Working in forensic science can be a fascinating and rewarding experience. Forensic science technicians can work closely with law enforcement officials and other criminal justice professionals to solve various crimes. To become forensic scientists, students should expect to build a strong educational foundation in the sciences, and in the specifics of forensic analysis.
Students can choose to take different paths toward this exciting career, but each involves a commitment to academics and hands-on training. The earlier someone starts down the path, the more likely they will be able to find employment. Some forensic scientists even start pursuing a career as early as high school.
So what can a person expect from a forensics college in Illinois? O*NET (2023)—a data group sponsored by the US Department of Labor—reports that forensic science technicians must be trained in a variety of skills, including liaising with medical, law enforcement, and other professionals; collecting, analyzing, and carefully documenting evidence from crime scenes; testifying as expert witnesses in court, and performing laboratory tests on multiple types of evidence. It’s important to note that there are many specialties in forensics such as toxicology, criminalistics, cybercrime, forensic accounting, document examination, DNA analyses, ballistics, arson investigations, and other subfields.
Those who are looking for an opportunity to learn more about forensic science and want 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 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 need to attend the police academy first.
There is excellent news for aspiring forensics professionals in IL: forensic science is on the rise. As proof of point, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022) projects that openings for forensic science technicians will increase 11 percent between 2021 and 2031, much faster than the growth rate expected for all occupations during that period (5 percent). And this expected addition of 2,000 positions nationally is only one career possibility for people trained in forensic science.
The outlook is even brighter for residents of IL. Projections Central (2023) found that demand for forensic science technicians in Illinois is expected to grow 16.7 percent between 2020 and 2030.
Following the completion of a degree program and specialized training, people with degrees in forensics may pursue jobs as laboratory scientists, crime scene investigators, medical examiners, toxicologists, cybercrime analysts, forensic engineers, criminal profilers, forensic accountants, odontologists, forensic nurses, arson investigators, document examiners, and more.
There is an abundance of places of employment for aspiring professionals in forensics. The BLS states that 62 percent of forensic science technicians work for the local government. Additionally, depending on a person’s specialty, (s)he may work in pharmaceutical companies, private laboratories, biomedical research organizations, ecological research institutes, law firms, private investigation offices, insurance companies, and other businesses seeking forensic expertise. Although many forensics specialists work during normal business hours, due to the nature of the profession, those who work in criminal investigations may be called upon to work evenings, weekends, and holidays.
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.
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In addition to a strong occupational outlook, Illinois boasts salaries that are higher than the national average. According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics (May 2022), the 17,590 forensic science technicians across the nation earned an average annual salary of $69,260. In comparison, the 330 forensic science technicians working in Illinois earned $91,380 per year (the third-highest in the nation).
In more detailed terms, here is a breakdown of the salary percentiles among all forensic science technicians in the country compared with those in IL (BLS May 2022):
|Number of Forensic Science Technicians Employed
|Annual Mean Wage
*These repeated figures in the BLS data are likely errors.
The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, PayScale (May 2023), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the forensic science techs reporting their annual salaries, Payscale found these percentiles for the US:
When considering earning potential, the cost of living is a key piece of the puzzle. Forensic science technicians in IL fared much better than people in this industry nationwide. What makes this salary point particularly interesting is the fact that Illinois is one of the cheaper states to live in across the country. The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2023) found that IL was the 16th most affordable state, with below-average costs for everything except for transportation.
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). As noted below, Illinois has two programs that have earned the prestigious FEPAC accreditation.
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.
Admission requirements to the program include a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA, GRE scores, three letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and TOEFL, IELTS, or PTE scores for international students.
Comprising 38 credits, the program includes courses such as forensic science: survey and foundations; forensic analysis of biological evidence; forensic chemistry and trace evidence analysis; physical pattern evidence analysis; forensic drug analysis and toxicology; and expert witness testimony and courtroom demeanor.
Loyola University Chicago offers a bachelor of science (BS) degree in forensic science through a program that has also been accredited by FEPAC. Delivering a broad knowledge base, the program covers the three major areas in forensic science laboratories: biology-DNA, chemistry, and pattern. Students pursuing this degree gain a wide range of skills and knowledge in biology and chemistry and develop an understanding of the criminal justice system and the rules of evidence.
The 86- to 89-credit program includes coursework across a spectrum of departments, including anthropology, biology, chemistry, criminal justice, mathematics, and physics. Some of the courses included in the curriculum are forensic science ethics and professional practice; expert witness testimony and courtroom demeanor; physical organic chemistry for the forensic sciences; pattern evidence; forensic drug chemistry; forensic biology; forensic toxicology; and forensic molecular biology.
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. These include:
Lewis University, in Romeoville, offers a bachelor of arts degree (BA) in forensic criminal investigation that provides students with the training to work on-site as field investigators. This 128-credit program includes courses such as introduction to forensic biology; chemistry of hazardous materials; introduction to forensic chemistry; introduction to criminal justice; court systems and probation; criminology; and criminal investigation.
