If there’s one thing we’ve learned from television, it’s that forensic science is a very cool profession. Even if they don’t end up looking as attractive or poised as The Flash’s Barry Allen or anyone on the CSI teams, forensic scientists serve a crucial role in society. They get to combine the rigor of scientific research with the practice of crime-fighting. It bridges the gap between the lab and the real world.
However, more than most careers in criminal justice, forensic science requires intensive training. Those who excel in the profession must gain expertise in otherwise incompatible fields such as chemistry, psychology, biology, and more. Furthermore, students need teachers who have experience in the field, who know how scientific principles can help investigators solve crimes. Finally, students need access to resources such as simulation centers, where they can practice by recreating real-world situations.
Every one of the schools on this list can give students everything they need to enter the field of forensic science. But with so many choices, students may get overwhelmed. One must take into consideration several factors when deciding upon a nursing school, including location, faculty, and concentration.
Following the rankings as listed on the website collegechoice.net, we’ve identified the ten best forensic science schools. More importantly, we’ve provided further information about what these programs offer, so you can make the most informed decision.
10. Madonna University (Livonia, MI)
Madonna University is the only institution in Michigan with an undergraduate program in Michigan that is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission.
Taught by seasoned instructors with real-world training in the field, the Forensic Science program allows students to engage in independent research. MU’s faculty helps students make that research suitable for publication in peer-reviewed journals, to give them an advantage when seeking employment or entry into graduate or professional school.
These teachers also serve as mentors, bringing students into the field to provide hands-on experience. Not only will students gain familiarity with standard protocols employed across the forensic science disciplines, but they will also have the chance to glean from years of experience.
The program has taught successful alumni such as Brandon Good, 2006 graduate and current Lab Manager in the Biology Unit of the Michigan State Police Northville Crime Laboratory, and 2013 graduate Stephanie Gladyck, who is currently earning a Ph.D. in Molecular Genetics and Genomics at Wayne State University’s Center for Molecular Medicine and Genetics.
9. Ohio Northern University (Ada, OH)
There are several criteria by which one can judge the quality of Ohio Northern University’s forensic biology program, including its experienced faculty and unique resources. But the best sign of the school’s effectiveness may be the number 96. That’s the percentage of graduates who go on to get jobs within the field.
That success rate stems in part from innovative approaches such as ONU’s Crime Scene House. In that learning lab, the department draws from real case studies to stage a series of mock crimes that students can investigate. The house not only gives the opportunity to test their skills but to also learn from the approaches of their predecessors.
Likewise, ONU also offers study abroad programs. These programs allow students to work with the University of Ulster in the United Kingdom, Glasgow Caledonia University, and the University of Eastern Finland, learning from the forensic methods in these countries.
8. Loyola University Chicago (Chicago, IL)
A Jesuit institution in the heart of Chicago, Loyola University offers a number of world-class fields of study, including its Forensic Science program.
Combining natural science and criminal justice, the LU Forensic Science program gives students the substantial technical expertise and knowledge they need in their field, as well as soft skills such as critical thinking, communication abilities, and awareness of the scientist’s ethical responsibilities in the legal process.
To reach these goals, LU Forensic Science applies a cross-disciplinary approach, bringing together knowledge and technology from anthropology, biology and chemistry. Students gain these skills from the institution’s state-of-the-art facilities, such as the Quinlan Life Sciences Education & Research Center. At Quinlan, students have access to environmental rooms, a digital-imaging facility, digital molecular analysis equipment, and much more.
7. Cedarville University (Cedarville, OH)
While every program on this list features compelling ways for students to advance their forensic skills, few can match Ohio’s Cedarville University, which hosts an annual Forensic Science Camp. In the camp, high school juniors and seniors will get access to lectures on forensic techniques, critical evaluations of episodes of CSI, and an opportunity to collect evidence at a mock crime scene and analyze it in Cedarville’s modern laboratories.
The camp illustrates Cedarville’s approach to Forensic Science, which takes a Christian approach to the discipline, combining a love of science, a passion for solving puzzles, with a desire for justice. Crossing over disciplines, CU’s forensic science major includes substantial laboratory work, an internship experience at a crime lab, and an emphasis on advanced coursework in the sciences.
6. Indiana University & Purdue University Indianapolis (Indianapolis, IN)
Bringing together the resources of two major universities in the state of Indiana, Indiana University & Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI) is one of the nation’s best places to study forensic science. As part of the School of Science, the Forensic and Investigative Sciences program gives students a strong foundation in chemistry, biology, physics, math, statistics, law, and criminal justice. This knowledge prepares students to solve crimes and settle civil disputes through scientific evidence.
