An online bachelor's in forensic science and crime scene investigation prepares you for a career as a front-line investigator or a forensic laboratory technician. You'll learn skills in bloodstain pattern analysis, crime scene reconstruction, and fingerprint analysis.

The nature of crime scene investigation has undergone rapid changes in the 21st century. The criminal justice system no longer relies solely on eyewitness testimonies to solve crimes. Emerging technologies allow investigators to examine the tiniest clues and track movements of suspects. The projected growth rate for this career is 27% by 2024, with average earnings of more than $50,000 a year. This page provides you with an overview of the best online bachelor's in forensic science and crime scene investigation programs along with information about program curriculum and popular concentrations.


This program prepares you for a career in the fields of criminal investigation and forensic science. Programs provide detailed training in key areas, including investigative forensics, crime scene investigation, and medical and legal investigations of death. Students gain contemporary skills in fingerprint analysis and cyber crime. This degree allows for certification training in specialized forensic analyses and professional investigation. Specialized skills in areas such as firearms and toolmark analysis promote opportunities for career advancement.


Previous experience in law enforcement or criminal investigation is recommended, but it is not a prerequisite to earning your degree. Some programs allow work experience to count as earned credit, and previous work experience may accelerate the completion of your degree. For students without prior experience, a degree equips them with the knowledge and skills needed for entry-level positions.


Students have the ability to pursue their online bachelor's in forensic science and crime scene investigation and work full-time. The flexible nature of online learning allows students to complete assignments at their convenience, whether that's on their lunch break or at the end of the day. Some degrees require students to enroll full-time. This usually means that students take at least two courses during the semester and dedicate thirty hours a week to their assignments.

Rank School Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle
1 Excelsior College Albany, NY Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 45%

At Excelsior, students have access to an online forensic science degree that prepares them for a career in law enforcement and that’s completely online. The program is designed for working adults and includes a core set of criminal justice courses and a variety of investigative forensic subjects. Subjects include forensic pathology, computer forensics, and forensic psychology. Students may choose to focus their studies on elective areas such as drug crimes, domestic violence and family issues, and cultural diversity. Learners must earn 120 credits to complete the degree, which also includes a capstone project. The major consists of 33 credits; at least 18 credits must be upper-level courses. Students must earn a 2.0 GPA or higher in courses that pertain to their major.

Excelsior is located in Albany, New York. The school has a generous credit transfer policy. There are opportunities for students to earn credit for military experience and previous professional accomplishments.

2 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 51%

Liberty, located in Lynchburg, Virginia, is a nonprofit, private Christian institution of higher learning. The school’s forensic science online degree program offers students a foundational understanding of law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Students gain skills in forensics and criminal law that they will be able to use in their careers. This bachelor of science in criminal justice focuses on crime scene investigation and requires 120 credit hours, at least 30 credits of which must be taken through Liberty. Current law enforcement professionals may qualify for academic credit toward their degree if they have completed all the requirements of an accredited police academy. Graduates are prepared for a variety of professional roles, including crime scene technicians, senior forensic analysts, criminalists, and crime scene investigators. Courses include crime scene photography and management, computer and cyber forensics, terrorism, criminal investigation, and more. Full-time students complete the program in about four years.

3 National University La Jolla, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 38%

National’s forensic science degree online gives students the skills they need to be successful in a career in law enforcement. The program prepares students for careers as forensic investigators at the local, state, and federal level, while also training them to effectively analyze and reconstruct crime scenes. Problem solving, critical thinking, ethics, and the integration of science and technology are all key aspects of the program and its coursework.

The college's tuition and fee structure is straightforward, with students in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean paying $170 per undergraduate credit and students outside the region paying $300 per credit. Discounts are available to some members of the U.S. military. The program requires students to earn 120 credits. National is a private university located in Puerto Rico, with campus locations in Bayamon and Ponce.

4 University of Maryland-University College Adelphi, MD Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 10%

The University College is located in Adelphi and has one of the region's top online forensic science degrees, allowing students to learn the skills necessary to become successful crime scene investigators for local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies. The program, available completely online, includes 120 total credits, and the university lets students transfer up to 90 credits from any accredited college. Courses include firearms and toolmarks analysis, fingerprint analysis, and cyber crime and security.

Students learn how to apply the scientific method to the field, take into account legal precedents, and use best practices in crime scene investigation. Students will be able to access, interpret, and apply criminal justice research and use ethical principles related to investigations. The program can prepare students for the Bloodstain Pattern Analyst Certification, the Crime Scene Certification, and the Latent Print Certification. This program is also available as a minor.

5 Columbia College Columbia, SC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 27%

Founded in 1854 as a women’s college, Columbia College now provides comprehensive and fully accredited academic programs for all students through its distance education platform. Online students can access a number of degrees online, including a bachelor of arts in criminal justice with a forensic concentration, which prepares them for careers in law, public safety, and scientific investigations. Students may earn their degree entirely online or pursue a hybrid delivery method by taking some classes on campus. Columbia College being one of only 16 colleges recognized by the FBI. The 120-credit degree plan consists of coursework in specialized topics like forensic DNA, toxicology, finger print science and crime scene investigation.

