Online Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Science

Detectives and police officers are not the only professionals involved in solving crimes and convicting criminals. Forensic scientists connect evidence to suspects, which is vital to solving criminal cases. These scientists analyze evidence, such as blood and weapons, and their analysis is used as evidence in court.

Aspiring forensic scientists often pursue an on-campus or online forensic science bachelor's degree. Unlike other criminal justice degrees, such as forensic psychology or criminology, forensic science programs provide a foundation in biology and chemistry to prepare students for laboratory work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for forensic science technicians, including crime scene investigators and forensic computer examiners, to increase 17% from 2016 to 2026. However, high competition for these positions means master's degree holders generally have the best opportunities.

What Do You Major in to Be a Forensic Scientist?

Forensic scientists must earn at least a bachelor's degree. Most aspiring professionals in this field pursue a forensic science major, but learners may also study related areas, such as criminal justice, criminology, or computer forensics. Students who earn degrees in closely related majors can still become forensic scientists, but they generally need to complete additional coursework in chemistry, biology, biochemistry, and genetics. They may also need to secure an internship before obtaining a job in the field.

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Forensic science bachelor's degrees prepare students to collect and analyze various types of evidence. The curriculum for forensic science degrees vary widely. Institutions offer forensic science programs online, in-person, and in a hybrid format. Online forensic science bachelor's degrees are a convenient option for working professionals and for those who do not want to relocate. On-campus programs are ideal for students who thrive on structure and in-person interactions. On-campus students also have the benefit of taking classes in lab settings. Hybrid programs allow learners to complete some courses online, while engaging with peers and professors during in-person classes or residencies.

School location and program format also impact overall cost. Students who attend schools in their home state typically pay lower tuition rates, and some institutions offer discounted tuition for online learners, regardless of state residency. When choosing a program, prospective students should also consider available concentrations, such as biology, chemistry, or pre-law. Additionally, many online and on-campus programs provide or require an internship at a crime laboratory, which provides practical experience.

Sample Courses for a Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Science

Online forensic science bachelor's degrees typically require courses in human anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, crime scene investigation, and criminal procedure. Programs also commonly require a capstone course involving a research paper, a comprehensive exam, or a practicum. Course requirements vary by program, but the courses below are common to most forensic science programs.

Example Courses

Crime Scene Processing This class prepares learners to assess and reconstruct crime scenes. Students learn how to document evidence using cameras, sketches, computer software programs, and written reports. Topics may include evidence processing, court testimony, and ethics.
Interviewing and Interrogation In this class, aspiring crime scene investigators learn effective and legal interviewing and interrogation techniques. Students explore the psychological and physiological effects of interviews and interrogations, including how to detect when someone is lying.
Digital Analysis This course reviews technical and legal concerns related to the duties of digital forensic examiners. Students learn skills needed to identify and collect digital evidence at crime scenes.
Evidence and Criminal Procedure Learners study statutes and laws relevant to forensic science. They also review the admissibility and reliability of evidence and discuss terms such as "due process" and "search and seizure."
Medicolegal Death Investigations This class prepares students to investigate homicides, suicides, and accidental and sudden traumatic deaths. Learners explore techniques for analyzing death scenes.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Bachelor's in Forensic Science?

Full-time students typically need four years to earn an online forensic science bachelor's degree. Most programs require about 120 credits, including general education courses. However, several factors can affect a program's length. Associate degree holders generally complete the remaining bachelor's degree requirements in two years or less. Students who minor in a related area, such as cybersecurity or forensic psychology, may need longer than four years.

Program format also impacts degree completion time. Some schools deliver online forensic science degrees in a cohort model, during which students progress through the curriculum with a small group of peers. Cohort programs typically require students to follow a predetermined course schedule. Individually paced programs, on the other hand, allow learners to choose the number of credits to complete per term, allowing students to graduate on their own timeline.

Forensic science majors generally qualify for entry-level positions immediately after graduation. Earning a forensic science associate degree online qualifies graduates for assistant positions in laboratories, but a bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for forensic scientists, crime scene investigators, and DNA analysts.

