Forensic science technicians collect and analyze crime scene evidence to support criminal investigations.
This guide covers forensic science technician careers, including job duties and degree and certification options.
|Median Annual Salary||$58,230|
|Employment Growth Forecast from 2018-2028||14%|
|Number of New Jobs from 2018-2028||2,400|
|Average Entry-Level Education Requirements||Bachelor's Degree|
|Annual Salary of the Highest 10%||$97,200|
|Annual Salary of the Lowest 10%||$34,600|
Source: BLS.gov: OOH, May 2018
What is a Forensic Science Technician?
Forensic science technicians process crime scenes for evidence to aid law enforcement and prosecutors in solving criminal cases. These professionals rely on physical scientific evidence, such as fingerprints, DNA, and weapons left at a crime scene to determine when, where, and how a crime was committed, as well as identify possible perpetrators.
A forensic science technician typically visits the crime scene shortly after a crime is committed they collect evidence before examining it in a laboratory. Most forensic science technicians work in local and state government. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects forensic science technician jobs to grow 14% through 2028.
- Ballistic Technician
- Ballistics Expert
- Crime Lab Technician
- Crime Scene Technician
- Criminalist Technician
- Fingerprint Expert
- Forensic Analyst
- Handwriting Expert
- Trace Evidence Technician
- Wildlife Forensic Geneticist
What Does a Forensic Science Technician Do?
At the critical juncture of science and criminal justice, forensic science technicians are an important component of crime scene investigations. Some forensic science technicians work with police departments as police officers, while others work as civilian forensic science technicians.
Forensic science technicians may primarily work at crime scenes or spend most of their time in laboratories. At the crime scene, forensic science technicians perform duties like taking photos, recording the location of evidence, dusting for fingerprints, and cataloging and transporting evidence to the lab. Crime lab technicians process evidence using microscopic evaluation, DNA testing, and chemical analysis of materials recovered from the crime scene.
Forensic science technicians may focus on a type of crime, like forensic computer examiners who specialize in digital crimes. They may also work with certain types of evidence, such as ballistics experts and handwriting experts who specialize in firearms and ammunition and handwriting analysis, respectively. Others may specialize in areas like fingerprints or trace evidence, confirming contact between the victim and the perpetrator.
Forensic Science Technician vs. Crime Scene Investigator
While forensic science technician and crime scene investigator are often used interchangeably, these jobs feature distinct differences. Most forensic science technicians process evidence in a lab, while crime scene investigators typically collect and catalog evidence at the scene of a crime. General forensic science technicians may perform both on-scene and lab duties, collecting evidence at the crime scene and analyzing it in a lab or office environment.
How to Become a Forensic Science Technician
Most forensic science jobs require at least a bachelor's degree. Bachelor's students aspiring to a forensic science career often major in forensic science, biology, or chemistry. Many forensic science degrees offer concentrations in subjects like toxicology, DNA, or pathology.
Entry-level forensic science technicians and crime scene investigators often receive on-the-job training. Professionals who primarily work at crime scenes typically train under a senior-level investigator for an introductory period. Most forensic science technicians complete this training in less than one year and may need to pass a proficiency test or evaluation, depending on their employer.
Prospective forensic science students should look for programs accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission, which recognizes programs that meet the highest standards of education in the field. Though not required, forensic science technicians can pursue certification through an organization like the International Association for Identification (IAI) or the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) to demonstrate their expertise.
Bachelor's Degree Programs
A bachelor's degree is the most common entry-level education requirement for forensic science technicians. Many four-year universities offer bachelor's degrees in forensic science with a variety of concentrations. Students can also major in related disciplines, like biology or chemistry.
Most bachelor's degrees require around 120 credits and take four years of full-time study to complete. Most programs include general education and major coursework. Generally, major coursework in a forensic science program emphasizes criminal justice concepts, while natural science degrees focus on lab practices. Some bachelor's degrees require internships, while others offer optional internship electives. Most forensic science degrees culminate in a capstone project.
Master's Degree Programs
Graduates with a bachelor's degree often go on to earn a master's in forensic science to launch their career or advance to leadership positions. Most master's degrees comprise around 60 credits and take two years of full-time study to complete.
Students take advanced coursework on topics like criminalistics, toxicology, biochemistry, and statistical analysis. Many programs also require a thesis or capstone project to culminate the degree. Students may also complete a required or voluntary internship to gain hands-on experience in the field.
Professional Licensure and Certification
While not typically required, many forensic science technicians pursue certification to demonstrate their expertise to employers. Organizations like IAI offer credentials in specialties such as bloodstain analysis, latent prints, footwear, and forensic photography and imaging. Additionally, ABC offers three levels of certification to qualifying professional criminalists: diplomat, fellow, and affiliate, depending on experience and specialty.
All certification candidates must pass a qualifying exam. IAI certification exams typically cost $300 for IAI members and $400 for non-members. ABC certification applicants typically pay a $50 application fee and a $250 exam fee. Most basic certifications require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree and two years of field experience. Professionals must complete continuing education units to maintain their credentials.
Frequently Asked Questions
Many prospective forensic science technicians decide to major in forensic science with a concentration in DNA, toxicology, or pathology. Students can also major in biology or chemistry to prepare for the career.
Graduates may pursue occupations such as crime scene investigator, digital forensics analyst, forensic biologist, or forensic chemist.
According to the BLS, the average annual forensic science salary was $58,230 in 2018, with the top 10% earning over $97,000 per year.
Students can pursue a bachelor's or master's degree in forensic science or major in natural science with a concentration in forensic biology or forensic chemistry.
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