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Online Bachelor’s Degrees in Forensic Science

Judged by television shows alone, forensic science seems like a glamorous career where the main character needs only to study a few blood spatters to figure out who committed the crime. The reality of forensic science is much slower and far more complex. After studying the spent shell casing from a fired gun, fingerprints on a bank teller’s counter, or a forged signature on a check, forensic scientists may take weeks or months of research to determine guilt in a criminal case. While police detectives use such evidence to move investigations forward, it’s the job of the forensic scientist to analyze each piece of evidence presented and explain it in court.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the term “forensic” means to study something as it pertains to the law. Forensic scientists apply scientific principles to legal evidence to determine responsibility for a crime. The BLS states that forensic scientists typically work in one or more of these specialty areas:

  • Biology: Forensic scientists analyze hair and bodily fluids to determine a typing factor, which includes analysis of DNA. This tells them how often the suspected criminal’s exact genetic code appears in the general population. The next step is to compare the samples in question to others listed in a police database.
  • Chemistry: A forensic scientist specializing in chemistry analyzes trace physical evidence such as glass, paint, soil, and blood splatters.
  • Controlled substances and toxicology: This includes the examination of blood, urine, and other bodily fluids to check for the presence of alcohol, drugs, or poison.
  • Document examination: This involves the analysis of handwriting, document dating, potential forgery, computer printing, photocopying, and typewriting.
  • Fingerprinting: A person’s fingerprint develops underneath the skin and never changes, even if he or she sustains burns or scars. This makes fingerprinting a highly accurate tool in criminal justice. Forensic scientists develop a suspect’s fingerprints and look for a match in the police database.
  • Firearms identification: These forensic scientists match the identifying characteristics of a firearm and its projectile along with the projectile and its target. This process allows them to match a bullet to a specific type of gun and its manufacturer.
  • Polygraph exam administration: A polygraph machine can sometimes determine if a person accused of a crime is lying by measuring his or her blood pressure, breathing, skin conductance, and pulse in response to questions asked by the forensic scientist.

Successful forensic scientists are highly analytical, accurate, and good communicators. According to the BLS, a bachelor’s degree is the typical entry-level requirement for this exciting career. Read on to discover what to expect from an online bachelor’s degree in forensic science, including profiles of three outstanding educators in this field.

Featured Online Bachelor’s in Forensic Science Programs

Finding the right online forensic science degree program takes time and research. Prospective students must consider many factors, including courses and specialties offered, the experience of the professors, tuition, potential cohorts, and time needed to complete studies. Here are seven online bachelor’s degrees in forensic science (and closely related disciplines).

Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, American InterContinental University

The bachelor of science in criminal justice at AIU prepares students for the many aspects of this career through a specialty focus in forensic science that combines crime scene investigation, law enforcement practice, and science. The program teaches specialized skills such as death scene investigation, determining the manner of death, establishing identity of the deceased, notifying next of kin, and working with crime scene photography. Graduating from the program requires completion of 180 credits.

  • Location: Schaumburg, IL
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years full-time with part-time options available
  • Estimated Tuition: $58,000 annually, which includes all software and course material
  • Example Courses: aspects of forensic psychology, forensic biology, psychopathology and criminality, ethics in criminal justice, and environmental science

Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, Brandman University

This bachelor degree program is available to students who want to explore a career in forensic science and homeland security, victim advocacy, corrections, or become a criminal justice generalist. Brandman University requires students to transfer a minimum of 12 credits at the baccalaureate level, and provides flexible transfer credit arrangements for members of the military. Brandman offers both online and hybrid programs.

  • Location: Irvine, CA
  • Accreditation: WSCUC Senior College and University Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years full-time with part-time options available
  • Estimated Tuition: $500 per semester credit
  • Example Courses: forensics documentation, crime scene investigation, and applied criminology

Bachelor of Science in Criminal Forensics, Colorado State University

Colorado State University offers a criminal justice and law enforcement degree with the option to specialize in criminal forensics. A specialty track comprising the five courses listed below makes up 15 semester hours of study. A student can transfer up to 90 credits to this college and degree program. Members of the military and corporate affiliates may be eligible for a tuition discount. The college advises a full-time load of 24 units per semester.

  • Location: Greenwood Village, CO
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years full-time with part-time options available
  • Estimated Tuition: $350 per semester credit
  • Example Courses: introduction to forensic psychology, criminal investigation, investigative and forensic interviewing, investigative forensic photography, and physical methods in forensic science

Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with Investigative Forensics Concentration, Excelsior College

This criminal justice degree at Excelsior College is appropriate for students breaking into forensic science, or those already in the field hoping for a promotion. The program is available completely online. Besides completing core curriculum in criminal justice, this program enables students to concentrate on computer forensic courses, forensic pathology, and forensic psychology. Excelsior College offers academic credit to students with certain police academy training, military experience, or professional accomplishments. Earning one’s degree requires the successful completion of 120 credits.

  • Location: Albany, NY
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years full-time with part-time options available
  • Estimated Tuition: $510 per credit-hour
  • Example courses: legal and ethical issues in forensics, procedures and practice, and digital forensics

Forensics Investigation Minor as Part of Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, Indiana State University

Offered as part of the larger criminal justice degree program, the forensics investigation minor includes 18 credit-hours of study that expands students’ knowledge of criminal justice investigation and improves critical thinking skills. Students must have at least a 2.2 grade point average in other criminal justice courses to enroll for the minor.

