Forensic science is the discipline in which professionals use scientific means to analyze physical crime evidence. This evidence is then presented in court in order to help determine the innocence or guilt of a specific suspect. In order to determine the relevance of any evidence forensic scientists use a number of scientific and mathematical techniques. Forensic scientists must also possess a high level of reasoning skills in order to put many different elements together to come up with one single conclusive idea that will stand as successful evidence in the court of law. There are a variety of locations in which forensic scientists can find work at local, state, and government level. These locations include laboratories, law enforcement agencies, and autopsy examination centers.
Individuals can earn their associate degree in forensic science in just two years by completing on average 60 credit hours. Students will be required to complete both general and major-specific education requirements. Major-specific courses include Microbiology, Photography in the Forensic Sciences, Forensic Psychology, Basic Accident Investigation, and Physical Identifiers. Upon completing their program some graduates will be eligible for entry-level positions within the industry but most will go on to continue their education in a bachelor's program. In order to be admitted to an associate degree program applicants will have to have a high school diploma or GED. Some colleges will also require that their applicant participate in a test to determine what level of general education courses the individual will be placed in. Tuition for this level of program averages between $6,300 and $17,400.
Students participating in a bachelor's degree program can finish their studies in four years with an average of 120 semester credit hours of work. Programs are available specifically in forensic science, as well as forensic biology or chemistry, or criminal justice with a forensic science emphasis. Either of these programs would be appropriate for someone looking to make their career in forensic science, depending on what their specific career interest is. The first half of the program will typically be dedicated to general education courses while the second half will focus on courses specific to forensic science. Key core courses include Criminal Procedure and Evidence, Fingerprint Analysis, Crime Scene Investigation, Crime Victim Studies, Constitutional Issues in Criminal Procedures, and Theories of Crime Causation. Many programs will also offer internships for students who are interested in applying what they have learned to real-world scenarios before they graduate. After students have graduated they will be eligible to go on to hold entry-level positions within the field of forensic science, such as that of forensic science technician, forensic pathologist, or crime scene investigator . Applicants for this degree level must have a high school diploma or GED. Competitive programs will require that applicants have at least a 2.5 high school GPA. Applicants who have college experience will need to submit their college transcripts for review. Students can expect to pay an average annual tuition set between $8,520 and $21,000.
By seeking a master's degree in forensic science individuals can prepare for advanced positions within the forensic science industry. Graduates can find work in crime labs, the police department, governmental agencies like the Drug Enforcement Administration, medical examiner's offices, hospital labs, and pharmaceutical companies. Work in education, such as that of a high school teacher, is also available to master's degree holders, but additional training or certification may be needed. Students can complete their master's program is two years, which typically consists of 32 to 40 credit hours. Common course subjects include drug analysis, toxicology, biological evidence, criminalistics, DNA analysis, blood splatter patterns, and trace evidence. Individuals who are interested in earning their master's degree must have a bachelor's degree in a science-related field. Many programs will require that applicants have an undergraduate average GPA of at least 3.0. Other application requirements typically include GRE tests scores, a writing sample, and letters of recommendation from professional or educational references. Total cost of education for this level of program averages around $20,000.
Earning a PhD is an option for forensic science professionals who wish to seek promotion to advanced leadership positions, teach at the college level, or go into research. A doctorate degree in forensic science can typically be completed through four to five years of study. The first half of the program focuses on core coursework requirements, while the last half focuses on dissertation research. Core coursework requirements include Forensic Instrumental Analysis, Controlled Substance Analysis, Pattern and Physical Evidence Concepts, Law and Forensic Sciences, Advanced Forensics, Forensic Laboratory Management, and Research Design in Forensic Science. Many programs will require that students maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA throughout the entirety of their studies. Admission requirements include an undergraduate degree in a similar field of study with a GPA of at least 3.0. Official GRE scores, a personal statement, three letters of recommendation, and a professional resume are also usually required. The tuition for a doctorate degree will vary on school of attendance as well as program structure and length. A year of graduate study at a college or university for an individual who is a non-resident of that school's home state can cost up to $20,000 a year or more. It should also be noted that PhD programs in forensic science are virtually always offered in a face-to-face format as opposed to an online one.
The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is the preeminent main body for forensic science educational programs. FEPAC conducts reviews on post-secondary programs at the bachelor's and master's level to ensure that all students involved are receiving an education that will aid in the success of their post-college careers. To ensure such quality of education is taking place the organization takes different elements into consideration such as faculty, classroom structure, testing procedures, and grading procedures. Once the program has successfully met all minimum standards FEPAC will award accreditation. All programs currently accredited by the FEPAC can be found directly on their website.
Although certification is not a legal requirement it can aid individuals in gaining promotions and pay advancements within the industry, as it shows an advanced level of knowledge and dedication to a particular specialty. There are several different organizations related to the field of forensic science through in which professionals can seek certification, including The International Association for Identification (IAI), The American Board of Criminalistics (ABC), and The American Board of Forensic Document Examiners (ABFDE). The requirements to become certified vary by organization but the key things to consider are level of education, length of work experience, and professional references.
The field of forensic science is fairly broad and thus there are many different areas in which professionals can specialize. For instance, one may choose a career in forensic anthropology, where they will specialize in identifying and analyzing human remains. Criminalists are the main professionals who work at crime scenes collecting and sorting evidence. Forensic pathologists spend most of their time in the lab, using various methods to examine evidence like DNA and fingerprints. Pathologists might specialize even further in studying certain types of evidence, like ballistics. Forensic professionals who deal with cyber crime and look at evidence left on computers might be called forensic computer examiners. These are just a few of the specializations that are available in the field of forensic science.
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