According to the BLS, local governments employ more than half of all forensic science technicians, including crime scene investigators, forensic biologists and chemists, and digital forensics analysts. State governments employ about one-third of forensic science professionals. Additionally, some forensic science workers find employment in universities or in medical, diagnostic, or testing laboratories.

Online Bachelor's in Forensic Science Careers

Online forensic science bachelor's degrees prepare students for positions in criminal justice and scientific analysis. Graduates may collect evidence and conduct tests as forensic scientists or DNA analysts. Others investigate crimes directly as crime scene investigators or forensic interviewers. All professionals in this field need to be able to think critically, analytically, and objectively.

Occupations and Salary for Online Bachelor’s in Forensic Science Graduates
Job Title Overall Median Salary Entry-Level Employees Mid-Career Employees Late-Career Employees
Crime Scene Investigator $43,952 $40,000 $51,000 $53,000
Forensic Scientist $52,818 $48,000 $60,000 $69,000
Private Detective or Investigator $49,820 $43,000 $51,000 $73,000
Source: PayScale

Licensure and Certification

Forensic science professionals typically do not need a license or certificate. However, some professionals obtain voluntary certification to demonstrate their qualifications. For example, the International Association for Identification offers certifications for professionals and skills including bloodstain pattern analysts, crime scene investigators, and forensic photography.

Most states require private investigators, who sometimes assist forensic investigations, to hold a license. Aspiring private investigators should verify licensing requirements with their state or local government.

Before pursuing a degree in forensic science online, students should ensure their prospective institution holds accreditation. Attending an accredited school ensures students receive a quality education that meets professional standards. The two main types of institutional accreditation are regional and national, with regional accreditation being the most common and prestigious. National accrediting agencies typically evaluate for-profit and vocational schools. Students attending schools without accreditation may not be eligible for state or federal financial aid. The Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation maintain searchable databases of accredited schools and programs.

Programs may also hold field-specific accreditation. The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) awards accreditation to undergraduate and graduate forensic science programs. FEPAC provides a list of accredited forensic science programs.

Students pursuing an online forensic science degree have several options for financing their education. Learners should begin by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine their eligibility for federal aid, including loans, grants, and work-study programs.

Many students receive federal assistance through the direct loan program, which provides subsidized and unsubsidized loans. Learners may also qualify for a Federal Pell Grant based on factors including financial need and the cost of attendance at their school. Students with exceptional financial need may qualify for the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant, which awards students $100 to $4,000 each year. Schools administer this grant, but not all schools participate in the program.

Students should also apply for school-sponsored and external scholarships. Many scholarships support forensic science and criminal justice students, including those below.

Forensic Science Scholarships

Federal and state governments, schools, and organizations provide scholarships of varying amounts. Unlike loans, students do not need to repay scholarship funds. Scholarships are generally based on merit or financial need, and many are reserved for students with particular backgrounds or interests, such as association membership or a field of study.

Online Associate in Paralegal Studies Scholarships

J. Edgar Hoover Foundation Scientific Scholarship $25,000

Recipient must be a junior, senior, or graduate student pursuing a degree in a scientific field related to criminal investigation. View Scholarship

National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives Irlet Anderson Scholarship amount:

Recipientmust be a graduating high school senior pursuing a career in law enforcement or criminal justice. View Scholarship

Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners Scholarship Program amount:

Recipient must be pursuing a career in forensic science and either entering at least the junior year of a bachelor’s program or enrolled in a graduate program. View Scholarship

American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Briggs White Award amount:

Recipient open to college juniors and seniors and graduate students studying forensic science. View Scholarship

My Alarm Center Scholarship Program amount:

Recipient open to high school seniors and college freshmen and sophomores pursuing a degree in law enforcement or a related field. View Scholarship

After earning a degree in forensic science online, graduates often pursue a master's in forensic science online to increase job prospects. Although a bachelor's degree is the minimum requirement for most forensic science positions, master's degree holders typically have more job opportunities. According to PayScale, many employers require forensic scientist candidates to hold a master's degree.

A bachelor's degree in forensic science meets the academic requirements for most master's programs. Master's programs generally require 30 to 40 credits, and full-time students typically earn their master's in forensic science online in two to three years.