Online Forensic Science Degree Programs
The introduction of online and hybrid programs in forensics has made attending college more convenient, flexible, and accessible for everyone. For aspiring students with full-time jobs, family responsibilities, or other important commitments, attending a traditional college campus can be a challenge. People who earn a forensic science degree online don’t need to sacrifice quality for accessibility.
The Institute of Education Sciences (IES), the statistics, research, and evaluation arm of the U.S. Department of Education, collects and analyzes data annually to assess educational efficacy. In 2018, the National Center for Education Statistics (affiliated with the IES) reported that nearly seven million students were enrolled in distance education courses. Of this number, fifty percent of the students were enrolled exclusively in distance education courses. Undergraduates held the lion’s share of exclusive distance education enrollment at more than three million compared to nearly one million post-baccalaureate students.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has dramatically increased the number of online learning options, a question that remains in the minds of many is: how does classroom learning compare with an online learning environment? To this point, in 2018, Learning House reported that 85 percent of students who had taken in-person and virtual classes believed online learning to be equal or superior to face-to-face instruction. It’s clear that distance learning is not only here to stay, but it’s also on the rise and viewed as an equally valuable learning method compared to in-person learning.
Many top-rated schools offer forensic science degree programs online to connect with working and stay-at-home students, giving them a chance to earn a degree or certificate on their own terms. A growing number of programs, particularly those tailored to working professionals who have already completed their lab and field training, are available 100 percent online.
In other cases, hybrid programs—those combining classroom and distance learning—may require in-person campus attendance for hands-on instruction in laboratory procedures while the didactic coursework can be completed online at the student’s convenience.
To learn more about the variety of online and hybrid forensics programs—including their structure, affordability, and accreditation—read on below.
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How Do Online Forensic Science Degree Programs Work?
There are three main types of online programs:
- Synchronous learning, or that which occurs “at the same time,” offers teleconferences, web-presentations, chats, classroom meetings, and other types of learning experiences in real-time. These forms of live communication can occur in traditional classroom settings or facilitated by webcams, chat services, and other modern tools. One type of synchronous learning is the fixed-time online course which is taken 100 percent online, but requires students to log in for assignments, meetings, and lectures at a set time. Almost all degree-granting programs in forensic science tend to be at least partially synchronous.
- Asynchronous learning, or that which occurs “not at the same time,” often sets weekly or monthly deadlines for coursework and assignments that can be completed at the student’s convenience. One type of asynchronous learning providing the most flexibility is the open schedule online course. These allow students to make their own learning schedule within broad deadlines. Some certificate programs in forensic science may be asynchronous.
- Hybrid or blended learning combines synchronous and asynchronous learning experiences, providing for both invaluable, concurrent interaction between students and teachers through scheduled meetings, in addition to the completion of some assignments and course material at the student’s discretion. There are a number of forensic science degree and certificate programs which offer hybrid learning options.
One of the more flexible options is the online bachelor’s program in forensic accounting at Franklin University. It offers three start dates year-round and the free new student applications are processed within 48 hours. Admissions advisors are available five days per week and select Saturdays. This can be an especially attractive option for students who have already completed some college since Franklin accepts up to 89 eligible transfer credits toward the completion of their degrees.
This program is accredited by the International Accreditation Council for Business Education (IACBE) and prepares students for certification exams such as the certified public accountant (CPA), certified fraud examiner (CFE), and certified internal auditor (CIA).
More typical degree-granting institutions such as the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) offer discrete start-dates and application windows. UMGC’s online master of science in digital forensics and cyber investigation program has registration deadlines in January and May. For programs with more on-site or group coursework, there is generally less flexibility in enrollment and start dates due to the availability of instructors.
While many online and hybrid degree programs start at a set time per year organized by semesters or quarters, other types of certificates and continuing education credits for forensic sciences may be taken whenever a student desires. For those seeking the most flexibility in an introduction to crime scene investigation, the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC) offers a 16-hour certificate program that can be completed at any time.
Overall, program start dates and course schedules vary by subject, degree granted, type of institution, whether the program requires clinical practicums, the availability of instructors, and other factors. It’s important to check with specific schools for program details.
Admissions to Online Forensic Science Degree Programs
Application processes and requirements for online programs vary widely by degree level, although like many programs themselves, the admissions processes can generally be completed 100 percent online. In general, candidates for online forensics programs may be asked to submit:
- Completed application and fee
- Official transcripts from highest degree attained (e.g., high school diploma or bachelor’s) with all relevant prerequisite coursework indicated (e.g., chemistry, biology, physics)
- Proof of a competitive GPA (e.g., >3.0)
- Letters of recommendation
- Personal statement or letter of intent (500-600 words)
- Test scores (SAT/ACT for bachelor’s degree programs; GRE for master’s degree programs)
- Proof of immunizations and/or a clean drug test
- Resume showing professional experience (particularly for master’s degree programs)
- Candidate interviews (especially for top-tier forensics schools)
Cost of Online Forensic Science Degree Programs
Since online forensics programs can be taken from home, these options may even be more affordable than traditional brick-and-mortar campus experiences for several reasons:
- First, students in these programs can save on housing costs since they have no reason to relocate to a dormitory or campus-based housing.
- Second, many of the online programs such as Southern New Hampshire University also offer financial aid or tuition reimbursement to select students and significant discounts to active-duty military and their spouses.
- Finally, as program materials migrate online, students may save money on books and course readers that used to be required by more traditional campus-based programs.
Prices vary by degree level, specialization, institution, residency status, and other factors. Broken down by degree level, here are some cost-per-credit figures for out-of-state students as of spring 2021:
Online associate degrees in forensics:
Online bachelor’s degrees in forensics:
Online master’s degrees in forensics:
Forensic Science Program Accreditation
Although neither programmatic nor institutional accreditation are required to practice forensic science, students are wise to seek out accredited programs since these agencies are concerned with the quality of instruction, coursework, program outcomes, and other measures that can promote student success.
Graduating from an accredited program also may not technically be a prerequisite for employment, but some employers treat it as such. Moreover, accreditation indicates the merit of the curricula, faculty, and facilities available to students.
There are many agencies involved with forensics program accreditation. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) accredits undergraduate and graduate forensic science programs through its Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Council (FEPAC).
FEPAC evaluates factors such as a school’s mission statement, institutional support, and student outcomes. While FEPAC does not accredit all sub-disciplines of forensic science, certificates, or associate degree programs, it can serve as a starting point for students interested in bachelor’s and master’s programs, particularly in general forensic science.
There are also some organizations that accredit entire schools or institutions. Forensic science schools may also be accredited through special regional agencies approved by the nationally recognized Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). These include:
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (HLC-NCA).
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
- Commission on Colleges for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS)
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
- Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC)
Since forensics is a broad field of study, many areas of expertise have their own professional body to certify individual specialists or recognize training programs. Ten of these specialty boards are accredited by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB), including those in criminalistics, forensic toxicology, computer investigations, arson investigations, and document examination, among others.
Lastly, there are varied agencies which recognize particular specializations within forensics. Forensic nursing programs may be accredited by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) at the master’s level. Forensic psychology schools may be accredited through the American Psychological Association (APA), but only at the doctoral level. And finally, forensic accounting undergraduate and graduate programs may be accredited through the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
Top Forensic Science Degree Online Programs by Specialization
There are some types of degrees and sub-disciplines of forensic science for which online and hybrid programs are more common. Generally, post-baccalaureate degrees (e.g., master’s) and certificate programs in forensics provide more online learning opportunities, both synchronous and asynchronous.
Although there are exceptions, this is likely because much of the fundamental coursework, training, or internships for undergraduate programs must be completed in person, requiring hands-on training in medical or laboratory environments. That said, working professionals seeking certification in various subfields of forensic science may be able to find asynchronous, ultra-flexible course options, even at the undergraduate level.
Online Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Programs
CSI programs focus on the collecting, processing, and evaluation of forensic evidence. Through coursework in crime scene photography, fingerprint analyses, and bloodstain analyses, CSIs learn a multidisciplinary approach to helping law enforcement reconstruct the events of a crime and how to create plausible, research-based narratives of criminal events to be used in courts of law.
- The University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) of Largo, MD offers an online bachelor’s degree in investigative forensics, closely related to CSI. The 120-credit program includes training in investigative forensics, statistics, criminal procedures and evidence, cybercrime and security, and the principles of digital analysis, among other areas of study. This program costs $300 per credit for in-state students; $499 for out-of-state students; and $250 for active-duty military.
- National University with locations across California and other states has an online, seven-course CSI certificate program for those interested in careers in law enforcement or criminal evidence. It offers classes such as forensic pathology, fingerprint analysis, and digital evidence. Upon completion, students may be eligible to apply the program credits to a master’s degree in forensic science.
