Department of Political Science & Criminal Justice

Master of Science in Forensic Science

Frequently Asked Questions

  1. What is Forensic Science?
  2. What degree is offered?
  3. Is this degree different from other degrees?
  4. Can I get a job with this degree?
  5. What kind of jobs are available with this degree?
  6. Are there admission requirements?
  7. How do I apply for admission?
  8. I have not taken the GRE/LSAT/MAT yet, what do I do?
  9. Are there other ways to be admitted?
  10. Can I take graduate classes before I obtain my undergraduate degree?
  11. Can I take classes without pursuing a degree?
  12. Will my classes apply toward a doctoral degree?
  13. Must I attend full time?
  14. Can I obtain a dual degree?
  15. Can I use classes from another university?
  16. How do I complete an internship?
  17. Is there a thesis required?
  18. What is a capstone class?
  19. How long does it take to complete a degree?
  20. Can I take classes online?
  21. Where do I get more information?

What is Forensic Science?

There are different definitions of the term "Forensic Science," depending on who you are talking with and how the term is being used. Two of the more common definitions are:

  1. Science used in public, in a court, or in the justice system.
  2. Any science, used for the purposes of the law, and commonly used in court to help prove an issue in court.

Most people today think of Forensic Science as something related to criminal law and crimes. Popular fictional media, especially television, have raised the awareness about topics often associated with Forensic Science. The most popular show, CSI and its many spinoffs, brings the science of criminalistics to a viewer's living room on a weekly basis.

Forensic Science is actually an umbrella term that covers a very broad selection of different disciplines. Each discipline has a well defined set of standards used in applying specific knowledge to a legal issue. As an example, a Forensic Pathologist commonly performs medical and scientific investigation to determine the most likely cause of death. The Pathologist typically holds a degree in medicine, with Medical Doctor (MD) being the most common. In addition to the degree most certified Forensic Pathologists have a minimum of four (4) years as an intern, another year in residency, and then take a series of examinations or perform qualifying tasks in order to become certified.

Other disciplines require differing levels of education and experience. Depending on what the person does within the justice system the type of degree they have, as well as the type of experience, may qualify them in different ways. At the heart of the question is the ability to be certified as an "expert witness" in a given area, and this is a purely legal standard. In other words, no matter what discipline you chose to emphasize the final question of a person's ability to give "expert testimony" comes down to their individual qualifications. Thus, the term Forensic Science may be applied to a number of disciplines and approaches depending on which court and what issue is being raised.

In the past the "Forensic Scientist" was one who had traditional training in an academic discipline such as chemistry, biology, physics, or related areas. These persons held at minimum a Baccalaureate degree in a science, and most held a combination of education, training, and experience in an area that would qualify them as an expert.

Disciplines outside of science were often recognized, but the term "Forensic Scientist" and "Forensic Science" were not as commonly applied to describe these areas. As an example, someone who was expert at examining questionable documents such as forgeries are often educated in many different areas. Specialized training, often obtained as a police officer or criminal investigator, was obtained along with years of experience in examining such documents. Since no individual degree existed in this area the person may actually have a baccalaureate or higher degree in any one of several disciplines including art, criminal justice, business, accounting or a science. It was the specialized training and years of experience that qualified them, not necessarily the formal college degree.

Still other areas such as entomology (study of insects), odontology (dental sciences), agronomy (agriculture related), and many others have been called upon to help solve a legal question. Each of these becomes a Forensic Scientist in the sense that the expert uses their training or education to analyze or evaluate the given legal issue or evidence.

Over time, the term Forensic Science has been expanded to now include virtually every academic discipline or specialized training area that may qualify a person to give expert opinion regarding evidence in a legal matter. That is one reason the approach taken by Southern Utah University is so valuable; it allows students the ability to concentrate their ultimate areas of knowledge in the most common disciplines applied in courts today.

Back to the Top

What degree is offered?

Southern Utah University is offering the Master of Science degree in Forensic Science. A master's degree is an academic degree usually awarded after the student completes a designated series of courses. Most master degrees require between thirty (30) and forty-five (45) credit hours of class (on a semester basis), and each discipline determines the breadth or depth of the courses involved.

