How to Become a Forensic Scientist

Forensic Scientist
Forensic Scientist Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year$66,850
Avg. Pay / hour$32.14
Education4+ Years
Outlook14%

Working as a forensic scientist is a challenging role suited to those with analytical and enquiring minds.

If all things science and medical are intriguing to you, then you should consider becoming a forensic scientist.

One of the best benefits of this career path is that is gives you the opportunity to contribute to law enforcement and make your community a safer place.

If you’re interested in science, but a career in research or teaching doesn’t excite you, forensic science is a good alternative.

Work is often fast paced, as well as varied.

Forensic scientists collect, identify, and analyze samples taken that are related to a crime.

Fiber, hair, and tissue are often analyzed in the lab.

Forensic scientists also test weapons, study blood splatter and gunshot residue.

Education Requirements to Become a Forensic Scientist

If you’re still in high school, you can already start your path to become a forensic scientist.

Take the opportunity to complete as much math and science as you can, and concentrate on working hard in these subjects, as you’ll need to make good grades to be accepted into a forensic science major at college.

If there are activities at your school that are science based, then you should definitely take part.

The minimum requirement to become a forensic scientist is a bachelors degree in forensic science, biology, or natural science.

To work in some specialized roles or supervisory positions, you will need to go on and complete a higher degree.

Physics, chemistry, biology, math, biochemistry, toxicology, and criminal justice make up a large part of the theoretical work studied in these kind of degrees.

There is also a large amount of lab work involved.

Most colleges will require you to complete an internship as a part of your degree.

Even if they don’t, you should try and get as much work experience as possible.

When looking at different colleges, you might like to choose a course that is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission.

While you can still work in the field with a degree that is not accredited, employers do give preference to those that have completed one of these selected programs.

Postgraduate degree programs in forensic science are usually quite focused, and are suitable if you are looking at a niche area.

Many people who work in this field complete their undergraduate degree then find full time work.

They then go on to complete higher degrees part time while working.

This also gives you more opportunity to work in the field, and discover what special areas interest you most.

Forensic Scientist Job Description

Working as a forensic scientist, your main task is the scientific examination of evidence.

This could include a large variety of tests on evidence such as tissue, materials, fabric, or weaponry.

While forensic scientists spend the majority of their time in the lab, they also work on crime scenes and other areas.

Here are some of the tasks a forensic scientist may be responsible for:

  • Collecting samples from a crime scene
  • Analyzing blood splatter or gun residue at a crime scene
  • Analyzing samples in a lab
  • Preparing reports relating to a crime
  • Communicating with law enforcement officers
  • Communicating with coworkers

Forensic Scientist Salary and Career Path

Most forensic scientists start their careers in labs, under the supervision of a more experienced technician.

With experience, they take on more responsibility.

Some forensic scientists will go on to specialize in a particular area, for instance fingerprints, blood splatter, ballistics, handwriting, or crime scene investigation.

When you become a forensic scientist, most entry level candidates will earn about $40,000 a year, then with some experience increase to the median wage, which is around $50,000 a year.

Top industry professionals can make over $80,000.

Forensic science is a rapidly growing sector, and employment prospects are strong.

Most forensic scientists are employed by law enforcement agencies at state and federal level, some for private firms or security companies.

If you’re looking for a role that is interesting then forensic science may be right for you.

With an attractive salary and secure employment available, it certainly makes for a good career choice, particularly for those who are interested in science.

Forensic science also gives an opportunity to make a contribution to law enforcement and your community.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary

$66,850
$37K
$47K
$66K
$80K
$103K
10%
25%
50%
75%
90%

Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
Alabama$53,340
Alaska$74,340
Arizona$64,780
Arkansas$46,830
California$90,300
Colorado$73,720
Connecticut$80,560
Florida$55,690
Georgia$50,910
Hawaii$64,370
Idaho$56,890
Illinois$90,330
Indiana$60,900
Iowa$76,870
Kentucky$43,870
Louisiana$50,410
Maine$58,770
Maryland$69,660
Massachusetts$84,740
Michigan$64,260
Minnesota$78,300
Mississippi$48,560
Missouri$58,270
Montana$66,850
Nebraska$57,810
Nevada$70,160
New Hampshire$72,060
New Jersey$60,900
New Mexico$55,020
New York$81,370
North Carolina$50,980
Ohio$73,330
Oklahoma$49,910
Oregon$81,340
Pennsylvania$51,080
South Carolina$46,390
South Dakota$41,990
Tennessee$56,760
Texas$56,940
Utah$54,240
Virginia$65,370
Washington$73,210
Wisconsin$60,720
Wyoming$57,600

The top earning state in the field is Illinois, where the average salary is $90,330.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Illinois - $90,330
California - $90,300
Massachusetts - $84,740
New York - $81,370
Oregon - $81,340
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Forensic Science Technicians, OCC Code 19-4092, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Forensic Scientist?

Forensic scientists, also known as forensic science technicians, help criminal investigators by collecting and analyzing evidence.

Forensic scientists work in laboratories or on crime scenes.

They are usually specialized either in laboratory analysis or crime scene investigation.

When conducting the crime scene investigation they determine what evidence should be collected, collect evidence and preserve it for transfer to the lab.

They also take photos of the evidence and make sketches of the crime scenes.

Forensic technicians who work in labs typically perform chemical, biological and microscopic analysis of the evidence and consult with experts in other fields to help with the criminal investigation.

Many forensic scientists who work in laboratories specialize in a specific type of evidence, such as DNA or ballistics.

Forensic technicians usually document their findings by preparing written reports.

A forensic scientist should have good communication and critical-thinking skills and be detail-oriented.

Math and science skills are also required, along with the ability to use scientific methods to help criminal investigators solve cases.

How much does a Forensic Scientist make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual pay for forensic science technicians was $58,230 in May of 2018.

The lowest 10% earned less than $34,600, while the top 10% earned more than $97,200.

Crime scene investigators may work day, evening or night shifts, and may also have to work overtime in order to help with criminal investigations.

Technicians working in labs usually work standard hours but may also be on-call outside of business hours.

How much does it cost to become a Forensic Scientist?

Forensic scientists typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, biology, or forensic science.

Total costs for a bachelor’s degree program in forensic science, including tuition, books and living expenses, vary depending on many factors, ranging between $11,000-$54,000 per year.

If you choose to enroll in natural science programs (such as chemistry or biology), you should also take classes related to forensic science.

A master’s degree can help increase your chances of getting a job in the field.

In order to make sure that you receive a high-quality education, you should enroll at an institution that is accredited by government institutes.

Forensic scientists also receive on-the-job training before they are ready to work on cases independently.

What is the demand for Forensic Scientists?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for forensic scientists is expected to grow by 14 percent from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all professions.

This growth is expected to result in about 2,400 new jobs.

Due to high caseloads, governments are expected to hire additional forensic science technicians in the future to help law enforcement agencies and courts.

The competition is expected to be high and candidates who hold a master’s degree should have the best chances of getting hired.

How long does it take to become a Forensic Scientist?

In order to become a Forensic Scientist, you first need at least a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, biology, chemistry or a related field.

The duration for a bachelor’s degree program in forensic science is usually four years.

If you want to get a better chance of finding a job in the forensic science field, you should also hold a master’s degree.

Getting your master’s degree will take another two years.

How much it takes to complete your education depends on the job you are targeting, the school you choose and your determination.

Jamie Willis