Overview of a Bachelor’s in Forensic Science
If you're hooked on TV shows depicting the use of modern technology being used to solve crimes, you may find yourself considering a career in forensic science. The forensic science field covers a wide range of job prospects for successful careers, from fingerprint analysis to crime scene processing or working with a team of forensic science technicians in a crime laboratory; as a professional, you'll need to identify your preferred area of expertise in order to choose your career of choice.
Because forensic scientists often assist a law enforcement agency or are called as expert witnesses in court proceedings within the criminal justice system, your four-year degree in the forensic sciences will be considered a stepping stone in your career. It will allow you to qualify for internship opportunities or entry-level positions in your career of choice so you can gain valuable hands-on experience as you work your way up or continue your studies with an advanced degree in order to become an expert in your field.
An undergraduate program than offers a forensic science degree will offer a variety of core courses depending on the state and university, but you might take courses in some of the following subjects:
- Physical Sciences such as Forensic Chemistry and Mathematics
- Molecular Biology and Chemistry: Forensic Biology
- Forensic Evidence Collection
- Physical Evidence Analysis
- Trace Evidence and DNA Analysis
- Computer Forensics and Digital Forensics
- Critical Thinking Skills
- And More
- Forensic science degree programs will give you valuable exposure to all the career opportunities and fields within the realm of forensic science, the criminal justice system, and the legal system so that forensic science majors and graduates can zero in on your ideal specialty area, such as working as a forensic anthropologist or with forensic laboratories.
- Forensic science is constantly evolving, so you should have job opportunity and security in your career of choice as well as an increasing number of forensic science degrees to choose from.
- You'll be making a positive impact on the world as you help with criminal investigations using your scientific knowledge.
- You may have the chance to use your expertise to exonerate innocent people who have been wrongly convicted of a crime by the legal system.
- Your job options will be expansive because of the required knowledge base; you should be able to find work anywhere in the country.
- Those who hold even an undergraduate level degree earn more on average than those with lower-level degrees or only a high school diploma.
- A forensic science bachelor degree will qualify you for entry into a master's degree program, which will, in turn, qualify you as an expert in your field.
- Because forensic scientists must be considered experts in order to testify in court, an undergraduate degree in forensic science will not qualify you for higher positions within the field of forensics, even with real-world experience.
- You'll be required to undergo an extensive background check that includes psychological and physical examinations before entering most positions.
- You may work in a lab or visit a crime scene where you are exposed to dangerous chemicals or blood-borne illnesses.
- You must hold a standard of accuracy that is beyond reproach as legal rulings will depend on your scientific findings in criminal investigations.
- You will need extensive experience and education to reach the top of your field of expertise thether that is forensic biology, forensic chemistry, trace evidence or DNA analysis, etc.
- Unlike TV shows, the results of your tests and procedures may take weeks or months. Forensic sciencs is exacting and takes dedication, patience, and attention to detail at all times.
- Forensic science is constantly evolving and you'll need to stay educated on new techniques and breakthroughs throughout your career.
Certificate vs. Bachelor's
In the various fields of forensic science, a bachelor’s degree is one of the requirements for certification testing. For example, to become certified in Blood Stain Pattern Analysis you will need to hold a bachelor’s degree and three years experience in order to qualify to sit for the exam; those with an associate degree may sit for the test if they meet certain other requirements.
Certain certifications, such as Crime Scene Investigator, are based on a combination experience and a minimal amount of classroom work to qualify to sit for the exam; if that is the case for your area of expertise you should earn each certificate as soon as you qualify. That way you can showcase your expertise as you continue your education and experience.
What Forensic Science Bachelor’s Degrees are Available?
As the occupation suggests, bachelor’s degree programs in forensic science are almost exclusively Bachelor of Science degrees (as opposed to Bachelor of Arts degrees). That is because the end goal is to become a scientist, which involves many courses in both science and mathematics.
Your Bachelor of Science degree may have a wide range of title choices depending on your field of choice. For example, someone interested in crime scene investigation may choose a criminal justice program with a specialty of concentration in crime scene analysis; anyone who plans to enter the field of blood patterns or analysis might look for a chemistry degree. Your best plan is to choose an area of expertise and research the curriculum and prerequisites of master's degree programs while choosing a bachelor’s degree school so you know exactly what you need to enter a graduated degree program.
The first two years of your bachelor’s degree program will be core and general courses, so if you're not sure what area you'd like to concentrate on you will be exposed to many aspects of forensic science. By the end of your second year, you'll know what area you are passionate about and that will guide your long-term career and educational goals.
Here are some sample titles of Forensic Science Bachelor Degrees:
- Bachelor of Science in Forensics: Concentrations in Forensic Science and Police Science
- Bachelor of Science in Chemistry: Concentration in Forensic Science
- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice: Minor in Forensic Science, certificate in crime scene investigations
- Bachelor’s Degree in Investigative Forensics
Although each school sets its own admission requirements, there are standards you'll find throughout the educational system. In general, to be accepted in a bachelor’s degree program you'll need to have a high school diploma or GED and have a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.0, as well as a minimum test score on your SAT or ACT.
