Pennsylvania (PA) boasts more forensic science programs accredited by the prestigious Forensic Science Education Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) than any other state in the US. With 440 forensic science technicians in Pennsylvania (BLS May 2021) and many others in related occupations such as crime scene investigation (CSI), coroner examination, cybercrime detection, forensic nursing, criminal profiling, forensic accounting, and more, the future looks bright for prospective forensic professionals in the Commonwealth.
So what types of skills should these aspiring scientists be prepared to learn in a forensics college? The Pennsylvania State Police, for example, calls for its forensics experts to have at least a bachelor’s degree to carry out responsibilities such as collecting, analyzing, and documenting evidence from crime scenes; performing chemical and biological tests on various materials (e.g., bodily fluids, fibers, hairs, explosives, matter fragments, controlled substances, soils, etc); collaborating with various law enforcement and medical personnel; staying abreast of technological and methodological developments in the field; and presenting evidence in court as expert witnesses.
According to the BLS (2022), 89 percent of forensic science technicians are employed by the government. There are various subfields in forensic science as well, which may take specialized training, experience, and even professional certification to pursue, including toxicology, serology, trace analysis, DNA analysis, ballistics, fingerprints, digital evidence, document examination, latent evidence processing, tool marks, and footwear impressions. While many people maintain regular business hours, it’s important to note that forensics professionals may be called upon to work evenings, weekends, and holidays as needed due to the nature of evidence collection and analysis.
Finally, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences stresses the importance of being detail-oriented, organized, methodical, accurate, honest, reliable, and analytical. Evidence can make or break an alleged criminal’s court case with drastic implications, so taking the utmost care in these responsibilities is paramount. Dr. P.C.H. Brouardel famously said, “If the law has made you a witness, remain a (wo)man of science. You have no victim to avenge, no guilty or innocent person to convict or save—you must bear testimony within the limits of science.”
Read on to discover the occupational outlook for forensic scientists in Pennsylvania and the range of accredited forensics programs and professional certification information.
In the Quaker State, there are ample opportunities in forensic science. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022) anticipated that openings for forensic science technicians across the nation will swell 11 percent between 2021 and 2031, much faster than the growth rate projected for all occupations during that time period (five percent). Currently, there are 17,020 of these professionals nationwide, not including those in related occupations, and they make an average annual salary of $66,850.
The outlook is even brighter for residents of Pennsylvania. Projections Central (2023) found that demand for forensic science technicians in Pennsylvania specifically is expected to grow 17.9 percent between 2020 and 2030.
As mentioned above, the BLS found that 89 percent of forensic science technicians work for the government, with those working variously in crime laboratories, morgues, police departments, or medical examiner offices. There is a wealth of other places of employment in forensic science, depending on one’s specialty.
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) has distinguished several subfields of forensics, including anthropology, criminalistics, digital & multimedia sciences, engineering sciences, general jurisprudence, toxicology, psychiatry & behavioral science, questioned documents, pathology & biology, and odontology. Therefore, forensic scientists with specialized training or certification may be called upon to work in pharmaceutical companies, research institutes, law offices, insurance companies, accountants’ offices, and other industries.
One top employer of forensics professionals in PA is the Pennsylvania State Police Bureau of Forensic Services. Offering basic CSI training in impression evidence and crime scene photography, the Bureau comprises six regional forensic labs and one DNA processing facility at various locations throughout the state.
The Pennsylvania Forensic Associates provides an outpatient facility for treating both victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse. With some career and internship opportunities, particularly in forensic nursing and psychiatry, this groundbreaking institute seeks to stop the cycle of sexual violence and promote community safety. Forensic science program graduates should investigate all local law enforcement agencies for the most employment opportunities.
Finally, the ForensicsColleges.com blog offers several 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.
|Featured CSI & Forensic Science Programs|
|Arizona State University||Forensic Science (BS)||Visit Site|
|Arizona State University||Forensic Science (PSM)||Visit Site|
|Grand Canyon University||MS - Forensic Science||Visit Site|
|Stevenson University Online||Forensic Investigation Grad Certificate||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|
|Southern New Hampshire University||BA in Psychology - Forensic Psychology||Visit Site|
|Southern New Hampshire University||BS in Accounting - Forensic Accounting & Fraud Examination||Visit Site|
|Michigan State University||Online MS - Cybercrime & Digital Investigation||Visit Site|
|Michigan State University||Online MS - Law Enforcement Intelligence & Analysis||Visit Site|
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2022) reported that there were 370 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 PA, the average salary in this field is $54,820.
In more detailed terms, here is a breakdown of the salary percentiles among all forensic science technicians in the country compared with those in PA (BLS May 2022):
|Number of Forensic Science Technicians Employed||17,590||370|
|Annual Mean Wage||$69,260||$54,820|
The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, PayScale (May 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 Pennsylvania are somewhat lower than the national salary ranges found by both the BLS (May 2022) and Payscale (2023), 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 PA ranked 27th among all American states concerning affordability, boasting savings, especially in the realm of housing.
As mentioned above, Pennsylvania offers an especially rich landscape of forensics programs. By illustration, the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), representing the gold standard in forensic science program evaluations, has recognized six programs across Pennsylvania.
