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Forensics Colleges in Montana

Most people may not know that dental records can be helpful in identifying bodies that have been damaged beyond recognition. That’s not the only intriguing fact about forensic science. Maggots found on decomposing bodies can provide other clues, such as out how long a body has been decomposing. For those curious few who in whom these facts do not elicit a squeamish response, and who like and have a knack for natural sciences such as biology and chemistry, a career in forensic science could be the right path.

Of course, education is an important component to the career, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reporting that a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences and a master’s degree in forensic science are typically important steps to entering the occupation. This type of academic training can introduce students to the essentials in the sciences, and not just biology or chemistry, but also where these two combine, like biochemistry. Prospective forensic science technicians should also gain an understanding of criminal justice procedures and processes as well. That’s because whether a technician is working in a lab, or in any advanced niche forensic science field, like forensic entomology, understanding how the law applies to the science is fundamental.

For those who are more interested in being out in the field – like actually being at the scene of the crime, a career in crime scene investigation (CSI) could be the right choice. For CSI, professionals need to know how to collect and preserve evidence at a scene, but also how to secure a scene and to make sure that evidence is not contaminated. Whether working in a lab or out in the field, it could be hard to find a job without the needed background and training – and that is typically through a college education, or in many cases for CSI, completing a police academy.

No matter which path a student chooses to follow, it is important to investigate those educational programs available in their area. In Montana (MT) there are a few programs that could act as launching pads to an exciting and fulfilling career.

Forensic Science Careers in Montana

Here’s another interesting feature of a forensic science career – the job can pay more than other occupations. Consider that the mean annual pay for forensic science technicians in the U.S. was $61,220, according to May 2017 data from the BLS. This compares well to the mean wages for all occupations combined in the U.S., which is $50,620. That calculates to a more than $10,000 annual average difference. Of course, pay is never so cut and dry and wages can vary based on educational level, time on the job and even the state in which the technician works. As a side note, the mean pay for forensic science technicians working in Montana was $57,710 (BLS 2017).

Nationwide, job opportunities for forensic science technicians are expected to grow by 17 percent from 2016 2026, according to the BLS, which could result in approximately 2,600 new positions becoming available during this time.

How to Become a Forensic Scientist in Montana

A master’s degree is usually needed to become a forensic science technician, but one can make a start by building strong skills at the undergraduate level. Science will be an important part of a forensic science technician’s education whether they are pursuing forensic science at the very beginning or starting out with an undergraduate degree in a specific science. Below are the most common steps professionals take towards building forensic science skills and obtaining that first job.

  • Step 1: Obtain a bachelor’s degree. Most bachelor’s programs take four years to complete and can lead to a degree in the natural sciences, like biology or chemistry, or in the forensic sciences. Both can be important building blocks to advanced study. How important is a four-year degree? According to Career One Stop, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, 32 percent of all forensic science technicians in the U.S. have a bachelor’s degree in forensic science.
  • Step 2: Work on a master’s degree. The BLS shows that individuals with a master’s degree in forensic science may have some of the best job opportunities. Master’s degrees can take two years of full-time study to complete and even longer for students enrolled on a part-time basis. A thesis may be required at the master’s level, while lab and core coursework are an essential part of any program.
  • Step 3: Pursue a doctoral degree. Not all fields of forensic science require this level of education, but it is needed for some fields, like forensic anthropology, according to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). No one may be interested in the word dissertation either, but be aware this could be part of a PhD program. Depending on whether students are enrolled full- or part-time, a PhD typically takes between three to seven years to complete.

Board certification can be a final step in developing a career. Not every field of forensic science offers certification, but it is available for forensic anthropology and forensic toxicology, as examples. Organizations like the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and the American Board of Forensic Toxicology provide more information about these two specific board certification processes. Other organizations offering certification can be found listed on the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) website.

Becoming a CSI in Montana

CSI provides a different way to enter the forensic science field. Instead of working in a lab, it gives individuals the opportunity to be out in the field actually collecting and preserving evidence and also keeping a scene secure to prevent evidence contamination. Crime scene investigators need to obtain a variety of skills related to the criminal justice system, including how to present evidence in court, which is why an education is so important. Common paths to enter CSI include:

  • Option 1: Complete a certificate or associate degree. Requiring one to two years to complete, a certificate or associate degree may lay the foundational skills needed for the field, but may not be adequate for advancement. The BLS reports that a bachelor’s degree is typically needed for investigators who are non-uniformed, i.e., not part of law enforcement. Still, an education at this level can provide the building blocks to continue learning later on.
  • Option 2: Work on a bachelor’s degree. Typically taking four years to complete, a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, or in a natural science, is usually important for non-uniformed individuals to make a start in the field. Frequently, many of these degrees are available in criminal justice with specific CSI skills offered as a specialization.
  • Option 3: Be accepted into a police academy. Often, the education needed to work as a crime scene investigator can be obtained by becoming a police officer and working on the job. Law enforcement officers working as detectives or investigators might become highly skilled in CSI. In fact the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA) reports that most investigators are actually law enforcement officers.

There are numerous certifications available in CSI, offered through organizations such as the International Association for Identification (IAI) and the ICSIA. Usually, specific education is needed to undergo the certification process and once certification has been obtained, there are very specific steps that need to be followed to be re-certified in the future.

