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The Best Online Bachelor’s in Crime Scene Investigation Programs

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Crime scene investigation requires a wide range of skills and specialized training.

Our list of the best online bachelor's degrees in crime scene investigation for 2020 explores the programs that are most likely to help students succeed.

Pursuing a career as a crime scene investigator can be lucrative and exciting. Sometimes called crime scene technicians or forensic investigators, these detectives specialize in crime scene investigation, responsible for identifying, collecting, and preserving physical evidence at crime scenes. Students can learn how to become a crime scene investigator through a bachelor's program.

Employers — especially federal agencies like the FBI — increasingly require crime scene investigators to hold a bachelor's degree. The best bachelor's degrees in criminal justice include coursework in crime scene evaluation, evidence collecting, and documenting crime scene investigations. Many professionals also have specialties in areas like fingerprints, DNA, or tire or footwear impressions.

Crime scene investigators enjoy steady job growth and the potential to earn a high salary. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported a median annual salary of more than $86,000 for detectives and criminal investigators in 2019. BLS also projects a 3% increase in employment for detectives and criminal investigators from 2018-2028.

The following ranking represents some of the nation's best online bachelor's in crime scene investigation programs.

Top Online Crime Scene Investigation Programs 2020

#1 Florida State University Tallahassee, FL
#2 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
#3 National University La Jolla, CA
#4 Columbia College San Diego, SC
#5 Salem University Salem, WV

Best Online Bachelor’s in Crime Scene Investigation Programs

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4

Columbia College 

San Diego, SC

About this school

Established by the Methodist Conference of South Carolina, Columbia College opened its doors as a women's school in 1854. Now a coeducational institution, Columbia College remains affiliated with the United Methodist Church and enrolls roughly 1,200 students annually.

Columbia College offers two online bachelor's degrees in criminal justice administration. The bachelor of arts curriculum is ideal for individuals currently working in the criminal justice field, while the bachelor of science curriculum incorporates practical and internship experiences for learners entering a career in criminal justice.

Both programs require 120 credits of coursework, with 42 credits of core coursework emphasizing criminal law and procedures, cultural diversity in criminal justice, and corrections and penology. Learners also study the laws of criminal evidence, with additional elective classes in forensic anthropology, fingerprint evidence, and forensic pathology.

Criminal justice enrollees can also pursue a crime scene investigator certificate. This 18-credit certificate includes classes in crime scene photography, shooting incidents, and bloodstain evidence.

To apply, candidates must submit a high school attestation form and provide transcripts from any previous college coursework.

5

Salem University 

Salem, WV

About this school

Chartered in 1888, Salem moved to its current campus in the 1960s. Once closely associated with the Seventh Day Baptist Church, Salem is now a nonsectarian institution. In 1989, the university partnered with the Teikyo University Foundation to form an educational partnership and expand its educational offerings worldwide.

Salem's online bachelor of arts in criminal justice includes a specialization for crime scene investigators. The curriculum includes core classes in criminal investigation, forensics, law, and evidence. Additional courses in criminal justice research, statistics, and ethics establish a foundation of knowledge applicable to most careers in criminal justice settings.

Specialized crime scene investigation classes emphasize methodology and best practices for future members of criminal investigation teams. Students explore crime scene photography, digital evidence, ballistics and firearms, and fingerprint identification to gain holistic expertise in the field. Salem's criminal justice program also builds writing and verbal skills needed to explain complex information as witnesses in court cases.

Salem offers courses one at a time, with learners completing one class per month. To apply, individuals must submit high school transcripts or proof of GED certificates. Transfer students must provide documentation from previous college coursework for consideration.

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Ranking Methodology
Best Online Programs

Online Bachelor's in Crime Scene Investigation Programs Ranking Guidelines

We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.

What Is an Online Bachelor's in Crime Scene Investigation Degree?

Students seeking a career as a crime scene investigator or forensic technician often seek out a BS in crime scene investigation or criminology, though many schools only offer crime scene investigation as a concentration within a criminal justice or law enforcement degree. These programs also help students develop soft skills in judgment, empathy, and perceptiveness.

Earning a bachelor's in crime scene investigation typically requires coursework in human anatomy, physics, criminology, forensic science, and crime scene photography. Students can augment the degree with a particular specialty through electives like fingerprint analysis, cyber forensics, or blood-spatter analysis.

After completing a bachelor's degree, many crime scene investigators undergo on-the-job training, which can include shadowing a detective or crime scene investigator on an open case.

Choosing an Online Program

Every bachelor's in crime scene investigation offers its own benefits, and they can vary by factors like curriculum, cost, and enrollment options. They are often customizable, but students should be sure to check the curricula before enrolling to ensure it matches their unique goals and needs. While requirements vary, students should always choose an accredited program.

Learn more about how to select an online degree in our Choose a Program Guide below.

How To Choose Your Major

What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's in Crime Scene Investigation Program?

Bachelor's degrees in crime scene investigation offer a unique combination of theoretical and technical skills. This often includes broad coursework in forensic science that trains students to apply best practices in collecting and preserving evidence. Below are a few example courses that a student in one of these programs might take.

Crime Scene Investigation Curriculum

Crime Scene Photography

A critical skill for aspiring crime scene investigators, crime scene photography courses vary by program. Some programs include basic photography skills in handling equipment, including understanding things like exposure and shutter speed, while others explore more technical aspects, like digital reflex single-lens camera systems, scales/markers, filters, and flash photography.

