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Overview of an Associates in Forensic Science

If you're hooked on TV shows such as CSI and Forensic Files you may be considering career opportunities in forensic science and related areas of study. An online or traditional associate degree in forensic science can be your first step in entering the field of forensics as it will give you valuable insights into the field as well as a solid foundation on which to build either more forensic science education or a career in forensic laboratories, with law enforcement, or as forensic science technicians or forensic scientists.

Forensic sciences are an important part of criminal justice, specifically criminal investigations, and this is the degree field you'll need to enroll in. There are many areas of study in forensics and many careers to choose from within the field such as natural sciences, computer forensics, forensic anthropology, forensic psychology, etc. This can be a confusing subject to navigate, and the following information will give you valuable insight on important topics you should know when considering an associate degree in forensic science.


  • An online or traditional associate degree in forensic science will give you exposure to various aspects of the criminal justice system and law enforcement and will provide you with an inside view of the world of forensic science.
  • Your associate degree will allow you to explore different careers within the field so you can gain skills and zero in on your ideal area of forensic work: computer forensics, forensic psychology, etc.
  • An associate degree, whether earned online or in-person, makes you more valuable to employers and you will most likely earn more than a coworker with no degree, regardless of your occupation or if you work for local or federal government agencies.
  • When choosing between two equal job applicants, employers almost always choose the one with a degree over the one who only holds a high school diploma.
  • A career in forensics is an excellent way to make a difference in the world, as your work could be the driving factor in answering unanswered questions about a crime, putting a criminal behind bars, and providing vital support to law enforcement.
  • The field of forensics is growing, so you will most likely have no problem finding a job and advancing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a national growth of 17% in the next 10 years, which is higher than the national average for all occupations.


  • Your forensic science associate degree program won't qualify you for many positions within the field of forensics, such as positions as forensic scientists. On the associate level, forensics is usually taught as part of a criminal justice degree program, so you'll only be exposed to a small percentage of actual applied science forensic coursework.
  • Most jobs in the field of forensic science require at least a bachelor’s degree and higher positions will require a master's degree or doctorate. This is because those who work in forensic careers or for forensic laboratories or law enforcement are often called to testify in a court of law and must show they are experts in their field.
  • Many positions in forensics carry the risk of exposure to dangerous chemicals as well as drugs and other physical evidence that may have been confiscated at a crime scene.
  • You will need to undergo extensive background and psychological testing as part of the hiring process for forensic positions.
  • Careers in forensics can be stressful because it is tied to law enforcement and, if your work involves crime scenes, you may be exposed to horrific scenarios.

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Certificate vs. Associate's

In the field of forensics, an online certificate program is useful to someone who has completed a degree program in a field other than criminal justice. Because most entry-level jobs require at least a bachelor's degree, you may not qualify for a certificate program; if you do, you should make sure the credits will transfer to a bachelor’s degree program at a later date.

Certificate programs are different than certification. The Forensic Science Accreditation Board (FSAB) accredits several certifications for professionals in the field; these are designed to show expertise in a specific area of study in forensic science, such as crime scene investigation or crime scene analysis.

What Forensic Science Associate Degrees are Available Online?

There are three types of associate degrees you can earn online, in-person, or through hybrid programs (with online and traditional courses), and you will find criminal justice/forensic science degree programs of all three types:

  • Associate of Arts (AA)
  • Associate of Science (AS)
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS)

An AA will give you more leeway in your choice of electives and may be a good choice in a criminal justice program that offers a wide range of forensics electives. These are the most likely to be found online. An AS associate degree in forensic science at your community college will have a narrow choice of courses you can take as electives but may be an excellent degree choice if the electives are in areas of study you wish to take anyway. These are less likely to be 100% online as they require more science courses. Both the AA and the AS are designed to transfer smoothly to a four-year bachelor’s degree program.

An AAS degree is designed for immediate entry into the workforce and may work for you if you need to find employment in a short period of time. The downside is the AAS is not designed for transfer to a four-year program, so if you're considering an AAS forensic science degree program you should look closely on whether all of your credits will be accepted when you return to school for your four-year degree.

