Forensic Science Degrees Online

Who did it? Was it the estranged son? Or the business partner? Or maybe even a random thief? If you want to be part of the team that finds out, then your first step might be to pursue a forensic science degree online.

While forensic science has been glamorized by TV shows, the reality is quite different. No one solves a crime on their own. So it often takes teams of forensic scientists. And those teams usually work with investigators and detectives to do so. Due to the nature of the work, forensic scientists are also known as Crime Scene Investigators (CSIs).

According to O*NET OnLine, forensic scientists need to be detail oriented. And it’s also good to be able to focus on a task without being distracted. Other key abilities include being able to come up with a number of ideas about a topic. In addition, it’s helpful if you are able to quickly see patterns or differences between similar objects.

High school grads looking to enter the field or those looking for a career change might consider earning a forensic science degree online. Likewise, forensic science pros seeking career growth might consider pursuing one of the graduate degrees online. Your unique career goals may help you decide which degree level to pursue.

How Do Online Forensic Science Degree Programs Work?

Forensic science degree programs may be conducted almost entirely online. Through an online platform, students might explore virtual crime scenes. You might also to learn how to “gather evidence.” Next, you could learn to examine evidence. Then, you may write official reports based on your findings. As part of the process, you might even reconstruct crime scenes.

During your program you may also study cold cases. For example, you could re-examine old evidence. This might help to uncover new findings.

These virtual models of crime scenes and criminal behavior might provide students with a lab-like experience. Thus, it could help you explore the tools and processes used for real-life forensic investigation.

Some schools may require students to do an internship. In addition, others might have on-campus lab or research requirements.

The outlook for forensic science technician careers looks bright, according to O*NET OnLine. This is because its job growth rate is expected to be faster than average. That growth may be fueled by local and state governments hiring more forensic techs to deal with high caseloads. However, there could be stiff competition for these jobs due to the niche nature of the field, states the BLS.

The table below lists the 2019 nationwide numbers for jobs related to forensic science. Some of those examples include forensic science techs (BLS), private detective and investigators (BLS), police and detectives (BLS), fire inspectors (BLS), environmental science and protection techs (BLS), and clinical laboratory techs (BLS).

Career
Employment
Median Salary
Projected Job Growth
Forensic Science Technicians17,200$59,15014%
Private Detectives and Investigators36,200$50,5108%
Police and Detectives813,500$65,1705%
Fire Inspectors16,400$60,2308%
Environmental Science and Protection Technicians34,700$46,5408%
Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians337,800$53,1207%

Here’s a brief overview of some of these jobs.

  • Forensic science technicians analyze crime scenes. They do this in order to gather and preserve evidence. They also sketch crime scenes. And, they may reconstruct them.
  • Private detectives and criminal investigators protect property and lives. In addition, they collect facts and forensic evidence of crimes.
  • Fire inspectors analyze buildings to find fire hazards. They also make sure that fire regulations are met.
  • Environmental science and protection techs watch over the environment. This is in order to look for contamination and pollution sources.
  • Clinical laboratory techs analyze substances. For instance, they may look at body fluids and tissue through samples and testing.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), crime scene investigators, forensic scientists and technicians usually fall into two main categories:

  • Those who collect and identify the evidence at crime scenes
  • Those who analyze the evidence in labs

Duties are likely to vary depending on where they work. However, there are also generalists who may cover a broad range of tasks.

Forensic scientists at crime scenes may:

  • Decide how evidence should be collected
  • Collect and preserve evidence for transport to the lab
  • Reconstruct crime scenes

Forensic scientists in labs often:

  • Perform tests on collected evidence
  • Do chemical, biological, and microscopic analyses
  • Explore DNA links between suspects and crimes

What is a typical day for a forensic scientist?

A forensic scientist’s day usually varies throughout the week. For instance, one day you might work in an office or lab, or both. The next day you might write reports. Or, you could prepare for visits to labs. This could be in order to maintain equipment. And at other times, you may visit crime scenes. During those visits you are likely to look at traces of blood, paint, glass, explosives, or other substances. This may allow you to help prove or disprove suspects in crime scenes. A forensic scientist may also work as an expert witness in court.

What are the different majors for forensic science?

  • Forensic chemistry
  • Forensic science and technology

What could you expect to learn in an online certificate program?

Studies at this level act as an intro to the field of forensics. For example, you may look at how investigations are conducted. And then you might look at how evidence is handled, processed, and secured.

Typical program length: Up to one year of full-time study

Standard requirements: High school diploma or equivalent

Common topics of study: You may expect to study topics covering the  principles and ethics behind forensic science. For instance, you might see online courses like:

  • Crime analysis
  • Criminal law
  • Criminal profiling

What could you do after earning a certificate?

