How To Become a Forensic Scientist

Forensic scientist examining scene for evidence

Do you have a love of science and a passion for fighting crime? If so, a career as a forensic scientist might be a good choice for you. Forensic scientists fight crime inside their laboratories and at crime scenes. They use analytical reasoning and technical skills to analyze evidence, identify suspects and build an airtight case.1

Wondering how to become a forensic scientist? It’s required to obtain postsecondary education if you wish to become a forensic science technician.1 Look for a degree program that emphasizes science, such as chemistry or biology. An alternative to these is to earn a Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science.

Exactly what does a forensic scientist do? Is forensic science hard? You’ll get the answers to these questions here and a look at typical forensic scientist education requirements.

In This Article: 

Forensic Science Basics

Forensic scientists usually work behind the scenes to support law enforcement agencies in the solving of crimes. They are responsible for collecting and analyzing evidence. It’s a job with a great deal of professional responsibility, as justice can hinge upon a fingerprint or fiber sample.1

A job in forensic science also comes with potential. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forensic science technicians are expected to grow by 13%from 2022 through 2032, much faster than average.2

What Does a Forensic Scientist Do?

A forensic science technician works in both laboratories and at crime scenes. At crime scenes, they are typically responsible for:1

  • Taking photographs
  • Making sketches
  • Recording observations and findings
  • Collecting and cataloging evidence
  • Conducting crime scene reconstruction

In the laboratory, a forensic science technician focuses on conducting tests on samples collected at crime scenes. They use sophisticated laboratory equipment to analyze DNA, illicit substances and any other evidence found at the scene. Their findings may help law enforcement investigators identify victims, identify suspects and build a case that may lead to a conviction.1

Is Forensic Science Hard?

Forensic science can have its challenges. It’s a multidisciplinary field of study that requires competencies in the natural sciences and mathematics. Cracking a case requires problem-solving and critical thinking skills.1 However, for those who are passionate about solving crimes, going into this field may be well worth the effort.

How To Know if Forensic Science Is Right for You

Now that you’re familiar with the basics of forensic science, how can you determine if it’s right for you? Let’s take a closer look at what you can expect from forensic scientist education requirements.

Topics of Study: Forensic Scientist Education

Students earning a degree in forensic science must be willing to devote time to studying subjects such as biology, chemistry, human anatomy, and toxicology. These subjects are often accompanied with detailed class lectures, labs and comprehensive exams.

Forensic degree students must also be interested in analyzing, collecting and processing evidence for legal investigations, as this will likely be the majority of work they will encounter in school and throughout their career.

Essential Qualifications: How To Become a Forensic Scientist

In addition to earning a relevant degree, becoming a forensic science technician typically requires a period of on-the-job training. During this time, you can actively work on cultivating the characteristics that are helpful for this career, which include:

  • Critical thinking skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Communication skills

It is also important for students to develop a strong stomach for difficult crime scenes that may contain blood, wounds, decomposing remains and weapons. This can be challenging. The key is to remain professional and remember your training.

Why Study Forensic Science?

Although forensic science certainly has its fair share of challenges, it can also offer plenty of rewards. For example, you may experience a sense of personal fulfillment because this line of work is meaningful and necessary for keeping communities safe. In addition, other benefits you may experience may include the following:

1. Specialized Training

As technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, it is becoming increasingly necessary for forensic scientists to stay up-to-date and gain specialized training. As a future forensic science technician, it’s important to stay on top of the latest trends and emerging technologies that you can put to use to solve crimes.

For instance, in the Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science degree program at GCU, you’ll be taught how to analyze, collect and process forensic evidence to draw scientific conclusions for various types of investigations.

You will also examine essential subjects such as biology and chemistry. These are prerequisites, intended to help you understand the training you’ll receive in crime scene processing, toxicology, human pathology, serology and forensic DNA analysis.

2. Solid Foundation

As a student in GCU’s program, you will have opportunities to build a solid foundation in forensic science by participating in extensive lab and field settings that have the potential to provide you with valuable hands-on experiences. Evaluating mock crime scenes within your program can also be an excellent exercise. It offers practice in documenting, collecting and analyzing evidence in a crime scene.

