As you travel west across the U.S., states get bigger and mountains get taller. In Utah (UT), you will find the 30th most populous state with the 11th lowest population density. Utah covers nearly 85,000 square miles and is home to five of America’s national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands.
Most people in the U.S. know that Salt Lake City and surrounding areas in Utah are home to a large concentration of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (also known as Mormons), although certainly, not every Utahn is a member of the church. The population of the Beehive State lives peacefully with fairly low crime rates, plentiful outdoor recreation opportunities, and an affordable cost of living.
In fact, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2023) shows that Utah ranks 30th in its cost of living data series, meaning the cost of housing, utilities, groceries, and other expenses falls in the middle compared to the other 50 states.
Forensic science is a great career option for anyone considering a move to Utah or Utahans looking for a career that blends science and law enforcement. The demand for forensic science technicians in Utah is growing tremendously, with CareerOneStop (2023) reporting an expected growth of 28 percent between 2020 and 2030. A strong educational background is the best path to success as a forensic science technician, so prospective students should investigate their opportunities in the state.
Keep reading for more details on how to become a forensic science technician in Utah and what types of higher education programs are available in-state and online.
Becoming a forensic scientist in Utah depends on developing a foundation in science and the analytical behavior necessary to assess scientific findings. Some forensic science technicians will take a winding path toward their final career, but the following are the most common steps.
Step 1: Graduate High School (four years)
According to CareerOneStop (2023), an employment statistics site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, 97 percent of forensic science technicians have at least a high school diploma or GED. Therefore, high school students interested in pursuing a forensic science career should do well in their coursework, particularly science courses like biology and chemistry.
Step 2: Earn an Undergraduate Degree (two to four years)
A career in forensic science requires a strong background in the scientific method, data collection, and careful analysis. While a forensic science degree is not a requirement, a bachelor’s degree with a science focus (chemistry, biology, etc.) is generally the minimum education required for work in a crime lab.
Around 14 percent of forensic science technicians have an associate’s degree (two years), while 31 percent have a bachelor’s degree (four years). Many schools require fingerprinting, criminal background checks, and letters of character reference as part of their application process.
Step 3: Gain Entry-Level Experience (timeline varies)
Upon graduation from an undergraduate program, most forensic scientists will find an entry-level position at a lab or police department. In Utah, the Salt Lake City Police Department, Salt Lake County Sheriff’s Office, West Valley Police Department, and Weber County Sheriff’s Office are the largest employers of forensic science technicians and other crime scene personnel, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.
Step 4: Become Professionally Certified (timeline varies)
After some entry-level work, technicians who wish to specialize further often seek professional certification. Professional certification is available in a range of fields. In fact, as of 2023, the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) has approved 10 different organizations to issue professional certifications. Some available certifications include forensic toxicology, forensic document examination, forensic anthropology, and forensic engineering sciences.
Step 5: Earn a Graduate Degree (timeline varies)
Around 11 percent of forensic science technicians have a master’s degree, and an additional 4 percent of forensic technicians have a PhD or other doctoral-level degree (CareerOneStop 2023). Earning a graduate degree is not required to succeed in this career, but those who do may be more likely to obtain professional advancement opportunities.
There is excellent news for aspiring forensics professionals in UT: 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 time (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 UT. Projections Central (2023) found that demand for forensic science technicians in Utah is expected to grow 27.8 percent between 2020 and 2030.
After program completion, 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. Depending on a person’s specialty, they may work in private laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, ecological research institutes, biomedical research organizations, private investigation 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.
Students will find some forensic science programs in Utah with courses offered on campus. On-campus programs are typically available to both residential students and commuters and can foster a greater sense of discipline and community for some students.
Generally, students will want to look for a program focused on forensic science rather than criminal justice because doing so will provide a stronger foundation in the hard sciences. However, broader criminal justice degree programs sometimes offer forensic science concentrations and tracks.
In terms of salary, forensic technicians in Utah should expect to earn wages slightly lower than the national average. According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics (May 2022), the 17,590 forensic science technicians across the nation earned an average annual salary of $69,260. The 190 forensic science technicians working in Utah earned $56,490 per year.
