Forensic Pathology Majors: Bachelors, Associate & Online Degree Info

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An undergraduate degree in forensic pathology can lead to jobs at forensic laboratories or with law enforcement agencies. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Forensic Pathology: Degrees at a Glance

An associate's degree in forensic pathology or a related field can lead to a career as a forensic science technician, while a bachelor's degree prepares you to work as either a biological technician or forensic science technician. Forensic science technicians collect and analyze evidence to help investigators solve crimes. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), over the 2010-2020 decade the number of jobs for forensic science technicians will remain stable (www.bls.gov).

Let's see how these two degrees compare:

Associate Bachelor's
Who Should Apply for this Degree Program? - Individuals seeking an entry-level career in forensic science
- Students intending to continue their studies in a bachelor's degree program
- Those seeking to attend medical school and complete a residency or fellowship in forensic pathology
- Individuals interested in an entry-level position in forensic science
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual median salary) - Forensic science technician ($56,000)* - salary more common for those with a bachelor's degree - Biological technician ($42,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years, full time 4 years, full time
Common Graduation Requirements -Approximately 60 course credit hours -Approximately 120 course credit hours
-Capstone or internship
Prerequisites High school diploma or equivalent High school diploma, equivalent or associate's degree
Online Availability Unavailable at this time Rare

Source: *Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures)

Associate Degree in Forensic Pathology

Associate's degree programs in forensic pathology provide students with a foundation in the sciences as well as in forensic pathology. Sometimes, these programs are offered as an associate's degree program in biology or chemistry with concentrations in forensic toxicology, anthropology, psychology or pathology. Many of these programs are designed to provide students with credits that transfer to a four year degree program.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Degree programs usually allow students to work directly with industry-specific lab equipment and complete extensive amounts of hands-on coursework
  • Most programs are designed for easy transfer into 4-year programs in forensic science
  • Curriculum includes general science and forensic science-specific courses, providing a strong foundation in multiple scientific fields

Cons

  • May only lead to an entry-level career in the field; more education may be necessary for higher-level jobs*
  • Many programs have extensive math and science prerequisites
  • A biology or chemistry program may offer limited amounts of forensic science-specific classes

Source: *Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Much of the coursework in these programs involves learning about forensic science theory and methodology. Courses also cover biology, chemistry, and psychology. You may also complete an internship with a local agency or lab. Common courses in these programs include:

  • Scene investigation
  • Computer forensics and cyber crime
  • Forensic psychology
  • Criminal law
  • Forensic science
  • Fire and arson investigation
  • Criminology

Online Degree Information

Forensic pathology programs are not available online. This is likely due to the extensive hands-on work required in science courses. Attending an on-campus program allows you to work in a lab and perform the tasks you may be assigned in an entry-level position.

How Do I Stand Out with this Degree?

To stand out with this degree, consider completing courses in computer forensics or cyber crime. Being knowledgeable about these aspects of forensic psychology may allow you to conduct advanced, recently developed testing. This skill may make you more attractive to employers.

Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Pathology

A bachelor's degree program in forensic pathology prepares you to work in entry-level positions in the field or to continue your studies in a graduate program. Many programs also prepare you to enter medical school. These programs may also be offered as a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with a concentration in forensic pathology or as a bachelor's degree in forensic investigation.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Degree program can prepare you to attend medical school
  • Graduation from a forensic-science program rather than a basic science program can help you beat out the competition for jobs in the field*
  • Curriculum usually includes extensive instruction in the basic sciences, possibly allowing you to being a career in a field other than forensic science

Cons

  • Does not prepare you for the high-level career of a forensic pathologist, which requires a graduate degree**
  • Degree is not a requirement for admission to graduate studies in the field or medical school***
  • Obtaining internships and other hands-on opportunities can be competitive

Source: *Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Forensic Science Foundation, ***North Carolina Central University

Courses and Requirements

Biology and chemistry courses are the core of forensic science bachelor's degree programs. Criminalistics, criminal law and forensic pathology classes are also included in these programs. Many programs also require completion of an internship or capstone project. Other typical courses are:

  • DNA analysis and genetics
  • Chemistry principles
  • Forensic instrumentation
  • Quantitative analysis
  • Fingerprint analysis

Online Degree Information

Online bachelor's degree programs in forensic pathology are rare. When offered, the curriculum of these programs is the same as their on-campus counterparts. Attending an in-person program allows you to complete hands-on lab work, which is essential in any career in the field.

How Do I Stand Out with this Degree?

To stand out with your degree, consider joining local chapters of forensic science organizations, such as the Forensic Science Foundation or the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Joining these organizations allows you to pursue leadership opportunities and make contacts that could help you establish your future career.

You might also consider completing advanced lab coursework, such as classes in mass spectrometry, toxicology or diagnostic techniques in molecular technology. This advanced knowledge may make you more attractive to employers.

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