Best Forensic Science Degrees 2021

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The interdisciplinary field of forensic science incorporates areas of chemistry, criminal justice, biology, and computer science. Popularized by contemporary crime-scene investigation shows, forensic science programs are ideal for students who value justice and who enjoy solving puzzles, studying laboratory sciences, and collaborating with others.

Forensic scientists often help criminal justice professionals investigate and solve crimes by gathering, documenting, and analyzing criminal evidence. Learners in the best forensic science programs prepare to identify criminals, victims, and causes of death. Professionals in the field use scientific techniques such as fingerprint tracking and DNA analysis.

Some schools offer specializations in cybercrime and digital forensics, which prepare students for careers solving computer-related crimes, such as identity theft and fraud. This guide explores typical requirements for forensic science programs and details career options for graduates.

Career and Salary Outlook for Forensic Science

The diverse forensic science field features many subfields, specializations, and career paths. An associate degree or certificate in forensic science can qualify graduates for entry-level roles, such as forensic science technician positions. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forensic science technicians earn a median annual salary of $59,150. The BLS projects employment for these professionals to increase 14% from 2019 to 2029, a rate much faster than the average for all occupations.

Earning a forensic science bachelor’s degree can lead to advanced positions in scientific investigation and law enforcement. Bachelor’s degree-holders can also become forensic scientists, who conduct laboratory studies and analyze criminal evidence. Earning a graduate degree in the field can qualify individuals for positions as forensic toxicologists and forensic pathologists, who determine causes of death.

Graduates of forensic science programs with a specialization in digital or computer forensics can become financial examiners or information security analysts. According to the BLS, these professionals earn median annual salaries of $81,090 and $99,730, respectively. The BLS projects employment for information security analysts to increase 31% from 2019 to 2029.

Some forensics programs allow enrollees to earn professional certifications while pursuing their degree, which can lead to higher earning potential.

CareerLowest 10%Median Annual SalaryHighest 10%
Forensic Science TechniciansLess than $35,620$59,150More than $97,350

Forensic Science Degree FAQ

  • What is forensic science?

    Forensic scientists use the scientific method to gather and analyze evidence for criminal and civil cases.

  • How long does it take to earn a forensic science degree?

    Full-time students typically earn their forensic science bachelor’s degree in four years. However, learners with a transferable associate degree often graduate in two years.

  • What kind of forensic science degree can I get?

    Schools offer forensic science degrees at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. An associate degree in the field can qualify graduates for entry-level roles, but advanced positions in the field typically require at least a bachelor’s degree.

  • What is the difference between forensic science and criminology?

    Criminology professionals create and analyze theories regarding the various causes of crime. Forensic scientists, on the other hand, work to solve crimes.

Source: BLS

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Accreditation for Forensic Science

Choosing an accredited school and program ensures that students obtain a valuable credential. Only learners at nationally or regionally accredited schools can qualify for federal financial aid. The best forensic science programs appear at regionally accredited schools, which meet high academic standards. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversees regional accrediting agencies in the United States.

Regionally accredited schools do not typically accept degrees and credits earned from nationally accredited institutions. The best forensic science programs also hold field-specific accreditation from the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission.

College Courses in a Forensic Science Program

Curricula of forensic science programs can vary considerably by school and concentration. However, core coursework typically covers topics including criminalistics, biology, and mathematics. Learners gain skills in physical evidence collection and analysis, logic and critical thinking, documentation, and communication. Forensic science courses often incorporate laboratory components.

Many programs offer concentrations in areas such as biology, chemistry, and forensic science. Some programs offer further specialization in forensics subfields, such as DNA, toxicology, trace evidence, and latent prints. Required classes vary by concentration. For example, DNA specializations usually require courses in genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biotechnology. The list below includes common forensic science courses.

  • Introduction to Forensic Science

    This foundational course covers forensic science disciplines, including their past and present roles in the criminal justice system. Coursework introduces crime scene investigation, including fingerprinting, DNA and bloodstain analysis, and forensic chemistry. This class may require a prerequisite in lab sciences.

  • Forensic Biology

    Students in this core course develop an advanced understanding of biological evidence collection and analysis. Learners explore topics including DNA extraction and amplification, serology, and electrophoresis. This lab-based course emphasizes hands-on learning and usually requires prior coursework in biology and chemistry.

  • Crime Scene Investigation

    Enrollees gain knowledge and skills in physical evidence collection and processing. Degree-seekers study topics such as latent print investigations, forensic photography, and courtroom testimony. Students also practice writing reports, and they cultivate problem-solving, safety, technology, and collaboration skills.

  • Forensic Pathology

    This core course explores human anatomy, physiology, and forensic terminology. Participants learn about various types of unexpected deaths, such as homicides, suicides, accidental deaths, and sudden infant death syndrome. Coursework explores various methods for identifying victims, and participants learn about autopsy techniques.

  • Bloodstain Pattern Evidence Analysis

    This course prepares students for roles as investigators, crime scene personnel, and forensic scientists. Students explore methods to identify, document, and analyze bloodstain patterning. Learners also prepare to set parameters, reconstruct crime scenes, make observations, and perform experiments involving bloodstains. This class emphasizes proper evidence documentation.