Wages depend on several factors such as years of experience, levels of education, and cost of living in a particular area. In more detailed terms, here is a breakdown of the salary percentiles among all forensic science technicians in the country compared with those in Utah (BLS May 2022):
|Number of Forensic Science Technicians Employed
|Annual Mean Wage
The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, PayScale (August 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 difference in mean annual salaries is significant, it is worth noting that the cost of living in Utah is below the national average, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2022), with utilities and healthcare being remarkably affordable compared to other states.
Utah Valley University in Orem offers two degree options for pursuing an education in forensic science. UVU is the only university in Utah offering a bachelor of science (BS) degree in forensic science and an associate of science degree option. Students in the BS program choose from two emphasis areas that meet their future career goals: forensic laboratory or forensic investigation. The forensic laboratory option emphasizes scientific skills that can lead to careers in criminology, while the forensic investigation option prepares graduates to work in the field as crime scene investigators. Notably, both these concentrations are FEPAC-accredited.
The BS degree program requires 125 credits and includes coursework in forensic photography; criminalistics; introduction to forensic science; footwear and tire mark evidence examination; forensic trace analysis; forensic anthropology; fingerprint processing; fingerprint examination; bloodstain pattern analysis; crime scene investigation techniques; and forensic microscopy, among many others. The AS degree program is 63 credits overall and includes courses such as criminal investigations; laws of evidence; criminal law; and introduction to forensic science.
Weber State University in Ogden offers a concentration in crime scene investigation, an adjacent field to forensic science. This degree program combines criminal justice, basic science, and forensic science courses to prepare students for criminal justice work in field and laboratory settings. The crime scene investigation concentration courses include criminal investigation; introduction to forensic science; crime scene investigation; laws of evidence; crime scene photography; physical methods in forensic science; friction ridge analysis; and research methods in forensic science.
In addition, students are encouraged to pursue other minor degree programs related to forensic science, including photography, anthropology with an archaeology emphasis, foreign language, and chemistry, to name a few.
In addition to general math and science courses, the criminal justice major requires 120 credits, 40 of which must be upper-division credit hours. An additional 79-82 credits are needed to earn the crime scene investigation concentration.
Utah Tech University in St. George offers a bachelor of arts or science degree program in criminal justice with two areas of emphasis in criminology and digital defense and security. The criminology emphasis prepares students for criminology, sociology, and forensic psychology careers. In contrast, the digital defense and security emphasis prepares students to fight and lead teams preventing computer-based crimes.
Courses in the criminology emphasis include laws of evidence; policing in U.S. society; and ethical issues in criminal justice. Courses in the digital defense and security emphasis include programming fundamentals; introduction to Unix/Linux; and ethical hacking and network defense.
To graduate with this degree, all students must earn a minimum of 120 college-level credits and 70 upper-division credits and maintain a C minus average in the discipline core requirements.
Southern Utah University offers an associate of applied science degree in criminal justice, as well as a bachelor of science or bachelor of arts degree program in criminal justice. The bachelor’s degree program can be completed on-campus or online. Notably, Southern Utah University also has a minor in criminal justice.
The criminal justice bachelor’s degree is an immersion in practical, street-based reality. Unlike several other criminal justice programs, at this Southern Utah University students won’t spend weeks reading about criminal justice theories. Instead, they will gain the kind of practical experience they can actually apply in whichever branch of criminal justice they decide to enter. At Southern Utah University’s campus in Cedar City, Utah, there is a fully-functional mock courtroom, mock crime scenes, a crime lab, and iPads with the actual software police officers use in their investigations of real crimes.
Comprising 120 credits, the bachelor’s degree includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice; criminal law; research methods in criminal justice; criminal justice management; criminological theory; forensic psychology; juvenile delinquency; and constitutional law.
These days more students are opting for distance learning for two reasons: to save time and continue working. Online degree programs offer working students the flexibility to complete coursework on nights and weekends. In addition, enrolling in an online degree program provides access to out-of-state educational programs outside the universities in Utah.
