Discover Your Path to Top Universities and Colleges in Forensic Science

30/01/202422 minute read
Discover Your Path to Top Universities and Colleges in Forensic Science

This blog post delves into the intricacies of forensic science, particularly emphasizing its role in crime scene investigations, where chemistry and biology play pivotal roles. Forensic science is a great arena for gifted professionals to apply science to solving real-life crimes in high-stakes law enforcement and courtroom proceedings. It’s also a path offering a bright and flexible career horizon.

In this post you’ll find essential guidance on choosing the right degree pathway and best forensic science school for your goals and discover specific career options and salary projections. Above all, we'll explore colleges and universities offering robust forensic science programs and explain the important features to consider when comparing programs. Finally, you'll get essential admissions and financial aid tips — everything you need to start on your path to a top-notch forensic science college or university.

What to Know About Forensic Science

Forensics is a field that applies science and scientific analysis to the work of solving crimes. In fact, “forensic” comes from the Latin forensis, or “forum” — the place where ancient Romans held court trials.

There are forensic practices in art, psychology, anthropology,  finance, cybersecurity, physics, chemistry, and biology. But when it comes to crime scene investigations, specially trained chemists and biologists play a crucial role, alongside other science experts, criminologists, and detectives. For people intent on pursuing a STEM career, forensic science offers a unique option.

Forensic scientists contribute essential crime solving analysis that illuminates crime scenes investigations, informs ongoing detective work, and guides courtroom proceedings. From turning silent clues into meaningful evidence, unmasking criminals, exonerating the innocent, or even finding new ways to approach long-unsolved cold cases, forensic science is not your everyday lab job!

Depending on their role, forensic scientists may use highly specialized procedures, a range of lab skills, or statistical analysis and inductive reasoning to examine evidence and draw valid conclusions.

Taking any episode of CSI or a similar Hollywood crime drama as an example, you know that a forensic scientist might use blood samples, DNA specimens, fingerprints, and other findings from physical crime scenes to inform investigations or confirm or rule out competing explanations of a crime. They may also combine disciplined methodology with a bit of crime solving ingenuity to unlock important findings when detectives are at an impasse.

Why Forensic Science?

Some people have a passion for science but are less sure about careers in traditional scientific research, development, or analysis roles. Forensic science roles offer opportunities to use advanced science knowledge and analysis methods in unique ways, with an emphasis on unraveling real mysteries with the mind of a sleuth.

Putting aside cyber crime and financial fraud, most forensic scientists master and combine skills and knowledge from biology and medicine alongside principles from criminology. This means the work, while highly technical, is also infused with crime solving concepts and offers you the thrill and satisfaction of unraveling consequential mysteries in a quest for justice.

Obviously forensic scientists can apply their laboratory skills, medical training, and foundational knowledge of biology and chemistry in a range of professional roles. Typically, though, lab-based forensic scientists are tasked with providing certifiable legal analyses and reports that inform criminal investigations or related court proceedings.

Another interesting career direction for forensic scientists is crime scene investigator. Working in this kind of role typically means working in the field rather than a lab setting. Many crime scene investigators apply a combination of science knowledge and specialized criminology concepts to analyze physical crime scenes, working directly alongside law enforcement investigators.

Given these career paths and interdisciplinary features, you’ll find that many forensic science universities offer a range of concentrations and courses, as well as options to major or minor in complementary disciplines.

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Studying forensic science can lead to bright career opportunities too. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts a brisk growth rate of 13% for occupations in forensic science over the next decade, along with great potential to earn attractive salaries.

OccupationAnnual Salary
Forensic Science Technicians$63,740
Biological Technicians$49,650
Chemical Technicians$50,840
Chemists and Materials Scientists$81,810
Police and Detectives$69,160

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

If you believe forensic science is a great way to put your science interests to work, you’ll want to find a school that provides you the right mix of rigorous, specialized, and practical learning opportunities for your interests. Keep reading to discover what to look for when selecting a forensic science program and how to begin charting your own path to a high-ranking forensic science college or university.

Finding the Right Forensic Science Degree Program

According to the BLS, pursuing a career in forensic science will typically require at least a bachelor’s degree. Some aspirants may choose to pursue a major in forensic science; others might enroll in a criminal justice degree track and pursue a concentration or minor in forensic science.

With that in mind, finding colleges and universities that offer a high level of training is an important bridge to a rewarding outcome after graduation.

One avenue for identifying the most rewarding degree programs is to gather information from Forensic Science professional associations or accreditation bodies, such as the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), or the Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations (CFSO), among others.

Here’s a listing of top forensic science degree programs at prominent institutions. Many listed here are also accredited by the AAFS Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).

