Online Degrees in Crime Scene Forensics

Article Sources
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Whodunit? If you want to be a part of the team that finds out if it was the estranged son, the business partner or a random thief who committed the murder at the Boddy mansion, a career in forensic sciences could be the one for you. While forensic science has been glamorized by shows such as CSI and Bones, the reality is quite different from what is shown on television. No one solves a crime on their own and it often takes teams of forensic scientists working with investigators and detectives to do so. Forensic scientists are also popularly known as Crime Scene Investigators (CSIs).

According to the College Board, individuals intending to pursue a forensic science degree should love science, a strong sense of justice, be methodical and detail-oriented. High school graduates looking to enter the field or professionals looking for a career change or higher positions can earn an online forensic science degree. Online degree programs in crime scene investigation can give you the flexibility you need to balance family, work commitments and study.

How do online forensic science programs work?

Many crime scene investigator degree programs are conducted almost entirely online. Students can explore virtual crime scenes and "gather evidence", learn to examine evidence virtually and use their findings to write official reports and create reconstructions. They may also be able study cold cases virtually and interview suspects, re-examine old evidence and determine if the case is worthwhile. These virtual models of crime scenes can provide students with a laboratory where they can shape the tools necessary for real-life forensic investigation. Some universities may require students to attend final examinations in-person or meet other on-campus requirements.

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 laboratories

Duties can vary depending on where they work, although there are generalists with overlapping duties as well.

Forensic scientists at crime:

  • Analyzing crime scenes and determining how evidence should be collected
  • Collecting, cataloguing and preserving evidence for transport to the laboratory
  • Reconstructing crime scenes

Forensic scientists in laboratories:

  • Performing tests on collected evidence including chemical, biological and microscopic analyses.
  • Using DNA analysis and other tests to explore links between suspects and crimes

The outlook for crime scene investigator careers is projected to be bright according to the BLS with growth in this field fueled by local and state governments employing more forensic technicians to deal with high caseloads. However, you can also expect the competition for these jobs to be stiff due to the niche nature of the field. The table below lists occupations related to this field, along with the employment outlook, median wages and job openings 2016 to 2026 using data from the BLS.

Average Salary
Projected Job Growth
(2016 - 26)
Forensic Science Technicians15,970$62,49016.8%
Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Teachers, Postsecondary14,890$72,39012.5%
Private Detectives and Investigators30,990$56,81010.5%
Police and Sheriff's Patrol Officers661,330$65,4007%
Security Guards1,114,380$32,0506.3%
Probation Officers and Correctional Treatment Specialists87,660$58,7905.7%
Detectives and Criminal Investigators103,450$85,0204.5%
Gaming Surveillance Officers and Gaming Investigators10,230$36,2003.5%
Source: 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; 2016-26 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central, projectionscentral.com

Choose a degree that can help you meet your career goals

What can you do with a degree in forensic science? That would depend on your degree level and your place of employment.

Certificates and associate degree programs in forensics can give you an overview of the field and may make you eligible for entry-level jobs.

However, the BLS reports that crime scene investigator jobs require a minimum of a bachelor's degree in forensic science or its equivalent but it is candidates with master's degrees that may have the best prospects.

Doctoral degree holders are often considered experts in their particular field of forensics and can be called on to deliver expert testimony in a court of law.

What can I expect to learn in an online certificate program?

Online certificate programs in crime scene forensics can act as an introduction to how crime scene investigations are conducted and how evidence is handled, processed and secured.

Typical duration: Up to one year of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: You can expect to study topics covering the different principles and ethics behind crime scene investigations. Potential courses are:

  • Crime analysis
  • Criminal law
  • Criminal profiling
  • The pathology of death investigations

What can I do after earning a certificate?

A certificate can prepare you for entry-level job roles in the field of crime scene forensics working in laboratories, morgues or with local law enforcement agencies.

What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?

Terminal associate degree programs in crime scene investigation are rare with many community colleges offering associate degree programs that are designed for transfer to an upper-division college or university. You may also be able to complete your online associate degree program in criminal justice with a specialization in forensics.

Online associate degree programs in forensics can equip you with the critical thinking skills you need to process evidence taken from a crime scene and analyze it.

Typical duration: Up to two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: Topics usually cover a mixture of criminal law, investigation and physical science. Some subjects you may study are:

  • Introduction to crime scene technology
  • Latent fingerprint development
  • Investigating internet crime
  • Constitutional principles
  • Crash scene investigation

You may also have to complete an internship as a part of your crime scene forensics associate degree program.

Possible electives: Introduction to forensic anthropology; interview and interrogation; introduction to forensic entomology

What can I do after earning an associate degree?

You may be able to transfer credits from your associate degree program toward a bachelor's degree program in forensic sciences or may be eligible for entry-level job roles as:

  • Crime scene photographer
  • Fingerprint classification specialist
  • Crime lab assistant
  • Latent print examiner/trainee

What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor's degree program?