- The National Forensic Science Technology Center affiliated with Florida International University offers a low-cost ($129), 100 percent online introductory option for aspiring CSIs. This 16-hour course series offers a certificate upon completion, and provides an overview of topics such as biological evidence collection, crime scenes, and firearm evidence collection. It may be an especially useful and convenient training option for law enforcement personnel.
Please note that due to the essentially hands-on nature of crime scene investigation, there are limited options for people seeking 100 percent online certifications or degrees. Please check out the online CSI master’s degrees page for more information.
Online Criminal Justice Programs
Criminal justice programs teach students how to deter and mitigate crime, particularly through governmental institutions such as law enforcement. These professionals are trained to uphold the law, paying thought to the larger issues of social control and rehabilitation of offenders.
- Arizona State University of Tempe provides an online bachelor of science (BS) in criminology and criminal justice. It features instruction in corrections, domestic violence, gangs, and white-collar crime, among other cornerstones of the discipline. This program costs $561–$661 per credit hour depending on the program, transfer credits, and course load.
- Penn State World Campus of University Park also offers a distance-based BS in criminal justice with coursework in criminology; the introduction to law, policing, and corrections in America; ethics in criminal justice; alternatives to incarceration; and aspects of the juvenile justice system. It costs $555 or $596 per credit, depending on how many credits the student has already completed.
- The University of Colorado in Denver has an online master’s degree in criminal justice with advanced instruction in criminological theory, statistics, and special topics, honing students’ critical thinking skills. This 36-credit program costs $576-$617 per credit depending on the number of transfer credits and course load.
To learn more about distance-based programs, check out the online bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice, online master’s degrees in CJ, or the online MBAs in CJ.
Online Cybersecurity Programs
Cybersecurity degrees focus on the nascent threat of cybercrime and aim to teach people how to protect digital systems from intrusions. As technologies become more sophisticated, these trained specialists need to keep abreast of emerging threats in the theft, destruction, and unlawful access to data.
- Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) of Manchester has an online BS in information technology with a focus on cybersecurity. This program teaches database design, cyberlaw and ethics, information technology communications, and human factors in cybersecurity. It costs $320 per credit or $225 for those in the military.
- The University of Arizona in Tucson offers a distance-based master of science (MS) in cybersecurity with two tracks: information systems or physical systems. It offers six convenient starting dates throughout the year and features classes such as information security in public and private sectors; data mining for business intelligence; the fundamentals of computer networks; and systems cybersecurity engineering. It costs $1,332 per credit.
- Stanford University of Palo Alto provides an online graduate certificate in cybersecurity, comprising 12 to 14 units of coursework in the basic theory and practice of cryptographic techniques; legal issues in computer security; designs for network perimeter defenses; and testing methods for possible system penetrations, among other topics. This program costs between $16,224 and $18,928, depending on the number of credits completed.
To learn more about advanced distance-based programs in this area, check out the online master’s degrees in cybersecurity page.
Online Digital Forensics Programs
Computer forensics—the discovery, extraction, evaluation, and presentation of digital evidence—is a growing field amidst increased threats to personal and corporate cybersecurity. It’s used to uncover a wide range of crimes, including fraud, cyberstalking, identity or data theft, espionage, and child pornography. Please note that “digital forensics” is a broader term than “computer forensics,” encompassing crimes with computers as well as other digital data storage devices.
- Champlain College, winner of SC Magazine’s “Best Cyber Security Higher Education Program,” offers an online undergraduate degree in computer forensics and digital investigations. This school boasts an accelerated curriculum and regional accreditation, offering students classes such as criminal law, financial accounting, and digital forensics analysis to be taken at their convenience. Additionally, Champlain offers 100 percent online certificates in computer forensics, forensic accounting, and cybersecurity. It costs $318 per credit.
- Utica College provides a 30-credit online master of science (MS) in cybersecurity with three distinct specializations. In the computer forensics track, students gain an understanding of advanced cybercrime investigations, network forensics, and even a cybersecurity capstone project—an opportunity to add to the growing body of research in an area of computer forensics. The total tuition cost minus fees is $26,850.
- The University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) hosts a 36-credit master of science (MS) program in digital forensics and cyber investigation. The coursework can prepare students for careers in homeland security, auditing, and law enforcement. The program is an especially attractive option for mid-career professionals looking to enhance their credentials and knowledge. UMGC was also ranked as one of U.S. News and World Report’s top criminology schools in the nation. It costs $694 per credit.
