What is a Forensic Science Degree?

The objective of forensic science is to solve crimes by applying science and scientific methods to the justice system. Degree programs in the field, therefore, train future forensic scientists to use cutting-edge techniques to examine and interpret evidence in criminal and civil cases.

Because forensic science draws upon the sciences of biology, physics, and chemistry, these subject areas make up an important part of the forensics curriculum. Depending on the focus of their chosen program, students may learn to apply knowledge gained in the physical sciences to crime scene investigation. Elements of an investigation may include:

  • Ballistics and Firearms – focus is on ammunition, the firing weapon, and the shot trajectory
  • Arson and Explosives – focus is on explosives and accelerants; flashpoints and burn patterns
  • Fingerprints – focus on analyzing fingerprints left at a crime scene
  • Trace Evidence – focus is on fragments of physical evidence, such as a strand of hair, skin cells under a victim’s nails, or a fiber from a sweater
  • Accident Reconstruction – focus is on figuring out what exactly happened in an accident by recreating the precise conditions under which it happened, using vehicle positioning, skid marks, etc.
  • Bloodstain Pattern Analysis – focus is on examining the pattern of bloodstains to determine where the victim was, how the perpetrator attacked them, and the kind of weapon that was used

While crime scene investigation is probably the most widely known of the forensic sciences, the field is a wide one with several specializations. Some of the key specializations are:

  • Computer / Digital Forensics – searches for legal evidence on digital devices such as computers, cell phone, and digital media players; evidence can be found in the form of e-mails, text messages, and visited websites/search history
  • Forensic Toxicology – uses drug testing, search for poisonous materials, and sample analysis
  • Forensic Odontology – deals with using dental knowledge to gain information relevant to an investigation

Program Options

Associate Degree in Forensic Science - Two Year Duration
Associate degree programs in crime scene investigation expose students to the basics of forensic science. Many students with this level of education enter law enforcement and begin their career as police officers.

Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Science - Four Year Duration
The majority of forensic scientist occupations call for at least a Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Science or a closely related field, such as biology, chemistry, or physics. Bachelor’s degree programs in forensic science include coursework in each of those sciences; in pharmacology, statistics, computer modeling, biochemistry, and criminal justice; and in English and communications.

Master’s Degree in Forensic Science - Two Year Duration
Many employers in the forensic science field hire only individuals with a master’s degree. Students who enter these programs select a specialty, such as ballistics or toxicology. At this level, students are required to complete significant laboratory work and submit a thesis.

Doctoral Degree in Forensic Science - Four to Five Year Duration
It is important to know that specialists in various forensic sciences must have a doctoral degree. For example, specialists in forensic law must hold a law degree. A specialist in forensic odontology must be a Doctor of Dentistry. Forensic pathologists and forensic psychiatrists must also be medical doctors. Specialists in forensic anthropology need a Ph.D. in Anthropology.

Degrees Similar to Forensic Science

The field of anthropology is the study of humans and other primates and their environments. The field of forensic anthropology is the study of human remains.

Majors in this field study engineering and the life sciences to create new products – such as vaccines, medicines, growth hormones for plants, and food additives – for the agricultural, industrial, and environmental industries.

Forensic chemistry applies the principle and techniques of chemistry to the testing of evidence from victims and crime scenes.

Criminal Justice
Criminal justice is concerned with society’s response to crime. Criminal justice is an interdisciplinary major that explores every aspect of crime, the law, and the justice system.

Criminology is the study of crime, the human factors and behaviors that make it happen, and its impact on society.

The connection between forensic science and genetics is DNA. Genetics is the study of how DNA is passed down from one generation to the next and forensic science is concerned with DNA-related evidence.

Degree programs in this field focus on the study of microbes that cause human disease and sickness. Coursework spans bacterial genetics, anatomy, and reproduction.

Police Science
Degree programs in police science prepare students for all aspects of police and security work: patrolling, investigating, crime prevention, community relations, report writing.

The scientific study of the mind and behavior is the focus of psychology degree programs. In simple terms, psychology students study the way that humans and animals act, feel, think, and learn.

Skills You’ll Learn

Forensic science is a wide and varied field. Graduates of the discipline come away from their training with an equally wide set of transferrable skills:

  • Active Listening
  • Communication / Speaking / Writing
  • Observation
  • Critical / Analytical Thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Judgement
  • Social Awareness
  • Legal Awareness
  • Attention to Detail
  • Ethics / Integrity
  • Stress Tolerance
  • Persistence

What Can You Do with a Forensic Science Degree?

Forensic science is a vast field, organized into the subfields listed below. Because of the variety of occupational opportunities that the discipline presents, most holders of a forensic science degree work inside the field, simply because there is generally no need to seek employment outside of forensics.

  • Trace Evidence Analysis
  • Forensic Toxicology
  • Forensic Psychology
  • Forensic Podiatry
  • Forensic Pathology
  • Forensic Optometry
  • Forensic Odontology
  • Forensic Linguistics
  • Forensic Geology
  • Forensic Entomology
  • Forensic Engineering
  • Forensic DNA Analysis
  • Forensic Botany
  • Forensic Archeology
  • Forensic Anthropology
  • Digital Forensics
  • Criminalistics

Related occupational categories, however, include:

The study of living organisms and their relationships to the environment and other living things

The study and research of chemicals, the building blocks of all materials

Clinical Laboratory Technology
The study and examination of body fluids and tissues for signs of disease

Detective Science
The investigation of crimes, from theft to homicide


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