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 to reaching your learning objectives.
From bachelor’s to master’s degrees, forensic science options offer 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 2022 data from the BLS, the mean annual wages for forensic science technicians working in Missouri were $56,320. This compares fairly well to the mean annual wage of $61,900 for all occupations in the U.S. combined, according to the BLS.
Of course, nothing keeps individuals from looking for employment opportunities in other states. The BLS reports that some of the highest-paying states for forensic science technicians were Illinois, California, Massachusetts, New York, and Oregon. But all across the nation, the job demand is expected to grow 11 percent from 2021 to 2031, meaning that some 2,000 new jobs could become available. Job opportunities are expected to be best for those with a bachelor’s degree in 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.
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 several in biology and chemistry also teach about forensics. Often, the name of the program will provide some indication as to its focus. Some associate degrees may also be available but often merely provide the foundational skills needed by those planning to continue to a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Below are the most common steps prospective forensic science professionals have followed for entering the field are below.
This degree typically takes four years to complete and should enable students to build a strong base in the sciences, reports the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). Students may be able to choose concentrations at this level, and also take some crime scene-related classes, such as fingerprint evidence. According to Career One Stop, a site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, 31 percent of forensic science technicians in the U.S. have a bachelor’s degree.
According to Career One Stop, 11 percent of all forensic science technicians in the U.S. have a master’s degree. Why have these professionals pursued an advanced education? It may be necessary for some specialties, according to the AAFS. A master’s degree can also help students strengthen their biology and chemistry skills, specialize in particular areas, and offer an opportunity to participate in internships or research projects. While some of these programs can be completed in as little as two years, others, particularly if a student attends part-time, can take up to five years.
Although a very small percentage of forensic science technicians, just 4 percent have a PhD or other terminal degree, advanced education can be helpful when it comes to employment opportunities like running a forensic science lab or teaching at a college or university (CareerOneStop.org 2023). These degrees can take from two to five years to complete.
Many national organizations offer certification, which can help forensic science technicians to have proof of their skills. Each certification has its own standards, with some requiring a certain number of years of experience and others requiring an examination. While certification may not be required for hiring, some employers may prefer it or want employees who are working toward it.
Students also can find graduate-level certificates in forensic science. 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 investigation 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:
Some programs in CSI are only a year in length, but those that lead to an associate degree typically take two. These programs generally cover fundamental topics in CSI, such as criminal investigation, crime scene safety, fingerprint development, and more.
The BLS indicates that the bachelor’s degree is usually an entry point for CSI. However, most of the bachelor’s degree programs will offer a degree in criminal justice with a specialization in CSI. This allows students to complete a four-year degree, and learn about many of the same topics as at the associate degree level, but in more depth and with more electives.
Many people enter CSI after they have become police officers and spent time on the job. To become an officer, individuals need to complete an academy, through which they develop various skills, from self-defense tactics to shooting a weapon. Police officers may later learn about CSI on the job, typically by working with another police professional or by completing academy-sponsored or similar training.
Certification can be a valuable tool in showing potential employees that you know CSI. Some 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.
Overall growth in the forensic science occupation is quite strong. As proof of point, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that openings for forensic science technicians will increase 11 percent between 2021 and 2031, much faster than the expected growth rate for all occupations (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 MO. Projections Central (2023) found that demand for forensic science technicians in Missouri specifically is expected to grow 15.6 percent between 2020 and 2030.
The largest cities in Missouri include Kansas City, St. Louis, and Springfield. Job opportunities could be best in these simply because there are more organizations to offer employment and more opportunities for people to commit crime due to larger populations. In fact, Kansas City has a population that exceeds more than 500,000. In St. Louis, the population is more than 270,000 and the St. Louis County Police Crime Laboratory serves nearly 90 municipal county police agencies and 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, 89 percent 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.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2022) reported that there were 150 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 MO, the average salary in this field is $56,320.
