An online bachelor's in forensic science prepares students for careers assisting criminal investigators as forensic science technicians. Technicians work at active crime scenes, assessing, documenting, collecting, and cataloging evidence, and in laboratories analyzing that evidence. Forensic scientists' educational backgrounds typically include biology, molecular biology, chemistry, biochemistry, and genetics.
Potential careers for these graduates include criminalists, crime scene investigators, forensic biologists or chemists, forensic computer examiners, and digital forensics analysts. Many forensic scientists specialize in areas like controlled substances, fingerprints, toxicology, firearms, trace evidence, DNA, or digital evidence.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 17% employment growth in forensic science between 2016 and 2026. Increased caseloads at state and local government agencies should lead to more hiring, as should technological and scientific advances in forensic evidence used at trials. According to the BLS, the median annual income for forensic science technicians is $58,230, with the highest 10% earning more than $97,200.
Bachelor's in Forensic Science Degree Online 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.
The Best Online Bachelor's in Forensic Science Degree Programs
1. Liberty University
As the largest university in Virginia, Liberty University is well-established as an online educator with more than 280 online programs available. For students interested in a forensic science online degree, the school's criminal justice program offers a concentration in crime scene investigation that covers both the foundations of law enforcement procedures and the criminal justice process as it applies to various crimes. It also introduces students to forensic investigation skills, such as crime scene photography and computer and cyber forensics. The degree can be specialized even further with a related minor in an area like psychology, information security, or homeland security.
The asynchronous online classes follow an eight-week schedule with different start dates throughout the year, making it convenient to start the program and complete classes flexibly. It typically takes four years to complete the 120 credits needed to graduate when starting the program as a freshman. Liberty University allows up to 90 transfer credits from outside institutions and may give credit for military training or professional experience.
In addition to introductory classes in forensics and criminal justice, the program contains foundational courses in government, critical thinking, and literacy. Because Liberty is a Christian university, general education course requirements also include several religious studies classes, although students who transfer with more than 60 credits can waive the requirement for two of the classes.
Liberty University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
2. Excelsior College
Albany, New York
Investigative forensics is one of the newest concentrations offered as part of Excelsior's popular criminal justice program. Launched in 2014, the new specialization teaches students the scientific principles of forensics and introduces them to the different types of forensic sciences. With courses in forensic pathology, forensic psychology, and digital and computer forensics, Excelsior is one of the best forensic science colleges for students interested in criminal investigations.
Designed with working adults in mind, this online program offers asynchronous classes that can be attended at any time of day. Students who already have an associate degree only need to complete 33 credits – 15 credits in core classes, 15 credits in forensics, and three credits in a criminal justice elective – to earn a bachelor's degree with an investigative forensics concentration. Students entering the program as freshmen will need to complete the 33 credits after their general education requirements, such as English, math, humanities, and natural science. The program culminates with a final capstone project to demonstrate knowledge and understanding of criminal justice and forensic procedures, theories, and concepts.
Excelsior is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. In addition, all of its programs are approved by the New York State Education Department.
3. Hampton University
Located in Hampton, Virginia, Hampton University is a historically black university that has been a leader in innovation for 150 years. Its online forensic science bachelor degree holds great emphasis on science and is offered through their School of Science chemistry program. Intended to prepare students for careers in government and private forensic laboratories, Hampton's forensic chemistry program fulfills the requirements for an American Chemical Society certified bachelor's of science degree.
Students interested in the online forensic science degree must enroll as a chemistry major and then declare the forensic chemistry concentration during their sophomore year. The program usually takes four years to complete. General education requirements take place during freshmen and sophomore years and are heavy on math and science, requiring multiple levels of calculus and physics. Junior year is spent completing core chemistry classes, and students delve into the forensic specialization, with classes in forensic chemistry, physical methods in forensic chemistry, and criminology, during their senior year.
Because lab experience is an important component of a forensic science career, the school encourages students to participate in undergraduate research with Hampton faculty. Although all courses are available online, students who live in the Hampton, Virginia area will benefit most from the program by being able to apply knowledge within the university's lab.
Hampton University is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. In addition, the School of Science's chemistry program is approved by the Committee on Professional Training of the American Chemical Society.
4. University of Maryland-University College
While many forensic science degree online programs are specializations of criminal justice or chemistry degrees, the forensic science online program at University of Maryland University College is an actual bachelor's degree in investigative forensics. Based on national guidelines for forensic disciplines and police work, this program prepares students for careers as crime scene investigators. In addition to teaching students criminal investigation procedures and the skills needed for evidence detection, collection, analysis, and reporting, the program also covers legal precedents and teaches students how to formulate investigative theories.
