Perhaps you want to become a crime scene technician or investigator, work as a criminalist or even take a lead role as a forensic project coordinator or senior forensic analyst. Whatever your goals, a degree is important, and a bachelor’s is often required to enter the field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Since education is imperative, one of the forensic colleges in Missouri (MO) could provide you with the path for reaching your learning objectives.
From bachelor’s to master’s degrees, you can find forensic science options offering fundamentals in the natural sciences, most often biology and chemistry, and the law. Some programs even include crime scene investigation (CSI) as a component, but students also may be able to find CSI training available through stand-alone instruction, like a certificate-based or associate degree program. While forensic science programs enable individuals to work in the lab, a CSI education can help them compete for a career that puts them out in the field at crime scenes.
In addition to the exciting career that can be afforded through forensic science, the occupation can be rewarding in terms of pay. In fact, according to May 2017 data from the BLS, the mean annual wages for forensic science technicians working in Missouri were $51,600. This compares fairly well to the mean annual wage of $50,620 for all occupations in the U.S. combined, according to the BLS. Of course, there is nothing keeping individuals from looking for employment opportunities in other states. The BLS reports that some of the highest-paying states for forensic science technicians were California, Illinois, Nevada and Connecticut. But all across the nation, job demand is expected to grow 17 percent from 2016 to 2026, meaning that some 2,600 new jobs could become available. Job opportunities are expected to best for those with a bachelor’s degree in a natural science and a master’s degree in forensic science, according to the BLS, or those who have DNA specialties or skills in digital computer forensics.
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According to the BLS, a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences, like biology or chemistry, is typically needed to enter the field. Students also may be able to find programs specifically available in forensic science, but that are heavy in biology and chemistry and that also teach about forensics. Often, the name of the program will provide some indication as to its focus. Some associate degrees also may be available, but often provide merely the foundational skills needed by those planning to continue on to a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Below are the most common steps that prospective forensic science professionals have followed for entering the field.
Students also can find graduate-level certificates in forensic science offered. These may be best for students who are not ready to commit to a full master’s degree, but still want to advance in their skills. In these and other forensic sciences programs, students learn the critical-thinking skills, and the math and science knowledge essential to becoming a forensic scientist, according to the BLS. Good communication is also important, reports the BLS, since forensic scientists need to work with law enforcement specialists as well as write reports and present evidence in court.
Crime scene investigation (CSI) is a field of forensic investigations that intrigues many people. In this occupation, individuals look at the evidence left behind at a crime scene to determine what may have happened and who might have been involved. For this reason, documenting evidence is very important, and this is just one of the many components of instruction provided within a CSI program. If you are interested in CSI, you may want to choose from one of the following common paths:
Certification can be a valuable tool in showing potential employees that you are knowledgeable in CSI. Some of the organizations offering certification include the International Association for Identification (IAI) and the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA). Because certification requirements vary, it is best to contact the specific organization beforehand to fully understand the steps that need to be taken.
The largest cities in Missouri include Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield, and job opportunities could be best in these simply because there are more organizations to offer employment, but also more opportunities for people to commit crime due to larger populations. In fact, Kanas City has a population that exceeds more than 480,000. In St. Louis, the population is more than 310,000 and the St. Louis County Police Crime Laboratory serves nearly 90 municipal county police agencies as well as numerous federal ones. It has been functioning since 1966 and could offer entry-level occupational points. Other agencies offering opportunities could be:
Although forensic scientists can find jobs in a number of places, nine out of 10 work for local or state governments, particularly in coroner’s offices, crime laboratories, morgues or police departments, according to the BLS. While some forensic science technicians primarily work in labs, others spend some time outside at crime scenes or collaborating with others, including specialists and law enforcement personnel. CSI specialists may also need to work evening or night hours, depending on when a crime occurs, and even do overtime or be on call.
There are a number of forensic science programs in Missouri, but none that are accredited through the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), the accrediting branch of AAFS. Graduation from a FEPAC-accredited program is typically not necessary for obtaining a job since very few programs have applied for and been granted programmatic FEPAC accreditation. Learn more about programmatic and institutional accreditation further down on this page. Some of the forensic science programs in Missouri include:
In campus-based programs, students often complete rigorous undergraduate coursework that is based in math and the sciences so that they can be well-prepared to work in a forensic science lab. At the graduate level, they often gain more nuanced skills, allowing them to develop their areas of niche interest and to better prepare them for jobs in crime laboratories, hospitals, law enforcement, medical examiner’s offices and other employment sites.
Students looking for additional opportunities in forensic science in Missouri and beyond can turn to online education. Programs available at the undergraduate and graduate level vary in terms of overall offerings. Many focus more on crime scene investigation and evidence and less on the natural sciences. But, even in an online environment, students are challenged to learn by engaging in discussion boards, working on group projects and participating in other activities. Some students are attracted to this learning environment because they have time to deeply think about what they want to say or contribute instead of immediately responding as they would in a campus-based classroom. Some of the online forensic science programs include:
Students can also find other undergraduate and graduate degrees as well as certificates that are available online and listed on the AAFS website.
Graduation from a FEPAC-accredited program is not necessary for entering the forensic science field, but may be helpful when seeking employment. In addition, many institutions are following FEPAC guidelines even though they have not achieved programmatic accreditation. It may be best to talk with the school you are considering to find out more information.
Regional institutional accreditation also provides validation to a school and its programs and, in Missouri, is typically granted through the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
The AAFS is divided into 11 unique forensic science sections that include anthropology, criminalistics, odontology, and toxicology. That’s why there are so many different certifications and membership opportunities available. Certification may be offered through some of these organizations, but has requirements that vary, ranging from an examination to graduation from an approved program to a specific number of years of experience. Some of the organizations offering certification, or membership, include the:
In fact, standards for CSI and forensic science often vary widely from one jurisdiction to another, reports the BLS. For this reason, despite any certification received, some on-the-job training may be necessary for any new forensic science or CSI technicians.
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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.