In more detailed terms, here is a breakdown of the salary percentiles among all forensic science technicians in the country compared with those in MO (BLS May 2022):
|Number of Forensic Science Technicians Employed||17,590||150|
|Annual Mean Wage||$69,260||$56,320|
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:
While the figures for Missouri are somewhat lower than the national salary ranges found by both the BLS (May 2022), it’s important to note that the cost of living is substantially lower than in many other US states. For illustration, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2023) found that MO was the 6th most affordable state.
There are several 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:
Columbia College in Columbia offers a bachelor of science (BS) program in forensic science, covering a variety of biology and chemistry classes as well as physics and calculus. Students can specialize in either biology or chemistry, and also take electives such as bloodstain evidence, forensic anthropology, and fingerprint evidence. A senior seminar is required as a final, evaluative experience.
This 120-credit program includes core courses such as introduction to forensic science; professional issues in forensic science; expert and scientific evidence; laws of criminal evidence; and physical and chemical methods in forensic science.
Graduates of this program will have the knowledge and skills required for gathering and analyzing forensic samples and evidence and finding details about crimes that have occurred. They can take up roles such as forensic chemists, crime scene technicians, forensic toxicologists, forensic anthropologists, trace evidence examiners, fingerprint specialists, and medicolegal death investigators.
St. Louis University provides a major and minor in forensic science at the undergraduate level. Lab experiences in biology and chemistry are part of the BS program and a required practicum gives students fieldwork experience in their area of interest. The degree integrates both science and investigations and can prepare students for various career paths.
Students in this forensic program must complete a minimum of 76 credits for the major and a total of 120 credits for the program. The curriculum includes courses such as the survey of forensic science; topics in forensic science; chemical forensics; forensic biology; crime scene investigation; death investigation; and forensic anthropology.
The university’s forensic science laboratory is a 1,000-square-foot research and teaching facility with the latest software, safety, and hardware equipment, as well as the materials used in applying forensic science techniques.
Missouri State University, in Springfield, offers a bachelor of science degree in cellular and molecular biology with elective courses in forensic sciences. The university provides tracks for students who are ultimately interested in working in forensic chemistry, forensic pathology, and forensic molecular biology. Forensic science-specific elective courses include a survey of forensic anthropology, medical and pathologic physiology, and recombinant DNA techniques.
Combining a strong physical sciences background with real-life forensic science aspects, Maryville University’s bachelor’s degree in forensic science prepares students for critical roles in the criminal justice system. This hands-on program offers on-site projects in exciting professional environments. This major offers concentrations in biology and chemistry, preparing students for work in forensic science or analytical labs.
Comprising 128 credits, the program includes courses such as introduction to forensic science, forensic investigations; forensic biology, forensic chemistry, law and legal ethics; quantitative analysis; biochemistry; and murder to trial.
Southeast Missouri, in Cape Girardeau, allows students to work on an undergraduate chemistry degree specializing in forensic science. In this program, students study chemistry, math, and science, and understand how these all relate to the forensic sciences. Students build more skills in the school’s forensic science laboratories, located in the Magill Hall of Science, and also network with forensic science alumni to develop mentoring and internship opportunities.
This 120-credit program includes courses such as forensic chemistry; introduction to toxicology; criminalistics; forensic microscopy; analysis of pattern evidence; statistical analysis for forensic science; advanced organic chemistry; foundations of analytical chemistry; and biochemistry.
This forensic chemistry option prepares graduates for toxicology, chemistry, law enforcement, and forensic science careers as chemists, scientists, or crime scene investigators.
Missouri Southern State University offers a bachelor’s degree in chemistry with a biochemistry forensic science option. Designed to provide students with the necessary knowledge and skills to enter the profession with an eye toward drug identification, toxicology, serology, and related investigative tasks, this forensic science program helps graduates harness their passion for biochemistry.
Made up of 120 credits, the program’s curriculum includes courses such as biochemistry; biochemical techniques; introduction to criminal justice; crime scene investigation; crime scene photography; criminal justice research methods; crime analysis; criminal evidence; and genetics.