While FEPAC does not accredit associate degree programs, some are available in PA. For associate degree programs, typical admissions requirements include sending official secondary school transcripts; submitting TOEFL test scores (for non-native speakers of English); and paying an application fee.
For bachelor degree programs, admissions requirements generally include submitting official transcripts with a competitive GPA (e.g., >3.0); writing a personal statement; getting letters of recommendation; sending official scores from the SAT or ACT tests (and TOEFL for non-native English speakers); passing a background check; and paying an application fee.
For master’s degree programs, typical admissions requirements include submitting official undergraduate transcripts with a competitive GPA (e.g., >3.25); completing prerequisite courses (e.g., organic chemistry, biology, genetics, statistics, etc); writing a personal statement; getting letters of recommendation or professional references; sending official scores from the GRE or MCAT tests (and TOEFL for non-native English speakers); passing a background check; having an interview; and paying an application fee.
Cedar Crest College—a women’s liberal arts college in Allentown, PA—provides a FEPAC-accredited bachelor of science (BS) in forensic science which follows a “generalist philosophy,” a collaboration across academic departments with instruction in DNA analysis, toxicology, and trace evidence examination. Forensic biology is also offered as a concentration to students majoring in genetic engineering.
With faculty members certified by the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC)—one of the premier professional certification agencies in forensics—and more than 50 percent of undergraduates going on to pursue graduate studies, Cedar Crest is an outstanding option for qualified students.
Notably, Cedar Crest College also offers a master of science program in forensic science, helping students learn the foundational principles of forensic science and apply them in all aspects of their instruction. This 50-credit program includes courses such as analytical spectroscopy; molecular biology; multivariate statistics in forensic science; forensic chemistry; forensic pharmacology and toxicology; advanced crime scene reconstruction; and legal, ethical, and administrative issues in forensic science.
The Duquesne University of Pittsburgh provides a FEPAC-accredited master of science (MS) in forensic science and law. This unique five-year program admits students out of high school and allows them to receive a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry or biology en route to earning an MS.
The rigorous curriculum of this 150-credit program includes coursework in instrumental analysis; biostatistics; forensic investigation; forensic molecular biology; cultural fluency & responsiveness; trace evidence & environmental; latent print analysis; and forensic pathology.
Another option is at Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) which offers a FEPAC-accredited bachelor of science (BS) in forensic science with either a biology or chemistry emphasis. Courses in this interdisciplinary program include forensic molecular biology; courtroom testimony; coalescence of forensic science concepts; criminalistics; forensic chemistry; molecular and cellular toxicology; and essential practices of forensic science.
Penn State boasts an innovative criminalistics laboratory, ample professional development opportunities, and a FEPAC-accredited graduate program as well. This master of professional studies program (MPS) in forensic science is a two-year program with an innovative and exciting curriculum that offers students advanced, hands-on training in crime scene investigation techniques and laboratory methodologies. This program also has two concentration options: a 41-credit chemistry emphasis and a 42-credit biology emphasis.
Some of the courses in the MPS program include drug chemistry and toxicology; chromatography and electrochemistry; colloquium; women and the criminal justice system; crime and the American court system; and sexual and domestic violence.
West Chester University (WCUPA) provides a FEPAC-accredited bachelor of science (BS) program in forensic and toxicological chemistry. In addition to advanced instruction in analytical chemistry, forensic chemistry, and genetics, students undertake a one-semester internship in a police lab or another relevant setting.
Among the 43 graduating students between 2015 and 2021, 39 percent secured employment in forensic science/toxicology, 41 percent pursued employment in the analytical/pharmaceutical side of chemistry, 5 percent secured employment in non-scientific careers, and another 15 percent pursued graduate degrees.
The program includes courses such as organic chemistry; microbiology; forensic chemistry; genetics; toxicology; forensic microscopy; molecular genetics; and biochemistry.
Arcadia University of Glenside, PA offers a master of science in forensic science (MSFS). Providing small class sizes, specialized instruction for certification exams, and advanced multidisciplinary curricula, the university provides professional and high-quality forensic science training and education through internships, research, and collaborations with one of the nation’s premier forensic science labs.
Focusing primarily on forensic chemistry, biology, toxicology, and trace evidence analysis, the program comprises 66 to 72 credits. The curriculum includes courses such as crime scene analysis; instrumental analysis in forensic toxicology and chemistry; criminal law and ethics; forensic microscopy; molecular biology; quality management in forensic science; forensic trace evidence analysis; and forensic science communications.
Waynesburg University’s bachelor of science in forensic science program is an interdisciplinary study of the applications of chemistry, biology, physics, and law to criminal investigations. Combining modern biology and chemistry lectures with laboratory research, the program’s curriculum provides students with an in-depth specialization in chemistry. Students will learn forensic science professional practice through hands-on experiences and theoretical study at Waynesburg University’s state-of-the-art lab.
Through their work in this program, students will have several opportunities to get involved in mock crime scenes, CSI summer camp, community outreach events, and professional organizations to enhance their networking, research, speaking experience, and more.
