Many people have heard of forensic scientists, such as Michael Baden and Henry Lee, who have testified in famous cases or provided professional input and insight. While forensic scientists often work for governmental agencies, some may go on to gain such expertise that they work as consultants or even as experts who provide independent counsel and review. To enter the forensic science field, education is typically required because students need to become well-versed in multiple fields of science, particularly biology and chemistry, as well as criminal justice and the law.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences and a master’s degree in forensic science are common paths to enter the field. While a master’s degree may give students the advanced science skills they need, several bachelor’s degree programs are specifically geared toward forensic science. Forensic science training typically prepares students with the knowledge and skills needed for working in a crime lab. There, they will need to be able to analyze various evidence, ranging from blood samples to small clothing particles, and know how to preserve and protect those samples.
Another path in forensic science is to pursue crime scene investigation (CSI). This option often entails working at and around crime scenes, collecting and delivering evidence, and documenting and recording details found at a scene. A bachelor’s degree is often needed to enter the field, but more often, people obtain training by gaining experience on the job, particularly if they are already in law enforcement.
Students in Iowa (IA) will find a number of programs, both on-campus and online programs that will give them the foundational skills they need to earn an entry-level position as a forensic science technician and begin down the path of this exciting and in-demand career.
Read below to discover more about becoming a forensic science specialist in Iowa, including occupational demand, featured programs, and accreditation information.
Since education is an important and potentially costly component of starting a forensic science career, it may be worthwhile to consider the potential financial gains of going into this type of program. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forensic science can be a high-paying field relative to other occupations. The mean nationwide average for workers in the field was $69,260 as of May 2022 (BLS). Of note, this is higher than the $61,900 mean for all occupations across the country (BLS May 2022), suggesting that forensic science technicians can make higher than average incomes.
What’s even more affirming is that forensic science technicians working in Iowa earned mean annual wages of $71,910, according to May 2022 BLS data. In Iowa, the mean average wage for all occupations was $53,520, showing again that forensic science technicians have significant financial opportunities.
Job opportunities across the U.S. for forensic science technicians are also good, with demand expected to grow by 11 percent from 2021 to 2031, and in Iowa specifically by 12.5 percent (Projections Central 2020 to 2023). This is significant job growth, meaning Iowa students may have ample opportunities when they graduate from either undergraduate or graduate programs.
As mentioned above, the state boasts higher-than-average wages for forensic science technicians. 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 IA, the average salary in this field is $71,910.
In more detailed terms, here is a breakdown of the salary percentiles among all forensic science technicians in the country compared with those in Iowa (BLS May 2022):
|Number of Forensic Science Technicians Employed||17,590||90|
|Annual Mean Wage||$69,260||$71,910|
The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, PayScale (July 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 IA fared much better than people in this industry nationwide. What makes this salary point particularly interesting is the fact that Iowa is one of the cheaper states to live in across the country. The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2023) found that IA was the 7th most affordable state, with below-average costs for everything except for transportation.
Individuals who want to enter the forensic science field should plan on attending college. Understanding how to work in a lab is essential, as is knowing how to handle fluids and other evidence to prevent contamination or damage. One of the most common paths to enter the forensic science field includes the following steps:
Four-year programs can be found either in the natural sciences, such as biology and chemistry, or specifically in forensic science. Choices may be driven by the types of programs near students if they are interested in staying where they already live and attending an on-campus program. A bachelor’s degree program often includes components of criminal justice, which ties in closely to the career. Thirty-one percent of people in the U.S. working as forensic science technicians have earned a bachelor’s degree, reports Career One Stop.
A master’s degree in forensic science may be particularly pertinent for a student with an undergraduate degree in the natural sciences. An advanced program allows students to focus their science learning specifically on the domain of the forensic sciences.
Completing a master’s degree may also be an advantage when seeking employment. The BLS notes that many of the best job opportunities are available to those with both an undergraduate and a graduate degree. Many master’s degrees take two or five years to complete, depending on whether you are attending full- or part-time. You might also find graduate-level certificates to pursue, which are generally four to six courses and can often later be applied toward a full master’s degree.
Obviously, this advanced degree is not right for everyone. Still, it can be pivotal for those seeking top-of-the-line career opportunities, whether working for yourself, managing or directing a lab, or even instructing in forensic science at a university. This is truly niche learning, as Career One Stop points out that only 4 percent of forensic science technicians have a professional or doctoral degree.
A final step in your career path can include seeking board certification. Certification is not available in every niche field, but for those that do offer certification, it can be an important tool for career advancement. An organization that provides more details about specific forensic science disciplines and the education and certification available in each is the American Academy of Forensic Scientists (AAFS), which also does accreditation of forensic science programs through its Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) arm.
