The Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in Forensic Science
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Earning a bachelor's in forensic science online gives students skills in areas like evidence collection, forensic analysis, and crime scene reconstruction.
Graduates from an online bachelor of forensic science degree program can pursue in-demand roles like forensic science technician. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs for forensic science technicians to grow 14% between 2019-2029, which is much faster than the national average for all careers. These professionals earn a median salary of $60,590 per year.
Most bachelor's degrees require around 120 credits and take about four years of full-time study to complete.
Best Online Bachelor's in Forensic Science Programs
Launched in 2007, CSU Global graduated 10,000 students in its first-ever graduating class. Today it welcomes 18,000 annually.
CSU's bachelor of science in criminal justice with a specialization in criminal forensics, one of several customizable options for the 120-credit online program. The forensics specialization adds forensic psychology, investigative and forensic interviewing, and crime scene investigation to the bachelor's main core courses (which include criminology and laws of evidence).
Applicants should demonstrate a minimum 2.80 high school GPA and minimum scores of 18 ACT or 980 SAT.
Founded in 1854 as a women's college, Columbia College opened its doors in 1859. Today it serves 1,800 coed students.
Columbia College offers an online bachelor of arts in criminal justice with a forensic concentration. Aside from the general courses, including research methods and criminological theory, enrollees take advantage of coursework in DNA and toxicology. The concentration especially stands out for incorporating an FBI course in fingerprint recognition.
Applicants must submit transcripts. School recommendations and standardized test scores are optional.
Online Bachelor's in Forensic Science Programs Ranking Guidelines
We selected the degree programs based on the quality of program and range of courses provided, as well as school awards, rankings, and reputation.
Featured Forensic Science Programs
The Advantages of a Forensic Science Education
A graduate of an associate degree program in forensic science may find a job as a forensic assistant or technician, but this degree is much more likely to serve as a stepping stone to a career as a forensic scientist. According to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, forensic science technicians should earn at least a bachelor's degree in forensic science or in a natural science, such as chemistry or biology.
While bachelor's degree holders are qualified to begin careers as forensic science technicians, the job market is competitive. Graduates with master's degrees enjoy the most opportunities. Successful job seekers often possess an undergraduate degree in a natural science and a master's degree in forensic science.
The next section discusses positions available to graduates of online bachelor's in forensic science programs and potential salaries at various points in these careers.
Choosing an Online Forensic Science Degree Program
Prospective students should research their options carefully when choosing an online forensic science program. An important consideration is a school's accreditation status, as accredited institutions undergo an extensive review to ensure graduates are prepared for successful careers in the field. Accreditation status also affects credit transferability and eligibility for federal financial aid.
Cost is another important consideration. In-state colleges and universities tend to be more affordable, even for online students. Other factors include an online program's class size and whether on-campus attendance is required. Below, you can find a summary of factors to help applicants select the right school.
- Program Cost: Given the tight job market in the field of forensic science and the advantage of an advanced degree, cost is an important factor. Many students pursue a bachelor's degree in natural science, followed by a master's in forensic science, so they should consider the costs of both degrees. In addition to tuition, online learners often pay technology fees.
- Transfer Policies: A program's cost and completion time can be reduced if a student transfers credits. Regionally accredited schools are more likely to accept transfer credits from other regionally accredited schools.
- School Size and Type: Class size can be important to distance learners, as some schools cap admission for a program or specific course. Large classes can also impact how available teachers are to address student questions and concerns. Students should also consider the type of school. Public schools tend to be regionally accredited, and private schools are sometimes only nationally accredited.
- Program Length: Students should take into account whether they will go to school full or part time and whether their program offers accelerated online learning. Online bachelor's degrees typically require 120-134 credits and are completed through 4-5 years of full-time study.
- On-Campus Requirements: Some online programs may require on-campus attendance for exams or laboratory experience. Prospective students should evaluate if and how this will work with their schedules.
Accreditation for Online Forensic Science Degrees
Attending an accredited school is important. Regional accreditation organizations are more highly regulated than their national counterparts, and credits from regionally accredited schools are more readily transferable. Additionally, employers are more likely to accept degrees and certificates from regionally accredited schools.
Prospective students should look for regional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, the New England Commission of Higher Education, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. National accreditation organizations are numerous, and students should look for those recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), a cabinet-level department of the federal government.
Accrediting agencies apply for recognition from the ED. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), a nongovernmental association of colleges and universities, also recognizes accrediting organizations according to its own standards and expectations. The ED and CHEA help prospective students avoid schools that confer credits and degrees that other institutions or employers do not accept. A list of all accredited schools is available on the ED and CHEA websites.
Forensic science programs may also receive industry-specific accreditation from the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission, which develops standards for forensic science education and accredits high-quality forensic science degree programs.
Forensic Science Concentrations
Some forensic science programs allow you to choose a concentration within forensic science, such as biology or chemistry. A specialization or concentration can help demonstrate that you are an expert in a specific branch of forensic science.
Forensic toxicologists work in labs testing bodily fluids and tissue samples collected by crime scene investigators or obtained during autopsies. Core coursework in this concentration includes principles of forensic science, applied statistics for data analysis, toxic substances, and forensic medicine. This concentration often accompanies a bachelor's degree in a natural science, such as chemistry or biology.
Careers this concentration prepares for:
Forensic toxicologist at a law enforcement agency, private drug testing facility, or medical examiner's office.
This specialty analyzes crime scene evidence typically resulting from physical contact between a suspect and victim. Trace evidence analysts are often required to obtain a bachelor's degree in chemistry, after which they undergo extensive training under a senior trace evidence analyst. They often obtain master's degrees and/or trace evidence certification.
Careers this concentration prepares for:
Trace evidence analyst or examiner at a forensic laboratory or coroner's office within a law enforcement agency.
