North Carolina (NC) hosts several certificate and degree programs in forensics, both online and on-campus. This is not surprising given the Tar Heel State’s proud history with respect to education. In fact, NC boasts the first state art museum and the first public university in the nation: the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Government of NC).
So what can a person expect from a forensics college in North Carolina? O*NET (2022)—a data group sponsored by the US Department of Labor—reports that forensic science technicians must be trained in a variety of skills including collecting, analyzing, and carefully documenting evidence from crime scenes; liaising with medical, law enforcement, and other professionals; performing laboratory tests on multiple types of evidence (e.g., fingerprints, bodily fluids, hair, fibers, soils, documents, electronics, tool marks, etc); and testifying as expert witnesses in court. It’s important to note that there are many specialties in forensics, such as criminalistics, toxicology, forensic accounting, cybercrime, DNA analyses, document examination, ballistics, arson investigations, and other subfields.
Finally, the Old North State is uniquely strict about who can seek employment in state crime labs. For illustration, the General Assembly of NC passed widespread reforms on the use of forensic science in the state in 2011. The new law, known as the Forensic Sciences Act of 2011, established the Forensic Advisory Board; created protocols to decrease human error in forensics examinations; elucidated rules concerning the admission of forensic evidence into courts of law; and most impactfully for aspiring forensics professionals in NC, has called for the State Department of Justice to hire exclusively certified professionals.
Read on to discover the employment outlook in forensics and learn about forensics colleges in North Carolina, professional certification, and program accreditation.
There is excellent news for aspiring forensics professionals in NC: forensic science is a field on the rise. As proof of point, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022) projects that openings for forensic science technicians will increase 11 percent between 2021 and 2031, much faster than the growth rate expected for all occupations during that period (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 NC. Projections Central (2023) found that demand for forensic science technicians in North Carolina, specifically, is expected to grow 20.5 percent between 2020 and 2030.
Following the completion of a degree program and specialized training, people with degrees in forensics may pursue jobs as crime scene investigators, laboratory scientists, toxicologists, medical examiners, forensic engineers, cybercrime analysts, forensic accountants, criminal profilers, forensic nurses, odontologists, document examiners, arson investigators, and more.
There is an abundance of places of employment for aspiring professionals in forensics. The BLS states that 62 percent of forensic science technicians work for the local government. Additionally, depending on a person’s specialty, (s)he may work in private laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, ecological research institutes, biomedical research organizations, private investigation (PI) offices, law firms, insurance companies, and other businesses seeking forensic expertise. Although many forensics specialists work during normal business hours, due to the nature of the profession, those who work in criminal investigations may be called upon to work evenings, weekends, and holidays.
One eminent employer of forensics professionals is the North Carolina Department of Justice State Crime Lab, which has branches in Raleigh, Asheville, and Greensboro. This lab provides free forensic examinations to public law enforcement agencies, including local, state, federal, military, and railroad security divisions. The lab is internationally accredited under ISO/IEC 17025 standards, the predominant criteria for demonstrating a laboratory’s technological competence. In addition to job opportunities, the NC DOJ Crime Lab provides summer internships at the state crime laboratory across all forensic subfields, such as trace evidence, digital evidence, latent evidence drug chemistry & toxicology, firearms & tool mark, and forensic biology & DNA.
For more information on job openings in forensics in North Carolina and nationwide, there are several resources:
|Featured CSI & Forensic Science Programs|
|Purdue Global||BSCJ - Crime Scene Investigation||Visit Site|
|Grand Canyon University||MS - Forensic Science||Visit Site|
|Arizona State University||Forensic Science (BS)||Visit Site|
|Arizona State University||Forensic Science (PSM)||Visit Site|
|Stevenson University Online||Online Master of Forensic Science (MFS)||Visit Site|
|Stevenson University Online||Online Master's in Crime Scene Investigation||Visit Site|
|University of West Alabama (Campus)||Chemistry Comprehensive - Forensic Chemistry (BA/BS)||Visit Site|
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2022) reported that there were 490 forensic science technicians in the state.
Furthermore, BLS found that the salary figures are lower than the national salary ranges. As proof of point, the United States employs 17,020 forensic science technicians with an average annual salary (mean annual wage) of $69,260. In NC, the average salary in this field is $51,300.
In more detailed terms, here is a breakdown of the salary percentiles among all forensic science technicians in the country compared with those in NC (BLS May 2022):
|United States||North Carolina|
|Number of Forensic Science Technicians Employed||17,590||490|
|Annual Mean Wage||$69,260||$51,300|
The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, PayScale (April 2023), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the forensic science techs reporting their annual salaries, Payscale found these percentiles for the US:
Although the wages in NC are slightly lower than the national averages in forensics occupations, it’s important to note that the cost of living is also significantly lower in North Carolina. For illustration, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2023) found that NC ranked 25th among all American states with respect to affordability, boasting savings in the realm of transportation costs.