The SUU degree focuses on the scientific method, and for that reason is called a Masters of Science. The Master of Science (Latin: Magister Scienti) generally requires a minimal number of hours in a core with a selected number of classes in an area of emphasis. Completion of a capstone or thesis is often common, and in the SUU program students may also choose to complete an internship in the given areas of their emphasis.

The SUU program will require that students take ten (10) hours which make up the Interdisciplinary Core of study. These courses currently include:

  • Overview of Forensic Law
  • Overview of Criminal Justice
  • Overview of Forensic Psychology
  • Overview of Forensic Biology
  • Overview of Forensic Chemistry
  • Overview of Forensic Computer Analysis

The purpose of the core is to allow students to gain an overview of forensic knowledge as it relates to the five areas of emphasis. Each core class will focus on one, two or more subject areas. Students will learn about the particular academic discipline and how it applies within the area of Forensic Science. While some substantive material for each course will be covered a student does not need to have an in-depth background in the subject area. As an example, a student will not be required to have a degree in Biology or Chemistry in order to take the Core Overview course in that area; however, we do expect that undergraduate degrees have provided the appropriate level of general education within the given area. Most accredited schools in the United States do provide that level of training, and the traditional liberal arts degree will certainly include some basics in all of the areas that will be subject of these classes.

Typically, students in the Criminal Justice Emphasis Area will not take the Core Overview of Criminal Justice course. Consult your emphasis adviser upon admission into the program to plan your courses.

In addition to the minimum of ten hours of core courses the student will also take a minimum of eleven (11) hours of courses specified by their emphasis area. The areas of emphasis include:

  1. Biology
  2. Chemistry
  3. Computer Science
  4. Criminal Justice
  5. Psychology

Each of these areas focuses a student on specific courses for that discipline. Examples of classes for the areas of emphasis are listed below.

Biology Chemistry
DNA Analysis and Quality Control Advanced Analytical Chemistry and Advanced Analytical Chemistry Lab
Forensic Microscopy and Lab Forensic Toxicology and Forensic Toxicology Lab
Forensic Biochemistry Forensic Drug Analysis and Forensic Drug Analysis Lab
Readings in Forensic Biology Chemistry of Forensic Analysis
Computer Science Criminal Justice
Cyber-Crime (with lab) Crime Scene Techniques
Digital Forensics Serial and Mass Murder Investigations
Networks and Internet Forensics Surveillance and Intelligence in the Criminal Investigation
Forensic Firearms Examination and Forensic Firearms Examination Lab Forensic Firearms Examination and Forensic Firearms Examination Lab
Psychology  
Principles of Graduate Research  
Legal Psychology  
Psychology of Criminal Behavior  
Readings in Forensic Psychology  

Students are also required to complete either a six (6) hour Internship that will focus on their respective area of emphasis or a masters level thesis or project. Students enrolled in the Biology or Chemistry emphasis must complete a masters level thesis. This internship, project or thesis will vary according to the particular student need and area of emphasis. The internship will be coordinated both with the program director and the particular graduate committee for the student.

As a rule, students who intend to pursue higher levels of education, especially toward a terminal degree, should consider the thesis option. The thesis is typically designed to be research oriented within the given discipline. Those who intend to pursue a career path in the practical area of study may wish to complete an internship or professional project. These are designed to better prepare the student for work in the industry or field they have chosen. There is no advantage or disadvantage to either path. They are simply chosen based on the student's expectations for the future.

A final capstone class is required before graduation. This class will require students to complete a career oriented project in which they make proper analysis of evidence, prepare reports and related materials, and then demonstrate their capability through an intensive courtroom practicum which requires students to testify, be cross-examined, and present their findings in a model case.

Back to the Top

Is this degree different from other degrees?

Yes and No. The degree is very different from other Forensic Science degrees simply because of its overall breadth. It is designed to give each student an overview of the emphasis options (Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Criminal Justice, and Psychology) followed by in-depth emphasis, followed by an internship, and a capstone mock courtroom experience.

