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Forensics Science Programs in North Dakota

Forensic science can be a terrific career for those interested in different fields of science and its intersection with crime and law enforcement. So much unique knowledge is needed to work as a forensic science technician, with programs generally providing instruction in anatomy, anthropology, biochemistry, biology and chemistry as part of a bachelor’s degree. And the learning doesn’t stop there. Programs are so interdisciplinary in approach that they also may include clinical laboratory sciences, criminal justice, math, molecular biology, physics, and psychology.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that a bachelor’s degree is typically needed to enter the forensic science field (2017). Colleges in North Dakota (ND) can help lay the foundation in the natural sciences or in forensic science for dedicated students.

In addition to bachelors-level programs, both associate degree programs and graduate-level programs are available. However, because forensic science programs are fairly limited in North Dakota, students may have the best luck finding a program that suits their needs with online learning.

The curriculum available through forensic science schools typically prepares graduates to work in a forensics lab, but this could mean employment in a police department, a private facility or a crime laboratory, such as with the North Dakota Attorney General’s office. Some programs focus more on crime scene investigation (CSI), which shows students how to collect evidence at a crime scene and to properly handle and store it. Learning how to testify in court may also be part of any available CSI programs in North Dakota.

Keep reading for more details on what types of forensic science technician and crime scene investigator programs and jobs are available in the Peace Garden State.

Job Demand for Forensic Scientists

According to May 2017 data from the BLS, the mean annual wages for forensic science technicians working in the U.S. were $61,220. This compares fairly well to the BLS mean annual wage of $48,130 for all occupations in the U.S. combined. In North Dakota, forensic science technicians earn a mean salary of $42,240, which puts the state somewhat lower than the national average (BLS 2017).

From 2016 to 2026, the demand for forensic science technicians across the U.S. is expected to grow by 17 percent, resulting in some 2,600 new positions becoming available – good news to a recent graduate from one of the colleges in North Dakota. The best job opportunities could be available to those who specialize in DNA or digital computer forensics or those who have a bachelor’s degree in a natural science and a master’s degree in forensic science.

How to Become a Forensic Scientist in North Dakota

In a forensic science lab, a technician performs biological, chemical or physical analysis of evidence that comes from a crime scene. This detailed scientific analysis is why a bachelor’s degree is so important to entering the field. Following is one of the most common paths followed to make a start in forensic science, including earning that initial degree.

Step 1: Enroll in a bachelor’s degree program in the natural sciences or forensic science.

Most often the bachelor’s degree takes four years to finish and provides students with foundational knowledge in a variety of scientific disciplines. Some 32 percent of forensic science technicians in the U.S. have a bachelor’s degree, according to CareerOneStop, showing just how important this degree can be.

Step 2: Consider a graduate-level certificate.

Graduate certificates may be best for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in another field or in the forensic sciences who are not quite ready to commit to a full degree but are interested in advancing their knowledge. Most certificates require completion of four to six classes and some of these certificates may be later transferable toward a master’s degree.

Step 3: Move on to a master’s degree.

Not everyone pursues a master’s degree in forensic science, but it may be helpful in advancing to a leadership or management role, or for those who have an undergraduate degree in a specific natural science and want to integrate forensic science studies and pursue a career in the field. Some forensic science programs at the master’s level can be completed in as little as two years, but can take longer, up to five years, for students who enroll part-time.

Step 4: Give thought to a doctoral degree.

Just 4 percent of forensic scientists have a PhD or other terminal degree, according to Career One Stop, yet this terminal degree can be helpful in managing a forensic science lab, engaging in research, or providing instruction at a post-secondary institution. A PhD could take from two to five years to complete, and could also be appropriate for someone who has a master’s degree in a related field, but wants to expand their forensic science skills.

