsewhere that have not earned this distinction. Two these programs are listed below:
Lewis University, in Romeoville, offers a bachelor’s of arts degree (BA) in forensic criminal investigation that provides students with the training to work on-site as a field investigator. The school also offers a bachelor’s of science degree in chemistry with a concentration in forensic chemistry for those particularly interested in a career in a lab. In the BS program, students take courses such as advanced forensic chemistry, advanced toxicology, and trace analysis.
Harper College, located in Palatine, IL, offers an associate of applied science (AAS) degree in forensic science. Over the course of 60 credit hours, students will “learn proper techniques of identifying, collecting and packaging physical evidence associated with crime scenes and understanding the importance of proper evidence handling.”
Students interested in online learning in the state can look to Illinois Central College for many online programs, including an online associate of arts (AA) degree in criminal justice. The online program includes courses such as criminal law and introduction to investigation.
Lewis University offers a master’s of science degree in criminal justice that takes place entirely online. The program includes a wide range of training in crime analysis and could be an interesting pathway to a forensic science technician career.
Other national online schools also provide online forensics and CSI programs that may be of interest to students seeking similar programs in Illinois.
As noted above, FEPAC is the main accrediting body for forensic science programs. Since many notable forensic science programs are not FEPAC-accredited, prospective students should also pay attention to institutional accreditation.
Schools can earn accreditation for their school as a whole from organizations such as the Higher Learning Commission. Lewis University, for example, has earned accreditation from the HLC.
Both HLC and FEPAC accreditation indicate that the school has been evaluated for its resources and commitment to the education of its students.
There are no national or state level requirements for forensic science certification. Instead, certification requirements depend on which specialty a technician wants to pursue. Perhaps because there are so few programs that have been approved by the FEPAC, most certifications as approved by the FSAB do not have requirements that applicants must have earned degrees from an accredited program. Instead, those who specialize should be prepared to demonstrate their professional aptitude through testing, transcripts, and experience. Full details on each of the specialty certifications are available from the individual organizations’ websites.
|The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Chicago||Chicago||x||60|
|Loyola University Chicago||Chicago||x||9|
|Shawnee Community College||Ullin||x||x||5|
|University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)||Chicago||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.