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 300 forensic science technicians in Pennsylvania (BLS 2020) 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 (2020), 87 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 due to the nature of evidence collection and analysis, forensics professionals may be called upon to work on evenings, weekends, and holidays as needed.
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, as well as the range of accredited forensics programs and professional certification information.
How do salary and employment data in Pennsylvania compare to nationwide figures for forensic science technicians? Here’s a side-by-side comparison of salary averages, the number of employed forensic science technicians, and salary percentiles.
|Average mean salary||$51,660||$63,170|
|Number of employed||300||16,520|
In the Quaker State, there are ample opportunities in forensic science. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2020) anticipated that openings for forensic science technicians across the nation will swell 14 percent between 2019 and 2029, more than twice the growth rate projected for all occupations during that time period (four percent). Currently, there are 17,200 of these professionals nationwide, not including those in related occupations, and they make an average annual salary of $59,150.
While the figures for Pennsylvania are somewhat lower than the national salary ranges found by both the BLS (2020) and Payscale (2020), it’s important to note that the cost of living is substantially lower than many other US states. By illustration, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2020) found that PA ranked thirty-fourth among all American states with respect to affordability, boasting savings especially in the realm of healthcare expenditures.
Interestingly, Payscale (2020)—an aggregator of self-reported salary data—found somewhat lower ranges among its 292 reporting forensic scientists around the country:
Not surprisingly, salaries vary by metropolitan area as well, with higher salaries and more job opportunities offered in larger urban regions. Here are the annual salary data for two major municipal regions of PA (BLS 2020):
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD: 250 forensic science technicians employed
Pittsburgh, PA: 30 forensic science technicians employed
As mentioned above, the BLS (2020) found that 87 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 the treatment of both victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse. With some career and internship opportunities, particularly in the realms of 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.
As mentioned above, Pennsylvania offers an especially rich landscape of forensics programs. By illustration, the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), which represents the gold standard in forensic science program evaluations, has recognized programs across five universities in Pennsylvania.
While FEPAC does not accredit associate degree programs, there are some 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 example, 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 the unique needs and forensics specializations of its students. This program is also offered as an online and/or bachelor’s degree program.
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.
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 41 graduating students between 2015 and 2020, 41 percent secured employment in forensic science/toxicology, 39 percent pursued employment in the analytical/pharmaceutical side of chemistry, and another 15 percent pursued graduate degrees.
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, and coalescence of forensic science concepts. Penn State boasts an innovative criminalistics laboratory, ample professional development opportunities, and a FEPAC-accredited graduate program as well.
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 go on to pursue graduate studies, Cedar Crest is an outstanding option for qualified students. Please note that this is also available as a graduate program.
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.
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 includes coursework in analytical chemistry, biostatistics, forensic investigation, and forensic molecular biology.
Finally, 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, Arcadia boasts a top-notch performance on the national Forensic Science Assessment Test (FSET) as well as a 90 percent rate of employment among its graduates.
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 kinds of commitments that prevent them from attending an on-campus degree or certificate program. Luckily, there are many hybrid and online programs available for students facing these concerns.
For example, the aforementioned Cedar Crest College provides an online bachelor of science (BS) in criminal justice with electives in criminal behavior & deviance and law enforcement management. With a holistic focus on the behavioral, social, and psychological factors impacting criminal behavior, Cedar Crest can prepare qualified students for careers in profiling or crime scene processing.
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 and graduate certificate, and a bachelor of science (BS) degree in criminal justice.
In its online BS program, students are prepared for careers in law enforcement, protective services, or security management 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.
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 30-credit program covers topics such as advanced criminology, digital investigation & evidence collection, and network & cloud forensics.
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 such as:
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 five schools in PA with programs accredited by the renowned Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).
Despite the range of options in PA, students should keep in mind that programs not accredited by FEPAC can still provide highly reputable educations. FEPAC accredits very few programs and is focused on those programs 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 six 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|
|Seton Hill University||Greensburg||x||9|
|York College of Pennsylvania||York||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|
|Westmoreland County Community College||Youngwood||x||1|
|DeSales University||Center Valley||x||x||1|
|La Roche College||Pittsburgh||x||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: @racheldrummondyoga).