In popular culture and the collective imagination, few American states have gotten as much attention for their forensic science—real or imagined—as New York (NY). From Batman’s Gotham City to NYPD Blue and CSI: NY, the Empire State is renowned for its morbidly creative crimes and potential for investigating juicy mysteries.
Luckily for aspiring crime-solvers in New York, there are several quality forensic science programs in the state, both on-campus and distance-based, as well as a healthy employment landscape for these trained professionals.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2019), forensic science technicians make an average of $68,000 annually in NY, nearly 16 percent more than the national average for this occupation ($58,230).
Students interested in this field should note that becoming a forensic science technician is just one of many career options for program graduates. Another option, becoming a detective or criminal investigator, can be even more lucrative. These specialists make an average annual salary of $92,600 in NY (BLS May 2019), 7 percent more than the national average ($86,030).
Read on below to discover how to become a forensic scientist in NY; what the job outlook is in the state; the availability of quality traditional or distance-based programs; and what prospective students should know about program accreditation and professional certifications.
For prospective forensic scientists and technicians in New York, there are a variety of educational and experiential paths, although these professionals typically pursue at least four-year degree in natural sciences prior to employment. In fact, Career One Stop (2019)—a job-planning tool sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor—reports that 33 percent of forensic science technicians have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 14 percent with associate degrees and 19 percent with some college education.
Following is one of the most common paths to becoming a forensic scientist or technician in NY:
For graduates of forensic science colleges in New York, the employment prospects look bright, especially in relation to the rest of the country.
First, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019), forensic science technicians make significantly more money annually in NY than national averages (except at the very highest range which tends to be skewed by outlying high-earners):
New York state:
By contrast, here are the national averages for this occupation:
Therefore, in New York, forensic science technicians make 36 percent more annually in the lower salary range and 4 percent more in the high range.
So what are the major employers in NY of graduates in forensic sciences? It’s no surprise that the metropolitan region around the Big Apple is one of the top-paying and top-employing regions for forensic science technicians in the state, especially among public law enforcement agencies and their affiliates. According to the New York Office of Forensic Services (OFS)—a subbranch of the NY Division of Criminal Justice Services—there are 20 accredited public forensic laboratories (e.g., NYC Police Department Police Laboratory, Monroe County Public Safety Laboratory, Onondaga County Center for Forensic Sciences). The OFS is tasked with the administrative oversight of the NY State DNA databank, as well as upholding the standards of lab accreditation in each of its precincts.
There are currently 860 forensic science technicians employed in the state of New York. The BLS (2019) expects employment in this career across the US to swell 14 percent between 2018 and 2028, while Career One Stop indicates growth in NY specifically could be up to 20 percent (CareerOneStop.org). The availability of openings is driven in part by advancements in technology and instrumentation. Therefore, pioneering techniques in chemistry, biology, and other sciences can continue to shape the employment landscape and help resolve the backlogs of cases in forensic labs, especially with respect to DNA analyses.
Degrees in forensic sciences can be versatile and these graduates in New York may go into a variety of careers such as:
The education, training, and experiential requirements may vary for these professions. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) provides a career resource list with organizations, professional associations, and networking opportunities across the range of disciplines in forensic science.
Finally, the ForensicsColleges blog offers a number of 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.
There is an abundance of forensic science colleges in New York State, including three programs accredited by the prestigious Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). This organization weighs factors such as faculty achievements, curriculum content, student outcomes, and production of quality research. While graduating from one of these accredited programs is not a requirement to join most careers in forensic science, it can indicate a student’s merit to prospective employers due to FEPAC’s scrupulous evaluation standards.
The FEPAC-accredited programs in NY are:
Syracuse University offers a variety of graduate programs and certificates in forensic science, including its FEPAC-accredited master of science (MS) in forensic science. The school’s Forensic and National Security Sciences Institute (FNSSI) boasts a world-class faculty and ample opportunities for students to practice what they learn in real-world settings. The MS program provides hands-on training through its partnerships with the New York State Police Crime Laboratory System, Brookhaven National Laboratory, and LGS Bell Labs Innovations, and other facilities. This flexible program can be tailored to student career goals and schedules, and graduates have gone on to work at private research companies, forensics laboratories, and federal agencies, among other employing organizations.
Notably, Syracuse University offers several other forensics programs, including an MS in biomedical forensic science, an MS in medicolegal death investigation, a dual-degree JD/MS in forensic science, a certificate in firearm and tool mark examination, and a certificate in advanced medicolegal death investigation.
Buffalo State SUNY offers a bachelor of science (BS) in forensic chemistry. Developed in 1971, this rigorous program combines didactic coursework with renowned faculty and hands-on internships working with experienced crime scene investigators. Graduates of Buffalo State have gone into a number of careers in local and state forensic science labs, as well as into graduate studies or professional schools in toxicology, food science, and pharmaceuticals, to name a few.
