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Pre-Forensic Science Preparation at UHMānoa

Compiled from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences website and the UH Mānoa 2013-2014 Catalog.

Hawai'i Forensic Science program: Chaminade University, Bachelors of Science.

For available certificates: PAC’s Health Degrees Directory.

Forensic Science Degrees
Entrance Exam
What makes a strong candidate?
Additional Information
Downloadable Brochure


Forensics is more of a field than a specific profession.  Forensic scientists come from a wide variety of professions – technicians, researchers, dentists, law enforcement officers, document specialists, medical doctors – and work closely with law enforcement agencies to analyze criminal cases. The term “forensic” derives from the Latin forensis, referring to the public forum of arguing of legal cases before a court of law.

Forensic scientists help build legal cases by determining cause and time of death and presence or absence of criminal action.  Specializations include forensic entomologists, who use knowledge of insects and their habitat to determine time and location of death; forensic toxicologists, who analyze body fluids for evidence of alcohol, drugs or poisons; and forensic odontologists, who compare dental records with remains to identify a body. 

Some forensic scientists attend crime scenes, but most work in laboratories, offices, and morgues.  Depending on their educational background, forensic scientists may perform autopsies, analyze DNA and dental remains, or create toxicology reports.  Forensic specialists may also be called to testify as witnesses in court trials.

Forensic scientists work for federal, state and local government, private forensic laboratories, hospitals, universities, police departments, coroner offices, and as independent consultants.  Employment positions include medical examiners, coroners, laboratory scientists, and independent consultants.

The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) divides Forensic Science into the following eleven specializations:

Criminalistics.  Criminalists are trained to collect, examine, and interpret physical evidence and usually work at crime scenes.  Responsibilities include examining hair, fibers, blood, alcohol, drugs, paint, glass, and flammables; restoring smeared or smudged markings; identifying firearms; and comparing bullets, tool markings, and foot prints.  Using chemicals and instruments, criminalists separate important from irrelevant evidence.  Typical foundational professions include Medical Technology, Chemistry, Microbiology, and Physics; degrees range from Bachelor to Doctorate.

Digital & Multimedia Sciences.  Digital & Multimedia Sciences professionals help develop the scientific foundations for the practice of digital forensics, including research and publication, or they may manage digital forensic laboratories.  Depending on the specialty, these professionals may discover and prove facts concerning digital device examinations, network analysis, and comparison of digitized numerals, images, and analog/digital audio and video, to name a few.  Typical foundational professions include Computer Science, Information Technology, and Engineering; Degrees range from Bachelor to Doctorate.

Engineering Sciences.  Forensic engineers provide evidence for legal issues around structural analysis, including accident reconstruction, causes and origins of fires or explosions, quality evaluation of construction or manufacturing, and maintenance problems.  Typical foundational professions include Engineering, Chemistry, and Physics; degrees range from Bachelor to Doctorate.

General.  General forensic scientists specialize in laboratory investigation, field investigation, clinical work, computer investigation, research, and other emerging forensic science disciplines. General forensic scientists are employed in numerous areas of forensic activity, including administration, archaeology, computer science, marine biology, social work, and speech science.  Typical foundational professions include Law Enforcement, Information and Computer Science, Medical Technology, Chemistry, Anthropology, Marine Biology, Social Work, Psychology, Speech Pathology and Audiology, etc. Degrees range from Associate to Doctorate.

Jurisprudence.  Prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges often work with forensic evidence and must call upon expert witnesses to give testimony in criminal and civil cases.  These legal professionals must be aware of the laws and standards that dictate the admissibility of forensic evidence in court proceedings.  A typical foundational profession is Jurisprudence; the most typical degree is Juris Doctor (JD).

Odontology.  Forensic odontologists identify the human remains of missing and unknown persons using their dental records.  These specialists are involved in autopsy examinations and conduct bite mark analysis in cases of assault, rape, and homicide.  Injury analysis concerning the presence or extent of injury or physical neglect may also fall within the scope of forensic odontology.  A typical foundational profession is Dentistry; degrees include DMD and DDS.

Pathology/Biology.  Forensic pathologists investigate crime scenes and perform autopsies to determine the cause of a person’s death.  They work closely with other forensic science professionals, including criminalists, forensic odontologists, forensic anthropologists, and toxicologists.  A typical foundational profession is Medicine. Depending on the area of specialization, degrees range from Associate to Doctorate; the most typical are MD and PhD.