The degree is not much different from any other masters level degree program in the sense that it requires the number of classes and depth common to any masters degree.  Students should have a level of competency in their subject area appropriate for those graduating from an undergraduate (baccalaureate) degree program. As a rule, the student should have sufficient understanding so that they begin graduate level study immediately. Students who lack such foundation may be required to take additional undergraduate level courses to bolster their understanding and ability before they may enroll in more advanced classes.

Back to the Top

Can I get a job with this degree?

YES! Students who finish this degree will qualify for a number of different jobs.

Students are encouraged to investigate the particular area of their interest. Some jobs will require specialized knowledge or training, so be sure to double check with your faculty advisor regarding your particular course selection and how it affects your career choices.

Back to the Top

What kind of jobs are available with this degree?

One must remember that the idea of Forensic Science is limited only by the students demonstrated abilities. Clearly some areas of emphasis will require specific education. As an example, one who emphasizes the psychology area will not likely qualify for a job as a Forensic Chemist (and visa-versa). With that understanding it is much easier for the student to now begin tailoring their particular education choices to the career path they are considering.

One way to get a good idea of jobs that may be available is to look at current job postings. In the following paragraphs I will discuss some of the potential job markets as they relate to the specific disciplines. NOTE: Be sure to visit with one of the faculty from the respective area of emphasis to learn more about job opportunities in that area.

We will start with Forensic Criminal Justice. This area of emphasis will aid in the understanding of investigative techniques and methods employed at the crime scene or in a criminal investigation. This may include areas such as fingerprints, tools marks, blood splatter analysis, serology, and many other areas both scientific and investigatory. The SUU Forensic Criminal Justice emphasis is focused on preparing students to work as field investigators at the federal, state, and local levels. This is a very advanced degree focusing on the criminal investigation process. As such the student who obtains this degree will likely find employment with a police or investigative agency.

This is an appropriate spot to also mention that both private and public jobs are common with the MS in Forensic Science. As an example, in the areas of Biology and Chemistry the student can easily find jobs in private laboratories just as quickly as they can in government operations. This is important to remember for all the degree choices in this program. The degree itself gives the student very advanced education in a particular area, the limitations on employment are only set by the students interest.

While on the topic of Biology and Chemistry, a great spot to look at jobs is the American Academy of Forensic Science (http://www.aafs.org). As you peruse the jobs listed at this site take some time to look at the specific qualifications required. An amazing number of these jobs fit perfectly with the degree program here at SUU, and that is one of the strongest reasons we chose the degree type we did. Here are a few examples of jobs with specific job qualifications:

  1. Crime Analyst -- Florida Department of Enforcement -- Requires a minimum of a Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice or related area with three (3) years of experience in criminal investigation or a masters degree in Forensic Science.
  2. Crime Analyst II -- Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) -- Qualifications include education and experience equivalent to a bachelor's degree from an accredited college or university in criminal justice, business management, public administration, sociology, or a related field. One year of statistical and analytical experience is desired. Responsibilities include performing crime analysis for the LVMPD and other authorized agencies; providing police personnel with crime analysis for tactical operations, strategic planning, and manpower allocation.
  3. Laboratory Forensic Assistant -- LVMPD -- Qualifications include education and experience equivalent to an associate's degree or two years of technical or college level course work in the basic sciences including successful completion of chemistry/laboratory classes. One year of practical experience working in a chemistry laboratory is desired.
  4. Analytical Chemist -- Delaware Office of the Chief Medical Examiner -- Applicants must have education, training and/or experience demonstrating competence in each of the following areas. Failure in any one area will result in a rating of "not qualified."
    1. Experience in physical, organic, inorganic, or analytical chemistry
    2. Experience generating and interpreting chemical test data by performing quantitative and qualitative statistical analysis
    3. Experience in the use of laboratory equipment and instrumentation including calibration and maintenance
    4. Experience selecting laboratory test methods and procedures
    5. Experience in technical report writing.
  5. Firearms/Toolmarks Examiner -- Washington state Patrol Crime Laboratory -- Qualifications include a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a natural science with the specified credit hours of chemistry and physics coursework and at least two years full time technical experience in a forensic laboratory. A Masters degree in Forensics Science is preferable.
  6. DNA Supervisory Forensic Scientist -- Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory -- Qualifications include a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a natural science with the required coursework in genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry and at least five years of full-time technical experience in a forensic laboratory.
  7. Evidence Technician -- The Drug Enforcement Administration -- Qualifications include the ability to compose non-technical correspondence; the ability to coordinate, control, and track detailed documents; the ability to communicate effectively both orally and in writing; knowledge of principles, practices, and procedures involved in the management of drug and non-drug evidence; knowledge of clerical practices and office routines; the ability to organize and manage a secured storage space; the ability to apply basic analytical methods for various aspects of assigned program or project areas. knowledge of office administrative practices and procedures; and knowledge of program support practices and procedures.
  8. Criminalist -- San Bernardino Sheriff's Department -- Qualifications include a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a natural or physical science, criminalistics, or a closely related field; coursework must include eight semester units of general chemistry and three semester units of quantitative analysis.
  9. Forensic Scientist II -- Virginia Department of Forensic Science -- Qualifications: B.A./B.S. degree in biology, chemistry, forensic science, or related scientific field; college courses (graduate or undergraduate level) in genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology (molecular genetics or recombinant DNA technology), as well as course work and/or training in statistics and population genetics as applied to forensic DNA analysis

