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 attend online forensics colleges don’t need to sacrifice quality for accessibility.
The Babson Survey Research Group has been tracking online learning outcomes for 15 years. The 2017 Distance Education Enrollment Report found that there were more than six million students enrolled in online higher education courses. Thirty percent of all higher ed students were enrolled in at least one distance-based course, and 68 percent of those learners were concentrated in public institutions. An impressive 42 percent of these online students were learning at out-of-state schools. In 2016, Babson reported that 71.4 percent of academic leaders (e.g., program administrators) believed online learning to be equal or superior to face-to-face instruction, and 63.3 percent held online learning to be critical to their school’s long-term strategy. It’s clear that distance learning is not only here to stay, but it’s also on the rise.
Many top-rated schools offer online forensic science degree programs 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, for instance, while much of 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.
HOW DO ONLINE 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 can be facilitated by the use of 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 which can be completed at the convenience of the student. 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 coursework year-round and the free new student applications are processed within 48 hours. It has six-, twelve-, and fifteen-week classes with multiple start dates and evening options as well. 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 84 eligible transfer credits toward the completion of their degrees.
More typical degree-granting institutions such as the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), however, offer discrete start-dates and application windows. UMUC’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 starting 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 FORENSICS 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 FORENSICS 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, as well as 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 fall 2017:
Online associate degrees in forensics:
- Mesa Community College, online A.A.S. in forensic investigation: :$215 per credit
- Southern New Hampshire University, online A.S. in criminal justice: $320 per credit
Online bachelor’s degrees in forensics:
- University of Nebraska in Omaha, online B.S. in criminology and criminal justice: $677.25 per credit
- Arizona State University, online B.S. in criminology and criminal justice: $510-$718 per credit
- Penn State World Campus, online B.S. in security and risk analysis, cybersecurity: $555 or $596 per credit
Online master’s degrees in forensics:
- University of Cincinnati, online master’s in criminal justice: $739 per credit
- University of Southern California, online M.S. in cyber-engineering: $1,937 per credit
- University of Maryland University College, online M.S. in cybersecurity technology: $694 per credit
- University of Florida, online M.S. in pharmacy, forensic science concentration: $575 per credit
FORENSIC SCIENCE PROGRAM ACCREDITATION
Although neither programmatic or 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. While graduating from an accredited program may not technically be a prerequisite for employment, some employers treat it as such, and moreover accreditation indicates the merit of the curricula, faculty, and facilities available to students.
There are a number of 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 a number of organizations that accredit entire schools or institutions. Forensic science schools may also be accredited through special regional agencies approved by the nationally recognized Council of Higher Education Agencies (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 ONLINE FORENSICS 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 areas such as crime scene photography, fingerprint analyses, and blood stain analyses, CSIs learn a multidisciplinary approach to helping law enforcement to reconstruct the events of a crime, as well as how to create plausible, research-based narratives of criminal events to be used in courts of law.
- The University of Maryland University College (UMUC) 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 $289 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 of Largo, FL 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 working 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 the work of 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 (B.S.) 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 $13,230 annually.
- Penn State World Campus of University Park also offers a distance-based B.S. 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 $521 per credit (in-state) or $625 (out-of-state).
To learn more about distance-based programs, check out the online master’s degrees in criminal justice.
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 B.S. 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-hour or $225 for those in the military.
- The University of Arizona in Tucson offers a distance-based master of science (M.S.) 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 unit.
- 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 $13,440 and $18,480, 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 $640 per credit.
- Utica College provides an online master of science (M.S.) 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 University of Maryland University College (UMUC) hosts a 36-credit master of science (M.S.) 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. UMUC 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 (M.S.) program in recording arts with an emphasis on digital forensics. This MSRA-MF degree can prepare students to fight crime in the digital age. 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 $455 per credit for in-state students and $546 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. Though coursework in subjects such as fraud examination, electronic discovery, and regulatory compliance, students are primed to become “financial detectives.” It costs $509 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. It costs $646 per credit-hour, making the total estimated costs $10,336.
- West Virginia University has a forensic accounting and fraud examination (FAFE) certificate program which includes 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 $993 per credit-hour.
- 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 with their knowledge of wound identification, evaluation, and documentation. They’re also trained to consult with medical and legal authorities, as well as to give testimony in court.
- Duquesne University of Pittsburgh offers a flexible masters 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.
- The University of California at Riverside hosts a 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. This certificate costs a total of $4,200.
- Monmouth University of West Long Branch, NJ has an online master’s of science in nursing (M.S.N.) 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 $1,142 per credit-hour, excluding additional fees.
- Pennsylvania State University of University Park offers an online forensic nursing certificate which can be ideal for working healthcare professionals looking to break into the field. This 12-credit program is accredited by the Accreditation Commission 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 $555 or $596 per credit-hour, depending on how many credits a student has completed.
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-hour or $225 for service members.
- Walden University of Minneapolis, MN hosts a range of online forensic psychology programs—a bachelor of science (B.S.), a master of science (M.S.), and a PhD degree—and the master’s program is especially worthy of attention. Walden offers five distinct specializations for its M.S. candidates: general forensic psychology, forensic psychology in the community, mental health applications, psychology in legal systems, and program planning and evaluation in forensic settings. 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, 34-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 to those interested in the psychological underpinnings of criminal investigations. It costs $482.89 per credit-hour.
- The University of Louisiana at Monroe (ULM) offers a 100 percent online master in psychology (M.S.) degree program with a forensic psychology concentration. The coursework draws from ULM’s esteemed criminal justice and mental health departments, with engaging in-depth explorations in areas such as 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 master’s degrees in forensic psychology page.
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-hour.
- Oklahoma State University of Tulsa has a two-year hybrid master of science (M.S.) 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. Please note that this school also has FEPAC-accredited, on-campus programs available. The program costs $223.30 per credit-hour for OK residents and $849.20 for non-residents.
- American Intercontinental University, with various campus locations, offers a bachelor of science (B.S.) 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 postmortem lab tests, and preserve evidence, in addition to giving engaging overviews in criminal profiling, lie detection, and even hypnosis. It costs $302 per credit-hour.
- Saint Leo University in Florida offers a notable hybrid master of science (M.S.) degree program in criminal justice with a forensic science specialization. It instructs students on the history of criminalistics and how to properly collect and document evidence. In order to successfully complete this program, students must take five courses in criminal justice, four in forensic science, and two electives.
- 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 graduate programs in this field, please check out the online master’s degrees in forensic science page.