Application Requirements
General Questions about Forensic Science
Brief outline of forensic science-related careers

What are the basic application requirements?

To be eligible for consideration, applicants to the Forensic Science Masters program at Michigan State University must have a cumulative undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0. Please note that in recent years, successful applicants have generally had GPAs of 3.5 or better.

Applicants must have completed or be near completion of a Bachelors of Science degree from an accredited institution in a major appropriate to the concentration sought. For example, applicants interested in the Forensic Chemistry concentration should have a BS in Chemistry, Biochemistry, or Chemical Engineering; those interested in the Forensic Biology concentration should have a BS in Biology, Human Biology, Cell and Molecular Biology, Genetics, Biochemistry, etc.; and applicants interested in the Forensic Anthropology concentration should have a bachelors in Anthropology with an emphasis in Physical Anthropology.

Please see Application Instructions for more information.

Are there any undergraduate courses recommended in preparation for graduate study in forensic science, or for application to the program?

The coordinators of each concentration have identified a number of undergraduate courses that have proven helpful in pursuing graduate study in forensic science. These may already be included in an applicant's undergraduate program requirements; if not, it is suggested that these courses be taken as electives.

Forensic Chemistry: general and organic chemistry, biochemistry, quantitative analysis, instrumental methods, and physical chemistry. Laboratory research experience is preferred.

Forensic Biology: genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, general and organic chemistry. Population genetics and biostatistics may be helpful. Laboratory research experience preferred.

Forensic Anthropology: genetics, anatomy, human skeletal biology, general biology.

Although my degree is in an unrelated field of study, I have taken quite a few science courses. Am I eligible to apply?

No. A strong science background is required for admission to the Forensic Science Masters program (as well as future employment in a crime laboratory), and an applicant's degree must be in a biological, natural, or physical science.

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What is forensic science?

Forensic science is the application of scientific methods and processes to matters that involve crime or the public. There are many branches of forensic science because almost any science has some applications to public or criminal matters. Some of the main areas of forensic science are listed below:

Chemistry
Biology
Criminalistics
Pathology
Entomology
Psychology
Dentistry/Odontology
Engineering
Geology
Anthropology

What does a forensic scientist do?

A forensic scientist is a scientist who usually works in a laboratory setting analyzing particular types of evidence, writing reports and testifying in court as an expert witness. In some cases, forensic scientists may attend crime or other incident scenes to help reconstruct the crime, or help in the recognition, collection, and preservation of evidence within their specialty. For example, a forensic anthropologist may be called upon to collect skeletal remains found in the woods. A forensic chemist may be asked to help in the processing of a clandestine drug laboratory. A trace evidence examiner may be asked to collect hairs and fibers and other traces from a homicide scene. Usually the crime scene component of the job of a forensic scientist is a relatively minor part of the duties.

Many forensic scientists work in forensic science (crime) laboratories. In the United States, there are more than 4000 crime laboratories, administered by the federal, state, or local governments or private industry. Most crime laboratories employ scientists in the areas of forensic chemistry (drugs, toxicology, trace evidence, explosives, fires, etc.) forensic biology (mainly DNA and body fluids and tissues), and criminalistics (fingerprints, questioned documents, firearms, and toolmarks).


What is the best route to prepare for a career as a forensic scientist?

In order to become a forensic scientist, one must become well grounded in the sciences that are important to that discipline. For example, a forensic pathologist must be educated in medicine and pathology. A forensic entomologist must be educated in the biological sciences and entomology.

If you wish to work in a crime laboratory as a forensic chemist or biologist, you must have a thorough grounding in the basic sciences of chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics. This can be achieved by obtaining a college degree in one of these sciences, making sure that the others are also covered. Courses in criminal justice may be useful to some extent, but a major in criminal justice is not adequate preparation for a career in forensic science. Crime laboratory directors look first for a solid science background in deciding to hire a forensic scientist.

After obtaining this strong, broad science background, it is best to specialize in the areas of forensic science in which you are most interested. You may go on to medical school to become a forensic pathologist. You may wish to obtain a masters degree or Ph.D. in engineering to become a forensic engineer. To prepare for a career as a forensic scientist in a crime laboratory, it is recommended that you pursue a masters degree in forensic science.

Where is forensic science taught in the United States and around the world?

A list of forensic science programs worldwide can be found by going to the American Academy of Forensic Science webpage. There are a wide variety of programs at the bachelors and masters levels, and a few Ph.D. programs are listed as well. You should visit any school you contemplate attending, and discuss the program in detail with the faculty or administrator(s) before making a decision.

Where can I find more information about forensic science laboratories?

You can contact your local crime laboratory or check out the website of the American Society of Crime Lab Directors (ASCLD) website.

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What is a crime scene investigator?

Crime scene investigators or technicians are people who are trained to secure crime scenes and then search for, collect and preserve physical evidence. This evidence is then shipped to a crime laboratory where forensic scientists perform examinations on the evidence. Crime scene technicians seldom do any analysis or processing of evidence, although some are trained in blood spatter analysis or fingerprint processing, etc.

Historically, crime scene investigators have been sworn police officers, but the present trend is toward "civilianizing" this unit - hiring and training non-police personnel. To prepare for a career in crime scene technology, a science background would be helpful, especially if there is some forensic science in it. Beyond that, you should pursue a college degree that is suitable for becoming a police officer. Law enforcement and criminal justice are examples of majors that would be helpful here.

What is a forensic anthropologist?

A forensic anthropologist is one who is educated in physical anthropology (particularly skeletal biology), archaeology, anatomy and allied sciences, usually with a Ph.D. There are few people who make a living solely as a forensic anthropologist. Instead, most are connected with universities and lend their talents to police agencies, prosecutors, defense attorneys or courts. Other forensic anthropologists work with state, regional or national government agencies and may be involved in the identification of victims of mass disasters or international war crimes. There is a certification process for the forensic anthropologist.

What is a forensic pathologist?

A forensic pathologist is a medical doctor whose job is to determine the cause and/or manner of death in cases of suspicious death. They are sometimes referred to as medical examiners or coroners, depending on the state. A forensic pathologist has a college degree, followed by a medical degree, and a 3-4 year residency in pathology. There are also some additional residencies in forensic pathology that can lead to certification as a forensic pathologist.

What is a forensic entomologist?

A forensic entomologist has extensive education and training in entomology, usually with a Ph.D. Almost no one makes a living in the United States solely with forensic entomology work. Instead, most are connected with a university and lend their talents to police agencies, prosecutors, defense attorneys, or courts.

What is a forensic (police) psychologist?

Many people wish to become involved in what has popularly become known as “forensic psychology”. They want to be involved in psychological crime scene reconstruction, psychological profiling and tracking serial criminals. Strictly speaking, this is not forensic psychology. This is police psychology or a form of criminal psychology. Forensic psychology deals with the determination of the ability of an accused person to assist in his own defense or stand trial.

There are few if any universities or colleges that have formal educational programs in police psychology, as most psychology departments consider this too applied. To get into this field, the best course of action is to get a strong clinical psychology background (a Ph.D. is preferred) and then obtain employment with a large police department or other law enforcement agency that has a behavioral science unit.

The job market for criminal psychologists is very small. We have very few serial rapists or murderers in the United States to profile, and the FBI behavioral science unit will perform this function at no cost for law enforcement agencies. Most police departments cannot afford to hire a police psychologist full time.

What is Criminology?

The term criminology is sometimes used interchangeably with forensic science. In fact, criminology is a social science that studies how and why people commit crimes, or crime causation. It is part of most criminal justice curricula in colleges and universities.

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