Properly overseeing a crime scene is of utmost importance when it comes to presenting evidence that stands up in a court of law. Securing a crime scene might be one of the most important steps a crime scene investigator does, followed by collecting physical evidence and ensuring it is properly labeled and stored. Some paths for entering the field of crime scene investigation include:
Although a four-year degree or on-the-job training are typical entry points into CSI, many certificates and associate degrees are available to provide foundational knowledge. These may be useful in obtaining entry-level criminal justice careers or completing a bachelor’s degree. A certificate program usually takes a year to complete, while an associate degree can take two or more, depending on whether a student attends classes full-time.
Often, CSI degrees are offered as bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice with a specialization in CSI. Students might take classes such as criminal law, law enforcement communications, and organized crime. Internships or other hands-on experiences are also likely to be part of one of these four-year programs.
Many individuals learn about CSI on the job, working as a law enforcement official or becoming a member of a specific department. In rural areas, less formal education may be required to obtain a CSI position, with people being hired due to years of on-the-job experience.
Upon graduation from an academic program or learning on the job, individuals may want to seek CSI certification through organizations such as the International Association for Identification (IAI). The IAI offers three specific certifications in CSI and others, including forensic photography, forensic video, and ten-print fingerprint certification.
Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport are some of the largest cities in Iowa, with a combined population of more than 400,000. These cities would be good places to look for jobs simply because there may be more law enforcement and criminal justice agencies there, but there also could be more crime demanding more CSI or forensic science services.
The identification department of the City of Des Moines Police Department is open 24 hours a day. It provides discovery, documentation, preservation, and analysis services while employing a wide range of people, including several law enforcement officials, a multitude of civilian technicians, and a senior clerk, making this department one place to look for a CSI job. Others could include:
Interestingly, each of these is a governmental agency. This is not far off the mark regarding the kinds of agencies offering employment, as the BLS reports that every nine out of ten forensic science technicians are employed by a state or local agency. These positions can vary but include employment in crime labs, morgues, medical examiner’s offices, and police departments.
The AAFS job board is another place to look for opportunities. Searches can be performed by state and also by title. The Iowa Division of the International Association for Identification may also be a good networking source.
Several forensic science programs are available in Iowa from the undergraduate to graduate level. The state has more campus-based options than others, making it a good place to seek on-campus learning.
Unfortunately, as of 2023, none of the programs in Iowa have earned FEPAC accreditation. Notably, FEPAC only accredits forensic science programs and accredits relatively few programs nationally. So there are many other high-quality forensics programs available, and the quality of those programs can be determined in several ways, perhaps most importantly by looking at their institutional accreditation, which is described at the bottom.
Iowa Wesleyan University offers a bachelor of science degree in biology with several concentrations. One such concentration is in forensic science. This concentration takes the foundation knowledge of genetics and microbiology. It combines it with areas of chemistry, criminal justice, and psychology to provide students with the investigative skills and cognitive resources required for pursuing a forensic science career. The program’s laboratory portion includes the analysis of chemical and physical evidence, as well as crime scene investigations and DNA analysis/extraction.
The curriculum includes courses such as comparative vertebrate anatomy; introduction to forensic psychology; introduction to forensic science; biopsychology; criminal investigation; laboratory methods in forensic sciences; and quantitative analysis.
Simpson College, in Indianola, Iowa, offers a forensic science/biochemistry major that includes 10 capstone courses as well as three electives. The forensic science/biochemistry major is intended to prepare graduates for entry-level jobs in laboratories performing forensic analysis or for graduate study in biochemistry, chemistry, molecular or cell biology, forensics, or related technology fields.
The curriculum features courses such as criminal justice systems; biochemistry; criminal investigations and law enforcement; criminology; microbiology; immunology; and cellular biology.
A forensic science minor is also available and requires seven courses, including one elective, for completion. The minor includes courses such as general chemistry; principles of biology; criminal justice systems; criminal investigations; and statistics for the social sciences.
St. Ambrose University in Davenport provides a bachelor of arts (BA) degree in forensic psychology. The BA program allows students to explore the nexus between psychology and criminal justice. It could be a good option for students pursuing post-baccalaureate education who want a strong foundation in psychology or the physical sciences. Students in this program will have two concentration options: children’s services or adult services.
The program’s core curriculum explores topics such as research methods; introductory psychology; applied statistical reasoning for the sciences; and introduction to criminal justice.
The children’s services concentration includes courses such as juvenile justice; abnormal child and adolescent psychology; psychology and treatment of the juvenile offender; and advanced child and adolescent development.
The adult services concentration includes courses such as contemporary corrections; offender treatment and theories; probation, parole, and community corrections; and abnormal psychology.
Iowa State University, in Ames, has a graduate certificate in forensic science available through its department of anthropology. At least 12 credits in coursework and seminars are required at the school as is at least 2.5 days spent attending a regional or national conference. One graduate credit of independent study is also required for the program. Courses in this program include forensic anthropology; current issues in crime and justice; steganography and digital image forensics; computer and network forensics; and biological anthropology and archaeology.
