What Degree Do You Need to Be a Forensic Scientist?

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What Degree Do You Need to Be a Forensic Scientist?


In the criminal court system, forensic science is extremely important. As an applied science, it necessitates a solid basis in natural sciences as well as the development of practical abilities in applying these disciplines to a specific subject. In the examination, analysis, interpretation, reporting, and testimonial support of physical evidence, a forensic scientist must be able to integrate knowledge and abilities. A well-designed forensic science program should address these requirements and help students improve their knowledge, skills, and abilities in these areas. A forensic science job can be prepared through a combination of study and practical training. The majority of forensic scientists in the United States work in crime laboratories run by law enforcement or other government entities. Forensic scientists have a variety of undergraduate science degrees when they enter the field. They might also pursue graduate degrees. This document offers recommendations for model forensic science undergraduate and graduate programs. A potential forensic science examiner’s fitness for employment will be influenced by a combination of personal, professional, and academic qualities. Civil service legislation or collective bargaining agreements unique to the branch of government, state, or area drive the hiring processes of government agencies. Private laboratories have their own procedures for employing employees. Written and practical examinations, phone interviews, one-on-one personal interviews, and panel interviews may all be part of the employment process. New personnel may be hired on a temporary basis or subjected to a probationary period. Provisional job offers might be canceled in one of two ways.

Candidate Role Model 

A model candidate for all forensic scientific procedures has personal integrity, a baccalaureate degree in the natural sciences (at a minimum), and extra KSAs that meet the guidelines in this Guide. 

Personality Qualities 

Personal honesty, integrity, and scientific objectivity are essential in forensic science because it is a part of the criminal justice system. Background checks comparable to those needed of law enforcement officials are likely to be a condition of employment for anyone seeking jobs in this profession. Before an employment offer is issued, the following may be undertaken and/or reviewed and may stay as ongoing employment terms (this list is not exhaustive): 

* Drug tests
* Drug usage history
* Criminal past
* Personal ties 
* Driving record
* Polygraph examination
* Work performed in the past
* Credit history
* Medical or physical exam 

In these situations, personal honesty is essential. In addition, a person’s history of community service and extracurricular activities may be taken into account

Requirements for Forensic Scientists in Terms of Education and Professional Licensure 

The term “forensic scientist” can refer to a variety of occupations; however, this section will focus on the role of a forensic science technician. New forensic science technicians should receive at least a bachelor’s degree in order to have the best chance of finding work. According to Career One Stop (2020), 53 percent of forensic science technicians have a college or associate’s degree, based on data from the US Department of Labor. While just 4% of forensic science technicians have a bachelor’s degree and 1% have a master’s or doctoral degree, having a degree boosts an applicant’s chances of greater income and promotion prospects. Forensic scientists are not required to be certified or licensed by law in the majority of circumstances. However, Indiana has established a Crime Scene Certification Committee solely for the purpose of certifying crime scene investigators, and other states may follow suit with licensure requirements. Many forensic scientists choose to acquire certification in their chosen specialty in addition to legal certification in order to boost their work options. Certifications in forensic toxicology, criminalistics, and document inspection are accredited by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB). Each of these certifications has its own set of qualifications, so anyone interested in pursuing one should find out what they are.

Academic Credentials 

Fundamental knowledge of the natural sciences is required of forensic scientists. For example, new recruits in forensic science laboratories who analyze drugs, DNA, traces, and toxicological evidence usually have a degree in chemistry, biochemistry, biology, or forensic science from a recognized institution. Although forensic scientists who recognize and compare patterns (such as latent prints, guns, and questioned documents) have not always been necessary to have a degree, the field is increasingly requiring a baccalaureate degree, ideally in a science. Academic qualifications for some developing areas, such as digital evidence, are now being developed and will be issued by the respective organizations. Obtaining the necessary academic credentials is explored in further depth later in this Guide. As confirmation of academic qualification, copies of diplomas and formal academic transcripts are usually required. Awards, publications, internships, and extracurricular activities can all be used to set applicants apart. Claims in this area are subject to verification as part of the background inquiry. 

Professional Capabilities 

An individual’s competence as a forensic science expert depends on a multitude of talents, including:

* Critical thinking (quantitative reasoning and problem-solving)
* Good laboratory procedures
* Observation and attention to detail 
* Computer competence
* Interpersonal skills
* Public speaking 
* Oral and written communication
* Time management
* Task prioritization 

Systematic tools are available for some of these talents that can be used to assess competence or proficiency before or after the hire. 

The Step-by-Step Guide to Becoming a Forensic Scientist 

There are numerous options for pursuing a lucrative career in forensic science. Here’s one way to get into this fast-growing industry

• Complete High School (four years).

 To increase their chances of success, aspiring forensic scientists should complete high school, preferably with strong grades in biology, chemistry, physiology, statistics, and mathematics. Some students also volunteer or intern with relevant agencies such as police departments, fire departments, medical laboratories, hospitals, and other organizations. The National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC), for example, offers a weeklong summer internship in forensic science to secondary students who receive hands-on training through forensic simulations, supervised laboratory work, and lectures from seasoned professionals.

• Enroll in a Program in Forensic Science (Two to Four Years). 