The program is aided by a healthy research endowment, which reached over $1.1 million in 2019. The research focus includes advancements in forensic chemistry, finding new ways to find evidence in controlled substances, trace evidence (e.g., fibers, paint, glass), fire debris, explosives, and explosive devices. Research in forensic biology finds new ways to identify evidence in bodily fluids and other biological material.
5. University of Nebraska, Lincoln (Lincoln, NE)
As part of the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Forensic Science program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers three specific paths.
Those choosing the forensic biology option focus on forensic serology (body fluid identification) and DNA analysis techniques. Following the methods used in operational U.S. crime laboratories, the curriculum includes coursework in molecular biology, forensic biology, genetics, human remains, and immunology.
More than just the name of a hit tv show, the Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) option gives students the skills to collect, preserve and interpret physical evidence. Following standard crime scene investigation and evidence analysis techniques, students following the CSI path take courses in forensic photography, comparative analysis techniques, palynology, entomology, physical anthropology, chemistry, and biology.
The forensic chemistry option exposes students to laboratory-based chemistry techniques and teaches them how to perform chemical analysis of forensically essential materials. This option features courses in quantitative, analytical, and physical chemistry, toxicology, physiology, calculus, biochemistry, and comparative analysis techniques.
4. Pennsylvania State University (University Park, PA)
The nationally recognized forensic science program at Pennsylvania State University gives students hands-on training in crime laboratory methodologies and crime scene investigation techniques. In addition to the chance to learn under highly experienced faculty members, students also have access to state-of-the-art crime laboratories and crime scene training facilities. Students learn the practices of modern forensics through a multi-disciplinary approach that emphasizes hands-on learning.
Whether they’re pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree, students in the program can choose from two educational paths. Those with an emphasis on forensic biology apply biology, microbiology, serology, biochemistry, and molecular biology to criminal justice. With an emphasis on forensic DNA, the school teaches students how to perform forensic analysis of biological materials.
With the forensic chemistry emphasis, students learn forensic applications of analytical, physical, and inorganic chemistry. Teachers emphasize learning the forensic analysis of controlled substances, trace evidence, fire debris, ignitable liquids, and firearm residue.
3. Texas A&M University, College Station (College Station, TX)
The Department of Entomology at Texas A&M University – College Station works “to create and implement the knowledge that improves lives.” In the Forensic & Investigative Sciences Program, that means applying life sciences to scene investigation. The degree prepares future forensic scientists for collecting, preserving, and using evidentiary information in problem-solving.
The effectiveness of Texas A&M’s program is borne out by its work in the community. In 2020, professor Jacqui Aitkenhead-Peterson used her expertise in discovering nutrients in soil and water in human-dominated ecosystems to help find human remains and advance work on a case. Later in the year, forensic science senior Harlee Schneider received the College of Agriculture’s Senior Merit Award for her work in the non-profit Texas A&M Cupcakes and the Youth Adventure Program hosted by the Entomology Department.
2. University of Central Florida (Orlando, FL)
At the University of Central Florida, the Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science program is devoted to using scientific principles to promote justice. With tracks in biochemistry and chemistry, students have multiple options to learn their trade. The program is the second oldest in the nation, having been founded in 1974.
The program begins with coursework in forensic sciences, in which students gain experience using specific instruments, performing scientific writing, and conducting scientific investigations. UCF gives students access to a state-of-the-art laboratory, which features polarized light microscopes, stereo microscopes, and comparison microscopes. With these resources, students learn about the functionality of equipment and practice using them by performing microscopic analysis of simulated forensic samples.
The creative approach of the forensic science program is part of the reason that UCF has been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as one of the most innovative schools in the nation.
1. Mercyhurst University (Erie, PA)
At Mercyhurst University, the Department of Sciences offers a multidisciplinary undergraduate major in applied forensic sciences, dedicated to educating students in science, forensic science, society, and the law. The program begins by giving students a firm foundation in the natural sciences, with which students learn to identify, collect, analyze and interpret forensic evidence.
Students at Mercyhurst hone their abilities in the school’s state-of-the-art facilities, including the Ted A. Rathbun Osteology Laboratory.
Affectionally known as the Bone Lab, Rathbun features classrooms designed for 12-15 students to take hands-on courses, including Fragmentary Human Osteology and Skeletal Trauma Analysis. The Lab has a vast collection of human remains, large vertebrate skeletons, vertebrate faunal collections from several historical and prehistoric sites, fossil hominid casts, and donated human skeletal remains.
Students also have access to cutting-edge devices, digital sliding and spreading calipers, osteometric boards, and FORDISC 3.0, an interactive computer program used by Forensic Anthropologists for biological profiling.