Most colleges and universities charge a standard application fee, which you'll need to submit when you fill out the application. You may also need a copy of your resume, a personal statement, and an admissions essay. If you're attending school in-state, you'll need to show proof of residency in order to qualify for in-state tuition rates.
How long does it take to earn a Forensic Science Bachelor's?
A bachelor’s degree is considered a four-year degree because it takes four years to complete if you attend full-time. If you already have an associate degree, it will only take two years; if you take half a class load each semester, it will take twice as long to complete.
If you're still in high school, you can take college level courses and complete a semester or more of college credits before graduation. You can also use the College Level Examination Program (CLEP) to test out of specific core subjects for a minimal fee. This can save you another semester or more depending on your knowledge base.
Potential Careers in Forensic Science with a Bachelor’s
Your bachelor’s degree is considered an entry-level degree. While you will qualify for many positions within the field of forensic science you will not be considered an expert until you earn your master's or doctorate degree. You will most likely qualify for the following careers, but in an assistant or novice position. That means you'll most likely earn less than the median wage listed for each career.
Crime Scene Investigator (CSI): Your responsibility will be to secure and examine details of a crime scene to determine what is of evidentiary value. The job of a CSI is time consuming and meticulous. You’ll identify and lift fingerprints, and you may be tasked with mundane chores such as extracting all substances from a room's carpet to determine whether anything is pertinent to the crime. The average pay for a CSI is $48,200 per year.
Forensic Ballistics Expert: The forensic ballistics expert is an authority on all things related to the discharge of firearms. They may be charged with identifying guns by the type of bullet found at the scene or in a victim, as well as the behavior and effects of a specific type of firearm. Forensic ballistics experts often testify at trials and must be the best in their field. Average salary is $50,900 per year.
Options to Advance
As mentioned above, your long-term goal should be a master's degree or doctorate in your field of choice. Because forensic science as a whole is a combination of education and experience, many who enter the field do so at the bachelor’s degree level and continue their formal education while gaining experience on the job.
A master's degree will allow you to become an expert in many fields of forensics. Certain areas such as laboratory research, teaching, forensic psychology, and forensic anthropology will require a doctoral degree. Because forensics is constantly advancing you should make sure your education does the same. By staying on top of the latest developments in your field you can advance steadily while earning your graduate degree.
Best Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science Programs
Albany State University
Albany State's forensic program is part of the chemistry department and features state-of-the-art equipment. Students learn the latest forensic techniques and breakthroughs in regard to the molecular aspects of the field. This program also offers a STEM scholarship.
- Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science
Appalachian State University
Boone, North Carolina
At Appalachian, the forensics program is a combination of scholarship and service, so you can expect to work directly with local crime labs and professionals in the field. Many internships with local law enforcement agencies lead to permanent positions after graduation.
- Bachelor of Science in Chemistry
- Concentration in Forensic Science
California State University, Long Beach
Long Beach, California
California State has an interdisciplinary program that exposes the student to a wide range of criminal justice subjects as well as forensic crime scene analysis. Graduates can transfer directly to a Master's degree program.
- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
- Minor in Forensic Science, certificate in crime scene investigations
University of Baltimore
Maryland's program works in direct conjunction with the Baltimore Police Department to give hands-on learning at crime scenes as well as a solid academic program to give you both practical experience and scientific knowledge.
- Bachelor of Science in Forensics
- Concentrations in Forensic Science and Police Science
The Columbia program prepares students for entry-level positions within the realm of forensics, with a solid curriculum that will transfer smoothly to a master's degree program in your field of choice.
- Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science
- Certificate in Crime Scene Investigation
Traditional Schools Offering a BS in Forensic Science
Colorado State University
Greenwood Village, Colorado
Colorado State offers a specialization in criminal forensics under their criminal justice program. Discounts are available for military as well as corporate affiliates, so check with your employer to see if your tuition can be paid for or reimbursed.
- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Forensics
University of Maryland University College
The University of Maryland offers a degree that is specific to investigative forensics. Students learn a blend of criminal justice and crime scene science. Upon graduation you will be eligible to take certification exams in latent prints or crime scene analysis.
- Investigative Forensics Bachelor’s Degree
American InterContinental University
AIU offers a program that combines science and law enforcement subjects to develop the skills required to pursue a specific area of forensics at the master's degree level. All credits transfer smoothly to the graduate degree program.
- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
At Liberty you'll gain a solid foundation of crime scene investigative skills to prepare you for entry-level positions within the field. Courses use case studies to teach the finer aspects of a criminal investigation.
- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice - Crime Scene Investigation
Purdue University Global
Purdue Universal offers a crime scene investigation concentration that will provide all the skills and knowledge you'll need to enter the field. A strong foundation of criminal justice classes will give you valuable insight into the justice system and the part crime scene investigators play in bringing a case to court.
- Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice: Crime scene investigation concentration