Step 5: Pursue related forensic science certification


Individuals can pursue certification through a broad number of organizations depending on their specific field of forensic science expertise. (The American Academy of Forensic Sciences, or AAFS, breaks down the field into 11 disciplines including criminalistics, engineering science, general, jurisprudence, pathology/biology and others.) An individual’s education will drive the type of certification they seek, and credentialing sometimes requires passing a certifying exam. A full list of certifying agencies is provided further below.

Natural science skills are not the only essential ones to becoming a forensic science technician. Knowledge about criminal justice, courtroom procedures, the law, as well as communication, can be important. In fact, the BLS says that communication skills are so essential because forensic science technicians need to be able to communicate with a variety of people, present information in courts and compile reports.

Pursuing CSI in the Peace Garden State

Crime scene investigators, who do different work than forensic science technicians, may be involved in taking photos, making sketches of a crime scene, collecting fingerprints and bodily fluids, as well as preserving evidence so that it can be taken to a crime lab, according to the BLS. These meticulous skills are those that can be obtained through a CSI program. Often, the education necessary is not as in-depth as that required for forensic science programs. Potential paths to a career in CSI include:

  • Option 1: Work on a certificate or associate degree. Programs in CSI typically take a year to two to complete, either resulting in a certificate or an associate degree. Many CSI programs are offered through community colleges or extension programs at universities. Students typically learn about report writing, fingerprint evidence, and crime scene management, and a practicum experience may be a component of the program.
  • Option 2: Complete a bachelor’s degree in CSI. Although the BLS reports that a bachelor’s degree is typically the entry point into CSI, many bachelor’s degrees are offered in criminal justice with a specialization in crime scene investigation. This program path enables students to complete much of the same learning as at the associate level, but more in-depth and often with choices for electives.
  • Option 3: Learn about CSI through a police academy. Many people enter the CSI field after completing a police academy and becoming a police officer. They may be trained by others on the job or take specific courses to enhance their existing skills.
  • Option 4: Seek certification of your skills. Certification is a way of showing employers proven CSI skills. The requirements for certification vary depending on the program and an applicant’s experience, but interested students may be able to seek certification through the International Association for Identification (IAI) or the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA). Students should be sure to investigate these specific organizations beforehand to learn more about requirements.

Occupational Demand in ND

In North Dakota, the biggest cities are Fargo, Bismarck and Grand Forks, which together have a combined population of more than 250,000 people. Cities may be the best place to look for jobs related to forensic science and CSI, but some rural jurisdictions may be in need of employees, too. As mentioned earlier, the North Dakota Attorney’s General’s Office could be one place that needs trained professionals. The AG’s crime laboratory provides evidentiary support to the criminal justice system in the state by analyzing, identify and comparing physical evidence used in criminal offense cases. Given that North Dakota has a small population, new forensic science technicians may have to look harder for opportunities. Graduates or students looking for hands-on experience may consider IFI DNA Testing and Technologies or the Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The BLS reports that nine out of every 10 forensic scientists work for local or state government, and that they are most often employed in crime laboratories, morgues, coroner’s offices or police departments. However, job availability may also be dependent on the budgets and funding available in these governmental agencies.

Featured Forensic Science Colleges in North Dakota

Because there is only one forensic science program available in North Dakota, students may want to look for programs in criminal justice or the natural sciences instead. In fact, no forensic science programs offered in North Dakota are accredited through the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), which is the accrediting branch of AAFS, although FEPAC-accreditation may not be necessary to seek employment. Students interested in forensic science programs in North Dakota can consider any of the following:

  • At the University of North Dakota, in Grand Forks, students can pursue a 125-credit bachelor’s degree in forensic science. The program ties in strongly to the school’s criminal justice program, and curriculum may best prepare students to become a DNA or trace evidence analyst. Once a year, a cohort of students also travels to the annual meeting of the AAFS.
  • Because studies in forensic science are so limited in North Dakota, burgeoning forensic science technicians may want to search for criminal justice programs that include courses related to the field. The University of Mary, in Bismarck, does offer a bachelor’s of science degree in criminal justice, but much of this is based on the courts and law enforcement procedures.
  • North Dakota State University offers both a master’s degree and doctorate degree in criminal justice studies. Again, these are not directly related to forensic science or crime scene investigation, but at NDSU students can also find programs in the natural sciences, like biology and chemistry. Seeking a bachelor’s degree in one of these fields may be helpful to later pursuing a master’s in forensic science.