Bachelor's degree programs in forensics build on the topics covered in an associate program to cover the entire investigative process from the beginning to the end, including presenting evidence in a courtroom.

Typical duration: Up to four years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent

Typical coursework: You can receive a strong foundation in natural and physical science, the theory and practice of forensic disciplines and criminal justice topics. Examples of courses you may take are:

  • Medical and legal investigations of death
  • Firearms and toolmarks analysis
  • Microbiology
  • Forensic pharmacology
  • Criminal procedure and evidence

You may also have to complete an internship as a part of your online bachelor's degree program.

Possible electives: Forensic osteology; forensic toxicology; forensic chemistry

What can I do after earning a bachelor's degree?

Bachelor's degree holders in forensic sciences may go on to work in a variety of settings including hospital, private detective firms, federal government agencies and more. Potential occupations are:

  • Forensic science technician
  • Loss prevention specialist
  • Jury consultant
  • Private investigator
  • Insurance fraud investigator
  • Security specialist

What can I expect to learn in an online master's degree program?

Online forensic science and crime scene investigator degree programs at the master's level are typically geared toward professionals wanting to enhance their knowledge of forensic sciences and allow them to obtain specialized knowledge in the areas of their interest.

Typical duration: Up to two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor's degree

Typical coursework: The topics you may study can provide an in-depth knowledge in particular areas of the field. Potential topics you may study are:

  • Major case investigation
  • Biological evidence and serology
  • Criminal profiling
  • Forensic psychology
  • Forensic toxicology

You may also have to complete a term paper or a master's thesis based on original research as a part of your forensic science program.

Possible electives: Blood distribution and spatter; forensic genetics; forensic immunology

What can I do after earning a master's degree?

A master's degree program can help you establish your proficiency in one or more aspects of forensic sciences. You may be eligible for management-level jobs in various different agencies needing forensic expertise. Potential opportunities are:

  • Lead investigator
  • Criminal profiler
  • Research specialist

What can I 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 can help students acquire multidisciplinary knowledge and the analytical, problem-solving skills needed for leadership positions in the field of crime scene investigation.

Typical duration: Four to seven years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Master's degree

Typical coursework: Students take a set of core courses along with electives in a specialized area of their interest. Topics that may be included in your core courses are:

  • Forensic instrumental analysis
  • Law and forensic sciences
  • Quality assurance and ethical conduct in forensic science
  • Forensic science research
  • Forensic laboratory management

Possible electives: Advanced forensic DNA; neuropsychopharmacology; social science of forensics

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

While much of the coursework in online doctoral programs can be completed though distance education, some programs have residency requirements, where you may have to attend the school's campus or local setting to meet with advisors and faculty members.

What can I do after earning a doctoral degree?

A doctoral degree program can help you establish yourself as an expert in your particular area of forensics. A Ph.D. in forensic science may allow you to work in research or academia or allow you to hold senior or executive positions in various forensic science laboratories or investigative agencies. You may also be able to establish yourself as an expert witness in court cases and give your professional opinion on the viability of evidence.

Specializations in Crime Scene Forensics

The forensic science field is a broad one and includes various disciplines within the field. Many online crime scene investigation degree programs allow you to choose an area within the forensic science scope to specialize in. Some concentrations you may be able to choose from are:

  • Computer and digital forensics
  • Crime scene investigation
  • Forensic anthropology
  • Forensic DNA and serology
  • Forensic drug chemistry
  • Forensic psychology
  • Forensic toxicology


The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is the main body that accredits online forensic science programs. Enrolling in an accredited school is important as the accreditation process demonstrates that the program meets stringent standards for curriculum content, faculty qualification and forensic science research.

Attending an accredited program can also be a prerequisite for obtaining professional certifications or financial aid.

Certifications and Licensures

Although not mandatory, professional certifications can help professional development and career advancement. They can help establish your proficiency in a particular aspect of forensic sciences. Some certifications pertaining to the field are:

Licensure requirements can vary depending on jurisdiction and your job profile.

Employment Statistics

Forensic Science Technicians

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories
  • State Government, excluding schools and hospitals
  • Local Government, excluding schools and hospitals
  • Scientific Research and Development Services
  • Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
States with the highest level of employment
  • California
  • Florida
  • Texas
  • New York
  • Arizona
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • Sacramento -- Roseville -- Arden-Arcade, CA
  • Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division
  • Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA
  • San Francisco-Redwood City-South San Francisco, CA Metropolitan Division
  • Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine, CA Metropolitan Division

Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

As with many fast-growing fields, you may find scholarship programs available for eligible students of forensic science degree programs. It can be a good idea to check with your college's financial aid department to see if you are eligible for aid. Scholarships you may be interested in are:

Other resources for those aspiring to work in the field of crime scene forensics

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