For aspiring forensics professionals, there are several reputable degree and certificate programs in NC. It’s important to note that many undergraduates choose majors tangentially related to forensics, such as biology, chemistry, sociology, criminal justice, or criminology. The University of North Carolina at Wilmington (UNCW) points out that many schools don’t offer bachelor’s degrees in forensic science since securing employment without graduate-level training can be difficult. Therefore UNCW advises that students consider a minor in forensics.
One example is North Carolina State University (NCSU) in Raleigh which hosts the Forensic Sciences Institute. This facility offers forensic science as a minor to students in various undergraduate disciplines. This minor involves the completion of at least 18 credits in areas such as forensic anthropology; introduction to forensic science; forensic chemistry; and materials forensics.
For associate degree programs, typical application requirements include sending official secondary school transcripts with a competitive GPA (e.g., >3.0); taking the TOEFL test (for non-native speakers of English); and paying an application fee.
For bachelor’s degree programs, typical application requirements include sending official secondary school transcripts with a competitive GPA (e.g., >3.0); submitting official scores from the SAT or ACT tests; taking the TOEFL test (for non-native speakers of English); and paying an application fee.
Admissions committees may also prefer candidates with experience in forensics or related fields, such as volunteering through a local police department, hospital, or medical examiner’s office.
Fayetteville Technical Community College
Fayetteville Technical Community College offers an associate of applied science (AAS) degree in criminal justice technology with a forensic science concentration focusing on the application of the biomedical, social, and physical sciences to the evaluation and analysis of human testimony, criminal suspects, and physical evidence.
This 65-credit program includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice; constitutional law; criminology; juvenile justice; criminal law; crime scene processing; investigative principles; and friction ridge analysis.
Notably, Fayetteville Technical Community College also offers an 18-credit forensic science certificate, a 15-credit crime scene investigation certificate, and an 18-credit introductory forensic science certificate.
Graduates of these programs should qualify for employment in several criminal justice organizations, especially in the state, local, and federal law enforcement, and correctional agencies.
Fayetteville State University provides a bachelor of science (BS) program in forensic science, providing students with the foundational science and laboratory problem-solving skills necessary for success in the modern crime laboratory. Students are in DNA analysis, crime scene investigation, trace evidence, and forensic chemistry.
Made up of 122 credits, the program includes courses such as genetics; microbiology; biochemistry; forensic biology; toxicology; molecular biology; criminal justice ethics; basic probability and statistics; crime scene and latent evidence analysis; and an introduction to forensic science.
Graduates will be prepared for several careers in the STEM field, including positions as serologists, DNA analysts, toxicologists, drug analysts, trace evidence analysts, fingerprint examiners, food and drug inspectors, and forensic scientists and specialists.
Appalachian State University’s highly analytical bachelor of science degree in chemistry with a concentration on forensic science prepares students for careers in forensic laboratories at organizations such as the FBI or the NC State Crime Lab.
This 120-credit program includes courses such as organic chemistry; quantitative analysis; inorganic chemistry; biochemistry; forensic toxicology; analytical methods in forensic chemistry; forensic microscopy; forensic investigation; and criminal law.
Notably, Appalachian State University also offers a ten-credit forensic science certificate, including courses such as forensic toxicology; forensic microscopy; and introduction to forensic chemistry and criminalistics.
Methodist University offers bachelor’s degrees in forensic science providing students with a detailed understanding of forensic science, right from the crime scene to the courtroom. This hands-on program blends knowledge and theory providing students with the ability to perform essential and key actions at crime reconstruction scenes, crime scenes, and perform forensic analysis of several types of physical evidence. Graduates are trained for work in all aspects of crime scenes, forensic science, and law enforcement.
As part of the program, students will delve into topics such as criminology; the correctional process; drugs, crime & society; criminal profiling; crime scene investigation; medicolegal death investigation; forensic photography; forensic firearm identification; and crime scene reconstruction.
Graduates will be ready to take up roles such as fingerprint technicians, crime scene investigators, forensics specialists, crime laboratory analysts, and much more.
The curriculum of Western Carolina University’s bachelor of science degree in forensic science focuses heavily on mathematics and science, and includes courses in applied criminology, anthropology, chemistry, biology, physics, psychology, and clinical laboratory science. Before being accepted into this program, candidates must complete basic science courses, including general chemistry, organic chemistry, and general biology.
