Forensic scientists apply their training toward uncovering evidence in a crime. However, they need more than an investigative eye to succeed at their jobs. Their employers, usually local or state governments, require forensic scientists to have a bachelor's degree that covers a specific variety of coursework. Students searching for the best forensic science programs can choose from many options also available online.
Forensic scientists earn a median salary of $56,750. The Bureau of Labor Statistic projects that positions in the field will grow 17% between 2016 and 2026, more than double the average growth rate for all careers. With a high demand for qualified professionals, now is a great time to pursue a forensic science degree online.
Choosing a 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.
For career information, skip down:
Online Bachelor's in Forensic Science Degree Program 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 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).
Online Bachelor's in Forensic Science Careers
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.
Biological Technician:: In the laboratory, biological technicians carry out tests using sophisticated machinery. They often work at hospitals or other medical centers, analyzing samples to diagnose infections and other conditions.
- Median Annual Salary: $42,540
- Projected Growth Rate: 10%
Chemical Technician: Like biological technicians, chemical technicians test samples in a laboratory. They work in many different settings, including factories, chemical plants, and refineries. Forensic scientists can usually transition into this position without too much hassle.
- Median Annual Salary: $45,840
- Projected Growth Rate: 4%
Police Officer: Police officers protect their local community. They may also work with forensic scientists to investigate crime scenes. To become a police officer, you need to receive specialized training at a police academy, which can take four to six months, depending on the jurisdiction. If you decide to become a police officer after working as a forensic scientist, your experience can separate your credentials from other applicants.
- Median Annual Salary: $61,600
- Projected Growth Rate: 7%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics