Undergraduate students who pursue accredited online crime scene investigation degrees obtain the theoretical knowledge and technical skills needed to work in law enforcement and the criminal justice system. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, forensic science technician positions are projected to increase by 17% through 2026, adding approximately 2,600 new jobs.
This guide provides prospective students with in-depth academic information, including degree options, course offerings, and admission requirements. Distance learners can also explore career opportunities and information about professional organizations.
Overview of Crime Scene Investigation Degrees
Crime scene investigators identify, collect, and examine physical evidence, such as tool marks, blood splatter, and footprints. They represent integral members of any law enforcement organization. Many professionals in this field also work for multinational corporations and private security firms.
At the bachelor's level, online crime scene investigation degrees provide students with a fundamental understanding of the U.S. criminal justice system. Students also study criminological theory, learning about the sociological and psychological factors that contribute to criminal behavior and recidivism. These undergraduate programs emphasize scientific investigation, training students to properly analyze evidence in a laboratory setting.
Regardless of whether students are recent high school graduates or working professionals, online bachelor of crime scene investigation programs exist for all students. To earn an undergraduate degree, distance learners do not need prior work experience. However, depending on the school, students may need to complete prerequisite coursework before enrolling in the program.
Colleges and universities typically operate a conventional admission process for online crime scene investigation degree candidates. First-time students can expect GPA requirements between 2.0 and 3.0. Competitive undergraduate programs may require higher GPAs, especially if applicants pursue scholarships and paid research assistantships. Many schools require SAT or ACT scores. Students should consult their prospective schools' admission counselors about testing standards and exemptions.
Personal statements and recommendations represent common admission materials. Candidates should use their 1-2-page essays to individualize their applications, explaining how their achievements prepare them for rigorous academics. These statements also let students demonstrate how their characteristics and experiences align with the university's values. Most undergraduate programs require two or three recommendation letters from teachers, employers, or mentors.
All students submit official transcripts, which they can request from their school's academic affairs office. Candidates should prepare to pay an application fee between $30 and $60. Schools offer waivers for students from low-income households and underserved communities. The Common Application, used by over 700 U.S. postsecondary institutions, also provides financial support.
What Will I Learn?
Undergraduate students typically complete 120 semester credits to earn their accredited online crime scene investigation degree. This process typically takes four years, but candidates can expedite graduation by enrolling in accelerated or completionist tracks, earning their credentials in as few as two years. These intensive programs require learners to possess prior college work and/or relevant career experience.
Colleges and universities generally offer crime scene investigation as a concentration of bachelor of forensic science or criminal justice programs. Degree plans vary by department objectives. However, students can expect around 60 credits of general education requirements and at least 30 credits of major coursework. The remaining hours are for electives, which students can use to pursue advanced topics, complete a minor, or take on a second major. In addition to core topics, like crime scene management and forensic investigation, degree candidates complete hands-on training through field research and internships. They finish the program with a capstone experience. The following section contains five popular classes in this field.
A perfunctory course, criminal investigation introduces students to the constitutional requirements that they must abide by when securing a crime scene and collecting evidence. Degree candidates learn how to prepare written case reports for courtroom proceedings and give detailed testimonies. Additional topics include evidence handling, scene reconstruction, witness interviews, and subpoenas.
Drawing from sociology, psychology, and philosophy theories, students learn the nature and causes of criminal behavior. They also study society's responses to criminal behavior. Distance learners apply knowledge in case study analysis, categorizing typologies relevant to violent, white collar, and property crimes.
In this course, students trace the history of forensic science, emphasizing the development of the crime laboratory and the role of crime scene investigators in law enforcement. The class also covers different types of physical evidence, including trace samples found in paint, soil, fibers, and explosives.
Fingerprint analysis provides an in-depth exploration of forensic science. Students learn fundamental topics, like the functions of the skin's different layers and the formation of friction ridge skin. They use photography equipment and computer programs to systematically process fingerprint samples.
This specialized class examines core ideas and practices in emergency management and homeland security. Students learn the origins of terrorist attacks and natural disasters. They also train in relevant local, state, and federal responses; relief efforts; and emergency planning. Additional topics include public infrastructure, community health, and communication strategies.
Due to the ubiquity of online communication and ecommerce, cyber crimes are increasing in frequency and complexity. This advanced course trains students to locate, collect, and process computer evidence. Students also learn about information confidentiality and user rights. Cyber evidence requires proper storage, reporting, and presentation during courtroom proceedings.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Crime Scene Investigation?
In this section, students discover the theoretical foundations, laboratory training, and practicum experiences garnered from online bachelor's programs in crime scene investigation. They also learn how these skills apply to professional settings and the careers an undergraduate degree engenders. The job profiles below use PayScale data to detail average earnings for U.S. professionals and general duties for each position.
Online crime scene investigation degree outcomes differ by program objectives and student goals. For candidates enrolled in criminal justice tracks, competencies center on a core understanding of law enforcement procedures, judicial processes, criminal ethics, and criminology. Degree candidates who pursue forensic science programs focus on scientific research, diverse forms of scientific discourse, experimental data evaluation, and analytical instrumentation.
Regardless of the program, all students cultivate proficiency in crime scene processing. They learn legal precedents and best practices for securing a scene, locating points of interest, and collecting and categorizing evidence. Through substantial training in a crime laboratory, degree candidates learn how to conduct evidence analysis, synthesizing scientific and investigative information to generate theories about a crime.