- The University of Colorado in Denver has a unique masters of science in media forensics (MSMF). This MSMF degree can prepare students to fight crime in the digital age and provide evidence in legal proceedings with cutting-edge research on topics such as identifying “deep fake” videos. Classes in subjects such as computer forensics, mobile phone forensics, and speaker recognition are presented in a hybrid format with a maximum of six credit hours per semester. It can be perfect for working students since it requires only five weeks spent of residency over two years, with the majority of the learning taking place through online lectures, discussion boards, and video conferencing. This program costs $481 per credit for in-state students and $991 for non-residents.
To learn more, please check out the online master’s degrees in digital forensics page
Online Forensic Accounting Programs
Forensic accounting—also referred to as forensic auditing—is the process of investigating crimes such as money laundering, tax fraud, business insolvency, and other business-related negligences or crimes. This field also may cover marital law to determine income available for child support or equitable distribution.
- Franklin University has an online bachelor’s program in forensic accounting for those interested in investigating white-collar crime. Through coursework in subjects such as fraud examination, electronic discovery, and regulatory compliance, students are primed to become “financial detectives.” It costs $398 per credit or $250 for active service members.
- Northeastern University hosts a graduate certificate program in forensic accounting open to those with at least a bachelor’s degree. The 16-quarter credit curriculum includes coursework in forensic accounting principles, dissecting financial statements, and litigation support. These more advanced courses are designed with working professionals in mind and can be completed part- or full-time in six to 12 months. The total estimated cost of this program is $12,100.
- West Virginia University has a 12-credit forensic accounting and fraud examination (FAFE) certificate program which includes a prep course to help graduates with the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) exam. With limited campus visits—a two-day residency at the end of each semester—this predominantly online program aims to prepare students for careers in a number of government agencies. Please note that there are FEPAC-accredited, on-campus programs also available at this school, and this program costs $820 per credit.
- Florida Atlantic University provides a master’s of accounting program with a concentration in forensic accounting. This two-year online program is ideal for busy professionals looking to advance their skills in areas such as fraud prevention, dispute resolution, expert testimony, and money-laundering investigation.
To learn more about advanced programs in this field, check out the online master’s in forensic accounting page.
Online Forensic Nursing Programs
Forensic nursing involves working with victims of trauma (e.g., domestic violence, assault). These specialists typically become nurses first and then further specialize in wound identification, evaluation, and documentation. They’re also trained to consult with medical and legal authorities and give testimony in court.
- Duquesne University of Pittsburgh offers a flexible master’s of science in nursing (MSN) degree program with a concentration in forensic nursing. All of the coursework is offered online, including classes such as healthcare ethics, pathophysiology, and theories of violence, making it an ideal option for full-time nurses. As part of the curriculum, students are required to complete a supervised clinical externship in forensic nursing, which can be done at one of many conveniently located, affiliated clinics. Please note that there are also FEPAC-accredited, on-campus programs available at this school. Tuition is $1,558 per credit.
- The University of California at Riverside hosts an online 16-unit forensic nursing certificate program for LVNs/LPNs, paramedics, and other medical workers. It provides California Board of Registered Nursing (BRN) credit for these licensed professionals with coursework in areas such as occupational considerations of forensic nursing, approaches to domestic violence, and mental health assessment. Students can complete this program in 9-15 months and costs a total of $4,500.
- Monmouth University of West Long Branch, NJ has an online master’s of science in nursing (MSN.) program with a forensic nursing specialization for those with their BSN degrees. As one of the only programs of its kind in the nation, Monmouth specializes in teaching nurses injury documentation, risk-reduction strategies, and testifying in court. This program costs $1,267 per credit, excluding additional fees.
- Pennsylvania State University of University Park offers an online undergraduate forensic nursing certificate which can be ideal for working healthcare professionals looking to break into the field. The Accreditation Commission accredits this 12-credit program for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Please note that there are also FEPAC-accredited, on-campus programs available at this school. This program costs either $576 or $617 per credit, depending on how many credits a student has completed.
To learn more about advanced distance-based programs in this subfield, check out the online master’s degrees in forensic nursing page.
Online Forensic Psychology Programs
Forensic psychology is an emergent field training professionals in mental health to give expert testimony in the judicial system. Combining clinical, forensic, and legal specialties, these professionals may be called upon to assist accused criminals (or victims) with mental healthcare screening, therapy, and crisis management, among other areas.