The school also offers a bachelor of science degree in chemistry with a concentration in forensic chemistry for those particularly interested in a career in a lab. In the 128-credit BS program, students take courses such as advanced forensic chemistry; advanced toxicology; trace analysis; radiochemistry; chemical thermodynamics; introduction to forensic trace evidence; forensic fiber identification; and analysis of low explosives.
Harper College, located in Palatine, IL, offers an associate of applied science (AAS) degree in forensic science. Over the course of 60 credits, students will “learn proper techniques of identifying, collecting and packaging physical evidence associated with crime scenes and understanding the importance of proper evidence handling.”
The curriculum includes courses such as fire behavior and combustion; introduction to criminal justice; introduction to forensic anthropology; fundamentals of chemistry; forensics; hazardous materials; criminal procedures; and leadership and ethics for law enforcement.
Harper College also offers a 17-credit forensic science technician certificate which is designed specifically for students in the public safety field interested in advancing their forensic science instruction.
Graduates of these programs will be ready to take up positions such as forensic technicians, arson investigators, and property and identification custodians for federal agencies, local law enforcement and fire services, local, regional and national crime labs, and in private industries such as insurance companies.
Jointly administered by the Department of Anthropology and the School of Integrative Biology, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign’s forensic science certificate allows undergraduates to obtain recognition for completing courses that provide foundational coursework in anthropology and biology to prepare for additional study in forensic sciences.
Graduates may be prepared for careers in forensic anthropology, forensic pathology, crime scene investigation, death investigation, forensic genetics, forensic biology, forensic toxicology, forensic entomology, and forensic botany.
This 9 to 15-credit program includes courses such as forensic anthropology; human osteology; advanced skeletal biology; criminal justice; plant systematics; biogeography; and general mycology.
Kishwaukee College offers several associate degree programs in criminal justice and numerous certificate options including an associate in applied science degree in criminal justice with an emphasis in forensic science. This program provides students with instruction and learning experiences in the technical areas of forensic science, allowing them to develop the necessary skills for this specialty area of law enforcement.
Consisting of 60 credits, the program includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice; criminal law; criminalistics; ethics for criminal justice; physical anthropology; criminal investigation; constitutional law for police; narcotics and drug enforcement; and criminology.
Governors State University offers a bachelor of arts program in criminal justice that helps students in exploring the causes of crime by understanding several theoretical approaches. This program explores how crime impacts multiple social groups within society, particularly, class, gender, and race. Graduates of this program will be provided with the knowledge and skills needed to prepare for a career in corrections, law enforcement, advocacy, or security.
Comprising 120 credits, the program includes courses such as foundations of social justice; foundations of restorative justice; criminological inquiry & research design; exploring ethics in the justice system; theories of crime and deviance; comparative international criminal justice systems; and victims and the justice system.
Students in this program will also have the option to choose a concentration in restorative justice, a relational model founded on practices and principles that focus on addressing inclusion, reintegration, and harm.
Shawnee Community College offers an associate of applied science degree in criminal justice providing students with sufficient competencies and background required for employment in the law enforcement profession.
The program consists of 62 credits and includes courses such as criminal law; ethics in criminal justice; criminal behavior; introduction to criminal justice; introduction to victimology; juvenile justice; criminal investigations; introduction to corrections; introduction to terrorism; computer forensics and investigation; and a criminal justice internship.
Notably, Shawnee Community College also has a one-year 30-credit criminal justice certificate.
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. With this degree, graduates can either pursue job opportunities in criminal justice or transfer to a four-year college or university. Upon completion, they can be police officers, correctional officers, youth counselors, security officers, and probation officers.
This 60- to 64-credit online program includes courses such as American national government; introduction to the criminal justice system; introduction to corrections; juvenile delinquency; introduction to investigation; criminal law; and an introduction to criminology.
Lewis University offers a master 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. This online program provides an academic experience that affirms the practical application and theories of the professional administration of equity, public protection, and fairness.
The program’s curriculum helps students develop the skills and knowledge needed for performing tasks and delivering services in careers that ensure public safety, protect vulnerable populations, and promote social justice. Made up of 128 credits, the program includes courses such as juvenile justice system; introduction to corrections; criminology; court systems and probation; introduction to criminal justice; domestic violence; elements of criminal law; criminal procedure; and law enforcement.
Graduates can take up roles such as corrections officers, private investigators, forensic evidence technicians, security professionals, police officers, and probation or parole officers, among many other such roles.
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 accreditations 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 specializing should be prepared to demonstrate their professional aptitude through testing, transcripts, and experience. Full details on each specialty certification are available from the individual organizations’ websites.
|The Chicago School of Professional Psychology at Chicago
|Loyola University Chicago
|Shawnee Community College
|University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC)
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.
Farheen Gani writes about forensics schools across the United States, and has covered topics such as forensic chemistry and forensic science and biochemistry since 2018. She writes about healthcare, technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).