Leading Forensic Science Degree Programs
College or UniversityForensic Science Offerings
Boston University School of Medicine, Boston Massachusetts, USABiomedical Forensic Sciences Program, MS in Forensic Anthropology
The George Washington University, Washington DC, USABS in Chemistry with a Concentration in Forensic Science; MS in Forensic Science
Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis, Indiana, USABS in Forensic Science and Investigative Sciences; MS in Investigative Sciences
John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York, New York, USABS and MS in Forensic Science with Diverse Concentrations
Loyola University at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USABS in Forensic Science
San Jose State University, San Jose, California, USABS in Forensic Chemistry, Forensic Biology, Digital Evidence, or Crime Scene Investigation
University of Toronto, Toronto, CanadaBS in Forensic Science
Pennsylvania State University (Penn State), University Park, Pennsylvania, USABS in Forensic Science; Master of Professional Studies in Forensic Science
Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USABS in Forensic & Investigative Sciences
University of Sydney, Sydney AustraliaBS in Forensic Science
King’s College London, London, EnglandMSc and MRes in Forensic Science
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What to Look for When Selecting a Forensic Science Program

There could be many factors to consider when choosing a forensic science program. These could include:

Another important consideration when you’re searching for top colleges in forensic science is accreditation.

You can look for general institutional accreditation and also for specialized programmatic, professional, or technical accreditations specific to core curriculum components.

For more information inquire with organizations for accreditation such as CHEA, the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Keep in mind that some universities offer stronger academic programs across all STEM subjects and medicine, while others may have a more specialized vocational approach.

You’ll also want to home in on leading programs that support your goals in terms of concentrations or specializations. Do you want a strong grounding in Biology? Chemistry? Statistics? Criminology and Investigative Sciences?...

Despite the extra effort it takes to sift through different programs, the variety you'll find is an opportunity to target programs truly tailored to your interests as you pursue the curriculum components and other resources most important to you.

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Program Features at Top Forensic Science Colleges

We’ve picked a handful of schools from the list above to illustrate some of the ways programs differ in scope and orientation. Hopefully the features spotlighted will give you some practical insights into what to look for based on your own goals and interests.

Penn State:  Exceptional opportunity for interdisciplinary breadth and exploration along with top-notch forensic lab facilities

Penn State’s forensic science program boasts a broad interdisciplinary model supported by collaborations across diverse academic departments, such as biology, physiology, mathematics, criminology, and social sciences. Students at Penn State can also benefit from access to a state-of-art crime lab facility for hands-on training experiences.

CUNY John Jay College of Criminal Justice: A must-do internship component and a relatively unique set of specialized pathways

Features of the forensic science major at John Jay include distinct academic pathways including specializations in toxicology, molecular biology, or criminalistics. An internship requirement and other opportunities for experiential learning are also part of the mix.

Texas A&M: Advanced technologies and a non-scientific pre-law pathway

This program offers access to hands-on learning with advanced professional technologies. Also students can opt for a science track (FEPAC accredited), or an alternate track with a pre-law orientation.

San Jose State University: Rich and fully accredited curriculum pathways with a vocational orientation

SJSU offers multiple forensic curriculum tracks, that include Crime Scene Investigation, and Digital Evidence, in addition to Forensic Biology and Forensic Chemistry. Programmatic accreditation from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences suggests the program is both comprehensive and pragmatic when it comes to imparting practical and up-to-date professional knowledge and skills.

North Carolina State University: Exceptional academic networks, rich interdisciplinary pathways, and a research institute with global reach

If you want to have access to a network of scholars and faculty and learning opportunities infused by interdisciplinary studies, you’ll find all of that at NCSU. The NCSU Forensic Science Institute has partnerships with the state’s Department of Justice and Office of the Medical Examiner and promotes tech-focused collaborations with the National Institute of Justice and the National Forensic Science Technology Center.

Boston University: An elite level of forensic science learning, cutting-edge medical facilities, and access to trained medical professionals

When you’re ready to advance to an MS track, consider getting a graduate degree in biomedical forensic science while learning at a renowned School of Medicine with state-of-the-art facilities and a dynamic biomedical research center. Networking and internship opportunities also abound in a city brimming with universities, law enforcement agencies, and numerous medical research centers.

West Virginia University: A choice of science-focused pathways, access to crime labs, and proximity to a plethora of federal investigative agencies

WVU programs are a great foundation for careers in forensic criminology and research. WVU also offers a Forensic Examiner track for those who want training that leads to field work and doing hands-on forensic investigations and evidence collection at crime scenes. WVU also offers a top-notch research facility humming with Forensic Science faculty and students at both graduate and undergraduate levels.

King's College London:  Full program accreditation, a focus on advanced forensic knowledge and skills, and robust external networks

King’s College London is a premier institution in the UK for the study of forensic science. Fully accredited by The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences, the program offers cutting-edge technology resources for up-to-date vocational training along with a global placement network for those interested in research. Robust external collaborations connect students and faculty with local law enforcement agencies.