A certificate may prepare you to pursue an entry-level role in the field of crime scene forensics. For example, you might find work in labs or morgues. You might also seek work with local law enforcement agencies.

What could you expect to learn in an online associate degree program?

Associate degree programs in crime scene investigation are rare. However, you may find criminal justice programs that offer a concentration in forensics. Those offered by community colleges are usually designed for transfer to a four-year school.

Online programs in forensics may equip you with critical thinking skills. First, so you may process evidence taken from a crime scene. Second, so you might analyze it.

Typical program length: Up to two years of full-time study

Standard requirements: High school diploma or equivalent

Common topics of study: These usually cover a mix of criminal law, investigation, and physical science. For example, some subjects you may study are:

  • Intro to crime scene technology
  • Latent fingerprint development
  • Investigating internet crime
  • Crash scene investigation

You may also have to do an internship as a part of your program.

Possible electives: Intro to forensic anthropology; interview and interrogation; intro to forensic entomology

What could you pursue after earning an associate degree?

You may be able to transfer college credits from your associate program toward a bachelor’s program in forensic sciences. But you may also wish to move right into the workforce. For example, you might be ready to pursue entry-level job roles such as:

  • Crime scene tech
  • Crime lab assistant
  • Latent print examiner

What could you expect to learn in an online bachelor’s degree program?

Bachelor’s programs in forensics build on the topics covered in an associate program. That is, they tend to cover the entire investigative process from the beginning to the end, but in more detail. You might also learn about presenting evidence in court. Programs may also be offered as a bachelor of science in criminal justice, with a concentration in forensics.

Typical program length: Up to four years of full-time study

Standard requirements: High school diploma or equivalent

Common topics of study: You may expect to build a strong foundation in physical and natural science. You may also study the theory and practice of forensics. In addition, you may explore other criminal justice topics. Bachelor’s programs usually include some general education courses. Examples of courses you may take are:

  • Chemistry
  • Medical and legal investigations of death
  • Firearms and tool marks analysis
  • Microbiology
  • Forensic pharmacology
  • Criminal procedure and evidence

You may also have to do an internship as a part of your online degree program.

Possible electives: Forensic osteology; forensic toxicology; forensic chemistry

What could you pursue after earning a bachelor’s degree?

Bachelor’s degree holders in forensic sciences may go on to seek work in a variety of settings. For example, you might pursue work in nonprofit hospitals or private detective firms. Of course, federal, state, and local government agencies could also be options. You may see job titles like:

  • Forensic science tech
  • Crime lab analyst
  • Crime scene investigator
  • Forensic specialist
  • Digital forensic analyst

What could you expect to learn in an online master’s degree program?

Online forensic science degree programs at the master’s level are often for professionals. This is so they may enhance their knowledge of forensic sciences. To illustrate, a master’s program could allow you to obtain deeper knowledge in your areas of interest.

Typical program length: Up to two years of full-time study

Standard requirements: Bachelor’s degree

Common topics of study: The topics you may study should provide a closer look at areas of the field. For example, subjects might include:

  • Major case investigation
  • Biological evidence and serology
  • Criminal profiling
  • Forensic psych
  • Toxicology

You may also have to do a term paper or a master’s thesis based on original research. This is a common part of forensic science programs.

Possible electives: Blood distribution and spatter; genetics; immunology

What could you pursue after earning a master’s degree?

A master’s program might help you establish your skills in one or more aspects of forensic science. Therefore, you may be able to seek management jobs in different agencies needing that expertise. You might see job title options such as:

  • Lead criminal investigator
  • Fire investigator
  • Research specialist

What could you expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?

Online Ph.D. programs in forensic sciences are rare. However, students may be able to combine a Ph.D. in a relevant subject with a focus on forensics. For example, you may be able to do a Ph.D. in chemistry with a forensic focus.

Online forensic science programs at the Ph.D. level may help students acquire multidisciplinary knowledge, like the example above. They may also help you develop the analytical, problem-solving skills needed for leadership positions in the field of crime scene investigation.

Typical program length: Four to seven years of full-time study

Standard requirements: Master’s degree

Common topics of study: Students may take a set of core courses along with electives in a specific of interest. Topics that may be included in your core courses, for example, are:

  • Law and forensic sciences
  • Ethical conduct in forensic science
  • Forensic science research

Possible electives: Advanced forensic DNA; social science of forensics

Dissertation: A major part of doctoral programs is the dissertation. This is done based on original research. It is then reviewed by a panel of subject experts. Afterward, Ph.D. candidates are required to defend their thesis.

Much of the coursework in online doctoral programs could be completed online. However, some have residency requirements. If that’s the case, you may have to attend the school’s campus to meet with faculty advisors.