Because there are so few forensic science programs in North Dakota, it may be better to look for undergraduate degrees in the natural sciences. Biology and chemistry are exceptionally common offerings at virtually all institutions of higher learning. From there, students can look for a graduate-level program, either on-campus or online, to help them gain more forensic science-specific knowledge. This may be an optimal path, as the BLS reports that many people entering the field of forensic science often have a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences followed by a master’s degree in forensic science.

Hybrid & Online Programs

Students seeking forensic science programs online will find numerous options. Some, but not all, of the programs listed result in a degree in criminal justice with a specialization in forensic science or crime scene investigation. A few of the available online forensic science programs include:

  • At Ashworth College, students can enroll for a diploma program in forensics that includes various components, such as: the crime scene, organic and inorganic analyses, and forensic serology and DNA. In addition, students can work at their own pace and attend a live commencement ceremony upon completion.
  • American Intercontinental University provides an online bachelor’s of science degree in criminal justice with a forensic science specialization. The program is 36 months in length and includes specialized courses in arson investigation, criminalistics, evidence and others.
  • A graduate certificate in forensic and crime scene investigations is available through National University for those who are already in law enforcement or wishing to enter crime scene investigations. Seven courses are needed to obtain the certificate, which can then be used toward the school’s online master’s degree in forensic science. Two specializations are available in the master’s program, including criminalistics and investigation.
  • George Washington University, in Washington, D.C. offers a master’s of science degree in crime scene investigation that can be completed in a hybrid format: about half of the classes are taken on campus, but the remainder can be taken online. However, a bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite to the program and students need to have taken either one semester of biology or chemistry or have special permission of the department to enroll.

There are many other online programs available to students in North Dakota and which are listed on the AAFS website. Information on undergraduate and graduate degree programs as well as certificate programs can be found there, along with information on the Young Forensic Scientists Forum (YFSF) for teenagers.

Program Accreditation & Certification

While graduating from a FEPAC-accredited program in not always possible, it certainly may be advantageous. Keep in mind that FEPAC-accreditation is not something that occurs overnight or even in a year, however. In fact, the University of North Dakota formed an accrediting body as far back as 2004, but is still not ready to apply for FEPAC accreditation. Further, FEPAC only offers accreditation to science-focused programs, making criminal justice and CSI programs inelgible for accreditation.

In this case, regional institutional accreditation of a university is important. Institutional accreditation means that the school has been accredited in entirety by an agency. There are six of these accrediting agencies across the U.S., and in North Dakota accreditation is done through the Higher Learning Commission. HLC reaccreditation of the University of North Dakota last occurred in 2013 and the next reaffirmation of accreditation is expected in 2023-24.

FEPAC accreditation may also be important to seeking certification, although each certifying organization has its own regulations and standards. Certification may not even be available, and individuals may want to seek out membership instead. As an example, the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA) offers active membership to currently employed or recently retired personnel with a law enforcement agency. Below are a handful of organizations offering board certification or membership:

Students should keep in mind that not all branches of forensic science offer board certification. To help in determining this, the AAFS has 11 different sections of forensic science listed on its website and has the education and career details, including the certification details if available, specific to each. Students or working professionals can also become members of the AAFS, which has information on career opportunities, provides access to the Journal of Forensic Science, and offers an annual meeting and educational conferences and more.

School Name City Forensic
Total Forensics
Grads (2016-2017)
University of North Dakota Grand Forks x x 35

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.


Willow Dawn Becker

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