Forensic science is an exciting field for anyone interested in criminal justice and the sciences. It’s an elemental aspect of the system and an area of expertise that’s in high demand. The good news: with the ubiquity of technology, it has become possible to get a forensic science degree online.
To become a forensic scientist, you can get started online, either with an Associate or Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science. Forensic scientists play a critical role in criminal investigations and, sometimes, in civil procedures. Their specialization is essential to obtaining solid evidence needed for convictions.
People who train in forensic science are prepared to work for a law enforcement agency. Topics include crime scene or forensic investigation, molecular biology, forensic toxicology, and more.
Online learning is a great option for students in the 21st century. Not only does it make higher education more accessible overall, it’s often better for everyone’s schedule.
You can pursue an online degree without changing other commitments, like your day job or place of residence. Most online programs offer asynchronous classes. This means you can log in and do your coursework whenever convenient.
What is Forensic Science?
According to the United States Justice Department, forensic science is the study and analysis of physical evidence from crime scenes. These analyses are used to help with the investigation and prosecution of criminal offenders. In the same breath, this work can help clear a potential suspect.
Forensic science is a laboratory science that converge with other major laboratory science disciplines and examinations. These are:
- Forensic molecular biology
- The identification of bodily fluids or Forensic toxicology
- Forensic chemistry
- Analysis of several kinds of evidence, including fingerprints or even bite marks
- Fire and explosives examination
- Handwriting analysis
- Digital evidence examination
What is a Forensic Science Degree?
A forensic science degree is a science-intensive course for students who aren’t afraid to dig into a curriculum in the laboratory sciences. Simply put, forensic science is the application of science to the legal system.
A degree in forensic science focuses on giving students knowledge in a variety of areas. These include the hard sciences and critical thinking, as well as the use of an arsenal of investigative tools. Forensic degrees vary from two- to four-year programs. A few different types of forensic science degrees are:
- Investigative Forensics
- Forensic Psychology
A general forensic science degree will include a wide range of subjects. These include those in hard lab sciences and those that develop critical thinking and investigative skills. Some typical courses are:
- Cybercrime and security
- Criminal Psychology
In some programs, students can choose to specialize their degree with a concentration. Here are a few concentration examples:
- Forensic Toxicology
- Digital Forensics
- Forensic Accounting
- Forensic Anthropology
- Forensic Pathology
- Forensic Chemistry
- Forensic Biology
- Forensic Entomology
- Forensic Nursing
Requirements will vary depending on whether you’re applying to a bachelor’s, associate, or certificate program. Some programs may accept professional experience as credit or take it into account during the application review process. Schools that compensate for work experience will typically list professional requirements on their program sites.
All associate and bachelor’s degrees will require a high school diploma from applicants. Some will require standardized test scores. Check each individual program website to understand their application requirements.
Certificate Programs and Professional Associations
Many certification programs in forensic science require a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite. Most bachelor’s programs in forensic science prepare students for specific certification exams that certify their abilities.
These programs help graduates hone particular skills in forensic science. The certifications are awarded by professional forensics organizations. To name a few, there’s the American Board of Criminalistics, the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, and the American Board of Forensic Documentation Examiners.
Why Pursue a Forensic Science Degree Online
Forensic evidence is beneficial in law enforcement, particularly when getting to the bottom of a tough investigation. The field of forensic science has expanded to many concentrations. For example, cyber forensics is a newer subfield yet it’s one that’s becoming increasingly relevant as cybercrime increase.
A college or university can offer a forensic science degree online through advanced educational technologies. This may involve the use of video conferencing and immersive virtual lab experiences. Some online programs may require limited in-person lab time to culminate the degree.
Online programs tuition rates are often less expensive than in-person programs for a number of reasons. Online courses save students the costs of moving and paying for a traditional dorm. Of course, they also give students the flexibility to keep working part-time or full-time.
Still, all students should consider financial aid when researching any degree program. Be sure to check that the institution and program is accredited. After confirming, investigate program prices and possibilities to get grants or scholarships. Remember that some public universities have a lower rate of tuition if you live within the state.
Types of Online Forensic Science Degrees
As you begin your program and school search, you will notice there are a few different kinds of forensic science degrees out there. For a refresher on the different levels of degrees in the traditional American higher education system, check out our guide to college degree levels.
In the meantime, let’s go over forensic science degree levels and where the best programs are.
Associate Degree in Forensic Science
An associate degree is meant to be an introduction to forensic science. It can lead to possible concentrations and subfields you can pursue in more advanced degrees. This is the lowest level of degree you can get in forensic science.
Most associate degree programs consist of 60 credits and can be completed within two years. This is provided that you take the program full time. The majority of course requirements for an associate degree in forensic science will be specific to the program. Most require general education courses or liberal arts courses.
Besides being introduced to the ins and outs of forensic science, an associate degree will give you some hands-on experience in the field. You will also gain a solid understanding of the different kinds of skills required of forensic scientists.
Online Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science
Chances are you will want to get a Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science in order to really progress as a forensic scientist. A Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science typically includes core general education requirements. These include the liberal arts and all the major core forensic science courses.
A bachelor’s degree will truly prepare you for a career as a front-line investigator. If you’re interested in going beyond the crime scene, you will also see medico-legal subjects. These subjects will help you broaden your horizons in the vast field that is forensic science. The most common core courses for any online Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science program are:
- Medico-legal Investigation
- Firearms and Arson Analysis
- Introduction to Crime Scene Investigation
- Advanced Crime Scene Investigation
- Forensic Toxicology
Best Online Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science Programs
Most school rankings resource guides are based on factors including— but not limited to—cost, accreditation, and student outcomes. These are important factors to consider as you find different school search results.