What could you pursue after earning a doctoral degree?

A doctoral degree program may help you establish yourself as an expert in a specific area of forensics. A Ph.D. in forensic science may allow you to seek work in research or academia. Or, it could allow you to hold senior positions in forensic science labs. And it may even help you to pursue executive positions in investigative agencies. You may also be able to establish yourself as an expert witness for court cases.

Types of Crime Scene Forensics

The forensic science field includes a number of different disciplines. Thus, many online degree programs allow you to choose a specific area within the forensic science scope to explore further. For example, here are some concentrations you may be able to choose from:

  • Computer and digital forensics: This cybercrime field usually focuses on how to gather and examine digital evidence.
  • Crime scene investigation: This one focuses on the skills necessary to collect, document, and preserve physical evidence. It usually also includes basic search and seizure procedures.
  • Forensic anthropology: This area of the field refers to how to collect and interpret human remains. It might help to determine whether the remains are recent or hundreds of years old.
  • Serology and forensic DNA: This branch focuses on how to identify and examine bodily fluids found at crime scenes.
  • Drug chemistry: This area usually involves the examination of controlled substances. It then looks at how they relate to criminal investigations.
  • Forensic psychology: This type applies psychology to the criminal justice system. So, it may prepare you to assist with criminal and civil matters. For example, you might help with insurance claims or civil lawsuits.
  • Toxicology: This area of focus relates to the analysis of drugs and alcohol. It may involve working with blood, urine, and other biological samples.

Accreditation

The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is the main body in the United States that accredits online programs in forensic science. Enrolling in an accredited school is important. This is because the review process ensures that the program meets strict standards for curriculum content. In addition, it looks at faculty qualifications. And it also considers the program’s forensic science research.

Attending an accredited program may also be a prerequisite for obtaining professional certifications.

Certifications and Licensures

Although not mandatory, professional certifications could help with career development in the criminal justice field. They may also help establish your skill in a particular aspect of forensic sciences. Some examples of certifications for the field are:

  • Bloodstain Pattern Analysis Certification: This one focuses on identifying and providing independent information related to bloodstain patterns in crime scenes.
  • Crime Scene Certification: The three types reflect an increasing level of expertise.
    • CCSI — Certified Crime Scene Investigator
    • CCSA — Certified Crime Scene Analyst
    • CSCSA — Certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst
  • Latent Print Certification: This option goes in depth on how to detect, analyze, and report latent print evidence. To clarify, latent print evidence usually refers to fingerprints or palm prints from crime scenes.
  • GIAC Certified Forensics Examiner: This endorsement confirms extensive knowledge of computer forensic analysis.

Licensure requirements are likely to depend on your job profile.

Employment Statistics

The featured state and metro wages for forensic science technicians are the averages for those areas. The 2019 data shown in the tables comes from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Forensic Science Technicians

Industries with the highest levels of employment
  • Local Government (except schools, hospitals): 9,790 employed
  • State Government (except schools, hospitals): 4,690 employed
  • Medical, Diagnostic Laboratories: 630 employed
  • Architectural, Engineering, Related Services: 380 employed
  • Federal Executive Branch: 130 employed
States with the highest level of employment
  • California: 2,150 employed, $87,200
  • Florida: 1,680 employed, $54,490
  • Texas: 1,480 employed, $60,040
  • New York: 860 employed, $68,000
  • Arizona: 700 employed, $61,820
  • Georgia: 560 employed, $49,990
  • Tennessee: 510 employed, $52,270
  • Ohio: 460 employed, $68,910
  • Virginia: 440 employed, $69,290
  • Maryland: 440 employed, $68,880
Top-paying metro areas
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA: $103,940
  • Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA: $91,790
  • Sacramento-Roseville-Arden-Arcade, CA: $90,670
  • Toledo, OH: $85,320
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV: $85,140
  • Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH: $82,850
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA: $81,910
  • San Diego-Carlsbad, CA: $81,810
  • Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI: $77,350
  • Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX: $77,160

Financial aid may be available to those who qualify. As with many fields, you may find scholarship programs related to forensic science. Here are a few examples:

Professional Organizations and Resources for Forensic Scientists

If you have interest in forensic science, then you may want to explore these resources.

  • American Academy of Forensic Sciences: AAFS strives to promote education and research in forensic sciences. Therefore, members may enjoy perks like digital access to AAFS workshops, scholarships, and discounts on books.
  • American Board of Criminalistics: ABC is made up of national and regional organizations who represent forensic science pros. It offers a number of certification and scholarship options.
  • American Society of Criminology: ASC is an international organization that focuses on the control, prevention, and treatment of crime and delinquency. Members may use the career center or serve on any of the 30-plus committees. You may also receive publications like The Criminologist.
 
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