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. Topics in forensic science degree programs include crime scene investigation, molecular biology, forensic toxicology, and more.
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 the hard evidence often needed for convictions. People who train in forensic science are prepared to work for a law enforcement agency.
Online degrees are a great option for students in the twenty-first century. Not only do they make higher education more accessible overall, they are often better for everyone’s schedule. You can pursue an online degree without changing other commitments, like work and where you live. Most online programs offer asynchronous classes, which means you can log on and do your coursework whenever it is most convenient for you.
What is Forensic Science?
According to the United States Justice Department, forensic science is the examination and analysis of evidence from crime scenes to help with the investigation and prosecution of criminal offenders. This work can also help clear a potential suspect.
Forensic science is a lab science that includes a few different major lab science disciplines. It also includes the examination of a wide array of evidence. Forensic science includes:
- Forensic molecular biology
- Forensic toxicology
- Forensic chemistry
- Evidence of several different kinds of examination, including fingerprints
- Fire and explosives examination
- Handwriting examination
- Digital evidence examination
What is a Forensic Science Degree?
A forensic science degree is a science-intensive course for students who are not afraid to dig into a curriculum in the lab sciences. Simply put, forensic science is the application of science to the legal system.
A degree in forensic science, then, focus on giving students the hard science, critical thinking, and investigative tools they need for this specific application. 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, including those in hard lab sciences and those that develop critical thinking and investigative skills. Some typical courses are:
- Cybercrime and security
- Molecular Biology
- Criminal Psychology
In some programs, students can choose to specialize their degree with a concentration. Here are just a few concentration examples:
- Forensic Toxicology
- Digital Forensics
- Forensic Anthropology and 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 and 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 usually require a bachelor’s degree as a prerequisite. Many bachelor’s programs in forensic science prepare students for specific certification exams that certify their abilities.
These programs help graduates hone in on very particular skills in forensic science. These certifications are awarded by professional forensics organizations, including 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
Law enforcement has realized in the last few years that a combination of forensic evidence can be extremely beneficial in getting to the bottom of a tough investigation. So, the field of forensic science has expanded to many different concentrations. For example, cyber forensics is a newer subfield but one that is becoming increasingly relevant as cybercrime becomes more common.
Colleges and universities can offer forensic degrees online through advanced educational technologies, the use of video conferencing, and virtual, immersive lab experiences. Some online programs may require limited in-person lab time at the end of the degree.
Online programs are also often less expensive than in-person programs for a number of reasons. Online programs save students the costs of moving, paying for a traditional dorm, and of course, give students the flexibility to keep working part-time or full time.
Still, all students should consider financial aid when researching any degree program. When researching online programs, be sure to make sure the institution and program is accredited. Once you know that it is, investigate program prices and possibilities to get grants or scholarships. Also 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 now go over forensic science degree levels and where the best programs can be found.
Associate Degree in Forensic Science
An associate degree is meant to be an introduction to forensic science and 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 are 60 credits and can be completed within two years, full-time. The majority of course requirements for an Associate Degree in Forensic Science will be specific to the program. The program may also require general education, 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, including the liberal arts and all of the major core forensic science courses.
A bachelor’s degree will truly prepare you for a career as a front-line investigator. Then, if you’re interested in going beyond the crime scene, you will also see medicolegal subjects that 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:
- Medicolegal 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. The quality of the program and its faculty also, of course, is an influence on our school rankings. Results are for schools that offer top online bachelor’s in forensic science.
Hampton’s BA in Forensic Science focuses on the applied sciences, including biology, chemistry, and forensic microbiology. Students can focus on forensic chemistry as well.
This program based in Virginia 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.
Students in this entirely online BS in Forensic Science prepare to take professional certifications in crime scene examination, bloodstain investigation, 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 like lawyers and law enforcement officers may also get master’s degrees to broaden their understanding of crime scene investigation.
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. Because students who pursue a master’s program in this field are often already working professionals, many online master’s programs are very flexible and can be completed part-time. Alternatively, if you want to get your degree more quickly so that you can move up in the field, some online programs are accelerated.
Again, because there are so many specializations within the field of forensic science, 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 medicolegal aspects of forensic science and work in crime labs and medical examiner’s offices.
This online MS in Forensic Science 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.
One of the largest universities in Florida with excellent online offerings, the University of Central Florida has an MS in Forensic Science through its Department of Chemistry.
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. Their job is to help investigators in other law enforcement capacities, 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 Examination
- Digital Forensics and Computer Forensics
The second main area of forensic science is medicolegal. Medicolegal forensic scientists may be involved in:
- DNA Analysis
- Forensic Pathology
- Forensic Anthropology
- Forensic Toxicology (identification of bodily fluids)
- Drugs and Identification
Forensic scientists may also help examine the evidence available as part of the 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 as they are involved in any and every facet of the criminal justice system to provide psychological support to all involved.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, forensic science jobs are trending up, with jobs 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 arms reach, especially because of the online options now available to make training more accessible to students. Hopefully, this guide will serve as an introductory resource to the field of forensic science and the kinds of online degree programs out there to help you get started.