There are various associate degree programs available for aspiring forensic science technicians. High school graduation, a strong GPA, a personal statement, and TOEFL test scores are typically required for admission to two-year programs in this subject (for non-native speakers of English). These programs may include classes in criminal law, fire and arson investigation, and the physical sciences, in addition to general education. For example, Miami Dade College (MDC) offers an associate of science (AS) in forensic science degree that includes courses in criminal justice human behavior, basic fingerprinting, and crime scene technologies, among other things. However, potential forensic scientists may benefit from completing a bachelor’s degree program in biology, chemistry, or physics. A four-year degree can not only improve employment opportunities and earnings potential, but it can also lead to occupations in adjacent sectors, such as laboratory work. Completion of a specific curriculum (e.g., high school level chemistry, biology, and arithmetic); a competitive GPA; national test scores (SAT or ACT); a personal statement; letter(s) of recommendation; and TOEFL test scores are all examples of typical applicants to scientific bachelor‘s programs (again, for non-native speakers of English). 

• Work Experience in a Police Agency, a Crime Lab, or Another Similar Area Is Required (One to Three Years).

Many forensic science graduates opt to gain professional experience in medical and diagnostic laboratories, police departments, local governments, federal organizations, hospitals, and other settings at this time. This not only bridges the gap between classroom learning and real-world application but also puts these professionals in a position to pursue national certification. 

• Obtain Professional Accreditation (Timeline Varies).

Professional certification isn’t always necessary for employment, but it might help a job candidate’s CV and pay prospects. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) has certified various relevant certification boards, including those in subjects as diverse as forensic anthropology and forensic engineering. While the prerequisites for these certificates vary, they usually include a bachelor’s degree in a forensics-related discipline, proof of work experience, letter(s) of recommendation, payment of an application fee, and passing a test. Official transcripts, a recent passport-style photograph, three professional references, proof of three years of experience, a $250 application fee, and passing a demanding exam are all required for the American Board of Forensic Toxicology (ABFT) five-year “specialist” certification. Those with applicable doctoral degrees and at least three years of experience can also get this certification at the “diplomatic” level.

• Enroll in a Forensic Science Graduate Program (Two to Four Years).

Pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree is an appealing choice for mid-career forensic scientists looking to expand their expertise and credentials. The School of Medicine at Boston University (BU) offers a FEPAC-accredited master of science (MS) in biomedical forensic sciences, which is one of the best in the country. Students must pass a tough curriculum in criminal law and ethics, crime scene investigation, forensic biology, forensic chemistry, and trace evidence analysis, among other things, in addition to supervised research and mock-court experiences. The FEPAC-accredited master of science (MS) in forensic science at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) includes interdisciplinary education in trace materials, drug detection, and toxicology; as well as evidence of patterns From 2013 to 2018, 21 of the 25 program graduates worked at forensic science laboratories in the United States, while the other four are seeking doctoral degrees and working in forensic science laboratories. Finally, there are other graduate certificate alternatives available, including some that are available online. For instance, the University of Florida (UF) provides four different 15-credit online forensic science graduate certificates: death investigation, toxicology, drug chemistry, and DNA & serology. Students in the forensic DNA & serology program must finish five basic courses, which teach DNA analysis, blood-spatter analysis, biochemical evidence interpretation, and nucleic acid chemistry, among other skills.

Forensic Scientists: A Model Career Path 

A typical forensic scientist career path includes formal schooling, training, postgraduate study, certification, and professional membership. 


A forensic scientist’s career path should show evidence of ongoing professional development, as evidenced by credentials. A credential is a certificate that certifies a person’s knowledge, skills, and abilities. Academic credentials, professional credentials, training credentials, and competency assessments are all indicators of professional standing.

Keys to a Career in Forensic Science: Implementation 

Preparation for Employment 

Competitive candidates can demonstrate their suitability for a forensic science post by demonstrating their knowledge, skills, and abilities. Quality assurance, ethics, professional standards of behavior, evidence control, report writing, scientific method, inductive and deductive reasoning, statistics, and safety are some of the KSAs that may be relevant to all future forensic science practitioners. Documentation of coursework and practical experiences incorporating these KSAs can considerably improve the objective information provided to a hiring agency. 

On-the-Job Education 

On-the-job training by the employing agency is frequent after hire. Depending on the trainee, agency, and forensic science specialty, this first training is usually finished within six months to 3 years of hire. Some specializations have established peer-based objective standards that have been adopted across the field, while others differ from one agency to the next. 


Forensic science laboratories must be accredited, whereas analysts and examiners must be certified. Employers value individuals whose competencies have been validated by an independent, peer-reviewed, and appropriately credentialed certifying organization. Outstanding laboratories seek accreditation from a forensic specialties accreditation board-accredited organization or another program based on nationally or internationally recognized standards (see appendix C). A genuine certification program necessitates a thorough review of credentials, a test, an ethics component, and regular recertification. Recertification necessitates a minimum amount of ongoing education and may also necessitate evidence of continued proficiency. Some businesses need certification as a condition of employment and/or advancement, and it may improve an individual’s credibility as an expert witness. 

Participation of Professionals 

While a forensic scientist’s major concentration is on casework, he or she can also aim to develop in the field. Professional involvement can be achieved by research, mentoring, teaching, and participation in professional organizations, community outreach, publishing, and other professional activities.


Whatever degree you pursue, it’s critical that you take some criminology, criminal justice, and, if available, forensics courses. This course will familiarise you with the criminal justice system and its procedures. If you concentrate your study on one or two specialized topics, you’ll be a stronger candidate for employment that is more in line with your specific areas of interest and expertise. You’ll gain useful knowledge and abilities that will enable you to work in fields other than forensics and criminology, broadening your career options.

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