Here are some sample degree titles from various schools:

  • Associate in Science in Criminal Justice Technology
  • Associate of Applied Arts and Sciences in Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Science with a major in Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice Technology

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Admission Requirements

Associate degree programs are designed to have minimal entry requirements and, generally speaking, you only need transcripts of your high school diploma or a GED for admission. You will also have to fill out the admission application and pay a standard fee. Most schools also require you to show proof of residency in order to qualify for in-state tuition rates. Admission requirements will be the same for online students as they are for traditional students, so don't think admissions will be easier if you choose an online program. You should make sure the program you are considering is fully accredited and all your credits will be transferable to a four-year program.

How long does it take to earn a Forensic Science Associate's Online?

An online associate degree is considered a two-year degree because it will take you about two years to complete if you attend school full-time, whether online or not. Some online programs are also offered at an accelerated speed so that online students can graduate more quickly than traditional students. If you are still in high school, you may be able to take college level courses in subjects such as English or math and earn one or more semesters worth of community college credits before graduation.

Many schools participate in the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) which allows you to test out of subjects for a nominal fee. CLEP currently offers 33 exams in a wide range of topics and you can earn many of your associate degree level credits if you are well-versed in topics covered by your associate degree program. This can cut a year or more off the time it will take to earn your forensic science degree.

Potential Careers in Forensic Science with an Associate's

As mentioned above, an online or on-campus associate forensic science degree program is not the norm for entry-level careers in forensics. For the most part, the following positions will require a forensic science degree or higher, but you may qualify for assistant positions working under these titles (for example: forensic science technician assistant). The annual salaries listed are average rates; in an assistant position you will most likely earn less but will gain valuable experience while continuing your education.

  • Forensic Science Technician
    Forensic science technicians are often employed by police departments and are charged with transferring, receiving, preparing, and preserving items and physical evidence that is collected as part of an investigation. They may input the data into computer systems, classify evidence, and analyze data that is provided by lead investigators. The average pay for a forensic science technician is $49,600 per year.
  • Evidence Technician
    An evidence technician is primarily employed by police departments or private companies and their job is to assist forensic scientists and investigators by identifying, collecting, and processing evidence that is related to a crime. They typically travel to crime scenes and must write reports that detail their findings and analysis. They may also label, catalog, and index evidence found at a crime scene. The average pay for an evidence technician is $38,800 per year.
  • Latent Print Examiner
    The latent print examiner is in charge of collecting fingerprints from people and crime scenes. Their primary role is to lift prints from guns, doors, cars, and any other surface that may have been touched during the crime. The collected prints are then enlarged and compared electronically to one or more existing databases that contain the prints of known criminals. The average latent print examiner earns $67,300 per year

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Options to Advance

Your online associate degree will give you an excellent base of knowledge concerning the criminal justice system and will most likely allow you to decide the exact field of forensics you'd like to pursue. You should plan on earning your bachelor’s degree as soon as possible; long-term goals should include earning a master's degree and possibly a doctorate.

As well as earning your higher degrees, you should plan on earning certifications in the area of specialization you've chosen for your career in forensics. This will demonstrate that you are at the top of your field in both knowledge and experience.

Best Online Associate of Science in Forensic Science Programs

When choosing a college, you should verify the program is approved by The American Association of Forensic Science which, through the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission, accredits most reputable degree programs.

