Thanks to an abundance of crime lab TV dramas, forensic science is one of the hottest new majors on college campuses. At West Virginia University, with one of the largest programs, forensic science ranks second in popularity to Spanish, reports USA Today. This fall, the anthropology department at Eastern New Mexico University joins colleges in Texas, Nebraska, Montana, and New York adding forensic science as a major. More than 130 forensics programs are being taught at U.S. colleges and universities, although only 16 programs at 14 universities are accredited by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. The field is increasingly dominated by women. At Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, 90 percent of the forensic science students are female.
Starting pay for beginning forensic scientists averages $35,000-$45,000 a year.. The study of forensic science has bloomed only recently, largely as a result of expansion of DNA analysis as an investigative tool and the televising of big trials. Before 1980, when Jay Siegel set up one of the first programs at Michigan State University, “there were just a handful of people who could even tell you what forensic science was,” he says. Despite all that appeal, many of the programs have high dropout rates. “We have a number of students who come in each year thinking they’re going to crime scenes in Hummers and Armani suits and then find out there’s a lot of science involved here,” Siegel says.