Studying Criminal Science: Degrees at a Glance
Criminal science, also known as criminalistics, focuses on the scientific analysis of crimes and evidence. The duties of criminal scientists primarily involve working with physical evidence to help narrow down suspects in criminal cases for local, state or federal law enforcement agencies. While this career is portrayed in exciting ways through television shows, the work of criminal scientists goes beyond these portrayals.
Graduates with undergraduate degrees in criminal science usually continue on for more schooling or enter into positions as forensic scientists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job openings for forensic science technicians were expected to remain stable during the 2010-2020 decade and the median salary for these technicians was approximately $52,000 as of 2011. Typically, entry-level positions as a forensic science technician require you to have a bachelor's degree, though you may be able to work for a municipal or county lab as a technician with an associate degree.
|Who Should Apply for this Degree Program?||-Those looking for entry-level careers in criminalistics|
-Those who want to continue their studies in 4-year criminal science degree program
|- Those seeking careers in forensic science or law enforcement|
|Common Career Paths (approximate annual median salary)*||- Forensic identification specialist (unavailable)|
-Police officer ($54,000 - requires additional training)
|- Forensic science technician ($52,000) |
- Detective or criminal investigator ($72,000 - may require additional training)
|Time to Completion||Average 2 years full time||Average 4 years full time|
|Common Graduation Requirements||About 60 credits of major coursework with 2.5 minimum GPA||- About 120 credits with passing GPA|
- Required lab internships or capstone courses
|Prerequisites||- High school algebra (or equivalent)|
- High school science
| Same as associate, plus the following:|
- Basic college mathematics and composition courses
- Foundational courses in chemistry and biology
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).
Associate Degrees in Criminal Science
An associate degree in criminal science can be training for the first step toward a career as a crime scene technician or a law enforcement officer. It can also be designed to transfer to a 4-year degree program. Both types of programs cover scientific methods, legal issues and general education courses. Although it is possible to get a position as a forensic identification specialist and work under the guidance of an investigator or forensic science technician, many agencies require you to have at least a bachelor's degree for jobs in this field.
Pros and Cons
- Many associate degree programs in criminal science transfer to a bachelor's criminal science degree program
- With steady scientific developments and interest in the subject, many associate degree programs in criminal science, criminalistics and forensic science and technology are available*
- Hands-on coursework gives you experience in relevant settings (such as labs)
- Many forensic science technician positions require at least a bachelor's degree**
- Because of the popularity of crime scene investigations and technology, competition is expected for positions in the field**
- May be exposed to hazardous materials, including chemicals used in lab tests and bodily fluids from crime scenes
Sources: *U.S. Department of Education, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Courses and Requirements
You can expect to take an average of 60 credits of coursework in sciences (particularly chemistry) and classes relating to topics in investigative techniques, documentation, communications and handling physical evidence. In some programs, you may be required take a firearms course. Here are some common course topics for an associate degree program in criminal science:
- Basic chemistry
- Interpersonal communications
- Photography, fingerprints and DNA
- Investigation and criminal law
Online Course Information
You can find fully online associate degree programs and individual courses that are appropriate for a criminal science degree program. Consider taking online courses if you are in need of a more flexible schedule or if you already have experience in the law enforcement field and would like to learn more about forensic investigation techniques.
How Can I Stand Out with This Degree?
One way to get ahead while earning your criminal science degree is to participate in school clubs related to criminal justice and forensic science. Many community colleges host clubs and groups to provide opportunities for students in the same field of study to meet each other and participate in relevant activities. Extracurricular clubs are a way to network with those already in the field for potential future positions.
Bachelor's Degrees in Criminal Science
Since criminal science is an increasingly popular field, you'll be able to find many schools that offer bachelor's degree programs in criminalistics; however, competition for placement in some programs (or for jobs after graduation) can be quite stiff. A bachelor's degree program in criminal science will provide you with a solid foundation in chemistry and physical evidence analysis, such as gunshot residue, bodily fluids, fire debris and drugs. While most criminal science majors pursue jobs as forensic science technicians, a bachelor's degree in criminal science can prepare you for further schooling in forensic pathology, toxicology and other specializations.
Pros and Cons
- Most jobs related to criminal science require a bachelor's degree*
- Satisfaction of helping solve crimes through evidence analysis
- Many 4-year institutions host student clubs related to criminal science that you can participate in for valuable networking
- Forensic science technicians are often on call and may work long hours
- You have to pass a background check and a proficiency exam prior to being considered for a position*
- A master's or Ph.D. may be required for promotion to management or lab director
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Courses and Requirements
The coursework for a criminal science bachelor's degree program balances criminal justice and natural science courses. Therefore, expect to take courses in court justice, criminology and psychology as well as courses in chemistry and clinical science. Because criminal scientists are occasionally called upon to testify in court, expect to take writing and public speaking classes. You may also be required to take a capstone course or complete an internship in a local lab prior to graduating. Here are some sample course topics:
- Advanced chemistry
- Analysis of criminal data and evidence
- Criminal investigations and procedures
- Criminal justice internship
Online Course Information
Fully online criminal science degree programs aren't common, because this field requires extensive lab time and hands-on experience. However, you can find biology, chemistry, mathematics and other general education courses online that can count toward the required coursework in a criminal science bachelor's degree program.
How Do I Stand Out with This Degree?
Similar to community colleges, many universities host clubs and honor societies for students in criminal justice and forensic science programs. Joining a student club will give you the chance to meet fellow students in the bachelor's degree program as well as those already in the field. You may even take practical field trips and learn about available internships, all of which can help you as you transition into the career after graduation.
Also, if your program does not require you to take a practical internship as part of your graduation requirements, you may want to consider an optional one. Hands-on experience and exposure to the daily tasks of forensic science technicians can be helpful as you look toward entering the field.