  • Location: Terre Haute, IN
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: Approximately one year for the minor portion and four years for the bachelor degree
  • Estimated Tuition: $510 per credit-hour
  • Example Courses: criminal investigation, criminal law and procedure, criminal justice interviewing, criminalistics, and law of evidence

Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, National Louis University

National Louis University offers a criminal justice degree program that allows students to major in criminal justice administration or forensic social justice. Professors at National Louis have backgrounds in corrections, courts, law enforcement, and the security industry. One of the greatest benefits of this program is its focus on the root causes behind criminal behavior and the role those behaviors play in society. National Louis University offers this program completely online and has authorization as a degree-granting institution in Florida, Illinois, and Wisconsin.

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years full-time with part-time options available
  • Estimated Tuition: $6,000 per term for 14-18 credits, $430 per credit-hour for under 14 credits
  • Example Courses: methods in criminal investigation and analysis, policy trends, role of the correction system, sociology, and psychology

Investigative Forensics Bachelor’s Degree, University of Maryland Global Campus

During students’ core forensics courses at the University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC), they learn how to detect, collect, process, analyze and report evidence. Additionally, they learn about criminal procedures, the limitations and abilities of the crime lab, and how to write reports specific to the industry of criminal justice. The bachelor’s degree program requires completion of 120 credit-hours and accepts up to 90 credits in transfer. After earning one’s degree, graduates may be eligible to take the bloodstain pattern analyst, crime scene, or latent print certification exams.

  • Location: Largo, MD
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Expected Time to Completion: Four years full-time with part-time options available
  • Estimated Tuition: $289 per credit in state, $499 per credit out-of-state, and $250 per credit for active or retired military
  • Example Courses: introduction to investigative forensics, introduction to statistics, criminal procedures and evidence, and cyber crime and security

Admissions to Online Bachelor’s in Forensic Science Programs

Some students have the mistaken belief that it is easier to gain admission to an online degree program than one attended at a brick and mortar school. This is not always true. Like traditional programs, many online programs limit the number of students accepted to ensure a high-quality education for those enrolled. Additionally, students should expect the to complete readings, assignments, and group work that is of the same difficulty as at brick-and-mortar schools.

While every school offering a forensic science degree program has slightly different admission requirements, many are similar. These include:

  • Completion of a high school diploma or GED program
  • A transcript from any previous colleges attended, whether you intend to transfer credits or not
  • A minimum grade point average in high school or previous college courseworkv
  • An admission interview for highly competitive programs, which would likely take place via Skype for online students
  • A Curriculum Vitae (CV) or professional resume
  • Scores from your SAT or ACT if this is your first higher education experience, or college-level assessments or certifications if you have previous higher learning experience


When a college has earned accreditation, it means that a neutral third party has evaluated its programs, authority, competency, and credibility, and determined that the school met or exceeded its standards. This process is voluntary, and students can assume schools that have earned accreditation from one or more agencies offers excellent educational value for their money.

A college or university can earn regional or national accreditation as well as accreditation for its individual programs. When evaluating the accreditation of a school you’re considering attending, make sure that the accrediting agency itself has received approval from the United States Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Some of the most well-known regional (and CHEA-approved) accrediting agencies include:

  • Commission on Colleges for the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • WSCUC Senior College and University Commission

State Authorization

The state authorization status of a school determines whether a student can enroll in that college or university based on his or her physical location. This rule has been in place for several decades to protect prospective students. The institute of higher learning must meet every state’s set standards before it can enroll people living in that state. Some colleges are open to enrollment from students of any state while others can accept only those living in a few certain states.

This topic can cause a lot of confusion, especially when dealing with online education. One reason for this is that the concept of state authorization came about before the Internet even existed. If you have additional concerns about this matter, you should check with NC-SARA, which stands for the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements. The organization makes available a list of states and institutions who have met universal standards for reciprocity.

Professors to Know in Online Bachelor’s in Forensic Science Programs

David Long, JD, CAMS, CFE, Brandman University

An experienced attorney and criminal investigator, David Long is on staff at Brandman University as an associate professor of legal studies and criminal justice. He is currently the principal of two fraud prevention and anti-money laundering agencies in California where he focuses his efforts on teaching participants compliance and prevention issues in an environment of emerging technology and virtual currency. Prior to his current roles, Professor David Long served with the Office of Labor Racketeering as a special agent. In these roles, he handled many complex issues, including RICO violations, bribery, extortion, public corruption, witness tampering, and money laundering. He earned the honor of Special Agent of Distinction and received many awards from the federal government for meritorious service.

Dr. Daniel Rinehart, American InterContinental University

Professor Daniel Rinehart brings 30 years of legal and forensics experience to his role as chair and professor of criminal justice at American InterContinental University. He has held this position since July 2011. Prior to coming on staff, he worked as a deputy and law enforcement officer for Harris County in Houston, Texas for 29 years. Professor Rinehart has also held positions as a document and training specialist at Kenyon International Emergency Services and deputy/crime scene investigator for the Harris County Sheriff’s Department.

Dr. Rinehart holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree from Sam Houston State University in Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Administration, and a doctoral degree in Educational Leadership from Northcentral University.

Dr. Michael Tu, PhD, Excelsior College

Dr. Michael Tu helps to develop and teach curriculum related to cybersecurity at Excelsior College. He is also an assistant professor at Purdue University–Calumet in computer information technology and graphics. In addition to teaching courses on cybersecurity and digital forensics, Dr. Tu has published more than 30 pieces in peer-review journals. He also participates in several active research projects sponsored by major organizations in the field of forensic science. Dr. Tu received his doctorate in 2006 from the University of Texas at Dallas. He has obtained many certifications since that time in digital forensics and information security. Notably, Dr. Tu is a member of the American Society for Engineering Education, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and InfraGard.