Forensic Science

A forensic science course examines scientific methods of processing physical evidence in order to solve a crime. Topics include identifying and isolating biological materials -- like blood, DNA, or hair -- and implementing practices commonly used in the field, like blood pattern analysis and trace evidence processing.

Criminal Law

This course provides students with an overview of crime and punishment, both as a concept and as enacted through the U.S. legal system. Students develop a thorough understanding of common crimes, criminal law terminology, and the burden of proof in criminal defense.

Crime Scene Investigation Professional Organizations

Membership in a professional organization can benefit aspiring and experienced crime scene investigators alike. Professional organizations typically offer access to a network of experts for expanded scholarship, mentorship, and career opportunities. Many organizations also offer multi-level membership and committees tailored to specific areas of expertise.

International Crime Scene Investigators Association

Strictly internet-based, ICSIA is the premier member organization for crime scene investigators around the world. ICSIA offers active or associate membership for professionals involved in this specialized area of law enforcement. Benefits of membership include access to the annual ICSIA conference, newsletters, and job opportunities.

International Association for Identification

The oldest and largest organization of its kind in the world, IAI recognizes 11 professional disciplines in the field of forensic science, including crime scene investigation. Members may join as students, as active professionals, or as retirees who worked in crime scene investigation or a related forensic science discipline. Members enjoy access to international conferences, workshops, seminars, and exclusive job postings.

American Academy of Forensic Sciences

Established in 1948, AAFS promotes interdisciplinary collaboration between forensic scientists and professionals in related fields, including law, pathology, psychology, criminology, education, and research. Members may join AAFS in one of 11 categories that correspond to areas of professional expertise. Perks of membership include access to on-demand digital content, discounted workshops, and the annual AAFS meeting.

Crime Scene Investigation Careers

Students who pursue higher education and have experience in crime scene investigation can enter their choice of careers. While a bachelor's degree meets the minimum standard for entry-level crime scene investigator requirements, it also provides a foundation for other careers in forensic science or law enforcement.

The following careers are popular among graduates of crime scene investigation programs.

Criminal Investigators

Criminal investigators help solve criminal cases by gathering information and evidence from crime scenes, witnesses, suspects, and related parties. They commonly specialize in a particular type of crime, such as fraud, homicide, or white-collar crime. Many law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, require candidates to hold at least a bachelor's degree and undergo extensive on-the-job training.

Criminal investigators must complete police academy training and be sworn in as law enforcement agents to be eligible for promotion to this position. In addition to physical strength and stamina, candidates should demonstrate strength of character through traits like empathy, leadership, perceptiveness, and sound judgment.

Median Annual Salary

$83,170

Projected Growth Rate

2.5%

Forensic Science Technicians

Forensic science technicians collect and process physical evidence at crime scenes to support criminal investigations. They may work as criminalists or crime scene investigators -- focused on identifying and collecting evidence -- or they may work in a lab as a forensic chemist or forensic biologist. Forensic science technicians can also specialize in cyber crime, becoming digital forensics analysts or forensic computer examiners.

Forensic science technicians need at least a bachelor's degree in forensic science or a related field, plus on-the-job experience. They must undergo supervised training in specialized lab procedures before they can operate independently, which often requires passing a proficiency exam for each specialty. The field also offers a variety of optional professional certifications.

Median Annual Salary

$59,150

Projected Growth Rate

14%

Police and Detectives

This occupation includes detectives and criminal investigators, sheriffs, and patrol officers, who are charged with protecting people and property. Whether working for municipal, state, or federal law enforcement agencies, they must routinely respond to emergency and nonemergency calls. However, police departments in the United States have faced backlash for corruption and abuse of power, and you should carefully consider your goals before pursuing this career.

Most police jobs require only a high school diploma, though detectives often need a bachelor's degree. Federal agencies like the FBI often require a college degree as well. Police officers must complete police academy training to qualify for entry-level jobs, and most detectives start their careers as police officers.

Median Annual Salary

$65,170

Projected Growth Rate

5%

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Does It Take to Complete a Bachelor's in Crime Scene Investigation Program?

Most bachelor's in crime scene investigation programs take four years to complete, though some schools offer accelerated completion times and flexible scheduling through online courses.

What Can I Do With a Bachelor's in Crime Scene Investigation?

Graduates with a bachelor's in crime scene investigation qualify for jobs as crime scene investigators or criminal investigators within local, state, and federal law enforcement.

How Much Do You Make as a Crime Scene Investigator?

Detectives and criminal investigators earn a mean annual wage of $86,030. The lowest 10% earn an estimated annual wage of $44,860, while professionals in the 90th percentile earn an annual wage of $139,180.

Where Does a Crime Scene Investigator Work?

Local, federal, and state governments employ most crime scene investigators. However, some work for the U.S. Postal Service, psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals, or colleges and universities, as professors of crime scene investigation.

What Is a Bachelor's in Crime Scene Investigation?

A bachelor's in this concentration of criminal justice or law enforcement introduces students to the standard practices of and science behind crime scene investigation. Earning one of these degrees often meets requirements for employment as a crime scene investigator, although professionals may also undergo on-the-job training.

What Is the Difference Between a Crime Scene Investigator and Forensic Technician?

Crime scene investigators identify and collect evidence at a crime scene. Forensic technicians process that evidence in a lab or scientific facility.

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