As one can quickly see these jobs all typically require a minimum of a bachelors degree in the subject area, and many note that a masters is preferred. In fact, while they may require the minimum of a baccalaureate degree the reality is that the best candidates will have a masters degree.

Other areas of the degree will have their own unique job qualifications. In Computer Science the jobs include private industry where students will focus on crime prevention (stopping hackers and computer thieves from accessing the employers material) while government jobs may focus on investigations and prosecution.

Be sure to visit with the specific faculty members in the respective areas of emphasis to learn more about jobs and job opportunities.

Back to the Top

Are there admission requirements?

Yes. The University has an admissions policy in place, and applications should be obtained from the SUU Office of Admissions. Both an online and mail-in application are available (see Website for more).

The requirements of the admission to the program are as follows:

  1. A letter of application to the MSFS program explaining to which emphasis area you are applying and describing your career intentions or goals and a completed application with a non refundable application fee
  2. Baccalaureate degree from an accredited institution in one of the following disciplines:
    1. Biology
    2. Computer Science
    3. Information Systems
    4. Chemistry
    5. Criminal Justic
    6. Psychology
    7. Related Area
  3. A minimum of a 3.0 Cumulative GPA (on 4.0 scale) covering the last 60 semester or 90 quarter hours.
  4. Three Letters of Recommendation or Graduate Recommendation Forms
  5. One set of official transcripts from the previous institutions that you have attended.
  6. An official copy of a recent GRE, MAT or LSAT score
  7. Application filed through SUU's application system and payment of the non-refundable application fee.

NOTE: If you do not have a degree in one of the specific subjects listed above and are still interested in this degree then please contact us to evaluate your qualifications. Some related degrees and combinations of courses may in fact qualify you for admission. In some instances students may also be admitted contingent on their completion of a related set of preparatory courses. As an example, if you hold a degree in Zoology and are interested in the Forensic Biology emphasis then you may be admitted conditionally with the expectation that you will take additional courses, usually at the undergraduate level, in Biology (or related areas) in order to begin graduate study.

Back to the Top

How do I apply for admission?

1. APPLICATION & FEE: Complete the appropriate application for graduate admission. In addition, a non-refundable application fee in the amount identified on the graduate application is required.

2. CREDENTIALS: All documents must be sent directly from their source to the Admissions Office. Copies submitted by the student are not acceptable. (NOTE: As a rule, the Office of Admissions will not contact students to tell them that a file is not complete. If you have requested credentials and other materials to be forwarded then please follow-up to insure they are received.)