Iowa State University also offers a 120-credit bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice. Students in this program learn about the components of the criminal justice and juvenile systems, become familiar with issues within these systems, apply theoretical concepts to real-world phenomena, interface with social service and criminal justice providers, and plan an academic or applied career in criminal justice.
Courses in the criminal justice major include an introduction to the U.S. criminal justice system; youth and crime; criminology; deviant and criminal behavior; white-collar crime; criminal offenders; gender and crime; liberty and law in America; punishment, corrections, and society; and ethical issues in criminal justice.
University of Dubuque offers a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice teaching students about crimes, criminal behaviors, law enforcement, corrections, and courts, as well as criminal behavior analysis, legal and ethical principles, and contemporary social issues. Graduates will be ready to take up careers in courts, corrections, and policing. They will also be prepared for mental health, human, and community service jobs. Additionally, graduates will be ready for graduate programs in criminal justice, law, social work, and other related disciplines.
Students in this 120-credit program must complete 43 to 46 credits in the criminal justice major. The curriculum includes courses such as writing proficiency in criminal justice; introduction to criminal justice; introduction to law enforcement; criminal law; criminal procedures; court systems and judicial process; corrections; criminology; and introduction to constitutional law.
Graceland University offers a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice, which is ideal for students looking for careers in law enforcement, adult or juvenile corrections, private security, court services, and treatment facilities.
As part of the program, students will delve into topics such as introduction to criminal justice; history of terrorism; multicultural policing; law and the justice system; criminal investigation; terrorism and homeland security; drugs in society; community-based corrections; criminal law; and juvenile delinquency and juvenile justice, among others.
Graduates will be ready for positions such as forensic science technicians, correctional officers, criminal investigators, police officers, and public safety officers.
For more information on forensics schools, please visit the forensic programs page.
Many of the forensic science programs available online are offered at the graduate level, while those at the undergraduate level more often center on criminal justice with a forensic science or CSI focus. Below is a small list of hybrid or online programming available.
Upper Iowa University, in Fayette, has an online bachelor of science (BS) degree in criminal justice, helping students understand the application of research-based theory, ethical principles, and legal guidelines to the practical functioning of the criminal justice system. This major also has an emphasis on homeland security.
Courses include criminology; introduction to policing; ethics in criminal justice; introduction to criminal justice; introduction to corrections; comparative justice; criminal investigations; and sociological research methods.
Upper Iowa University also has an associate of arts degree in criminal justice.
Grand View University offers an online criminal justice major designed to provide students with an understanding of both the school of criminology and the criminal justice system in America, in addition to the psychological, sociological, ethical, and biological issues of concern. Graduates will be ready for careers in law enforcement, teaching, private industry, or the government.
This four-year program includes courses such as an introduction to criminal justice; corrections & penology; police & society; criminological theory; juvenile justice & gangs; forensic science and crime scene investigation; and criminal law and procedures.
Graduates will be prepared to take up roles such as forensic specialists, fraud investigators, crime scene investigators, correctional officers, detectives, police officers, probation officers, state troopers, and postal inspectors.
For more information on distance-based education and specialties, please visit the online forensic science degrees page.
Graduation from a FEPAC-accredited program can prove advantageous when it comes time to seek a job. However, there is not a wide selection of programs accredited through FEPAC. The mission of FEPAC is “to maintain and enhance the quality of forensic science education through a formal evaluation and accreditation system for college-level academic programs that lead to a baccalaureate or graduate degree.”
As of 2023, there are fewer than 50 undergraduate and graduate FEPAC-accredited programs nationwide, making it difficult to graduate from a program with accreditation in some states. Since there are no FEPAC-accredited programs available in Iowa, students may want to ensure their school is accredited through a regional institutional accrediting agency instead. In Iowa, institutional accreditation is offered by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), and this regional accreditation is another way of ensuring that an outside organization has assessed the school and has been found to offer a quality education.
As mentioned earlier, students also might want to seek board certification of their skills. Becoming a member of an organization is another option. Either of these should prove valuable in providing access to meaningful resources, including seminars, annual conferences, continuing education, and networking. Some organizations that could be worthwhile considering include the:
Finally, an organization like the Iowa Division of the International Association for Identification could be helpful as could membership through the AAFS. The AAFS provides access to various sources, including the Journal of Forensic Sciences, meetings and seminars, a website, and an annual scientific conference.
|Eastern Iowa Community College District||Davenport||x||15|
|Saint Ambrose University||Davenport||x||11|
|Western Iowa Tech Community College||Sioux City||x||9|
|Upper Iowa University||Fayette||x||4|
|Des Moines Area Community College||Ankeny||x||x||1|
|Mount Mercy University||Cedar Rapids||x||1|
|University of Dubuque||Dubuque||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.
Farheen Gani is a freelance writer, marketer, and researcher. She writes about 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).