3. Career Opportunities

When you graduate with a degree in forensic science, you may have the potential to apply for several jobs within the field.1 You may choose to begin your career by pursuing positions in crime scene investigation, DNA analysis or other areas of forensic evidence processing.

In addition to gaining work experience, you could also choose to further your education and pursue a natural science or forensic science degree at the master’s level.

Pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Science

If you have decided to move forward with your goal of becoming a forensic scientist, the first step is to choose an undergraduate program. In general, a chemistry degree may also be a good option if you plan to focus your career on analyzing toxicology or controlled substance evidence. Toxicology examines biological samples for the presence of drugs or toxins, while controlled substances tests unknown powders to determine if it is an illegal drug or a substance used to make an illegal drug.

On the other hand, if you would like to focus your career on analyzing DNA evidence, a degree in biology may be a good choice. If you aren’t sure which option is right for you, a general forensic science degree may be a good overall choice for aspiring forensic scientists.

Some schools offer specialty degrees in forensic science. A Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science may be the best option for you because it focuses on the integration of both biology and chemistry.

During the course of this degree program, you can expect to explore the following topics:

  • The analysis and identification of body fluids and tissues, including DNA profiling
  • The principles of toxicology, forensic toxicology and drug metabolism, including a look at the different types and effects of drugs
  • An examination of genetics, including DNA structure, DNA replication and population genetics
  • Methods of analyzing samples, including gas chromatography, mass spectroscopy, infrared spectroscopy and fluorescence spectroscopy
  • The evidentiary recovery of samples at crime scenes, with a look at maintaining the chain of custody and analyzing the evidence in the lab

Students can also expect to study forensic photography and crime scene reconstruction. In addition, a typical degree in forensic science may include a thorough review of multiple disciplines of science. These can include chemistry, biology, anatomy, physiology and physics.

A Forensic Science Specialty 

As you work toward your biology, forensic science or chemistry degree, you should begin thinking about choosing an area of specialization. In general, a forensic scientist, or criminalist, may work to reconstruct crime scenes, collect evidence or analyze the evidence.

Within these fields there are many subspecialties to consider. These can include the following:

  • Blood spatter analyst: Assesses the shape, pattern and diameter of bloodstains to ascertain the events that occurred
  • Firearms examiner: Evaluates guns believed to have been used in the execution of crimes by comparing bullet fragments and cartridge casings
  • Toxicologist: Analyzes hair, nails and bodily fluids to check for evidence of drug use or poisoning

Other forensic science specialties may require other types of degrees. For example, an aspiring digital forensic investigator who typically works on cybercrimes, can pursue an IT-related degree. An aspiring forensic psychologist, who interviews suspects, victims and witnesses, can pursue a graduate degree in psychology.

Earning a Certification in Forensic Science

While it is not necessary to earn an advanced certification in forensic science, doing so may reflect your dedication to your profession.1

Many certification options available to forensic scientists are typically available through the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC). The following are examples of certifications administered by the ABC:3

  • Drug Analysis (ABC-DA)
  • Biological Evidence Screening (ABC-BIO)
  • Forensic DNA (ABC-DNA)
  • Hair and Fiber (ABC-HF)
  • Paint and Polymer (ABC-PP)

Other certifications are administered by the International Association for Identification (IAI). These include fingerprint identification, forensic photography and bloodstain pattern analysis.4  Look for a certification option that best fits your chosen area(s) of specialization.

If you aspire to be a forensic scientist, you may have the opportunity to build a strong academic foundation at Grand Canyon University. Our Christian learning community emphasizes STEM degrees, including the Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science and the Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. To explore these degree programs further, fill out the form on this page. 

1 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, Sept. 6). How to become a forensic science technician. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved Nov. 15, 2023.

2 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 to 2022 may be atypical compared to prior years. Accordingly, data shown is effective September 2023, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Forensic Science Technicians, retrieved on Nov. 15, 2023.

3 American Board of Criminalistics (n.d.). Certification. Retrieved Nov. 16, 2023.

4 International Association for Identification (n.d.). Certifications. Retrieved Nov. 16, 2023. 

Approved by the forensic science programs director of the College of Natural Sciences on Dec. 22, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.

Scroll back to top