A) Official Transcript: Arrange immediately with each college or university attended to official transcripts to the SUU Admissions Office. We will need a transcript from each institution, even if you have not completed a degree. Transcripts submitted by the applicant or which have been issued to the student/applicant will not be considered official. Transcripts from different institutions accumulated on one transcript are not acceptable. It is important that all colleges or universities attended are included, and especially important that degree granting institutions reflect the degree status on the transcript.

B) Three Letters of Recommendation: The letters should be on official letterhead or stationary, if available, and the sender should identify themselves and their relationship to the applicant. The letter should be hand signed, no facsimile or electronic signature is accepted. Senders should include a telephone number and contact information, and should indicate whether they are willing to be contacted should questions arise.

NOTE: The person writing the letter of recommendation should address three items, to wit: (1) How long they have known the applicant, (2) What is their relationship to the applicant (i.e., teacher-student, friend, relative, employer, supervisor, etc.), and (3) an evaluation of the applicant's ability to complete graduate level work. It is also a good idea to have persons with graduate education complete the letters since these people are most likely capable of evaluating your ability to complete the course of study.

Graduate Recommendation Forms will also be accepted.

C) Official Score Report from the GRE/LSAT/MAT. While a student may apply for admission without a score, the student can not matriculate until they have submitted an appropriate score.

Back to the Top

I have not taken the GRE/LSAT/MAT yet, what do I do?

Students who have not taken a test should arrange to take the exam at the earliest date practical.

Back to the Top

Are there other ways to be admitted?

No.

Back to the Top

Can I take graduate classes before I obtain my undergraduate degree?

Not presently. This a graduate level program with spaces reserved to only those students who are admitted for graduate study.

Back to the Top

Can I take classes without pursuing a degree?

Yes, but you would still have to be admitted to the program. Currently the belief is that we will have plenty of degree seeking students, so there may not be room for non-degree seeking students. Our priority is for those students who are actively seeking a degree. From time to time, however, a student may be admitted to study and permitted to register for a class even though they are not pursuing a degree.

Back to the Top

Will my classes apply toward a doctoral degree?

That will depend on the school and doctoral program you wish to enter. Southern Utah University is fully accredited, and that means that as a rule our degrees and classes are recognized by all other accredited institutions. There are a few degree programs (law, medicine, etc.) that require 100% of the work from their respective degree program. As such, your Masters of Science in Forensic Science is still a valid and legitimate degree, but it simply won't apply toward that doctorate. As an example, a student seeking the Medical Doctor (MD) or Juris Doctor (JD) degree after they complete the MS in any area (not just Forensic Science) is unable to use that degree toward the doctorate. The student will complete the requisite number of classes in that professional doctorate program just as if they did not have a masters degree.

On the other hand, a student seeking a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) or similar degree may find that the MS easily applies toward the doctorate. This would work well for areas such as chemistry, biology, psychology, business, and related fields. The big difference is in the type of doctorate you want to pursue and the specific requirements. Be sure to visit with your respective faculty advisors about this issue for more information.

Back to the Top

Must I attend full time?

No. A number of students will actually be working full time already in the industry. They are returning to school to further their education and enhance their career opportunities. These students will normally attend classes in the afternoon, evening, or on the weekends, and for that reason we will try to offer some of our classes at those times.

One must also remember that graduate work is much different from undergraduate work. Typically 12 hours of credit is considered "full time" for an undergraduate, but that number drops to 9 hours for graduate. We anticipate that most students will take between 9 and 12 hours on a full time basis, and that number will drop for part time students.

It is also worthwhile to note that students may take as few as one class at a time, but this will delay their graduation. For those that can not attend full time this is a reasonable option which allows them to complete a degree without having to attend full time. On the other hand, those students who do attend full time will find that 9 to 12 hours of graduate work will be equal to 15 to 18 hours of undergraduate work.

Back to the Top

Can I obtain a dual degree?

