Online Bachelor's Degree in Crime Scene Investigation

Crime scene investigators (CSIs) perform an essential function within law enforcement. By choosing this career, you can help investigate crimes, analyze evidence, and bring offenders to justice. This dynamic field combines forensic science, biology, chemistry, data analysis, technology, and criminology.

Demand for CSIs continues to rise, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a job growth increase of 17% between 2016 and 2026. Professionals with a bachelor's degree make an average median salary of nearly $58,000 per year. While a four-year degree generally ensures that one secures a well-paying job, individuals with more advanced degrees tend to earn higher salaries.

With the advances in technology, getting an online bachelor's degree in crime scene investigation proves interesting and worthwhile. You get to work with the next generation of crime prevention and law enforcement.

What Is a Crime Scene Investigator?

Crime scene investigators serve as key personnel within law enforcement agencies. They identify and collect physical evidence at crime scenes and conduct various tests in laboratories using the scientific method. CSIs are also detail-oriented and can form objective conclusions based on the evidence before them.

These professionals maintain several responsibilities at once, such as securing crime scenes, creating detailed reports, analyzing evidence and data, and working with police officers and prosecutors to make arrests and build cases against suspects. They regularly testify in court and must ensure they operate in accordance with both best practices and all relevant federal and state laws. CSIs and forensic scientists possess specialized skills that make them valuable assets to law enforcement agencies and society as a whole.

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Pursuing an online bachelor's degree in crime scene investigation enables you to acquire valuable skills related to jobs in law enforcement, forensic science, and corporate investigations. Subjects include law enforcement practices, criminology, corrections, the criminal justice system, and victimology. Students learn how to collect and analyze biological and physical evidence using the scientific method. This often includes extensive lab work and conducting tests to develop conclusions based on the given evidence.

Different academic programs list different course and experience requirements for graduation. Some, for example, require students to take part in a field experience within a law enforcement or forensic science setting.

Cost serves as another factor to consider in your search for an online crime scene investigation bachelor's degree. Many schools offer lower tuition for in-state residents, making it beneficial to enroll in a program located where you live. However, many programs offer the same tuition for all students taking online classes regardless of where they live. Additionally, students can elect to take either a fully online program or a hybrid program that combines in-class work with online work.

Sample Courses for a Bachelor's Degree in Crime Scene Investigation

You may find yourself taking many different types of courses while seeking your online bachelor's degree in crime scene investigation. The field continues to change as new technologies and practices emerge. The list below includes courses you might encounter in a typical crime scene investigator program.

Example Courses

Investigative Forensics This introductory course offers an overview of forensic science, including how investigators use the scientific method. It also dispels common myths found in TV and media concerning CSIs.
Criminalistics This course studies physical evidence in a lab setting. Students closely analyze impression, firearms, and trace evidence.
Criminal Procedures Students learn about principles and practices in collecting and analyzing evidence, including what counts and does not count as admissible in court. Additional topics include the criminal arrest process and what constitutes a legal search and seizure.
Medical Investigations This course takes an in-depth look at the use of medical technologies and practices to conduct accurate investigations at crime scenes. Students also learn about the differences between the medical and legal aspects of investigations.
Introduction to Digital Analysis Students examine digital forensics, which involves uncovering evidence related to computer crimes. This includes learning technical skills and ensuring that investigations operate within the parameters of state and federal laws.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Bachelor's in Crime Scene Investigation?

Several factors affect how long it takes to earn your online bachelor's degree in crime scene investigation, including whether you attend part time or full time. Taking more classes each term allows you to fulfill your credit requirements more quickly, although doing so may prove challenging if you need to meet several personal and professional obligations.

When researching crime scene investigator degrees, look at whether each program requires an internship or field experience. If so, you may need to find the opportunity yourself and put in a certain number of hours, adding to the time it takes to complete your degree. However, these experiences can prove incredibly valuable, especially for honing your skills and networking with potential employers.

In most cases, students can complete an online crime scene investigation degree in three to four years. The typical program involves 120 credit hours.

After you receive your online crime scene investigation degree, you may find yourself seeking job opportunities with many different types of government agencies, organizations, or businesses. A crime scene investigator degree gives you technical knowledge that enables you to thoroughly investigate crimes, analyze evidence, and produce sound conclusions. You can use the scientific method to deliver critical insights that allow police officers to arrest suspects and prosecutors to build strong cases against offenders.

Graduating from a four-year program gives you an advantage over those in possession of an associate degree, as you can boast advanced training that qualifies you for higher-level positions that require technical expertise. This leads to more responsibility and greater earning potential throughout your career.

Online Bachelor's in Crime Scene Investigation Careers

Getting an online bachelor's degree in crime scene investigation opens up a variety of career opportunities in law enforcement. While many graduates of these programs start out as police officers, they may quickly move into more advanced positions and serve as detectives, criminal investigators, and forensic scientists. The list below includes five of the most common career paths for those with a crime scene investigator degree:

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Crime Scene Investigators

These professionals collect and analyze evidence found at the scene of a crime, helping law enforcement officers and prosecutors identify suspects and build cases. They determine how criminals commit crimes, conduct interviews with witnesses, and examine various types of evidence. CSIs usually work for federal, state, or municipal law enforcement agencies.