Just south of the Utah border, Arizona State University in Phoenix offers an online bachelor of science in criminology and criminal justice. Students in this program learn how to conduct research that adheres to protocols, develop theories, investigate crime scenes, and document evidence. Other topics covered include behavioral science, psychology, and logic. Graduates from this program work in law enforcement, corrections, and criminal justice case management.
Courses in this program emphasize social over life science compared to the previously mentioned forensic science degree programs. This means that graduates from this program may be prepared for more field-based careers rather than laboratory science work. Required courses include statistical analysis and research methods that can prepare students for forensic science careers with a solid background and prepare them for graduate-level forensic science programs.
This 120-credit program’s curriculum includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice; research methods; statistical analysis; criminology; criminal justice crime control policies and practices; introduction to corrections; introduction to policing; and courts and sentencing.
Across the country in Lynchburg, Virginia, Liberty University offers an online bachelor of science degree in criminal justice (crime scene investigation) that provides students with the analytical and scientific practices germane to forensics and law. Graduates from this program learn essential skills to participate in criminal investigations and techniques for documenting and preserving evidence for analysis.
To graduate from this program, students must complete 120 hours of courses from several disciplines, including civic and global engagement, Christianity and contexts, and criminology courses. In addition, Liberty University strives to save students money by providing all electronic textbooks free of charge and has not raised tuition rates for the past six years.
As part of the program, students will delve into topics such as criminal justice research & writing; introduction to forensics; crime scene photography; crime scene management; court & expert witness testimony; constitutional criminal procedure; criminal law; corrections; and criminology.
Located in San Diego, California, National University offers an on-campus and a fully online master of science degree in forensic science and a graduate-level certificate in forensic and crime scene investigations.
The graduate-level certificate program is designed for current law enforcement personnel, and students can transfer coursework from this program to the master’s degree program in forensic science.
Graduates from this program are prepared to apply scientific methodologies to solve criminal cases and legal protocols. The master’s program requires 54 quarter credits to graduate, while the graduate-level certificate requires 31.5 quarter units in forensic pathology, crime scene investigation, and digital evidence.
American InterContinental University offers an online bachelor of science program in criminal justice with a specialization in forensic science. Students in this program will explore how investigators solve crimes, how they conduct investigations, the theories of justice and crime, and common criminal procedures. This bachelor’s degree prepares students in conducting death-scene investigations and interpreting forensic analysis, processing and preserving evidence, and leveraging methodology, technology, and data.
The curriculum of this 180-credit program has a solid criminal justice foundation that thoroughly explores the U.S. legal system, crime theory, constitutional procedures, and crime victim studies. The other major component of this curriculum features specialized online courses in forensic science and a senior capstone project in criminal justice.
Courses include an introduction to criminology; an introduction to criminal law; an introduction to law enforcement; an introduction to the American court system; foundations of corrections; criminalistics; aspects of forensic psychology; criminal investigation; forensic biology; and medicolegal death investigation.
Other national online schools also provide online forensics and CSI programs that may be of interest to students seeking similar programs in Utah.
Students evaluating forensic science programs in Utah and beyond should look for both institutional and programmatic accreditation. Institutional accreditation means that the school has been evaluated for its standards and efficacy. For instance, Utah Valley University holds accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) offers accreditation specific to forensic science programs. Although this accreditation is not necessary for most entry-level jobs or certifications, it can be an essential indicator of a program’s history in higher education.
As of June 2023, only Utah Valley University in Utah has FEPAC-accredited programs. Utah students should remember that FEPAC accredits very few programs overall, meaning that plenty of reputable forensic science, criminal justice, and crime scene investigation programs have not earned FEPAC accreditation. When applying to programs that have not earned FEPAC accreditation, institutional accreditation should carry more weight.
Requirements for professional certification differ for each specialty. For instance, to earn certification from the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators, there are no specific educational requirements, only a knowledge of local, state, and federal laws. On the other hand, to become certified by the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists, applicants must complete at least 72 hours of relevant training in the field. Therefore, those interested in pursuing certification should be sure to learn the requirements for their certificate of choice before pursuing a degree.
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.