John Jay College of Criminal Justice in NYC provides a number of degrees for aspiring forensic science professionals, including its FEPAC-accredited master of science (MS) in forensic science. This program is ideal for administrators, directors, and other leadership in crime solving facilities. It boasts three distinct specializations: criminalistics, molecular biology, and forensic toxicology. Additionally, John Jay has two online master’s programs: security management (for those interested in computer forensics) and public administration.
Alfred State, located in Alfred, NY, offers a FEPAC-accredited BS in forensic science technology. The BS program is highly focused on laboratory sciences, giving students the hands-on experience they need for the rigors of a real forensic lab. In addition to core science work, students at Alfred State are trained in the usage and theory of modern instrumental techniques that crime labs use around the country.
Other featured options for forensic science degrees in New York include:
Hudson Valley Community College (HVCC) in Troy has a number of programs that may appeal to entry-level aspiring forensic scientists, including: an associate of applied science (AAS) degree in criminal justice, an AAS in criminal investigation, an associate of science (AS) in forensic science, and an AS in criminal justice. The school’s forensic science program in particular has sent many graduates to work with the NY State Police Forensics Investigation Center. With coursework fundamentals in organic chemistry, biology, and criminal investigation, this program transfers seamlessly to the FEPAC-accredited John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Pace University in the Big Apple offers both bachelor’s and master’s of science degrees in forensic science. With the support of the chemistry and biology departments, these programs have access to an innovative DNA sequencing lab and specialized equipment for crime scene construction, document analysis, and forensic microscopy. In combination with the state-of-the-art facilities, Pace employs a number of real forensics experts as faculty who cut their teeth on crime-solving in NYC.
In addition to these university-based programs, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in NYC provides a broad-based forensic sciences training program which is sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) for eligible participants. Facilities include the largest DNA lab in the U.S. and groundbreaking equipment for all hazards training and disaster response. Boasting an experienced staff, the program has three sets of training modules: medicolegal death investigation, forensic specialties, and basic bloodstain pattern analysis.
In addition to ForensicsColleges’ national listing of online CSI and forensics programs, there are a number of distance-learning opportunities based in New York as well:
Utica College offers an online bachelor of science (BS) in cybersecurity degree developed in conjunction with the university’s reputable Center for Identity Management and Information Protection. Students in this program learn a variety of techniques curated from the latest innovations by the FBI, U.S. Secret Service, and other global-caliber organizations. There are five unique specializations available: network forensics and intrusion investigation, information assurance, cybercrime and fraud investigation, homeland security and emergency management, and cyber operations.
SUNY Canton in northern NY state hosts an online bachelor of technology degree in criminal investigation. In addition to coursework in subjects such as forensic photography, investigation of death, and investigative interviews, as part of the curriculum, students can choose between an internship in Washington D.C. with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives or travel across the U.S. to work in a medical examiner’s office.
Prospective forensic scientists in New York are encouraged to check the accreditation status of their institution prior before enrolling in a program. While institutional accreditation may not be a prerequisite to employment or further education, it may serve as an indicator of program quality.
While FEPAC accreditation is the gold standard for forensic science programs, it is important to note that a forensic science program that lacks accreditation from FEPAC is not necessarily subpar. Rather, FEPAC accredits only a small number of programs and focuses its efforts on those with heavily science-focused curriculums, making many criminal justice and crime scene investigation programs ineligible for accreditation.
In addition to the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission, there are a number of regional and institution-based accreditation agencies, including:
The U.S. Department of Education has a searchable database of all accredited locations and programs.
In addition, professional certification may be advisable to individuals prior to seeking employment. The process of licensure will vary by field, but it typically involves baseline standards of education and experience, as well as an exam or other proof of competence. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) currently accredits 10 certification organizations:
|CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice||New York||x||x||x||x||764|
|SUNY - Farmingdale State College||Farmingdale||x||x||172|
|The College of Saint Rose||Albany||x||x||x||33|
|SUNY - Alfred State College of Technology||Alfred||x||21|
|Herkimer College (SUNY)||Herkimer||x||x||19|
|Pace University-New York||New York||x||14|
|SUNY - Buffalo State||Buffalo||x||14|
|CUNY Graduate School and University Center||New York||x||14|
|SUNY - Erie||Buffalo||x||7|
|Onondaga Community College (SUNY)||Syracuse||x||6|
|SUNY - Broome||Binghamton||x||6|
|SUNY - Binghamton University||Vestal||x||5|
|CUNY Borough of Manhattan Community College||New York||x||5|
|Hudson Valley Community College||Troy||x||4|
|CUNY Hostos Community College||Bronx||x||3|
|Roberts Wesleyan College||Rochester||x||2|
|St. Thomas Aquinas College||Sparkill||x||1|
|SUNY - Oswego||Oswego||x||1|
|SUNY - Columbia-Greene Community College||Hudson||x||1|
|CUNY Kingsborough Community College||Brooklyn||x||1|
|CUNY Queensborough Community College||Bayside||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.
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @oregon_yogini).