There’s no shortage of crime dramas; cable TV and streaming services are brimming with endless seasons and episodes that press into our emotional edges. Psychology Today points out how human minds are wired for crime shows, offering viewers a thrilling adrenaline rush from the safety of their living rooms.
Unfortunately, in real life, crime statistics are expanding along with network ratings. In 2020, the Brennan Center showed the crime rate in the US is on the rise, with murders increasing by 30 percent and assault cases by 10 percent. The real-life true crime trend is creating a demand for highly-qualified crime scene investigation (CSI) professionals.
Crime scene investigation is a growing field that merges criminal justice and forensic science. Those who want to become crime scene investigators should consider earning a certificate or degree. Most degree programs are offered at the undergraduate and graduate levels, but some are at the associate’s degree level.
Students may be able to transfer previous credits earned at one institution depending on program requirements. Many CSI programs are delivered online and can be completed part- or full-time for students’ convenience. Please see our guide to the crime scene investigator career for a detailed step-by-step guide to becoming a CSI.
In the field, CSIs collect and preserve evidence for analysis at a crime lab. They are tasked with photographing and noting blood spatter patterns, collecting fingerprints, searching for weapons, and observing ballistic bullet patterns. In addition, attorneys may call them to testify in legal proceedings and write official reports in the courtroom.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) estimates that between 2020 and 2030, forensic science technicians, a closely-related career field to crime scene investigators, will grow by 11 percent, double the national average for all occupations (5 percent). This equates to 2,000 new positions in the coming decade, adding to the 17,600 currently employed forensic scientists.
Read on to learn more about online certificate programs in crime scene investigation, admission requirements, program accreditation, and three professors who teach in these programs.
Purdue Global University – Online Certificate in CSI
The online crime scene technician certificate program at Purdue Global University offers students a comprehensive understanding of how to secure crime scenes and process evidence in support of law enforcement.
The 41-credit program is designed for high school graduates or individuals who possess a General Education Development (GED) certificate or another equivalency diploma. Students in this program can expect to spend 15 to 18 hours per week on their studies, and courses completed in this program can be applied to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program.
George Washington University – Online Graduate Certificate in Forensic Investigations
The graduate certificate in crime scene investigation provides students with the skills and knowledge necessary to work as crime scene investigators. The program is designed for working professionals and can help applicants stand out from other job candidates.
Courses include photography in the forensic sciences, medicolegal death investigation, and firearms and tool mark identification. Credits earned in this certificate program can be applied toward a master’s degree in the same field.
National University – Online Graduate Certificate in Forensics and CSI
National University offers a graduate certificate in forensics and crime scene investigation that prepares students to enter the field. The 31.5-quarter-unit program provides students with the skills and knowledge necessary to work as part of a multidisciplinary team involved in criminal investigations.
The program requires seven courses in forensic pathology, advanced criminalistics, and digital evidence. Students who wish to pursue a master’s degree in forensic science may be able to apply some or all of the credits earned in the certificate program toward the MFS degree, assuming they meet the GPA and other requirements.
University of Florida Health – Online Graduate Certificates in Forensic Science
The University of Florida offers online certificate programs in crime scene investigation. These 15-credit programs are designed to allow students to specialize in one of four concentrations: forensic death investigation, forensic DNA and serology, forensic toxicology, or forensic drug chemistry.
Students can complete this program from their chosen location, learning through an asynchronous online format. Upon completion of the certificate program, students may be eligible to transfer credits to the master’s degree in forensic science if they are admitted and earn a grade of “B” or higher in their courses.
Stevenson University – Online Graduate Certificate in Forensic Investigation
Stevenson University Online offers a graduate forensic investigation certificate that students can complete online. This 18-credit program gives students the skills to contribute to criminal investigations and trials. Coursework covers investigative techniques, physical evidence, fraud investigation, and white-collar crimes. The certificate may be applied to the master in forensic investigation.
University of North Carolina at Wilmington – Online Graduate Certificate in CSI
The goal of this graduate certificate in forensic science: crime scene investigation (CSI) from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington is to give students a strong foundation in theories of forensic investigation and practice with proper procedures, methods, and techniques. Students will learn how to examine crime scenes, document findings, and properly handle, package, and transport physical evidence to laboratories for further analysis.
The CSI program’s primary goal is to develop essential skills such as critical thinking, knowledge, technical abilities, ethics, and discernment to succeed in the medico-legal field. Students can complete this program online in an accelerated format. Graduates from these programs work in crime scene investigation (CSI) and forensic science technicians.
Students who wish to pursue a CSI certification at the undergraduate level may not be required to have a prior degree or education. However, those interested in crime scene investigation typically have a personal or professional interest or previous experience working in law enforcement.
Certificates at the master’s degree level generally demand students to have an undergraduate education in forensic science or a hard science to be fully prepared for the academic rigor expected at this degree level.
Typical admissions requirements for online CSI certificate programs include:
Accreditation is essential to choosing an online graduate certificate forensic science program. An accredited school or program guarantees students, employers, and learning institutions that the faculty, curriculum, and facilities have been assessed and meet quality standards. There are two types of accreditation: programmatic and institutional.
Programmatic accreditation applies to programs only rather than the institution as a whole. The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), affiliated with the American Academy of Forensic Sciences Standards Board (ASB), may grant programmatic accreditation for forensic science programs. While only a small number of certificate programs are accredited, other degrees might be accredited at the same institution.
Institutional accreditation is a non-negotiable factor in choosing a school. Accreditation comes from one of six regional authorities recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA):
Another crucial detail to remember when picking an online certificate program in forensic science is the program’s state authorization status. Colleges and universities have to ask for permission to provide distance learning opportunities to students who don’t reside in the same state. Prospective students can find this information on most programs’ or schools’ websites.
Dr. A Midori Albert is a university professor, forensic anthropologist, and the interdisciplinary forensic science minor coordinator at the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW), where she has served since 1995. She completed her doctoral degree in anthropology at the University of Colorado Boulder, and her master’s degree in anthropology and bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Florida.
Dr. Albert’s understanding of human skeletal identification methods and techniques and her exploration into normal human skeletal variability led her to branch out and collaborate with colleagues in computer science, statistics, and mathematics. Her primary research focus since 2003 has been on adult age-related craniofacial changes and their effects on computer-automated face recognition technologies.
Dr. Kristin Early is a professor at Purdue Global University. She teaches graduate applied research courses emphasizing bridging the gap between research and public policy to facilitate data-driven policy recommendations and systems reform. She has over ten years of experience working in the criminal justice field, researching and consulting for various agencies.
Dr. Early’s experience in the field and her education have resulted in her authoring and co-authoring more than 70 publications, including research monographs, book chapters, and peer-reviewed journal articles. In addition, her work has been recognized by her peers, as she was a Harvard University Innovations in American Government Award Semifinalist.
To learn more about the illustrious careers of academics and professionals in this field, please see our 15 top CSI professors.
Dr. Tomicka Williams is the assistant academic chair for the department of undergraduate criminal justice programs at Purdue University Global. Dr. Williams has many years of experience in teaching and curriculum development. She is also an active member of several professional organizations, including the American Society of Public Administration (ASPA) and the International Associate of Emergency Managers (IAEM).
Her research interests include human and nonhuman agents in homeland security, crisis communication systems in K-12 and higher education, and diversity and inclusion in Homeland Security and Emergency Management.
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).