The Best Online Crime Scene Investigation Programs
| TBS Staff
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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 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.
|#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|
Featured Online Schools
Best Online Bachelor’s in Crime Scene Investigation Programs
Founded in 1851, FSU offers nearly 300 undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees. As one of the nation's leading research institutions, FSU is the largest and oldest university within the State University of Florida System.
FSU students can earn online bachelor's degrees in criminology through the Office of Distance Learning. This part-time criminology degree includes 60 credits of coursework.
During this program, students take 36 credits of criminology courses, training for careers as crime intelligence analysts, private investigators, or law enforcement officers. Learners study comparative criminology and criminal justice, communities and crime, and criminal justice administration. The program also includes classes in cyber criminology, crime detection and investigation, and research methods in criminology.
Depending on location, students can also participate in full- or part-time internships with affiliated agencies. An additional option offers a combined bachelor's and master's degree program, which requires an additional year of coursework.
Each applicant needs an associate of arts degree from a Florida public institution or must complete the FSU liberal studies requirements. The university offers three start dates each academic year.
Established by Jerry Falwell in 1971, Liberty enrolls more than 100,000 students annually. As a Christian university, Liberty offers over 700 academic programs taught through a Christian lens.
Liberty's online bachelor's degree in criminal justice includes a specialization in crime scene investigation. In this program, learners develop skills necessary to work as forensic science technicians, criminalists, and forensic project coordinators.
The 120-credit curriculum incorporates foundational classes in constitutional and American government. Major-related classes build research and writing skills applicable to criminal justice professions while also exploring criminal justice organizations, judicial processes, and criminal justice ethics.
The curriculum also includes specialized courses in criminal investigations and forensics, including crime scene photography and management. The crime scene photography class focuses on aerial, underwater, and macro photography as it is used to document and present criminal investigations.
Management coursework addresses resource availability, supervision, and the limits of forensic science. Learners also receive training in effectively presenting forensic information through legal testimony and courtroom presentations.
Liberty accepts up to 90 transfer credits of coursework for its online criminal justice degree. Applicants need a minimum 2.0 GPA from previous college coursework and must provide a high school self-certification form.
NU is the flagship institution of the National University System. With more than 20 locations throughout California and Nevada, NU leverages its affiliations with institutions around the United States to provide more than 75 on-campus and online programs.
The online bachelor of science in criminal justice administration at NU prepares learners for careers in criminal justice at local, state, and federal levels. Learners can earn their degrees in just 11 months.
This program includes courses in forensic science, research methods, criminology, and corrections for individuals entering the field or current law enforcement professionals. Coursework in leadership and management, criminal investigations, and criminal law precede a senior research project.
Within the criminal justice administration bachelor's degree, students can participate in one of the institution's transition programs. The bachelor's in criminal justice offers an administration-to-master of forensic science option that allows learners with a minimum 3.0 GPA and 18 credits or less to take classes toward their graduate degrees while enrolled in the bachelor's program.
Applicants must submit documentation from high school diplomas (or equivalent) with transcripts from any previous college coursework. Candidates need a minimum undergraduate 2.0 GPA to receive unconditional admission. Resident and nonresident online students pay the same per-credit tuition rates, with discounts available for military personnel and their dependents.
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.
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.
Online Bachelor's in Crime Scene Investigation Programs Ranking Guidelines
We ranked these degree programs based on quality, curricula, school awards, rankings, and reputation.
The motto of TheBestSchools.org is Finding the best school for you. Here is how we do it:
The value of any ranking list of schools and/or degree programs depends on having a methodologically sound assessment of each school’s/program’s characteristics, especially insofar as these can be objectively measured. A college or university is a complex entity, with numerous factors to consider, and distilling these down to the place where meaningful comparisons can be made to form a defensible ranking list becomes part science and part art.