The Natural Sciences division at Missouri Baptist University offers an undergraduate major in chemistry with a concentration in forensic science. This concentration prepares graduates for employment in criminal investigation and forensic science laboratories or for graduate programs in forensic chemistry. Providing a solid experimental and theoretical background in chemistry, modern instrumentation, and analytical chemistry techniques, this program helps students in developing knowledge and skills in areas such as criminal law and procedure, criminal investigation, and evidence collection.
The curriculum includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice; criminal investigation; foundations of law; criminology; criminal law and procedure; evidence; criminal courts, probation, and parole; constitutional law; biochemistry; molecular modeling; and modern instrumental analysis.
Graduates can take up roles such as assistant scientists, biochemists, forensic scientists, research assistants, DNA analysts, toxicologists, and crime scene investigators.
In campus-based programs, students often complete rigorous undergraduate coursework based on math and the sciences to 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 levels vary in terms of overall offerings. Many focus more on crime scene investigation and evidence and less on the natural sciences.
But, even online, 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 think deeply 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:
American Intercontinental University offers a bachelor of science degree in criminal justice with a specialization in forensic science online. Offering a balanced education in law enforcement practices, investigation methodologies, and science, the program helps students in developing knowledge of the operations of the criminal justice system, crime theory, and constitutional principles.
Graduates will be prepared to conduct death-scene investigations, process and preserve evidence, interpret forensic analysis, and leverage methodology, data, and technology. Consisting of 180 credits, the program includes courses such as Introduction to Criminology; Introduction to Criminal Law; Foundations of Corrections; Crime Victim Studies; Juvenile Justice & Delinquency Theory; Criminalistics; Criminal Investigation; Medicolegal Death Investigation; and Psychopathology and Criminality.
Liberty University features a bachelor of science program in criminal justice with a specialization in crime scene investigation, enabling students to learn about the practice of forensics and the law. Designed to provide students with a solid understanding of the criminal justice field, this online program provides the skills necessary to develop and analyze forensics laws. Graduates will learn the essential skills to conduct criminal investigations and protect and record vital evidence.
Comprising 120 credits, the program includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice, forensics; crime scene photography; crime scene management; criminal investigations; constitutional criminal procedure; criminal law; criminal justice ethics; criminology; judicial process; corrections; and juvenile justice.
Graduates of this program will be prepared to take up positions such as crime scene investigators, crime scene technicians, criminalists, forensic analysts, and forensic project coordinators.
St. Leo University has a master of science program in criminal justice with a specialization in forensics available. In addition to crime scene investigation, students also learn about lab analysis of evidence, the history of criminalistics, and the forensic technologies that are now being accepted in the courtroom. Of the 36 credits in the master’s programs, 12 are specifically in forensic science.
The curriculum includes courses such as introduction to forensic science; advanced forensic science; forensic and medicolegal death investigation; crime scene investigation and management; ethical and legal issues in criminal justice administration; corrections issues and trends; criminal sexual behaviors; and investigative methodologies of violence.
In addition to the abovementioned programs, Missouri has several related online programs. Some of which include:
For more information on distance-based education and specialties, please visit the online forensic science degrees page.
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 follow FEPAC guidelines even though they have yet to achieve programmatic accreditation. It may be best to talk with the school you are considering to find out more information.
Regional institutional accreditation also validates a school and its programs and, in Missouri, is typically granted through the Higher Learning Commission (HLC).
The AAFS is divided into unique forensic science sections: anthropology, criminalistics, and toxicology, among others. 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:
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.
|Missouri State University-Springfield||Springfield||x||x||9|
|Missouri Western State University||Saint Joseph||x||5|
|Maryville University of Saint Louis||Saint Louis||x||x||4|
|Washington University in St Louis||Saint Louis||x||3|
|Saint Louis University||Saint Louis||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).