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The quality of the program and its faculty also, of course, influence our school rankings. The results below list schools that offer the top online bachelor’s in forensic science.
Hampton’s Bachelor of Arts in Forensic Science focuses on the applied sciences. These cover biology, chemistry, and forensic microbiology. Students can focus on forensic chemistry as well.
This Virginia-based program is entirely online and does not have any in-person requirements. Its graduates go into careers in criminal justice, crime scene management, and criminal investigation.
A member of the University System of Maryland, UMGC offers a Bachelor of Science in Investigative Forensics. Students in this entirely online program prepare to take professional certifications in crime scene examination, bloodstain analysis, and more.
Online Master of Science in Forensic Science
Professionals choose to pursue a master’s degree in forensic science if they want to deepen their understanding of the discipline. Often, professionals in other related fields, such as lawyers and law enforcement officers, opt for a master’s degree. Their choice is premised on the goal of expanding their skills for solving crimes.
Most online master’s programs in forensic science will require 32 credits, which at a normal full-time pace would take two years to complete. Students who pursue a master’s program in this field are often already working professionals.
Many online master’s programs are flexible and can be completed part-time. Alternatively, if you want to get your degree more quickly to move up in the field, some online programs are accelerated.
There are so many specializations within the field of forensic science. So, a master’s degree is a great opportunity to specialize and find your niche. Featured programs and school options below are just a few recommendations of highly-rated online programs.
Best Online Master of Science in Forensic Science Programs
This program at Florida’s flagship state university is offered through the School of Pharmacy. It is an MS in Pharmacy Science with a concentration in forensic science. Graduates can expect to focus on medico-legal aspects of forensic science and work in crime labs and medical examiner’s offices.
Oklahoma State University offers an online MS in Forensic Science which focuses on forensic psychology. Students must complete 39-credits entirely online. It is designed for those looking to advance their careers with law enforcement agencies.
The University of Central Florida is one of the largest universities in the state with excellent online offerings. It has an MS in Forensic Science through its Department of Chemistry.
Arizona State University offers a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with concentration in Forensic Pyschology. This program involves the integration of law and psychology. In particular, it tackles how the state of mind of defendants at the time of a crime are examined. Graduates of this program can advance to legal policy research and clinical research.
Excelsior’s online Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice program prepares students for a career in law enforcement and crime scene investigation. The coursework includes criminal procedural laws and policies, and legal processes of court trials. Students also uncover the reasons behind criminal behavior.
Career Prospects in Forensic Science
There are two major areas in the field of forensic science. The first is crime scene investigation. Crime scene investigation is the investigation of the place and the elements present at the scene where a crime was committed.
In this area, forensic scientists help investigators in other law enforcement capacities. They find the scientific evidence necessary to answer difficult crime scene questions. A crime scene forensic scientist will examine many types of evidence, including:
- Bloodstain Pattern Analysis
- Ballistic and Firearms
- Arson and Explosives
- Trace Evidence
- Accident Reconstruction
- Forensic Documents Analysis
- Digital Forensics and Computer Forensics
The second main area of forensic science is medico-legal. Medico-legal forensic scientists sometimes wear different hats. Depending on the need, they fulfill different roles. That could mean acting as forensic pathologists or even forensic anthropologists. Other areas they’re involved in are:
- DNA Analysis
- Forensic Toxicology
- Drugs and Identification
Forensic scientists may also help examine the evidence available as part of a greater investigation. These kinds of forensic scientists may perform polygraph investigations and other kinds of examinations.
Forensic psychologists also work beyond an actual crime scene. They are involved in any and every facet of the criminal justice system to provide psychological support to all involved.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, forensic science jobs are exhibiting an upward trend. Jobs are predicted to grow at a higher-than-average rate of 14 percent by 2028. The median annual salary for a Forensic Science Technician in 2019 was $59,150. More advance forensic science positions pay more.
Forensic science is a vast, expansive, and expanding field in the criminal justice system. For those who grew up watching crime dramas on TV, the allure of crime scene investigation is nothing new. It turns out that in reality, it’s work that requires extensive knowledge and training. But there’s no reason that should stop you.
Luckily, a degree in forensic science is at arm’s reach. Online options are available to make training more accessible to students. Hopefully, this guide will serve as an introductory resource to the field of forensic science. This will also help you understand the kinds of online degree programs out there to help you get started.
Forensic Science FAQs
If you’re in high school, you can prepare by taking as many math and science classes as you can. Writing reports and testifying in court are some of the main responsibilities of forensic scientists so make sure to enhance your writing and communication skills. Finally, while watching crime series is fun, you might want to consider switching to watching legal cases.
A forensic science degree program leans heavily on the hard sciences. If you have an aptitude for numbers and science, then you have a great chance of excelling in your studies.
Due to the weight of responsibility they carry, forensic scientists need to be detail-oriented and critical thinkers. They should be able to notice every little detail when analyzing evidence. Proficiency in science and math is also important as most of their time will be spent working in labs.
No. A professional license or certification is not necessary to become a forensic science technician. However, there are various licenses and certifications you can take to help you advance in your career and boost your credentials. Forensic professionals usually get certified through programs accredited by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board.
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