As part of the program, students will delve into topics such as biochemistry; genetics; analytical chemistry; criminal investigation; criminal law; forensic serology; introduction to forensic science; law and evidence; functions and trigonometry; and advanced crime scene investigation.
Central Penn College of Summerdale, PA provides an associate degree in criminal justice imparting a hands-on education in crime scene management, violence prevention, crisis management, and asset protection. With a 180-hour internship to put students’ newfound abilities into practice, Central Penn aims to tailor its program to its students’ unique needs and forensics specializations. This program is also offered as an online and/or bachelor’s degree program.
The curriculum includes courses such as criminal justice; introduction to corrections; juvenile justice; ethics in criminal justice; criminal investigation; police operations; fundamentals in intelligence analysis; criminal procedure; evidence; and criminal law.
Graduates will be able to take up roles such as police officers, fraud investigators, crime scene investigators, customs agents, correctional officers, forensic science technicians, and CIA agents.
Alvernia University’s forensic science major provides students with the skills and knowledge necessary for work in modern crime labs in their hometown, or at the regional, state, or federal levels. Classes and labs are offered at the O’Pake Science Center, a state-of-the-art research and teaching facility on Alvernia’s main campus.
Students must successfully complete a minimum of 123 credits to receive a bachelor of science or bachelor of arts degree in forensic science. The curriculum includes courses such as general chemistry; organic chemistry; forensic toxicology; principles of biology; forensic medicine; forensic biology; forensic chemistry; and human form and function.
For more information on forensics schools, please visit the forensic programs page.
Some forensics students in Pennsylvania may find it difficult to attend classes on campus. Perhaps they live in more rural regions or have professional, familial, or other commitments preventing them from attending an on-campus degree or certificate program. Luckily, many hybrid and online programs are available for students facing these concerns.
One of the premier institutions for online learning across the US is Penn State’s World Campus. The program offers several online degrees related to forensics, including a forensic nursing certificate, a homeland security minor, a graduate certificate, and a bachelor of science (BS) degree in criminal justice.
In its online BS program, students are prepared for law enforcement, protective services, or security management careers through comprehensive instruction in criminology, policing in America, ethics in criminal justice, and sociology. Penn State also provides the Military Grant-in-Aid undergraduate program, which makes these programs more affordable for US men and women in uniform.
The curriculum of the 120-credit bachelor’s degree includes courses such as criminology; introduction to criminal justice; policing in America; courts and the prosecution process; corrections in America; research methods in criminal justice; and ethics in criminal justice.
Finally, DeSales University based in Center Valley, PA offers an online master of arts in criminal justice (MACJ) with a concentration in digital forensics. This program helps students gain the skills and knowledge they need to investigate crimes using digital technology, including portable devices and computers.
This 30-credit program covers topics such as advanced criminology; digital investigation & evidence collection; network & cloud forensics; forensic acquisition and analysis; special topics in digital forensics; applied statistics and data analysis; criminal justice systems and processes; and ethics in criminal justice.
For more information on distance-based education and specialties, please visit the online forensic science degrees page.
Although professional certification may not be necessary for employment in forensics fields in Pennsylvania, it can enhance one’s job candidacy, earning potential, and leadership opportunities. To qualify for professional certification, application requirements typically include submitting an application with professional references; fulfilling educational and experiential requirements; passing an exam; and fulfilling continuing education (CE) hours to maintain credentials.
There is an abundance of organizations offering national professional certification. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) has recognized 10 agencies. Some of which include:
Aspiring forensic science professionals are encouraged to verify the accreditation status of their educational institutions and/or programs. While criteria for accreditation may vary, it generally involves a comprehensive evaluation of faculty, student outcomes, program finances, administrative effectiveness, quality of curricula, and other factors.
For programmatic accreditation, Pennsylvanian students of forensics are at an advantage. As mentioned above, there are currently six programs in PA with programs accredited by the renowned Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).
Despite the range of options in PA, students should remember that programs not accredited by FEPAC can still provide highly reputable education. FEPAC accredits very few programs and focuses on those that concentrate on the natural sciences, making many CSI and criminal justice programs ineligible for accreditation.
For institutional accreditation, students are urged to seek out programs accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), one of seven regional accreditation organizations recognized by the US Department of Education.
|Robert Morris University||Moon Township||x||52|
|Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania||Bloomsburg||x||50|
|Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus||University Park||x||40|
|Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine||Philadelphia||x||39|
|Cedar Crest College||Allentown||x||22|
|La Salle University||Philadelphia||x||16|
|Community College of Philadelphia||Philadelphia||x||12|
|York College of Pennsylvania||York||x||9|
|Seton Hill University||Greensburg||x||9|
|Point Park University||Pittsburgh||x||8|
|Chestnut Hill College||Philadelphia||x||x||8|
|Mount Aloysius College||Cresson||x||x||x||5|
|Northampton County Area Community College||Bethlehem||x||2|
|University of Scranton||Scranton||x||2|
|La Roche College||Pittsburgh||x||x||1|
|DeSales University||Center Valley||x||x||1|
|Westmoreland County Community College||Youngwood||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.
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.