This forensic science program offers a chemistry and biology concentration. Students in the biology concentration are prepared to work as DNA technicians at crime laboratories, while those in the chemistry concentration are prepared for analytical chemistry work in crime laboratories. Both concentrations encourage students to conduct research and present findings at conferences.
North Carolina Central University
Finally, North Carolina Central University (NCCU) in Durham offers a bachelor of science (BS) in chemistry with a concentration on forensic science. The forensic science concentration provides students with the technical skills and scientific knowledge needed for succeeding in the forensic science field and an understanding of court processes, criminal law, and procedures.
Comprising 120 credits, the curriculum of this program includes courses such as criminal investigation and forensic science application; forensic chemistry; statistical methods; criminal law, procedure, and court processes; general microbiology; introduction to forensic science; organic chemistry.
For more information on various forensics programs—including options in computer forensics, crime scene investigation (CSI), cybersecurity, criminal profiling, forensic accounting, forensic engineering, forensic anthropology, forensic nursing, and more, please visit the forensic programs page.
For working professionals, parents, and people with other time commitments, many online and hybrid forensics programs are available.
In addition to a quality on-campus forensic science program, Western Carolina University (WCU) offers an online bachelor of science (BS) degree in criminal justice. This eight-semester program provides students the flexibility and convenience to pursue a BS or minor from their own location while preparing for a professional career or further graduate study.
The curriculum includes courses such as theories of crime; introduction to criminal justice; criminology; criminal law; juvenile justice; investigative principles; substance abuse; organized crime; and constitutional law.
Also, students have several extracurricular opportunities such as joining the Student Association of Criminal Justice Affairs (SACJA) or even studying abroad.
University of North Carolina Wilmington
University of North Carolina Wilmington offers an online post-baccalaureate graduate certificate in forensic science: crime scene investigation (CSI), providing students with an in-depth theoretical understanding of, and experience and training in, the techniques and methods of forensic investigation, evidence recovery, and application of proper procedures. Students in this program will obtain the knowledge and skills in the several approaches to documenting and examining crime scenes and in the packaging, proper handling, and transport of physical evidence to crime labs for further analysis.
This 18-credit certificate includes courses such as forensic science foundations; expert testimony and challenges in court; crime scene photography; research in forensic science; death investigations; and a seminar in crime science investigation professional development.
Graduates will be prepared for positions such as crime scene investigators, crime scene technicians, crime scene analysts, forensic investigators, forensic science technicians, and evidence technicians.
Finally, the North Carolina Office of Indigent Defense Services (NCIDS) has free online forensics training in various specialty topics such as digital forensics for attorneys, presumptive & confirmatory forensic tests, and cell phone forensics, among others.
For more information on distance-based education and specialties, please visit the online forensic science degrees page.
As mentioned in the introduction, the General Assembly of North Carolina passed widespread reforms on the use of forensic science in the state. The Forensic Sciences Act of 2011 established the Forensic Advisory Board and has called for the North Carolina Department of Justice to hire exclusively certified professionals. Therefore, it may be advisable to seek professional certification for those pursuing this career in North Carolina.
Prerequisites for certification typically include completion of a formal training program; one- to three years of experience in the field; professional references; and completing an examination.
There are a variety of organizations that provide professional certification to forensic science professionals nationwide. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) has recognized 10 specialty organizations including:
Prospective forensics students in North Carolina are encouraged to verify the accreditation status of their programs. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) is the primary institutional accreditation authority in this region which is recognized by the US Department of Education.
The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) accredits forensic science programs. There currently need to be FEPAC-accredited forensic science programs in NC. However, it is important to note that FEPAC has accredited very few programs overall, which means many highly regarded forensic science programs still need to have accreditation. Further, FEPAC only accredits those forensic science programs that focus heavily on the natural sciences (such as biology or chemistry), which makes many criminal justice or crime scene investigation programs ineligible for accreditation.
Ultimately, although institutional or programmatic accreditation may not be necessary to enter a career in forensics, these approval bodies can serve as quality indicators by evaluating the administration, school finances, student support services, faculty effectiveness, facilities, program mission statement, and other relevant factors.
Jocelyn Blore is the chief content officer of Sechel Ventures and the co-author of the Women Breaking Barriers series. She graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley and traveled the world for five years. She also worked as an addiction specialist for two years in San Francisco. She’s interested in how culture shapes individuals and systems within societies—one of the many themes she writes about in her blog, Blore’s Razor (Instagram: @bloresrazor). She has served as managing editor for several healthcare websites since 2015.