Physical Anthropology.  Forensic anthropologists document the age, gender, stature, race, and other characteristics of skeletal remains.  Forensic anthropologists are often skilled in facial reproduction (modeling how a face may have appeared) and can estimate the amount of time elapsed since death by examining the degree of body decomposition and insect remains (entomology).  Typical foundational professions include Anthropology and Medicine; degrees include MD and PhD.

Psychiatry & Behavioral Science.  Forensic psychiatrists and psychologists are involved with legal issues such as an individual’s criminal responsibility, competence to cooperate with an attorney, capacity to abide by terms of probation, and degree of future dangerousness.  Typical foundational professions include Medicine and Psychology; degrees include Masters, PhD, and MD.
Questioned Documents.  Document examiners or materials specialists analyze documents and related materials, including ink, paper, toner, and ribbons.  Document examiners answer questions regarding manufacturing sources, similarities or differences between documents, production dates, and date of use.  Typical foundational professions include Chemistry, Physics, and History; degrees range from Bachelor to PhD.

Toxicology.  Forensic toxicologists are concerned with whether prescription or illegal drugs and/or alcohol lead or contributed to the person's death or to a crime.  There are several areas of specialization: postmortem toxicologists determine the contribution of drugs or other chemicals to the circumstances of the death, while others work with law enforcement agencies to investigate crimes in which drug or alcohol use may be a factor.   Typical foundational professions include Chemistry, Medical Technology, Pharmacology (Medicine), and Pharmacy. Degrees range from Bachelor to Doctorate, including MD, PhD, and PharmD.


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Forensic Science Programs

Forensic science is an umbrella term that describes the application of varies fields to criminal investigations.  Consequently, there is no "typical" timeline: each career within forensic science has its own unique path and educational requirements.  Training can begin at the Associate or Bachelor level, but most forensic careers require graduate degrees and/or additional certification.  In every career, higher degrees offer greater opportunities for promotion, assignment opportunities, administrative and managerial work, and higher salaries. More information can be found on the AAFS website.

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Prerequisites for Admission

Most importantly, remember that requirements vary from school to school! You must research possible schools and which courses you will need in order to apply.Forensic scientists usually hold at least a Bachelor degree in the natural and/or social sciences.  Common majors include Anthropology, Biology, Chemistry, Computer Science, Medical Technology, Microbiology, Physics, Plant and Environmental Biotechnology, Psychology, and Sociology. 

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What makes a strong candidate?

Tuition, as high as it is, covers only a fraction of the cost of educating a professional student,
which means that each new student represents an investment by the professional school. Schools
need to be certain that the students they accept will be capable of completing the curriculum and are likely to become good forensic scientists.

Are you capable of completing the curriculum?
Admissions committees are looking for students who have:

  • Completed the prerequisites;
  • A high overall GPA;
  • A high GPA in major courses;
  • Performed well on entrance exam; and
  • Balanced their course load so it is challenging yet realistic.

Are you likely to become a good forensic scientist? 

Forensic scientists should have:

  • high attention to detail
  • intellectual curiosity
  • the ability to apply scientific knowledge to solve complex real-life problems
  • willingness and ability to perform laboratory work to very high quality standards
  • excellent oral and written communication skills
  • excellent note-taking skills
  • the ability to write comprehensible scientific reports
  • a conscientious work ethic
  • high ethical and moral standards
  • demonstrated maturity (judgment, responsibility, dependability, integrity)
  • strong letters of recommendation from faculty and character references
  • gained experience relevant to forensic science and sufficient for an understanding of the forensic science profession.

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Entrance Exam

Students planning to attend professional or graduate school will need to take the entrance exam required for their school.  Entrance exams may include one of the following, depending on which path you decide to pursue: DAT, LSAT, MCAT, or GRE. Once you know which test(s) you will need to take, PAC can offer resources to help you prepare.

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Additional Resources

UHMānoa’s Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center (PAC) has reference books, lists of volunteer opportunities, academic planning worksheets, and one-on-one advising by peers who can help you prepare for a career in forensic science. PAC can also provide contact information for the following resources:

UHM’s Biology Club

UHM’s Chemistry Club

UHM’s Manoa Pre-Law Association

UHM’s Pre-Medical Association

UHM’s Pre-Dental Association

UHM’s Engineering Clubs (Multiple)

American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS)

Directory of Accredited Forensic Science Education Programs

National Center for Forensic Science

Florida State University Internet Pathology Laboratory for Medical Education (examples of cases)

Preparing for Graduate School by the Honors Program

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