  • Miami Dade College
    Miami, Florida

    This program has a focus on technology and is for those who do not intend to pursue a career in law enforcement. Miami Dade in known internationally as a premiere training center for public safety professionals and the AS in criminal technology transfers smoothly to their four-year program.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice Technology
  • Pamlico Community College
    Grantsboro, North Carolina

    Pamlico's program includes courses on investigative principles, computers in the legal system, criminology, and the technology used within the justice system. The AA degree is transferable to four-year programs, both on-campus and online, to give you options for your higher degree.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Arts in Criminal Justice Technology
  • Shoreline Community College
    Shoreline, Washington

    Shoreline has a standard AA, as well as a transfer program, that is basically the first two years of your bachelor’s degree and will move seamlessly into your four-year forensics degree. This program has a heavier concentration on crime scenes and the forensic aspects of law enforcement and is an excellent choice for those living in or planning to attend school in Washington State.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Applied Arts and Sciences in Criminal Justice
    • The Associate of Arts - Direct Transfer Agreement (AA-DTA)
  • South Texas College
    McAllen, Texas

    The program at South Texas is broad and designed to encompass all aspects of criminal justice. While you won't have exposure to as much forensics as some other criminal justice programs, you will have a much better understanding of the policies, principles, and practices within the criminal justice system.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Bismarck State College
    Bismarck, North Dakota

    Bismarck offers a balanced program that covers all the fundamental areas of criminal justice. The program was developed with criminal justice professionals and offers several electives in the areas of forensic science to give you a well-rounded undergraduate degree.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Applied Science Criminal Justice

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Traditional Schools Offering an AS in Forensic Science

  • New England College
    Henniker, New Hampshire

    New England College has a program that will give you an excellent foundation in criminal justice with a multidisciplinary approach that allows you to explore specific areas in depth via elective courses. The associate program can be studied completely online, making it an excellent choice for those with busy life schedules.

    Degrees Offered:

    • AA in Criminal Justice
  • Florida Institute of Technology
    Melbourne, Florida

    At Florida Tech you'll gain industry knowledge from professionals who work in the field of criminal justice. Florida Institute of Technology is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, so you can be assured your degree will transfer easily into a four-year program.

    Degrees Offered:

    • AA in Criminal Justice
  • Indiana Wesleyan University
    Marion, Indiana

    Wesleyan's criminal justice program is offered completely online as well as at locations in Kentucky and Indiana. The associate degree can be completed in 26 months and includes electives in forensics as well as crime scene investigation. All credits are transferable to a four-year degree.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science with a major in Criminal Justice
  • Liberty University
    Lynchburg, Virginia

    Liberty's program introduces you to the essential concepts of the criminal justice system as you learn about crime from inception to trial. Evidence collection and crime scene investigation are included to give you valuable insight into the processes involved in convicting criminals.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate Degree in Criminal Justice
  • Southern New Hampshire University
    Manchester, New Hampshire

    At Southern New Hampshire University, you'll learn a career-focused overview of the criminal justice system. The curriculum is designed to segue smoothly into the Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice program at the same institution but will also transfer to many other schools without issue. A wide range of electives will allow you access to more forensic science topics than you'll find at many schools and will give you an opportunity to fine-tune your career goals.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Associate of Science Criminal Justice

Frequently Asked Questions

What is forensic evidence?

Forensic evidence is generally anything that is left behind at a crime scene that requires a forensic scientist to interpret. After all, you don’t need a forensic scientist to tell you that there’s a gun at the scene, but you might need a ballistics expert to tell you if the bullets fired from that gun match the ones found in a wall or a victim. You might also have someone take fingerprints and try to match them to a suspect or run them through a fingerprint database and see if they can figure out who last held the gun. If you have a suspect, you might have a forensic science technician check their hands or sleeves for evidence that they shot a gun recently.

Disciplines in forensic science include the following.

  • Digital Evidence
  • DNA
  • Forensic Chemistry
  • Forensic Entomology (insects)
  • Forensic Toxicology
  • Latent Fingerprint Examination
  • Trace Evidence Examination (glass, hairs, polymers, soil, etc.)

Will I need a bachelor’s or master’s to work in forensic science?

The truth is that many labs require that forensic science analysts have at least a bachelor’s degree. Depending on the lab you work for or your specialty, you might even need to have a master’s degree. So, though an associate degree can help you start your academic career in the most inexpensive way possible, if you choose to work in this field you may eventually need to go back to school.

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