#1 Marshall UniversityHuntington, WV
There's only one forensics graduate program in the country that is located in the same building as a fully-functioning paternity and federal DNA laboratory, and you probably would not guess where it is: Huntington, West Virginia, in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. A few hours beyond the outskirts of the forensics employment capital of the world, Washington, DC, Marshall's forensic science graduate program is considered by many to be the best in the United States, due largely to an atypical combination of small class size, breadth of curriculum and sheer proximity to actual forensic scientists doing real casework.
Unlike forensic graduate programs that require a commitment to a specific branch of forensics from the get-go, Marshall takes a broad approach for its 15-20 students admitted each year. The first semester presents wide-ranging survey courses, such as Crime Scene & Death Investigation, Forensic Microscopy, Comparative Science (fingerprints, firearms and questioned documents) and Fundamentals of Digital Evidence. With these courses under their belt, students have a much clearer understanding of what in the world they're getting into when they say, "hey, I want to do hair and fiber analysis for a living," than if they had to choose during their first semester.
After the first years, Marshall's program quickly refines into four tracks: DNA analysis, forensic chemistry, computer forensics and crime scene investigation. And here's the real kicker: you can do as many of these as you want, as long as you're willing to tackle the course-load. Can't decide between drug chemistry and digital evidence? Do them both, and double your employment options. Marshall's fee schedule does not penalize you for additional credits beyond "full-time" status.
In addition to the coursework, Marshall requires the typical summer internship, spent in the on-site laboratory or elsewhere (even abroad), doing a project in an area that interests you. The university also requires four-semesters of a seminar course, where all students deliver multiple conference-grade presentations designed for different levels of audience sophistication. Marshall is rare among programs in realizing that the best lab results in the world are meaningless if you cannot effectively convey them, either to peers or to a jury. Uncomfortable with public speaking? Marshall will break you of this, and fast.
Understand that your two years will be no cake-walk. To graduate, you will have to conquer one doozy of a comprehensive exam. You're looking at a full day's worth of one-hour tests covering almost every branch of forensic science known to man. But consider the payoff: in the last two years, Marshall's forensic students have been ranked number one in the nation on the American Board of Criminalistics' Forensic Science Assessment Test. If that doesn't help sell you to a prospective employer after graduation, then, well, nothing will.
Marshall's program has been around for a long time, and was one of the first programs accredited by the American Academy of Forensic Science. Over the years, it has developed what is arguably the most comprehensive array of choices for students, but it has maintained the flexibility to let you explore what you like and discover what you're good at. Combine this with intimate classes, top graduate performance and proximity to forensic jobs in Washington, D.C., and you can see why Marshall University is our pick for the best forensic graduate program in America.
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