- Southern New Hampshire University of Manchester offers an online bachelor’s degree program in forensic psychology with classes such as criminal psychology, forensic law, and the American legal tradition. Most notably, it’s a 120-credit program, and 25 percent of those credits can be taken as electives tailored to the interests of the student. This coursework is designed to help students identify criminals’ motivations and patterns of behavior. Similar to other SNHU programs, this costs $320 per credit or $225 for service members.
- Walden University of Minneapolis, MN hosts a range of online forensic psychology programs—a bachelor of science (BS), a master of science (MS), and a PhD degree—and the master’s program is especially worthy of attention. Walden offers 11 distinct specializations for its MS candidates: general forensic psychology, victimology, terrorism, sex offender behavior, self-designed, police psychology, military, legal issues in forensic psychology, family violence, cybercrimes, and criminal justice self-designed. Please check out Walden’s Net Price Calculator for a customized tuition assessment.
- The University of North Dakota of Grand Forks has a unique, online, 30-credit master’s degree in forensic psychology. It’s designed to be completed in two years and offers in-state tuition rates to all students, regardless of location. It can be an affordable, flexible option for those interested in the psychological underpinnings of criminal investigations. It costs $544.24 per credit.
- The University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) offers a 100 percent online master in psychology (MS) degree program with a forensic psychology concentration. The coursework draws from ULM’s esteemed criminal justice and mental health departments, engaging in-depth explorations in intelligence testing, sociology of law, and advanced theories of crime and delinquency. Visit the school’s Tuition Estimator for a cost assessment.
To learn more about advanced programs in this field, check out the online bachelor’s degrees in forensic psychology, online master’s degrees in forensic psychology, or online PsyD programs pages.
Online Forensic Science Programs
Forensic science programs at all levels offer a broad-based understanding of gathering, evaluating, and presenting evidence to explain what happened in a past event, particularly in criminal cases. With courses such as forensic chemistry, anthropology, and biology, this discipline imparts a comprehensive understanding of investigation techniques and laboratory analyses.
- The University of Florida of Gainesville offers four master’s degrees and four specialized graduate certificates in forensic science and related fields such as forensic DNA & serology and forensic toxicology. The programs cover a wide array of relevant topics in an online format designed to accommodate students with busy schedules. With more than 1,000 graduates from over 40 countries, this program is a global leader and winner of the Award of Excellence in Distance Education. It costs $575 per credit.
- Oklahoma State University of Tulsa has a two-year hybrid master of science (MS) in forensic science program. It offers abundant flexibility for students with many classes online, including thesis and non-thesis program tracks with specializations in forensic biology, psychology, pathology, toxicology, document examination, administration, and arson and explosives investigation. Graduate and nursing certificates are also available. Please note that this school also has FEPAC-accredited, on-campus programs available. The program costs $230.45 per credit for Oklahoma residents and $876.40 for non-residents.
- With various campus locations, American Intercontinental University offers a 180-credit bachelor of science (BS) degree in criminal justice with a specialization in forensic science. This accelerated three-year program imparts the essential skills of a forensic scientist such as how to process a crime scene, conduct post mortem lab tests, and preserve evidence, in addition to giving engaging overviews in criminal profiling, lie detection, and even hypnosis. Tuition information is provided in their tuition calculator.
- Saint Leo University in Florida offers a notable hybrid master of science (MS) degree program in criminal justice with a forensic science specialization. It instructs students on the history of criminalistics and how to collect and document evidence properly. In order to successfully complete this program, students must take five courses in criminal justice, four in forensic science, and two electives. Tuition is $610 per credit hour.
- Ashworth College of Norcross, GA provides a forensic science diploma program which can be completed in as few as four months. This online school boasts a 91 percent student satisfaction rate and the curricula can be completed at a student’s pace. The coursework provides broad overviews of the cornerstones of the field including identifying a body, drugs and forensic toxicology, and document examination. Tuition varies by payment plan.
To learn specifically about distance-based programs in this field, please check out the online bachelor’s degrees in forensic science and online master’s degrees in forensic science pages.
Online Legal Studies Programs
Legal studies programs allow students to learn about the law, legal institutions, and processes in the discipline. These typically impart the fundamentals of legal ideas, including how to think critically, express oneself clearly, and construct compelling arguments. Typical courses are in philosophy, economic regulations, criminal justice procedures, and non-western legal systems.