Police Detectives

Also known as criminal investigators, police detectives respond to criminal offenses, examining physical evidence, interviewing witnesses, and closely reviewing written records, data, and video surveillance. They spend much of their time in the field and use the information collected to identify likely suspects, often testifying to their conclusions in court.

Police Officers

Responsible for enforcing federal, state, and local laws, police officers typically patrol communities and look for potential criminal activity. They regularly respond to emergency calls and may need to use force to subdue suspects. Officers also examine crime scenes, collect evidence, work with prosecutors, and sometimes testify in court.

Forensic Scientists

Forensic scientists collect, handle, and examine materials found at or near crime scenes, using the scientific method to provide objective analysis. They usually visit crime scenes and examine collected samples in a laboratory. Forensic scientists also stay up to date on the latest technologies and practices to provide the most accurate analysis possible.

Private Investigators

While private investigators do not work for law enforcement agencies, they use the same tools and techniques to investigate various issues for their clients. This involves collecting and analyzing evidence and producing sound conclusions based on their findings. They may also conduct surveillance, examine financial records, perform background checks, and analyze complex information and data.

How Much Money Do You Make in Crime Scene Investigation?

Occupations and Salary for Online Bachelor’s in Crime Scene Investigation Graduates
Job Title Overall Median Salary Entry-Level Employees Mid-Career Employees Late-Career Employees
Crime Scene Investigator $43,952 $40,875 $52,302 $56,258
Police Detective $58,214 $50,646 $53,556 $69,274
Police Officer $50,209 $44,183 $50,711 $63,765
Forensic Scientist $52,818 $49,120 $61,268 $70,776
Private Investigator $46,571 $39,585 $47,502 $67,527
Source: PayScale

Licensure and Certification

Although crime scene investigators do not need licenses or certifications to practice, some employers prefer to hire those with a crime scene certification from the International Association of Identification. This organization certifies professionals in investigation, analysis, and crime reconstruction. To receive certification, investigators need to demonstrate skills and experience and engage in a certain number of continuing-education and training hours. The IAI also requires certification candidates to take a test consisting of between 200 and 400 questions. While an arduous process, this credential can make finding a job and advancing in the CSI field much easier.

As you narrow down your options for an online bachelor's degree in crime scene investigation, check the accreditation status of each college or university. Eliminate from consideration any non-accredited schools, and know that regional accreditation enjoys more prestige than national accreditation. However, many nationally accredited institutions offer high-quality programs, and they also tend to boast lower tuition rates. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversees the work of both regional and national accreditation agencies.

Forensic science and CSI programs may also seek accreditation through the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission. FEPAC uses a robust evaluation process to ensure that programs offer quality courses and instruction that effectively prepare students for careers in the field. While not all online crime scene investigation degrees receive FEPAC, the accreditation offers students extra peace of mind that a program meets the most stringent standards.

Students should consider the cost of an online bachelor's degree in crime scene investigation. Careful planning will prevent you from any delays due to funding and ensure that you do not overpay for your degree. Students should remember that in addition to tuition, they will need to pay for daily living expenses.

You can leverage the funding assistance and scholarship opportunities available to crime scene investigator students. You should first complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which determines whether you qualify for federal aid. You should do this even if you do not believe you qualify.

If you do qualify for federal aid, you may enjoy access to grants, work-study benefits, and low-interest subsidized loans. These resources can drastically reduce the cost of your education, allowing you to continue your studies and avoid enormous amounts of post-college debt.

Do your research and make sure you take advantage of any resource that could help you fund your pursuit. Many organizations offer scholarships to crime scene investigation and forensic science students due to the number of job openings in the field.

Crime Scene Investigation Scholarships

Numerous nonprofit organizations, foundations, and professional associations offer financial assistance to promising students who represent the next generation of CSI professionals. Below you will find five examples of these scholarship opportunities:

Online Bachelor’s in Crime Scene Investigation Scholarships

Johnson-Whyte Memorial Foundation Fund Varies

Students must attend an accredited college or university seeking a degree related to forensic identification and hold a minimum 3.0 GPA to qualify. View Scholarship

Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners Scholarship $2,000

Recipient must be a student in forensic science with at least junior status and a minimum 3.0 GPA to qualify. View Scholarship

American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Scholarship $1,000

Recipient must be a junior or senior pursuing a forensic science or related degree at an accredited college or university to qualify. View Scholarship

Floyd E. McDonald Scholarship Fund $1,000

Recipient must be a junior or senior pursuing a degree in forensic science or a related discipline who maintains a minimum 3.0 GPA to qualify. View Scholarship

Ellis R. Kerley Forensic Sciences Scholarship $2,500

Recipient must be a student who is enrolled in a forensic science graduate program and is also a member of the AAFS in order to qualify. View Scholarship

Once you receive a bachelor's degree, you may decide to seek an online master's degree in crime scene investigation. Doing so will advance your education and training, allowing you to qualify for higher-level jobs. In fact, many agencies and organizations require that crime scene investigators and forensic scientists boast training beyond a four-year degree.

A bachelor's degree prepares you for the rigor of a master's program by providing you with a strong foundation of knowledge in forensic science. You'll likely spend two more years pursuing a master's degree, but those with advanced degrees make about $10,000 more per year according to data from PayScale. You'll also qualify for a greater variety of jobs. If you want to serve as a forensic scientist with the FBI, for example, a master's degree serves as a basic requirement.