The Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in Forensic Science
| TBS Staff
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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.
Most bachelor's degrees require around 120 credits and take about four years of full-time study to complete.
Graduates from a bachelor of forensic science online 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 2018-2028, which is much faster than the national average for all careers. These professionals earn a median salary of $58,230 per year.
|#1||Hampton University Hampton, VA|
|#2||Columbia College Columbia, SC|
|#3||Liberty University Lynchburg, VA|
|#4||Excelsior College Albany, NY|
|#5||University of Maryland-University College Adelphi, MD|
Featured Online Schools
Best Online Bachelor's in Forensic Science Programs
Hampton University offers online programs at the certificate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Students earning HU's bachelor's in forensic science online need 126 credits to graduate. Core courses include physical chemistry, analytical chemistry, forensic chemistry, and criminology and social justice. The program does not offer any concentrations.
This program confers skills in critical thinking, data analysis, and communication. Program graduates typically find jobs in law enforcement or work with government agencies and private labs.
The university charges the same tuition for in-state and out-of-state students. Distance learners pay a technology fee each semester. The program delivers all online coursework asynchronously and provides all distance learners with 24/7 IT support.
HU requires an application form, a non-refundable fee, and official transcripts to apply. First-year applicants should submit proof of high school graduation or GED completion. Transfer applicants need official transcripts and a minimum 2.0 GPA.
The university accepts transfer credit from regionally accredited postsecondary institutions. Students can also earn credits from military service or life experience.
Columbia College allows students to earn a 36-credit forensic science bachelor's degree online. The program includes courses in forensic DNA, forensic toxicology, and FBI fingerprint recognition and comparison. Other classes include ethics in criminal justice, statistics in criminal justice, and criminological theory.
Students in the program begin new courses every five weeks. Program graduates enter careers in law enforcement or homeland security.
Columbia College offers rolling admissions. Prospective students should submit an application form, official transcripts, and a personal statement. The admissions office does not require SAT and ACT scores. Transfer students should only submit high school transcripts if they have completed fewer than 60 college credits. Columbia College accepts up to 90 transfer credits from regionally accredited postsecondary institutions and 32 credits from qualified training programs.
The college charges the same tuition for in-state and out-of-state students. Once admitted, distance learners receive free textbooks.
Liberty University offers over 500 online degrees. Liberty's frozen-tuition policy keeps tuition the same for four years for each undergraduate student. The university also offers free electronic textbooks to all online undergraduate students.
Liberty's online bachelor of forensic science requires 120 credits, and most students graduate in 3-4 years. Core courses include crime scene photography, crime scene management, and criminal investigations. The program delivers all coursework asynchronously and does not include any in-person requirements. Program graduates find work in criminal justice and law enforcement. Career options for graduates include crime scene technician, crime scene investigator, and forensic project coordinator.
Liberty charges the same tuition rate for in-state and out-of-state students. However, part-time students pay a higher hourly rate than full-time students. Applicants must submit an application form, official transcripts, and proof of English proficiency. Current students in the Virginia Community College system receive guaranteed admission to Liberty if they have a minimum 2.0 GPA. Transfer students can bring up to 90 credits with them. Liberty also accepts credit from professional experience.
Founded in 1971, Excelsior College offers over 40 online degrees in six areas of study. This college caters to working professionals seeking programs with flexible scheduling and self-paced coursework.
Excelsior's online bachelor's in forensic science requires 120 credits. Students in the program can complete a concentration in homeland security, which features courses in counterterrorism and infrastructure security. Students on a non-concentration track choose criminal justice classes individually, with input from an academic advisor.
All distance learners in the program take courses in criminal justice administration, research methods in criminal justice, criminology, and law enforcement. All students also complete a writing-intensive capstone project. Students must maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA to graduate. Program graduates find work as correctional treatment specialists, criminal investigators, and forensic science technicians.
Excelsior charges in-state and out-of-state students the same tuition. Excelsior requires an application form, official transcripts, and an application fee from prospective students. Classes begin every eight weeks. Program applicants can transfer in up to 113 credits. Excelsior accepts credit from previous coursework, professional training programs, professional certificates, and military training.
The University of Maryland, formerly known as the University of Maryland University College, provides all distance learners with free electronic textbooks. UMGC students benefit from online, interactive exercises and multi-platform accessibility for coursework. The university offers a flexible schedule, with weekly or bi-weekly due dates for assignments.
Students taking the bachelor of forensic science online must complete 120 credits for graduation. The program has no in-person requirements. Coursework covers criminal procedure and evidence, crime scene investigation, cybercrime and security, and principles of digital analysis.
Students in the program prepare for professional certifications in bloodstain pattern analysis, crime scene examinations, and latent print identification. All courses meet national standards for forensic science and crime scene investigation. Graduates typically find work as civil or criminal investigators.
The university charges different tuition rates for in-state and out-of-state students. Active military members receive a discounted tuition rate. UMGC does not require SAT or ACT scores. Applicants should submit an application form and official high school transcripts or proof of GED completion. Transfer students should submit official college transcripts.
UMGC accepts up to 70 transfer credits from community colleges or up to 90 transfer credits from four-year universities. Transfer students can also earn credit by examination or for military experience.
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 Online Schools
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.
Successful job seekers often possess an undergraduate degree in a natural science and a master's degree 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.
Salary Based On Experience
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
A student in an asynchronous program may be able to accelerate the pace of their online learning, or, conversely, work more slowly if desired.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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