Critical clues to solving crimes can be painstaking to find. The smallest clue can be the difference between solving a crime or having the trail go cold. Knowing where to look and what to look for in a crime scene takes training and education. While this education can be completed as a bachelor’s or master’s degree, there are much shorter graduate certificate programs in forensic science that can prepare professionals for this detail-oriented career.
Forensic scientists are employed in coroner’s offices, law enforcement agencies, hospitals, and crime labs. Duties vary based on the place of employment but typically include collecting evidence, sketching crime scenes, analyzing fingerprints, processing samples to determine chemical composition, writing reports, and testifying in court. Online graduate certificate programs in forensic science train students to step into this career with coursework in forensic psychiatry, crime scene photography, forensic research, document examination, and expert testimony.
Online graduate certificates in forensic science are geared towards both newcomers to the field as well as professionals already working in law enforcement and crime scene investigation. Many of these courses are offered asynchronously, allowing students to complete their coursework independently while still working and managing family life. Upon completing a program, graduates may be eligible to sit for national certification exams. These certifications are voluntary and can help candidates stand out when applying for jobs or when seeking advancement.
Keep reading to learn more about top quality forensic science graduate certificate programs, admission requirements, and professional credentialing.
Online graduate certificates in forensic science can give aspiring professionals the necessary education and academic credentials to excel in this field. Students can complete a certificate in nine months or more, depending on the number of courses taken, prerequisite coursework completed, and time available to complete coursework.
While admission requirements for these online certificate programs vary, they typically include:
An online graduate certificate program in forensic science can be as few as 12 semester-credits. Coursework varies by program, but classes student may be required to take include:
A career in forensic science starts with obtaining the necessary education. While there are many programs across the country, here are some of the top graduate certificate programs in forensic science.
The College of Pharmacy at the University of Florida offers four unique graduate certificates in forensic science. Students can pursue a certificate in either death investigation, forensic DNA and serology, forensic toxicology, or forensic drug chemistry. Each certificate is only 15 semester-credits, which ends up being between four to five classes, and can be completed in as little as a year.
Students must have a natural sciences bachelor’s degree to be eligible for admission to UF, but GRE scores are not required. The cost per credit ranges between $575 and $625 per hour. Graduates of this program will have the skills necessary to work in medical examiner’s offices, hospitals, and law enforcement.
The forensic sciences graduate certificate program at Iowa State University aims to prepare scientists to offer substantial contributions to forensics and the research associated with it. The 12-semester-credit certificate can be completed in just nine months. The bulk of the required credits are electives allowing students to tailor their education and interests. Students are also required to attend one industry-related conference that is at least two-and-a-half days long. These conferences give students the unique opportunity to learn the latest research and theories from professionals in the field. Travel and conference fees can be paid for out of graduate student funds.
The 18-semester-credit online certificate in forensic investigation at Stevenson University is geared towards both new professionals and working law enforcement. Graduates of this program will have the skills to conduct interviews, gather evidence, write fact-based reports, and give expert testimony in court.
This program is also a member of the FBI National Academy Associates (FBINAA) Academic Alliance, which assures students and employers that the program meets rigorous academic standards for law enforcement professionals. Credits earned as part of this program can also be used to pursue a master’s in forensic science.
The University of North Carolina at Wilmington offers a post-baccalaureate graduate certificate in forensic science: crime scene investigation (CSI). While there is a heavy emphasis on evidence gathering, transporting, and documenting techniques, students will also receive extensive training on critical thinking, technical skills, ethics, and discernment. These hard and soft skills mold students into valuable crime scene investigators, crime scene technicians, and forensic investigators. At UNC Wilmington, courses are offered in a seven-week accelerated format. This format allows students to focus on fewer courses for a reduced amount of time while still working or managing family life.
Students can earn a graduate certificate in forensic investigation at the Department of Forensic Sciences at the Columbian College of Arts & Sciences at George Washington University. This certificate is perfect for professionals who are already employed in the field but need to gain additional skills for advancement. With an emphasis on cross-disciplinary techniques, this program provides students with forensic investigation skills and best practices to help them stand out in this field.
Students can further tailor their education by choosing one of four electives in either child abuse, forensic psychiatry, firearm identification, and document examination. Completed coursework can be applied towards a master’s of science in crime scene investigation should students wish to pursue further education.
George Mason University offers students an online forensic graduate certification in one of three concentrations. They include general forensic science, crime scene investigation, and forensic biometric identity analysis. Core courses ensure students have a strong foundation in forensic science principles with an emphasis on crime analysis.
The George Mason program is designed for both new professionals and those already working in crime scene investigation, law enforcement, or for the federal government. This certificate can be completed either on a part-time or full-time basis, depending on the student’s needs. This program can also be an excellent way for students to determine if they want to continue to a full master’s degree while still earning a valuable certificate.
The online graduate certificate in forensic and crime scene investigations at National University is offered in an innovative one course at a time format. Courses are only four weeks long, allowing students to devote their full attention to each subject, one at a time. Graduates of this certificate program will be able to identify the features of various kinds of violin deaths, maintain chain of custody, gather evidence, utilize investigative techniques, and identify classifications of fingerprints.
Admission is open year-round, and students can start at the beginning of any month. National University also offers substantial tuition discounts to current and former military and their families.
Forensic scientists are not required to obtain professional credentialing to work in this field. However, earning a credential from a reputable certification demonstrates to employers that the applicant has a high level of competence in the field. Numerous entities offer certifications for various aspects of forensic science, so aspiring professionals can pursue credentials in the areas that interest them the most.
Students should ensure the entity where they obtain their credentials is recognized by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) as these are vetted and nationally recognized. The accredited certification bodies include:
An essential step in choosing an online forensic science graduate certificate program is ensuring that the program is accredited. Accreditation assures students, employers, and other learning institutions that the program meets minimum quality levels in their faculty, curriculum, and facilities. There are two types of accreditation: institutional and programmatic.
Programmatic accreditation for forensic science programs can be awarded by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences Standards Board (ASB) or the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). While not many certificate programs receive accreditation, a school may hold accreditation for other degrees.
Institutional or regional accreditation is often a gold standard in accreditation. This accreditation is through one of six regional authorities recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). They are:
One last thing students should be aware of when choosing an online graduate certificate in forensic science is the program’s “state authorization” status. Colleges and universities must obtain authorization to provide distance learning to students in other states. This information can typically be found in the “about” section of most programs or universities.
Kimmy Gustafson’s expertise and passion for investigative storytelling extends to the world of forensics, where she brings a wealth of knowledge and captivating narratives to readers seeking insights into this intriguing world. She has interviewed experts on little-known topics, such as how climate crimes are investigated and prosecuted, and has written for ForensicsColleges.com since 2019.
Kimmy has been a freelance writer for more than a decade, writing hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics such as startups, nonprofits, healthcare, kiteboarding, the outdoors, and higher education. She is passionate about seeing the world and has traveled to over 27 countries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. When not working, she can be found outdoors, parenting, kiteboarding, or cooking.