To apply for this online forensic science degree program, candidates must submit academic credentials with a minimum 2.0 GPA, if first-time or transfer student from another college or university. Columbia College accepts up to 90 credits of transfer work. All distance learners enjoy the same affordable tuition rate, and scholarships are available.

Columbia College holds accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) Commission on Colleges.

Ready to earn your online degree in crime scene investigation? The following information provides an overview of what you can expect from an online program in the field. While details may vary from program to program, most degrees offer similar curricula and career opportunities.


It's common for online degrees in forensic science to offer the following courses as part of their curriculum. Core requirements generally cover these topics, which teach valuable investigative and analytical skills.

  • Crime Scene Investigation: This course familiarizes students with the steps of crime scene examination, including documenting the scene and gathering evidence. Students gain entry-level investigation skills and learn how to interview witnesses and interrogate suspects. This course prepares students for careers as detectives, investigators, and police officers.
  • Firearms Analysis: This class focuses on the analysis of firearm toolmarks found at crime scenes. Students are familiarized with the mechanics of firearms and learn how to use various methods to analyze and compare toolmarks. Legal aspects of firearms analysis are explored. Forensic technicians use these skills when examining evidence.
  • Medicolegal Death Investigation: This course explores cause of death from medical and legal perspectives. Students learn how to use forensic science techniques to determine cause of death and establish an identity of the deceased. Students gain skills in notifying next of kin, writing reports, and examining crime scene photography. Lab technicians and criminal investigators rely on these skills.


An online bachelor's in forensic science and crime scene investigation takes approximately four years for full-time students to complete. The average program length is 120 credits, and students can usually transfer 60-90 general education credits toward their degree. While online crime scene investigation programs generally emphasize similar training, curriculum requirements may impact the length of time required to earn the degree. Capstone projects, internships, and elective requirements all affect the length of an online program.

Students begin coursework as soon as they are admitted to a program or wait to begin the program with their cohort. Individually-paced programs often admit students on a rolling basis and emphasize independent learning. Cohort learning models promote academic communities, and students engage with peers to complete assignments. The cohort format also follows a set pace, usually requiring more time to complete.

The best online bachelor's in forensic science and crime scene investigation programs are regionally or nationally accredited. Accrediting organizations ensure that schools adhere to national standards for higher education training programs. The biggest difference between regional and national accrediting bodies is the type of school they accredit. Regionally accredited schools are non-profit, degree-granting institutions, while nationally accredited schools are usually vocational or trade schools. Regionally accredited universities sometimes do not accept credits earned at nationally accredited schools. Online programs are included in accredited schools' academic standards, and students should look for online programs that are regionally or nationally accredited. The Distance Education Accrediting Commision (DEAC) specializes in accrediting online programs. It conducts team visits and requires distance learning programs to prepare self-evaluation reports. FEPAC is a field-specific accreditation program that provides quality control for forensic science education programs.

Accrediting bodies are recognized by the Department of Education (DOE) and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). DOE oversees the accreditation standards for recognized accrediting bodies and ensures that academic integrity is upheld. CHEA requires institutions to demonstrate academic quality and accountability. Public access to databases of accredited schools and programs recognized by DOE and CHEA are available, and students are encouraged to review them.

An online degree in crime scene investigation prepares students for a variety of career paths, including crime scene investigation in a laboratory setting and law enforcement. The following occupations are commonly pursued by graduates. Laboratory technicians have a knowledge of biological science and possess skills in critical thinking, observation, and analysis. They keep regular hours, unlike police officers and private detectives who work in shifts or whenever surveillance is required.

Forensic Science Technician

Forensic science technicians collect and analyze evidence from crime scenes. Crime scene analysis tasks include taking photos, making sketches, recording observations, and preserving evidence. Laboratory duties include performing microscopic and chemical analyses, reconstructing crime scenes, and examining digital media.

Median Annual Salary: $56,750
Projected Growth Rate: 27%

Private Detective or Investigator

Private detectives work for individuals, attorneys, and large companies. They perform background checks and investigate employees. They gather information through interviews, surveillance, and public records.

Median Annual Salary: $48,190
Projected Growth Rate: 5%

Police Officer

Police officers protect communities by enforcing laws, responding to emergency calls, patrolling areas, and monitoring activities of suspects. Police officers apprehend lawbreakers, write reports, and testify in courts. They may work in specific areas, such as narcotics or canine units.

Median Annual Salary: $61,600
Projected Growth Rate: 4%

Lab Technician

Lab technicians aid in criminal investigations by analyzing bodily fluids, tissue, and other substances found at crime scenes. They use microscopes, cell counters, and computerized instruments to determine blood type.