Scholarships for Forensic Science

Undergraduate and graduate students can apply for various types of financial aid, including scholarships. Scholarship requirements may include a strong academic record or financial need, and some awards are reserved for members of underrepresented groups. Scholarships do not require repayment, making them an ideal form of funding.

Forensic science students in even the most affordable forensic science programs can benefit from receiving scholarships from schools, nonprofit organizations, private donors, and government agencies. The list below includes a few scholarship opportunities for learners enrolled in forensic science programs.

  • ACS Scholars Program

    Who Can Apply: This scholarship from the American Chemical Society supports underrepresented students who are enrolled full time in a chemistry-related program, such as a forensic chemistry program. Only U.S. citizens enrolled at accredited institutions may apply. Applicants must submit recommendation letters, standardized test scores, and evidence of financial need.

    Amount: Up to $5,000

  • Johnson-Whyte Memorial Foundation Scholarships

    Who Can Apply: The International Association for Identification offers these scholarships to full-time juniors and seniors in programs related to forensic identification. Candidates need a minimum 3.0 GPA and must attend an accredited institution.

    Amount: Varies

  • NEAFS Scholarships

    Who Can Apply: The Northeastern Association of Forensic Scientists offers two scholarships for high-performing, full-time learners studying forensic science. Applicants must reside in the Northeast and must be an undergraduate junior, undergraduate senior, or graduate student. Applicants submit two recommendation letters from professors.

    Amount: $1,750-$2,000

Best Forensic Science Degrees 2021

The list below features the best forensic science programs for 2021. Prospective students can use this ranking to compare programs based on factors such as pacing, available specializations, capstone and internship requirements, and pricing. Each of the following programs is housed within an accredited institution.

See our rankings methodology page.

  1. University of Central Florida

    Orlando, FL



    Based in Orlando, Florida, UCF is a public research university established in 1963. It boasts the largest student body in the United States with almost 72,000 students. The university offers a wide variety of courses, including more than 230 degree programs.

    UCF’s College of Sciences offers a bachelor of science in forensic science with chemistry and biochemistry tracks. The 124-credit program includes courses in conducting and evaluating scientific investigation, using instruments, scientific writing, and judicial roles. All students take the same core courses and select subjects from their tracks to complete degree requirements. The program also requires a three-credit capstone.

    Applicants must submit their high school transcripts and SAT scores to enroll in the program. The university also encourages students to submit an essay along with the online application. UCF is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. The forensic program at UCF is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission.

  2. Texas A&M University-College Station

    College Station, TX



    A public research university in College Station, Texas A&M enrolls the second-largest student body in the United States. The university offers a bachelor of science in forensic and investigative sciences with science and law tracks.

    Both tracks offer students the opportunity to learn various subjects covering the entire spectrum of forensic knowledge, from practice and principles of science and law to occupational and professional development. The 120-credit program also requires students to complete an internship course with an agency to gain first-hand experience of forensic roles.

    Texas A&M’s program is only one of the two in the state accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission. Those seeking admission must self-report academic records (SRAR) using their official high school transcripts and submit an essay along with the application. Texas A&M is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

  3. Pennsylvania State University-Main Campus

    University Park, PA



    A public research university, Penn State is Pennsylvania's only land grant institution. The school offers more than 14,400 degrees to prospective students.

    The bachelor of science in forensic science at Penn State offers biology and chemistry tracks. The 124-126 credit program prepares students for roles in federal, state, or private laboratories, insurance companies, or the judicial community. All students take the same core courses and then complete 34-36 credits of coursework specific to their selected track. Course topics include essential practices of forensic science, laboratory in crime scene investigation, and bioethics.

    Interested students with a minimum GPA of 2.0 and a grade of C or better in certain chemistry, forensics, and math courses qualify for the degree. Students can apply through an online portal by submitting required documents. Penn State is regionally accredited by the Middle State Commission on Higher Education.

  4. University of Nebraska - Lincoln

    Lincoln, NE



    The flagship research university of the University of Nebraska system, UNL offers more than 6,000 degrees. Established in 1869, UNL consistently ranks in the top tier of research universities in the country.

    The College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources at UNL offers a bachelor of science in forensic science program with four options: forensic biology, crime scene investigation, forensic chemistry, and pre-law. The 120-credit program requires all students to complete the core coursework requirements along with 53-56 credits of courses specific to their selected option. In addition, students must take an internship course in forensic science and submit an honors thesis at the end of the program to graduate.

    Applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA or an ACT composite of 20 or higher. The university allows students to transfer up to 90 credits from other institutions towards their degree. University of Nebraska is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

  5. Virginia Commonwealth University

    Richmond, VA



    Founded in 1838, VCU occupies over 169 acres in downtown Richmond, Virginia. The university offers more than 200 programs at various levels. The bachelor of science in forensic sciences degree falls under the College of Humanities and Sciences. Students can choose from three concentrations: forensic biology, forensic chemistry, or physical evidence.

    The 120-credit program requires forensic science core classes and concentration-specific courses. Students study the chemical analysis of forensic evidence through various approaches. The degree also covers drug analysis, toxicology, and trace evidence analysis.

    Applicants must submit their high school transcripts, recommendation letters, and essays. The university offers a generous transfer policy, accepting up to 90 credits from four-year universities and 70 credits from two-year colleges. VCU is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

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