This program emphasizes information communication, and general education requirements include introductory English classes and professional and technical writing. Major coursework includes classes on criminal investigation procedures, evidence gathering, and analysis, such as fingerprinting and ballistics. Program faculty include current and former professional crime lab employees from organizations like the Maryland and Montana State Police Crime Labs and the Delaware Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Crime Lab. As part of the program, students get to work with online tools that allow a virtual experience investigating a cold case crime scene. Successful completion of the program also prepares students for additional certification exams, such as blood stain pattern, crime scene, and latent print analysis certifications.
UMUC is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
5. Miami Dade College
Since 1959, Miami Dade College has grown from a junior college to the largest college in the Florida College System, currently enrolling over 56,000 students in a full array of undergraduate, graduate and professional programs. Among these programs is its online Bachelor of Applied Science in Public Safety Management degree program, with a concentration in Crime Scene Investigation. Through 60 credit hours of coursework, the program develops the knowledge and skills necessary for students to pursue a variety of careers in the field, including crime scene services technician, police evidence specialist, and crime scene lab technician.
As a degree completion program, the Bachelor of Applied Science only requires two years of study, building on a student’s earlier experience in an associate degree program. The curriculum focuses on key aspects of the field to develop a solid foundation, with courses in crime scene investigation, crime scene technology, crime scene safety, fingerprint technology, and criminal evidence. Students learn how to properly collect, examine, and apply evidence in investigations through critical thinking and analytical reasoning. Utilizing an accelerated format, program has students complete two courses at a time in eight-week intervals.
For admission to the program, students must have earned an associate degree, or a minimum of 60 transferable college credits.
Miami Dade College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
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 beginning step in the journey 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 a natural science, such as chemistry or biology, or in forensic science.
While bachelor's degree holders are qualified to begin careers as forensic science technicians, the job market is competitive and 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.
Forensic Science Degree Salary Information
Forensic scientists begin their careers as technicians after graduating with a forensic science degree. 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.
Crime Scene Investigator:
Crime scene investigators analyze crime scenes to determine what and how evidence is collected; photograph the crime scene and evidence; 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.
Digital Forensics Analyst:
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.
Forensic Ballistics Expert:
These experts examine evidence related to firearms, including the effects and behavior of projectiles and explosive devices.They match bullets, fragments, and other evidence with weapons of alleged suspects, often explaining their findings at trial.
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.
Salary by Experience for Forensic Science Careers
|Job Title||Entry Level
|Crime Scene Investigator||$42,000||$45,000||$52,000||$52,000|
|Forensic Computer Analyst||$56,000||$67,000||$87,000||$100,000|
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 can transfer credits. Regional accreditation is generally more rigorous, and 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 teacher availability for student interaction. 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 attend 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, keeping in mind that selecting a program near home may be beneficial.
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.
Accrediting agencies apply to the U.S. Department of Education (ED), a cabinet-level department of the federal government, for recognition. 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 other institutions or employers do not accept. A list of all accredited schools is available on the ED and CHEAwebsites.
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 establish your reputation as you begin your career, as it demonstrates 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. A bachelor's degree in a natural science, such as chemistry or biology, is common.
- 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 are attended virtually at set times. 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 dictate 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 create professional contacts within the forensic science community. 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.
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.
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 Toolmarks Analysis:
Students in this class study toolmark evidence, including 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 Membership Associations
American Academy of Forensic Sciences:
The AAFS offers forensic science education through webinars, an annual scientific meeting, and the publication of a journal and newsletters. The AAFS also provides members with scientific reference studies, expert witness referrals, and job listings.
American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors:
A professional society of crime laboratory directors and forensic science managers, ASCLD works to promote standards in the field. The society provides members with networking opportunities, a newsletter, job listings, a membership directory, resource library, awards and scholarships, meetings, trainings, and a published journal.
American Board of Criminalistics:
The ABC is composed of regional and national organizations that represent forensic scientists. Members seek to establish professional levels of knowledge, skills and abilities, defining a mechanism for achieving these levels, recognizing those who demonstrate attainment, and promoting growth within the profession.
Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences:
The CSFS provides professional development resources to those in the forensic science field through publications, awards, scholarships, job listings, and discounts on insurance and books. The CSFS offers various levels of membership for students, professionals, associates, and affiliates.
Consortium of Forensic Science Organizations:
The CFSO advocates for a single forensic science voice in matters of mutual interest to its member organizations, such as increasing federal funding for public crime laboratories and medical examiner offices and influencing public policy at the local, state, and federal level.