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Forensic Science Degree Options

Certificate Programs

Forensic science certificates are available for both students and experienced professionals. Educational certificates are appropriate for students who don’t have an advanced degree and would like to apply for an entry-level job, such as a position as a forensic science technician. These certificates are typically offered by trade, vocational, or technical schools and can typically be completed in a few months.

Experienced forensic scientists may obtain advanced certification from a professional organization in order to earn a higher salary, network with other professionals, or to learn about the most current developments in the field.

In order to ensure the quality and value of a certificate program, applicants should always verify that the organization or program they plan on attending is accredited. Some of the most eminent national professional organizations that offer certification for forensic scientists include the American Board of Criminalistics, the American College of Forensic Examiners International, and the International Association for Identification. Certification from these agencies will likely require a particular level of professional experience or formal education, an examination, and continuing education units.

Associate's Degrees

An associate degree in forensic science is the most basic degree available within this field. Associate degrees are typically two-year programs that are offered at junior colleges and community colleges. There is a significant liberal arts component of an associate degree, so students will learn about subjects that may not seem directly related to forensic science, such as history and English. Since forensic science professionals may be called on to testify in court regarding evidence or findings that pertain to a certain case, it is essential for these professionals to be able to analyze information and communicate their ideas effectively. Core courses will likely cover topics such as collecting and preserving biological evidence, investigating and protecting crime scenes, and ethics. Students may also be required to complete an internship.

The most practical application of a two-year associate degree in forensic science is for graduates to pursue careers as forensic science technicians. Graduates may also become crime scene specialists or technicians, evidence specialists, or lab technicians. These professionals often work in tandem with forensic scientists, who typically need full-fledged bachelor’s degree to earn this position.

Students should only consider associate degree programs that have been accredited by the US Department of Education.

Bachelor's Degree

The primary eligibility requirement for a career as a forensic scientist is a Bachelor of Arts degree (BA). Most bachelor’s degree programs are offered at colleges and universities, but they’re also available at some trade and vocational schools. Students should choose a degree program from an accredited institution in order to ensure that they receive a high-quality education. The US Department of Education maintains a list of accredited programs and institutions.

As with associate degree programs, there is a significant liberal arts component of most bachelor degree programs in which students will learn about subjects that are not directly related to forensic science. Bachelor’s graduates may be qualified for an entry-level position as a forensic scientist with a degree in forensic science, chemistry, physics, biology, or physical anthropology.

After the completion of general education requirements, the courses required in forensic science BA programs will be primarily focused on math and science, such as pharmacology, biology, chemistry, statistics, physics, and quantitative analysis. Students will also learn perform lab work to learn about collecting, analyzing, and preserving biological evidence.

Master's Degrees

A master’s degree is typically required to pursue advanced positions in forensic science. Candidates looking to enroll in these degree programs must first earn a bachelor’s degree, which requires four years of full-time study. Then, master’s degree programs are typically another two or three years of full-time study and can take longer if students attend the program part time. Choosing an accredited degree program is necessary if students want to make sure that they’re getting the best possible education and that their degree will be recognized by potential employers.

The vast majority of master’s degree programs are offered at colleges and universities, and they generally provide opportunities for students to specialize even further within the field of forensic science. Students can specialize in areas such as firearm examination or other forms of weapons, specific types of cases to be investigated, molecular biology, biochemistry, or population genetics.

Candidates who have earned a master’s degree in forensic science may be eligible to work for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in a number of different capacities, including fieldwork or administrative positions. Most administrative positions in this field require professionals to have at least a master’s degree.

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