Forensic Analyst Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of a career as a forensic analyst? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a forensic analyst is a good fit for you.
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The Pros and Cons of a Forensic Analyst Career

A forensic analyst collects and analyzes material evidence found at crime scenes. Keep reading to learn more about the pros and cons of a career as a forensic analyst.

Pros of a Forensic Analyst Career
Excellent pay ($59,000 mean annual wage in 2014)*
Excellent job benefits (retirement plan, health insurance, paid vacation, sick leave)**
Potentially rewarding career that helps society***
Job provides variety (visiting crime scenes, analyzing evidence, testifying in court)*

Cons of a Forensic Analyst Career
Crime scenes can be distressing*
Possibility of exposure to contaminants from physical evidence**
Strong job competition*
Irregular hours****

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **iseek.org, ***American Academy of Forensic Sciences, ****Allegheny College.

Career Information

Job Duties

Forensic analysts collect and preserve the evidence at crime scenes and then analyze it onsite or in a laboratory. The evidence they analyze includes substances such as hair, fibers, blood, and glass; and other physical evidence such as fingerprints and weapons. They document the crime scene by taking notes and photographs.

After the evidence has been preserved and transported to the laboratory, forensic analysts use microscopes, chemicals and other methods to analyze it. They also perform ballistics tests on bullets and search computer databases to match DNA and fingerprints to try and connect a suspect to a crime. They document their tests and findings and sometimes are required to testify in court.

Specializations

Forensic analysts commonly specialize in different areas such as toxicology, chemistry, fingerprinting and document examination. Tooth mark identification, firearms and DNA are some other fields of specialization.

Salary and Career Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forensic analysts earned a mean annual wage of $59,000 in 2014. Job prospects in this field are below average, with job growth projected to be around 6% between 2012 and 2022.

Requirements

Most entry-level positions for forensic analysts require a bachelor's degree in forensic science, chemistry, biology or an associated field. Certificate programs, associate's degrees and bachelor's degrees in forensic science are available at some colleges and universities. A typical forensic science program includes courses in collecting and preserving evidence, crime scene investigation, laboratory techniques and analyzing evidence. The educational requirements vary among different employers, and some agencies accept a high school diploma.

In order to be employed as a forensic analyst, you must have a clean record. Background checks are run to ensure that a candidate has no criminal record. Polygraph tests are sometimes required. Some states and jurisdictions also require forensic analysts to be sworn law enforcement officers.

Other skills you will need to bring to this field include:

  • Inductive and deductive reasoning
  • Complex problem solving
  • Ability to detect patterns
  • Critical thinking
  • Ability to communicate both orally and in writing
  • Far and near vision
  • Obtaining and documenting information
  • Computer skills
  • Ability to organize and prioritize

Actual Job Postings from Employers

Employers typically want to hire forensic analysts with experience and a bachelor's degree. Job postings often describe the type of work the forensic analyst can expect. Following are some actual jobs employers advertised in April 2012:

  • A laboratory in North Carolina wanted to hire an experienced forensic DNA analyst. A bachelor's degree in forensic science or an associated discipline was required.
  • A California county sought a senior forensic analyst to manage its laboratory and to participate in crime scene investigations. Two years of crime scene investigation and one year of forensic laboratory experience were required.
  • A police department in Maryland looked for a forensic analyst to evaluate biological samples in its DNA laboratory. Minimum qualifications included a bachelor's degree in criminology, biochemistry, criminal justice or a related field; and one year of experience as a forensic analyst. Candidates with an equivalent combination of education and experience would also be considered.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

While working towards your college degree, you can choose from several ways to get experience that may help you to get a job as a forensic analyst. You can get an internship in a forensic laboratory or obtain a summer job working in a laboratory. This experience looks good on your resume and put you ahead of any inexperienced competition when you are ready to get a job. Once you are employed, you can advance in your career by gaining experience and learning new skills. Obtaining a master's degree in forensic science or a related discipline can offer a path to career advancement as well. A graduate degree can make promotion to an administrative position possible.

Alternate Career Paths

Materials Scientist

If you like the idea of working in a laboratory and want to use your bachelor's degree as the springboard to earn more than you could as a forensic analyst, a career as a materials scientist is another option. Materials scientists study the composition of various substances, test them, analyze the results and write reports about their findings. They develop new materials and processes. Materials scientists in 2011 earned a mean annual wage of $87,000, according to the BLS. Although this is considerably higher than a forensic analyst's salary, the job outlook isn't as good, with jobs only projected to increase around four percent between 2010 and 2020, which is slower than the average for all careers.

Private Detective

Another career you may want to consider is private detective. Private detectives gather information, conduct surveillance and collect evidence. They perform a wide range of activities, including performing background checks, finding missing persons and solving crimes. Although the pay for private detectives is lower than that of forensic analysts and materials scientists, with a mean annual wage of $49,000 in 2011, the job prospects are better. The BLS projects a growth in that field of 21% between 2010 and 2020. Another plus is that it is possible to obtain employment as a private detective without a college degree and to receive on-the job training.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master: Criminal Justice
      • MS in Cybersecurity Management
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    Bachelor's
      • BSCJ: Crime Scene Investigation
      • BS in Corrections
      • Bachelor: Auditing-Forensic Accountancy
      • Bachelor: Criminal Justice
      • BS in Cybersecurity
      • BSCJ: Forensic Psychology
    Associate's
      • Associate: Criminal Justice
      • AAS in Public Safety and Security
      • AAS in Criminal Justice and Criminology
      • Associate: Fire Science
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Ashford University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS/Criminal Justice - Forensic Science
      • MS-Criminal Justice
      • MS/Criminal Justice - Cybercrime and Technology
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Johns Hopkins University

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    Certificate
      • Certificate in Government Analytics
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    4. Northcentral University

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    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
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      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice
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    5. Colorado Technical University

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    Doctorate
      • Doctor - Management - Criminal Justice
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      • M.S. - Criminal Justice
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      • BS - Criminal Justice
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    6. Utica College

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      • Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis
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      • BS in Cybersecurity - Cybercrime and Fraud Investigation
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    7. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Criminal Justice
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      • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
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  • Online Programs Available
    8. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice
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  • Online Programs Available
    9. University of the Rockies

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    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Psychology - Criminology and Justice Studies
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    10. Herzing University

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    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master: Criminal Justice
  • BSCJ: Crime Scene Investigation
  • Associate: Criminal Justice

Which subject are you interested in?

Ashford University

  • MS/Criminal Justice - Forensic Science
  • MS-Criminal Justice
  • MS/Criminal Justice - Cybercrime and Technology

What is your highest level of education?

Johns Hopkins University

  • Certificate in Government Analytics

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • PhD in Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor - Management - Criminal Justice
  • M.S. - Criminal Justice
  • BS - Criminal Justice

Are you a US citizen?

Utica College

  • Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis
  • BS in Cybersecurity - Cybercrime and Fraud Investigation
  • Cyber Crime and Fraud Investigation Certificate

What is your highest level of education completed?

Keiser University

  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • B.A. - Homeland Security
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS - Criminal Justice
  • MS in Criminal Justice - Intelligence & Crime Analysis Track
  • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization

What is your highest level of education completed?