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Forensic analyst salary & career outlook

forensic analyst

Forensic analysts work at the intersection of science and law enforcement, using laboratory investigation to analyze criminal evidence. Forensic analysts may specialize in fields, such as crime scene investigation, cyber forensics or financial analysis. As forensic science techniques advance, trained forensic analysts can expect strong demand for their expertise.

A look at forensic analyst careers

Forensic analysts support law enforcement and legal prosecution efforts by analyzing different types of criminal evidence. Forensic analysts typically focus on a particular type of evidence--biological, ballistic, physical, computer or financial data. Examples of forensic analysis specialties include DNA analysis, fiber analysis, handwriting, fire investigation and mobile device forensics.

The job description of a forensic analyst varies based on the specialty, but in general, analysts collect and store evidence, analyze specimens in a laboratory setting, document their findings and serve as expert witnesses in court. Forensic analysts must be detail-oriented and organized.

Training for a forensics career at forensic analyst schools

Forensic analysts learn the techniques of their trade through specialized degree programs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, most forensic science technicians have a bachelor's degree in forensic science or a natural science discipline. Other training options include the two-year associate degree in forensic science or a bachelor's degree in criminal justice with a forensics emphasis. Aspiring analysts who already have a college degree can build vocational skills by completing a professional certificate in a forensic science or a specialty, such as forensic accounting.

Forensics training is available at forensic analyst schools, technical and vocational institutes, community colleges and four-year universities. For working professionals and others juggling multiple commitments, there is forensic analyst training online. Forensic science programs offer a basic foundation in math and science, applied training in laboratory skills and specialized instruction in a specific area of forensic investigation.

Forensic analyst salary: 2010 and beyond

Forensic analysts earn widely varied salaries depending on their specialty and level of expertise. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a 2010 median salary of $55,040. A forensic accounting special agent at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, however, commands over double this industry-wide median; GlassDoor.com reports an average salary of $114,500 for this specialty role. The federal government is the top-paying employer of forensic analysts, offering an annual mean wage of $96,290 in 2010.

Location can also influence salary expectations for forensic analysts. The top-paying metropolitan area is Washington, D.C., the hub of those high-paying federal jobs. Outside of D.C., the top salaries are in California:

  • Washington, D.C.: $85,390
  • San Francisco Bay Area, East Bay, CA: $76,500
  • Santa Ana, Anaheim and Irvine, CA: $74,960

Some of the best-paying regions also offer a low cost of living, making them good options for forensic analysts willing to relocate. These top-value regions include:

  • Springfield, IL: $71,040 and 86.6 cost of living
  • Visalia, CA: $66.110 and 86.8 cost of living

Cost of living data reflects the ranking on the 2011 ACCRA Cost of Living Index, which sets the national average at 100.

Career outlook for forensic analysts

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a favorable outlook for forensic analyst careers. Citing "increasing application of forensic science techniques, such as DNA analysis, to examine, solve and prevent crime," the BLS forecasts "much faster than average" job growth. Forensic analysts can look forward to an estimated growth of 20 percent in the 2008-2018 period. State and local government, the major employers of forensic analysts, will continue to drive opportunities in the sector, along with private medical and diagnostic laboratories.

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