Both degree types prepare students for jobs as forensic scientists, border security professionals, and police officers. However, distance learners whose career goals rely on specialized or advanced scientific skills, like criminalistics, toxicology, and DNA analysis, should prioritize forensic science degree plans. For many students, graduate programs represent the next step in their professional development. Therefore, they should pick bachelor's programs that align with their master's training.
Potential Careers and Salaries
Many crime scene investigation degree candidates become crime scene investigators. Also called criminalists and forensic science technicians, these generalists typically work for law enforcement agencies at the local, state, and national levels. By focusing on pathology, students may pursue positions as death investigators and coroners. Learners can also personalize their academic training in another area of the forensic process, including serotology, odontology, and podiatry.
Additionally, students can pursue careers investigating specific types of crime. With cyber forensics training, degree candidates can work as cybersecurity specialists and intelligence officers. With a concentration in homeland security, learners may find employment with national organizations, like the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration, and Customs Services. Students who want to investigate white collar and financial crimes should consider a business-related minor, like management, accounting, and human resources.
Crime Scene Investigator
Annual Mean Salary: $45,033
These professionals help law enforcement officers build a case by securing, analyzing, and presenting details left at the crime scene. Crime scene investigators work meticulously, ensuring their findings are accurate and usable in court. Their tasks include documenting trace evidence, lifting fingerprints, and examining weapons.
Annual Mean Salary: $52,822
These specialists investigate unusual, unexpected, and suspicious deaths, including suicides, homicides, and accidents. They are also called on by health facilities to examine deaths where no physicians were present. Death investigators interview witnesses and support loved ones of the deceased.
Director of Loss Prevention
Annual Mean Salary: $83,479
Employed by retail organizations, loss prevention directors investigate incidents of missing or stolen items. They work with a team to perform audits and implement strategies that reduce inventory shrink. These directors also manage, train, and evaluate employees.
Annual Mean Salary: $59,313
Working for government agencies or private companies, fraud investigators determine whether an organization or individual attempted to gain a financial benefit illegally. These professionals often work in insurance or accounting due to the high risk of fraud in these industries. They interview witnesses, obtain confessions or depositions from suspects, and present fraud cases to stakeholders.
Forensic Computer Analyst
Annual Mean Salary: $70,988
These professionals evaluate large quantities of data to discern specific items, including forensic evidence, for their clients. Due to the sensitive nature of their work, forensic computer analysts must follow government laws and internal guidelines. They also oversee such daily organizational tasks as penetration testing and network reporting.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Crime Scene Investigation?
With an accredited online crime scene investigation degree, undergraduate students can pursue entry-level positions in private security, law enforcement, and government services. It is common for students in this field to pursue additional credentials for career advancement. By enrolling in a master's program, professionals prepare for roles as postsecondary teachers, dedicated research scientists, and laboratory or program managers. At the graduate level, standalone crime scene investigation programs are more common and offer their own concentrations, such as forensic linguistics, juvenile justice, and crime scene photography.
Certification represents a viable career advancement option for professionals who do not want to earn another college degree. These short-term training and exam-based programs enable candidates to display mastery of a specialized field or advanced skill. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners provides in-person training sessions and online exam review courses. The American Board of Forensic Toxicology facilitates certificate programs in three areas, including alcohol and drug toxicology.
Accreditation for Crime Scene Investigation Bachelor’s Programs
To earn valid crime scene investigation degrees, online students attend nationally or regionally accredited postsecondary schools. Colleges and universities obtain national accreditation from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The ED's support results in federal funding, including student grants and loans. With the CHEA's backing, higher education institutions gain access to up-to-date research and professional development resources.
Schools apply for regional accreditation from one of seven organizations, depending on location. For example, Texas universities become regionally accredited through the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
On top of national and regional accreditation, the best online crime scene investigation programs hold specialized accreditation from the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences or the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission. By pursuing an accredited bachelor's degree, students ensure the training they receive aligns with employer expectations. Accreditation also guarantees that professionals can sit for major certification and licensure exams.
Crime Scene Investigation Professional Organizations
The top online crime scene investigation programs offer students innovative coursework and practical training that prepare them for entry-level careers and graduate academics. Distance learners bolster these opportunities by engaging with professional organizations. Membership often requires an annual fee, but enables students to access financial assistance, including scholarships, research grants, and travel funds. Through online forums and in-person gatherings, members receive support from peers, mentors, and industry experts. Professional organizations also facilitate skill development, such as the eight advanced certification programs offered by the International Association for Identification.
Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction
Founded in 1901 by forensic practitioners in Texas and Oklahoma, ACSR facilitates the research and development of investigative and reconstruction methods. Members enjoy in-person training opportunities on topics like death investigation, bloodstain pattern analysis, and shooting incident reconstruction. The ACSR also offers research grants, national conferences, and academic journals.
International Crime Scene Investigation Association
The ICSIA promotes the advancement of crime scene processing as a multidisciplinary field warranting industry recognition and global support. As an internet-based association, ICSIA facilitates communication and member collaboration through email, message boards, and live webinars. Members gain access to white papers, international instructor support, research funding, and job postings.
International Association for Identification
Established in 1915 by a group of 20 crime scene investigators, IAI boasts more than 7,000 members worldwide. In addition to certification programs in specialized areas, like forensic art and latent print, the association hosts onsite courses, which typically span three days. Members gain access to job listings, conferences, and a comprehensive research library.