Forensic Science, Criminology, or Criminal Justice?

Posted by MACSI MACSI
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I am a college student one semester away from earning my A.S. degree in Crime Scene Technology. I plan to continue towards my Bachelor's degree. I have been searching for a college, preferably in Florida that offers a degree in Forensic Science. I live in Jacksonville, Florida. The only college in Jacksonville that offers a anything similar is Edward Waters College. They offer a B.S. degree in Criminal Justice with a focus in Forensic Science. Florida State University offers an online B.S. degree in Crime Scene Investigation (distance learning/ labs in Panama City). There are several colleges nearby that offer online degrees in Criminology and in Criminal Justice. I am unsure what degree would be best to major in. My goal is to start out as a Crime Scene Investigator, and hoping to eventually work as a Crime Analyst for the FDLE or join the police academy and eventually become a homicide detective. Any suggestions would be helpful. Thank you.

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Re: Forensic Science, Criminology, or Criminal Justice?

Prior to answering your question I  would like to qualify myself by telling you that I have worked in forensic science education for 20 year with the last ten years at a FEPAC accredited university. If you want a forensic science degree, you have a few options in Florida. I would suggest that if you are going to go through the trouble of getting a forensic science degree you get one from a FEPAC (Forensic Science Accreditation Commission) accredited school. FEPAC accreditation insures that a college/university meets certain program requirements. There are non-FEPAC accredited schools that offer quality forensic science programs, but you have to be very careful when separating the wheat from the chaff. When forensic science became a hot major, colleges/universities began tripping over one another to offer forensic science programs. Why? Because they're money makers. A lot of forensic science programs are complete garbage. As I mentioned colleges/universities saw this as a way to make money with little to no regard for the actual content or quality of the program. They just cobbled together criminal justice classes and science classes and called them a forensic science major. These are the programs you want to avoid like the plague. When you start looking at specific programs, look at the qualifications of the instructors. A FEPAC accredited program requires a certain percentage of a program's instructors to have experience as a practitioner for a certain number of years. Even if it's not a FEPAC accredited program, they should have instructors with real world experience. The following link is a list of FEPAC accredited schools including the three schools in Florida that I referenced earlier here (you may have to copy and paste):
https://www.fepac-edu.org/accredited-universities 

As for on-line degrees, and this is just my opinion...AVOID THEM AT ALL COSTS!!!! There are some things that you can learn on-line, forensic science is not one of them. There is no substitute for learning by doing. You haven't learned S--- until you've done it. You can learn how something is done or you can learn how to do something. These are two remarkably different learning styles. Until you've powdered and lifted a latent fingerprint, cast a footwear impression, created bloodstain patterns, etc. you haven't learned a damn thing in my opinion. If I were an employer one of the first screening tools that I would use to pare down the number of applicants would be to take all of the resumes of applicants with on-line degrees and throw them in the garbage. I know that on-line education has become very popular over the years, but as I mentioned it's worthless for forensic science and any other science that requires practical hands-on skills.

If you decide to get a bachelors degree in forensic science through a quality college/university program they will require you to have a lot of undergraduate classes in math and science. At the university that I work at, which is pretty standard across all FEPAC accredited schools, they require general chemistry, organic chemistry, biochemsitry, calculus, and statistics. This is a tough, but doable curriculum.

I'm not sure what you've learned in your current program, but at minimum you should know how to conduct basic crime scene procedures such as photography, crime scene documentation, evidence collection and packaging, chain of custody procedures, etc. Good programs will also include topics such as bloodstain pattern analysis, shooting reconstruction, and other crime scene related activities.

If your ultimate goal is to become a homicide detective you are first going to have to become a police officer. There is no way to leap frog into the position of becoming a homicide detective. You have to pay your dues as a police officer before you can become a homicide detective.

Another thing you should stay away from are criminology and criminal justice programs. They will do absolutely nothing to prepare you for a job as a crime scene investigator or a forensic scientist. These are fluff degrees. The only advantage that they might provide is if you're applying for a police officer position that has some sort of college requirement. Some do, but most don't.

Something you should also keep in mind is that the competition for crime scene investigator and forensic science jobs is fierce. It's not unusual for one open position to receive hundreds of applicants. Having a degree from a quality respected program is one way to help your chances of landing a job. It also helps to have some kind of experience whether it be an internship or some position in a police department such as a property room clerk. There are more people coming out of school  with CSI/forensic science degrees now than ever and you have to be able to distinguish yourself from the heard in some positive way.

I hope this answers your questions and then some. If you have any other questions you can email me at my private email at cb4n6id@aol.com