Forensic scientists apply scientific principles from fields such as biology, chemistry, physics, and computer science to analyze evidence for use in the legal system, most often in criminal and civil court investigations. This versatile degree also opens up exciting careers beyond criminal justice settings, such as in government agencies, medical and diagnostic laboratories, and security services.
Students interested in a forensic science degree can expect a promising job outlook. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of forensic science technicians to increase 17% by 2026. This guide discusses how an online forensic science degree translates into rewarding career and salary prospects.
Interest in forensic science has exploded alongside popular media depictions of criminal investigations, DNA analysis, and the use of other sophisticated technological tools to solve crimes. Students interested in forensic science will find that the field does lead to exciting and rewarding career possibilities, but this field also entails a great deal of careful, detailed analysis and hard work. An online forensic science bachelor’s degree integrates knowledge from the natural and social sciences with applied practice in criminal justice and legal studies. Subject matter includes blood spatter and gunshot residue analysis, DNA sampling, and psychological diagnosis. Graduates acquire the background for entry-level careers in investigative and laboratory settings. An undergraduate forensic science degree also builds a strong foundation for master’s and doctoral work and certification in specialized fields, providing the necessary credentials for research, teaching, administrative, and consulting positions.
This broadly defined and versatile discipline encompasses several specialties, including forensic toxicology, odontology, psychology, genetic analysis, criminalistics, and digital forensics. Many forensic scientists find employment as crime scene investigators, identifying and collecting physical evidence. Others work in crime laboratories using their training in biology, chemistry, and computer science to analyze samples collected at crime scenes and present their findings for court cases. Forensic specialists who focus on behavioral science approach work in diverse settings, performing evaluations and assessments of criminals, victims, and witnesses. Law enforcement and industries employ professionals trained in computer forensics to investigate criminal activity and recover data from computer systems, networks, and other digital devices.
An online forensic science degree opens many career doors, although the credential alone does not guarantee employment. Career possibilities and salary levels depend on several factors, including areas of expertise, geographic location, and demand. While salaries for most forensic science careers rank higher than the national average, medico-legal, engineering, and accounting specialists in the field tend to earn the highest salaries. This section gives prospective students an idea of the employment possibilities and salary expectations.
Forensic scientists usually enter the field with a bachelor’s degree in forensic science or a related field such as biology, physics, chemistry, or computer and information science. Graduates of an online forensic science degree acquire a comprehensive understanding of the natural and social sciences in the realms of law and criminal justice. They also develop the expertise and technological applications required for the most rewarding and well-paying forensic careers.
Forensic science majors should begin to acquire job-specific skills as soon as they decide on a career, choosing coursework with direct relevance to their interests and pursuing internships and research opportunities that provide real world experience and a competitive advantage in the job market. Students seeking employment with law enforcement as crime scene investigators should develop a strong background in forensic biology and chemistry, completing coursework and, if possible, internships where they learn about analyzing blood stains or gathering trace evidence such as fibers from clothing, fingerprints, or hair specimens. Students who plan to work in crime laboratories should concentrate their training in biology, chemistry, and computer science, and supplement this work with an internship or part-time work in a lab setting. Crime labs often seek out technicians with expertise in areas like DNA testing, serology, or odontology.
Students interested in addressing cases of assault, domestic and sexual violence, neglect, and other kinds of trauma should focus on social science courses and field placements that address the behavioral aspects of crime. Students planning on digital forensics careers should choose computer science courses that cover the major operating systems, network analysis, and the applied technologies for addressing information security, malware, and cybercrime. Students interested in investigating white-collar crime and fraud need a foundation in finance and accounting.
Qualified forensic specialists and technicians find employment in a variety of industries. Job prospects for forensic scientists with investigative and laboratory expertise continue to expand, especially in police departments, other government agencies, medical laboratories that conduct clinical and diagnostic testing, and forensic testing laboratories (either privately run or affiliated with local or federal law enforcement agencies). This section discusses these occupational settings and lists several different potential career paths for forensic science graduates with salary expectations.
Annual Median Salary: $57,850
These professionals analyze evidence for criminal investigations. Crime scene technicians collect, catalog, and preserve evidence for transfer to a crime lab. Technicians in laboratory settings perform chemical, biological, and microscopic analyses on the evidence removed from crime scenes.
Annual Median Salary: $50,700
These investigators secure and examine evidence to assist law enforcement personnel in building a criminal case. Duties include collecting physical evidence, determining cause of death, and interviewing witnesses, family members, and others about the circumstances of the crime.
Annual Median Salary: $51,540
These specialized forensic scientists perform genetic tests on samples provided by police and crime scene investigators. They create a profile of individuals who fit within the DNA findings and are sometimes asked to testify about their findings at a trial.
Annual Median Salary: $38,766
These specially trained professionals conduct interviews with victims of sexual and physical abuse, often children and traumatized survivors of violence, to collect information that may be used in criminal investigations and in court.
Annual Median Salary: $52,758
Forensic scientists work in a variety of settings using scientific tools and methods to analyze physical evidence for use in criminal and civil proceedings. They prepare reports on their findings and may be asked to testify in court.
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