Forensic scientists specializing in DNA evidence conduct lab analyses and computer examinations of hair, blood, and bodily fluids to identify suspects or victims. Students focus on biology, chemistry, genetics, physics, and criminalistics as part of their forensic science degree programs.
Careers this concentration prepares for:
Forensic DNA analyst or forensic science technician working in a medical examiner's office, law enforcement agency, government department, or crime laboratory.
These specialists investigate digital data used as evidence in criminal cases and often testify in court. Core courses include cybercrime, cyberlaw, malware and software vulnerability analysis, network security, forensic management of digital evidence, computer ethics, and database design.
Careers this concentration prepares for:
Digital forensics analyst or forensic computer examiner at a law enforcement agency or private firm.
Working in the field and lab, analysts retrieve fingerprint samples at crime scenes and compare them with fingerprint databases. They often testify in court. Coursework includes biology, genetics, criminal procedure, judicial practice, crime scene investigation, and physics. Professional certification is a common employer requirement.
Careers this concentration prepares for:
Fingerprint analyst or latent print examiner at a law enforcement or government agency.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Forensic Science?
The typical online bachelor's program in forensic science takes 4-5 years of full-time study. The length of time it takes to earn a degree can be shortened with transferred college credits or, if the program allows, credit for life or work experience.
Whether an online format is asynchronous or synchronous can also affect completion time. Asynchronous coursework is student-paced and done anytime, while synchronous classes have set times to watch live lectures. A student in an asynchronous program may be able to accelerate the pace of their online learning, or, conversely, work more slowly if desired. A specialty or concentration area may also affect graduation timing.
Courses in an Online Bachelor's in Forensic Science Program
Your forensic science program will begin with foundational courses in chemistry, biology, physics, and human anatomy. These classes may require you to complete lab work on campus, making it essential to research the requirements of each available program before choosing a school. Other courses include law and criminal justice, which allow you to bridge the gap between the legal and scientific branches of forensic science.
Some programs allow you to choose a concentration within forensic science, such as biology or chemistry. A specialization or concentration can help establish your reputation as you begin your career, as it demonstrates that you are an expert in a specific branch of forensic science.
Depending on your specific online forensic science degree, you may need to complete an internship as part of your education. Internships provide valuable on-the-job experience, allowing you to network within the forensic science field. Also, an excellent recommendation from your internship supervisor can help you earn your first job after graduation.
- Introduction to Investigative Forensics: Students are introduced to the definition of forensic science and its practical applications. They learn to apply the scientific method to forensic evidence, ethical practices, and legal issues. Potential topics include distinguishing between reality and popular misconceptions of investigative forensics, disciplines within the field, case law, and ethical codes.
- Criminology: This class explores theories of biological, social, and psychological causes of criminal behavior. Topics include topologies, criminological models, and criminality such as white-collar crime, violence, property theft, and public offenses. Students learn multidisciplinary approaches to analyzing the outcomes and effectiveness of criminal justice policies and procedures.
- Principles of Digital Analysis: This course is a study of the technical and legal issues facing criminal investigators. Students learn to determine the most effective and appropriate response strategies; apply best practices to the collection, handling, and analysis of digital evidence; and appropriately communicate complex information accurately, ethically, and comprehensively.
- Fingerprint Analysis: Students learn to analyze friction ridges in fingerprints, acquiring skills expected of entry-level fingerprint specialists. These include observing surfaces for viable latent prints; evaluating how to process and collect them; analyzing, comparing, assessing, and verifying print evidence; and conveying findings. Topics include processing and comparison methodologies and legal aspects.
- Firearms and Toolmark Analysis: Students in this class study toolmark evidence and toolmarks imparted by firearms. Topics include practical analysis of evidence, comparison methodologies, historical and mechanical foundations of toolmarks, and legal issues. This course prepares students for entry-level jobs in the firearms and toolmarks field.
Forensic Science Career Information
After graduating with a forensic science degree, forensic scientists begin their careers as technicians. While gaining experience, you may decide to apply your skills to a related career within the field. Forensic scientists can work successfully in many jobs both within and outside of law enforcement.
Careers in Forensic Science
Crime scene investigators analyze crime scenes to determine what and how evidence is collected and photograph the crime scene and evidence. These professionals also record observations and findings; collect, catalog, and preserve evidence; and reconstruct crime scenes.
These technicians use chemicals and laboratory equipment to analyze evidence. They use computers to examine DNA, substances, and other evidence collected at crime scenes, matching evidence to people or other known elements. Most possess master's degrees.
Specializing in computer-based crimes, analysts collect and analyze digital data to uncover electronic fraud, scams, and identity theft. They also use data to help solve physical crimes.
In criminal or civil cases, these accounting specialists examine tax and business records to find evidence of embezzlement, corruption, and other financial crimes. Many employers require master's degrees.
Forensic Science Membership Associations
Frequently Asked Questions About Forensic Science Bachelor's Degrees
Aspiring forensic scientists should major in forensic science. However, some schools offer degrees like criminal justice, biology, or chemistry with concentrations in forensic science instead.
Many forensic science programs offer concentrations in forensic chemistry, computer forensics, investigative forensics, forensic biology, and forensic anthropology. Individuals can study forensic science at the bachelor's, master's, or doctoral level.
According to Payscale, the median salary for forensic scientists is just over $58,000, which is above the national average salary for all occupations.
A forensics degree can lead to an exciting career as a forensic science technician, forensic scientist, forensic analyst, or crime scene investigator. These professionals earn above-average salaries.
A bachelor of science in forensic science studies how to use science in criminal investigations and the legal system. It is sometimes offered as its own degree, but can commonly be found as a concentration under biology, chemistry, or criminal justice degrees.
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