Real-Life Forensic Science Pathways and Success Stories

While it can be very exciting to think about charting a path to new learning and professional opportunities, it can be more sobering to think about where you’ll really wind up after graduating with a forensic science degree.

However, jumping into a cool CSI role may, or may not be, what everyone wants or expects...

The good news is that earning your BS in Forensic Science will open more doors than you may imagine:

  • internships
  • entry-level careers in officer ranks within the armed services
  • lab or crime scene technician roles
  • relevant software specializations
  • advanced study in forensic science skills or research
  • graduate degree programs in fields such as pharmacology, medicine, criminal justice, law, technical writing, or even software design…

Here are some of the many pathways followed by real students who've gone down the forensic science path before you:

  • Working as an Evidence Technician at a forensic science research center
  • Teaching high school chemistry and physics
  • Working at a Firearms Laboratory for a municipal police department
  • Advancing to a graduate program in Veterinary Medicine
  • Employed as a Criminalist in forensic biology with a municipal police department
  • Works as a private consultant on DNA forensics advising law enforcement and court proceedings
  • Found a career role at a federal agency such as the US Department of Justice or FBI
  • Working as a Deputy Sheriff and Police Detective

If you have a passion for forensic science but you're not sure, yet, about where you're headed after graduating, you can see your path will offer a wide range of compelling opportunities and flexible possibilities at each step of your journey.

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Campus Life and Resources

Offerings will vary at different universities and colleges, but attending a high-ranking institution, and opting for in-person learning can have many benefits, connect you with valuable resources and networks, and may make it easier to thrive academically. Residential learning at top schools may be more likely to provide any or all of the following:

  • strong science faculty with exceptional academic and professional credentials
  • increased opportunities to connect with networks of scholars
  • more robust scientific research activities and investments
  • potential for larger university-to-industry or university-to-government partnerships and pipelines
  • hands-on laboratory learning opportunities
  • access to undergraduate research fellowships and mentors
  • tutoring services
  • fun social and recreational activities and networks

You also don’t have to wait to join a professional association. Joining a forensic science association when you start your degree program can help you build a professional support and referral network sooner, make it easier to track career trends and best practices, and connect you to career-oriented workshops and educational resources.

Connecting with a relevant professional association is a great way to enhance your career exploration and prospecting as you decide which academic pathways to follow.

It's also a good idea to investigate if there are professional certifications or licensing requirements you need to consider. Relevant forensic science certification boards, among others, include:

  • Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB)
  • American Board of Criminalistics (ABC)
  • American Board of Forensic Toxicology (ABFT)
  • International Board of Forensic Engineering Sciences (IBFES)
  • American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA)

At present, most jobs in the field do not require state-sponsored licensing, but that could change. Also, earning certification may be an option that could increase your career prospects down the road.

Admissions Process

Admissions requirements for an online forensic science degree program can vary from school to school. You’ll probably be expected, for most programs, to have a good high school GPA along with transcripts demonstrating qualifying science and math coursework.

If you plan to follow a BS track, which is most common for programs in this field, you’ll almost certainly find yourself better positioned for admissions if you've completed academically rigorous coursework in core science and math subjects, particularly biology, chemistry, and statistics.

The following are some common required or recommended application components:

For more information about a prospective school’s specific admissions requirements, you can check the school’s website or ask to speak to an admissions officer.

When applying to any track with a biology, chemistry, or similar science focus, a transcript showing your success in rigorous college prep coursework in those subjects could be required or very helpful in your quest to get into a top school and program.

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Navigating Educational Expenses: Financial Aid and Scholarships

Many students are not in a position to be able to afford all the upfront costs of getting a four-year forensic science degree from a superior institution. Tuition costs for top schools in the US, and elsewhere, can be daunting. Fortunately, student financial aid programs – state and federal — and various scholarship programs often help students offset these costs so they can move forward with confidence.

Filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), is typically a crucial first step, usually required to qualify for need-based grants, federal student loans, or work study eligibility.

If you’re already working in the field, you may qualify for tuition reimbursement programs offered by an employer or any number of private foundations.

What Makes Crimson Different

Final Thoughts:

If you’re looking to use science and scientific methods for solving crimes or want to work out in the field, alongside law enforcement officers, as a crime scene investigator, then finding a university or college with a high quality forensic science program may be your most important next step.

Fortunately, you’re now outfitted with a lot of insights you can use to chart your own next steps with more clarity and confidence.

For additional guidance, it’s easy to book a free consultation with a Crimson Education Advisor — for guidance about your major, best target schools, SAT/ACT coaching, and especially for highly personalized admissions planning that gets results. Year after year, our knowledgeable Admissions Advisors help students like you beat the odds when it comes to winning acceptance offers to top schools in the US, UK, and Europe. Let's get your initial consultation scheduled, so you can tell us where you are on your college journey as we explore your next steps together.

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