Yes. SUU offers multiple graduate degrees and has plans to add more. Students may seek and obtain dual degrees, but the student must complete the requirements for both degrees. As an example, a student may wish to pursue both the MSFS and M.Acc. (Masters of Accountancy) degree at the same time, and while some classes may be shared the student is responsible for completing the minimum requirements for both degrees before they can be granted a diploma. In addition, the student must qualify for and be admitted to both degree programs. If a student is admitted to only one program they may not be eligible to take classes in the second program. Check with the individual department for each program before proceeding.

Back to the Top

Can I use classes from another university?

Transfer of graduate level classes is not always as accepted as is the transfer of undergraduate classes. One reason for this is the length of a graduate degree versus the undergraduate. Most masters programs are only 30 to 40 hours in length, and transferring classes sometimes raises red flags. In some instances a student may have done poorly in one program and seeks transfer as a means of avoiding the academic failure at the first institution. As such, the university reserves the right to evaluate any transfer within the guidelines set by the individual department or college. Before credit is granted toward the degree the student will need to secure permission from the graduate committee, department chair, dean, and provost.

Back to the Top

How do I complete an internship?

The internship and/or thesis will be administered by the director of the program. In most instances the student secures an internship site in cooperation with faculty and or the director. Examples of likely internship locations include crime labs, police agencies, criminal justice agencies, courts, and related professional settings.

The requirements for an internship site are fairly broad so that students will have the maximum number of opportunities. These sites are to be related to the student's area of emphasis, and students should begin early thinking about potential sites for their work. Some students may wish to stay locally while others will want to be placed regionally, nationally, or even internationally.

Students are encouraged to also seek out funding opportunities, usually through grants and fellowships, that will allow them to experience as much of the profession as possible. Speak with your faculty advisor about methods of finding funding and securing internship sites.

Back to the Top

Is there a thesis required?

Some of the areas of emphasis require a thesis, and some will allow a student to complete a project associated with the internship. Speak with you faculty advisor about this option.

Back to the Top

What is a capstone class?

The term capstone comes from the stone used at the top of a stone doorway to lock the lower pieces into place. The capstone held the door secure and took special masonry skills to create and set. This term has been adopted in education to mean a final course which brings together everything a student has learned in the education cycle.

For the MS degree at SUU the capstone course focuses on both past and new learning. Students will be expected to work within a professional environment to address a critical issue in evidence and forensic science. Skills in critical thinking, analysis, and application of learned material are key to success in this course. As part of the final process students must analyze specific evidence appropriate to their given emphasis and then prepare reports and other communications common for the forensic expert. The course culminates with a courtroom experience that puts the student in a model case where they must convincingly present their findings for both direct and cross-examination.

It is the capstone course that will make the SUU degree so unique. While other Forensic Science programs teach students the science, math, and investigative materials, it is ONLY the SUU degree program that makes the student bring it all together just as they would in the profession.

Back to the Top

How long does it take to complete a degree?

We anticipate that the program will be a two year program. A typical schedule could be as follows:

Fall Semester
Three Interdisciplinary Core Courses (6 credits)
One Emphasis Option Course ( 3 credits)

Spring Semester
Two Interdisciplinary Core Courses (4 credits)
Two Emphasis Option Course ( 6 credits)

Fall Semester
Capstone Course (3 credits)
One Emphasis Option Course (2-3 credits)

Spring Semester
Internship/Project/Thesis (6 credits)

It is important to note that the number of courses and particular rotation within the program may change over time, and hinges on enrollments, faculty schedules, room availability, etc. As such, some students may find that a summer Internship meets their needs more than other semesters. The faculty at SUU will make reasonable efforts to help students adjust their schedule; however, students should be prepared to make changes in their work schedules and actively engage in their study and course selections so that they may graduate in a timely fashion.

Back to the Top

Can I take classes online?

Not yet. Because this is a brand new degree program our concentration has been on the traditional method of presenting courses. We have discussed moving the courses to the online environment, but have not yet set a time for this part of the program development.

Back to the Top

Where do I get more information?

Dr. Terrie Bechdel is the Director of the MSFS Program and is a prime source of information.

Students who wish to begin the application process should immediately contact the SUU Admissions Office.

Director:

Terrie Bechdel
GC 406
(435) 865-8613
TerrieBechdel@suu.edu