Job Opportunities in Montana

Even though the population of Montana is just over one million (less than the population of some cities in the U.S.), crime still occurs there. In fact, the Billings Gazette includes a list of the state’s most wanted individuals who are sought by the United States Marshals Service Montana Violent Offender Task Force. From Billings to Bozeman, job opportunities could be available within law enforcement agencies or for other types of governmental organizations.

One of the more prominent places to look for employment could be with the Montana Department of Justice State Crime Lab. The lab is set up to have many different sections including breath alcohol, drug chemistry, latent prints and impressions and serology/DNA. Accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Laboratory Accreditation Board since 2011, the lab is located in Missoula and is overseen by a director who has a PhD. Other places to look for employment in Montana could include:

Individuals can also offer their services as a consultant. However, every nine out of 10 forensic science technicians is employed by a state or local governmental agency, according to the BLS. Employment is typically found with coroner’s offices, crime laboratories, morgues, and police departments. The AAFS additionally reports that forensic scientists may find work with international organizations, private labs, as well as hospitals and universities.

Featured Forensic Science Colleges in Montana

There are several different undergraduate programs offered in the forensic sciences in Montana but unfortunately, none that are accredited through the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), the accrediting branch of the AAFS. This accreditation may not be necessary to seeking employment, however, but could be preferred by some hiring agencies. Learn more about programmatic and institutional accreditation further down on this page. Some forensic science options in Montana include:

  • Flathead Valley Community College, in Kalispell, offers an associate degree in forensic science that can later be used to transfer to the University of Montana at Missoula. The 78-credit program includes organic chemistry, college physics, college chemistry, calculus, and other courses, but can be modified for specific forensic science tracks available at the University of Montana.
  • University of Montana, in Missoula, offers a certificate in forensic studies for students who may be later interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree. The certificate is 18 credits and includes introduction to forensic science and forensic science beyond the crime lab. The UM program also requires students to take two science courses, a communications course and an ethics course. Bachelor’s degrees in forensic anthropology and forensic chemistry are also available.
  • University of Providence, in Great Falls, offers a bachelor’s degree program allowing students to choose between forensic science, forensic biology and forensic chemistry. In these degree programs, students learn about important forensic science elements, including DNA analysis, human pathology, toxicology and evidence analysis.
  • Montana State University Northern, in Havre, offers a bachelors degree in criminal justice, introducing students to such topics as criminal law, corrections and criminalistics. Classes are offered by instructors who have real-world experience in the courtroom or law enforcement. While this is not a forensic science degree, it can help students to enter the related field of criminal justice.

Other alternatives for students in Montana include pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences, such as biology or chemistry, and then completing a master’s degree in forensic science. Students looking for on-campus options at the graduate level may need to seek programs in nearby states or consider online graduate training.

Hybrid & Online Programs

Online education can be another way for students in Montana to seek CSI and forensic science studies. At the undergraduate level, many of the programs are available in criminal justice with a CSI focus while at the upper level, online degrees can be specifically found in forensic science. The AAFS also has a listing of undergraduate, graduate degrees and certificates programs that are available online.

  • University of Maryland Global Campus offers a bachelor’s degree in investigative forensics that introduces students to digital analysis, firearms and toolmark analysis, fingerprint analysis and more. Students also study statistics, investigative forensics and criminal procedure and evidence. The online program can prepare students to sit for several certifications available through the International Association for Identification (IAI)
  • University of Florida offers several forensic science options at the master’s degree level through its College of Pharmacy. Students can start the program year-round and pursue one of four tracks or even complete a graduate-level certificate. The program was founded in 1999 and has graduated more than 1,000 students from 40 different countries.

Students may also discover more online educational opportunities by joining a specific forensic science organization, such as the AAFS. Continuing education is often an important part of learning and sometimes these resources are available online.

Program Accreditation & Certification

While FEPAC is the accrediting agency for forensic science programs, it does not accredit any programs within Montana. However, that does not mean that other programs are without value. Not only has FEPAC accredited very few programs overall (fewer than 50 as of 2018), they only accredit those programs that heavily feature natural sciences such as chemistry and biology. As such, FEPAC accreditation would not even be available to CSI or criminal justice programs.

Another way that students can be assured they are enrolling in a quality program is to see whether it is institutionally accredited. In Montana and several nearby states, regional institutional accreditation is awarded through the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). This accrediting organization is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and oversees accreditation at 162 institutions.

As mentioned previously, students may want to seek certification in their field at some point in their career. From fingerprint identification to crime scene reconstruction and bloodstain pattern analysis, a vast number of certifications are available. In some cases, certification may prove helpful in obtaining a job or advancing in a career. Other options are to join an organization that can provide members with networking and advocacy opportunities. In addition to the AAFS, this can include statewide organizations such as the Montana Violent Crime Investigators Association or the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. Other entities to look into include the:

With some 15,400 people employed as forensic science technicians in the U.S., as of May 2017, joining one of these organizations can be helpful in many ways. Not only do they allow members to to meet new people, they can provide access to presentations and conferences, information on jobs and even updates on new advances in the field.


Willow Dawn Becker

Willow is a blogger, parent, former educator and regular contributor to When she's not writing about forensic science, you'll find her blogging about education online, or enjoying the beauty of Oregon.