To meet this challenge—and thereby provide you with the most useful and insightful educational rankings on the Internet — TheBestSchools.org formulates our rankings based on five informational categories (six, when considering online schools). The major metrics and qualities for which we rank are these (with expanded, detailed considerations and weights listed):
1. Academic excellence based on a school’s curriculum generally or within the selected discipline [weight = 25%]
- Weighs school against known leading schools in that discipline
- Weighs number of core curricula listed as advanced courses within that discipline and compares against introductory courses
- Weighs school’s curriculum against known knowledge needs of major employers in that discipline
- Considers number and types of specializations offered within that discipline
- Considers faculty expertise in that discipline
- Considers range of electives within that discipline
- Considers quality of online environment offered to students (if applicable), particularly within that discipline
2. Strength of faculty scholarship [weight = 25%]
- Considers education background of the faculty
- Considers years of faculty experience both inside and outside of academia.
- Considers faculty membership and leadership within relevant, prominent associations
- Considers academic papers published by faculty in relevant, prominent periodicals
- Considers awards and recognitions given to faculty members from prominent organizations and from other sources
3. Reputation [weight = 20%]
- Considers a school’s reputation among academic peers and employers regarding the following:
- “Freshness” of academic knowledge
- Adaptability to changes in employment sectors
- Suitability of graduates for the workplace
4. Financial aid [weight = 10%]
- Mandatory: Requires full accreditation from an agency endorsed by the U.S. Department of Education and listed on the federal register to accept student federal financial aid
- Considers range of school-sponsored financial aid such as scholarships and grants
5. Range of degree programs [weight = 20%]
- Considers range of degree levels: associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral and professional
- Considers range of degree subjects offered, such as art & design, computers & technology, education & teaching, criminal justice, and business
6. Strength of online instruction methodology (if applicable) [weight = 25%; subtract 5% from each of the above for online schools/programs]
Considers the following of the online classes:
- Types of online technology used to deliver content
- Pedagogy style: asynchronous, synchronous, or both (depending on the degree)
- Extent and quality of the online, community learning environment, including options for communication, interactivity, and collaboration between students and also between students and instructors
- Variety, breadth, and depth of coursework, and its support, including project options and online tutoring
Considers the following of instructors:
- Extent of training for teaching within an online learning environment
- Amount of timely, consistent feedback to students
- Extent of collaboration with prospective employers to ensure suitability of instructional materials for achieving desired skills
- Ratio to number of students in a class
- Number and quality of internships in a student’s geographical area for applicable degrees
Because students tend to review a variety of information when choosing a school, the weight a student gives any one criterion will vary. For instance, it’s not enough to offer a carefully constructed ranking of great schools if many are too expensive or too difficult to get into.
To better serve the needs of prospective students, we are therefore increasingly offering filters that help you better use our rankings to find the schools that match your specific needs. These supplement our ranking criteria and include:
- Public or private status
- Acceptance rate
- Retention rate
- Graduation rate
- ACT/SAT requirements
- Cost in-state / out of state
- Undergrad, grad, or both offered
Get the best rankings here AND get them to suit your personal needs. That’s TheBestSchools.org advantage!
If you have any questions about our ranking methodology, please contact us.
Citations: For a broader account of our ranking methodology, especially as it relates to TheBestSchools.org's underlying educational philosophy and, in other ranking articles, looks beyond academic excellence (as here) to such factors as return on investment or incidental benefit, see our article "Ranking Methodology: How We Rank Schools at TBS." Reputation of schools and degree programs can at least in part be gauged through the school or department's publishing activity, citations, and desirability. At TheBestSchools.org, we keep track of such social and peer validation: "Making Sense of College Rankings." For nuts-and-bolts information about colleges and universities, we look to the National Center for Education Statistics and especially its College Navigator. Insofar as salary and inflation data are relevant to a ranking, we look to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Finally, nothing beats contacting schools and degree programs directly, which our researchers often do, with the result that all the entries in this article should be considered as belonging to this citation!
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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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.
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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.
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Frequently Asked Questions
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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