Median Annual Salary: $61,070
Projected Growth Rate: 14%

Biological Technician

Biological technicians often work on teams to conduct biological tests. They use microscopes, robotics, and automated equipment to perform experiments and analyze microbes.

Median Annual Salary: $42,520
Projected Growth Rate: 5%


Numerous opportunities for advanced training in the field of forensic science exist. Students pursue graduate degrees to refine skills in specific areas such as digital imaging processes or crime scene photography, or they move from roles in law enforcement to careers as technicians. An advanced degree increases salary potential. According to data from Payscale, a general biological science technician has an average salary range of $31,000-$42,000, while a forensic analyst with specialized skills earns $60,484 annually.

  1. MS in Forensic Science: This degree takes approximately two years to complete and usually consists of 30-36 credits. Students often have the opportunity to concentrate in a specific area of forensic science, such as forensic chemistry or forensic investigation.
  2. MS in Crime Scene Investigation: This graduate program is typically 36 credits and emphasizes advanced training in forensic pathology, science of fingerprints, and bloodstain pattern analysis. The program familiarizes students with criminal laws that are pertinent to the field.
  3. MS in Forensic Medicine: Completed in 12-18 months, this degree prepares students for careers as medical examiners. Coursework covers topics in forensic autopsy, toxicology, radiology, and scientific evidence. Students learn how to conduct scholarly research and write for academic audiences.


Crime scene investigation and forensic science professionals rely on cutting-edge skills that must be continually updated. As they gain professional experience, their skillsets expand along with potential earnings. Data from PayScale demonstrate that average salaries increase with time spent on the job, and the following table highlights salary changes from career entry to later stages.

Forensic Science and Crime Scene Investigation Careers by Experience

Job Title Median Salary Median Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years) Median Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)
Crime Scene Investigator $50,850 $40,000 $51,000 $53,000
Private Detective $57,910 $43,000 $51,000 $73,000
Police Officer $50,074 $44,000 $55,000 $64,000
Forensic Scientist $51,280 $48,000 $60,000 $69,000
Forensic Computer Analyst $69,564 $58,000 $89,000 $110,000

Source: Payscale

Licensure and Certification

Online degrees in forensic science prepare graduates for entry-level careers, but additional certification is an excellent way to enhance job opportunities and boost earnings. A professional certificate provides evidence of specialized skills and ensures employers that the latest techniques are used. The following certification programs prepare forensic scientists for careers in digital forensic analysis, investigation, and various crime scene analyses such as DNA, fire debris, and trace evidence. Most professional certificates must be renewed every 3-5 years.

  • Forensic Analyst Certification: This certificate training program is offered by GIAC and equips professionals with skills in data extraction from Windows and Linux computer systems. To become a certified forensic analyst, you must complete a 115-item proctored exam that covers topics in incident investigations and digital forensic cases.
  • Forensic Technician Certification: The American Board of Criminalistics offers several certificate programs that allow forensic technicians to specialize in an area of forensic science. Areas of testing range from drug analysis to firearms and toolmarks. Examinations consist of 220 questions and take three hours to complete.
  • Professional Investigator Certification: A professional certified investigator (PCI) demonstrates skills in evidence collection, case management, and preparation of testimonies. Eligibility includes five years of investigative experience, including two years of case management. The PCI exam is 125 multiple-choice questions that test knowledge in investigative techniques and procedures.


Professional organizations provide students and recent graduates with valuable resources that assist them academically and professionally. Members of professional forensic science organizations, such as the ones listed below, have access to mentors, scholarly research, and job boards. Annual conferences familiarize students with the latest topics in the field and provide networking opportunities. Career resources connect students with organizations with similar professional interests, including forensic anthropology, odontology, and toxicology.

American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS): AAFS is an interdisciplinary organization that promotes improved practice and educational competency in the field of forensic science. Student opportunities include career resources, CSI summer camps, and the Young Forensic Scientist Forum, a program dedicated to emerging forensic scientists.

American Board of Criminalistics (ABC): ABC is comprised of representatives from regional and national forensic science organizations. ABC offers numerous certification programs and proficiency tests.

International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA): ICSIA is an organization for law enforcement professionals who process crime scenes. ICSIA promotes ethical conduct and the exchange of information.

Numerous financial aid options exist to help make your online bachelor's in forensic science and crime scene investigation affordable. Federal student aid provides financial assistance programs, including loans, grants, and work-study funds. Submit a FASFA to determine your federal assistance eligibility. Other forms of financial assistance include scholarships, program discounts, and grants. Many private scholarships are affiliated with universities, including forensic science scholarships and grants for students interested in conducting research.


Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.


Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers several frequently asked questions.


Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.


Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.


Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.

Rankings Archive

Best Online Bachelor's in Forensic Science and CSI Programs for 2017
Rank School Location
1 Excelsior College Albany, NY
2 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA
3 University of Maryland-University College Adelphi, MD
4 National University La Jolla, CA