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Crime Scene Investigation Certificate Programs

Becoming a crime scene investigator is an ideal job for those who can’t choose between working in criminal justice or science. Justice can be served or denied at the hands of a crime scene investigator, so those with scientific backgrounds, an objective bent of mind, and a strong physical and mental constitution are encouraged to earn a certification or a degree in this field.

It goes without saying that a crime scene investigator (CSI) must be prepared to work at crime scenes and laboratory work environments. CSIs are tasked with carefully collecting and preserving evidence for analysis at a crime lab.

A CSI also takes photographs and detailed notes of blood spatter patterns, fingerprints, and the types of weapons involved. In addition, testifying in legal proceedings and writing official reports is often the responsibility of a CSI meaning strong writing and speaking skills are necessary for this growing profession.

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022) estimates that between 2021 and 2031, the occupation of forensic science technicians, a closely-related career field, will grow 11 percent, which is much faster than the national average for all occupations in the same decade (four percent). Please read our guide to Crime Scene Investigator Career & Salary Outlook for a detailed step-by-step pathway to becoming a CSI and future salary projections.

Earning a crime scene investigation (CSI) certificate helps students learn about the fundamentals of crime scenes, including that ever-important component that should always be on the mind: detail, detail, detail. In addition, students in CSI certification programs can learn how to handle and preserve evidence, write reports, and present material in a court of law.

At an advanced level, certificate programs can allow students to delve deeper into the biology and physiology of CSI, even providing potential credit toward a master’s degree or the opportunity to learn further about investigation techniques, such as evidence handling and the use of digital photography in capturing a crime scene.

Prerequisites for a Certificate in Crime Scene Investigation

CSI certification programs at the undergraduate level may not require a prior degree or education. However, students interested in crime scene investigation often have a deep interest in the field or currently work in law enforcement or a similar setting.

Certificates at the master’s degree level typically require students to have an undergraduate degree and an understanding of the depth of work that can come with advanced education. However, sometimes certificates obtained at the graduate level, such as through the National University online program, can be applied toward completing a full degree later.

Common Crime Scene Investigation Certification Courses

Typically, students learn about the broad scope of crime scene investigation in a program, including how to document findings, take photographs, and present evidence in court. Below are sample courses that students can find through CSI training at the undergraduate level, but the scope of learning will depend on the certification requirements and the program’s focus.

  • Forensic Report Writing: This provides students with the best strategies for documenting facts and understanding all the elements needed to create a comprehensive forensic report.
  • Bloodstain Pattern Analysis: Students learn how to determine the geometric points of origin in bloodstains and understand the limitations inherent in pattern interpretation. They also gain knowledge about presenting their findings in court and valuable ways to display their information in court.
  • Crime Scene Management: Crime scene investigation involves more than collecting evidence. It also requires a deep understanding of the processes necessary to preserve materials and a crime scene site. Students learn about legal issues, management, and theories of physical evidence in this course.

Undergraduate CSI Certificate & Certification Programs

Certificates in CSI are available to those students who have not completed an undergraduate program. This type of certification is common for those who work in law enforcement and have learned most of their CSI skills.

At the University of California, Riverside, students are immersed in classes that include crime scene photography, forensic entomology, and rules of evidence. Students in the school’s program also complete a one-unit CSI practicum that allows them to use their evidence collection and preservation skills, including diagramming and photography in a mock crime scene, completing a written report and group presentation afterward.

Those who complete the program earn a Professional Certificate in Crime Scene Investigation. This 20-credit program is designed for current law enforcement professionals or anyone seeking a career in crime scene investigation.

  • Location: Riverside, CA
  • Duration: Eight to 12 months
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
  • Tuition: $4,100

The University of Baltimore offers an undergraduate certificate in crime scene investigation. This 12-credit program comprises four courses and can be completed in one year or less.

This program is designed for students who don’t have science or criminal justice degrees or are currently crime scene investigators needing continuing education credits. Students in this program can work in the state-of-the-art Jami R. Grant Forensic Laboratories to practice instrumental analysis, microscopy, and crime scene recreation.

  • Location: Baltimore, MD
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MECHE)
  • Tuition: $2,412 for three credits (in-state); $3,537 for three credits (out-of-state)

The International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA) offers CSI certification to those actively employed by law enforcement and who have been working in crime scene processing for at least two years. Applicants must have completed at least 50 hours of crime scene processing courses. Many of the courses listed here would qualify for this prerequisite. The certification test consists of the following:

  • A comprehensive written examination of 100 questions
  • A written test of a paper mock crime scene
  • Digital photos of a macro photography assessment
  • Digital photos of a night crime scene
  • Three actual crime scene cases on which the applicant personally worked

Students can complete the ICSIA certificate in approximately 2-6 months. Applicants must complete an application form, pass a comprehensive and written exam, submit digital photos of crime scene investigation samples, and document three real crime cases from an outdoor, indoor, and motor vehicle crime scene.

  • Location: Grand Rapids, MI
  • Duration: Two to six months
  • Accreditation: International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA)
  • Tuition: $100

Another option for CSI certification is through the International Association for Identification (IAI). The IAI offers three certifications to applicants with five years of employment as crime investigators or related experience.

Certification is available through the IAI for:

  • Certified Crime Scene Investigator: Must have a minimum of one year of professional experience and 48 hours of instruction in crime scene-related courses in the past five years
  • Certified Crime Scene Analyst: Must have a minimum of three years of professional experience and 96 hours of instruction in crime scene-related courses in the past five years
  • Certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst: Must have six years of professional experience and 144 hours of instruction in crime scene-related courses in the past five years. Applicants for this certification must have additional qualifications available in full on the AIA website.

Individuals with these credentials must prove ethical and professional reputations to maintain board certification with the IAI.

  • Location: Hollywood, FL
  • Duration: Varies
  • Accreditation: International Association for Identification (IAI)
  • Tuition: $300 for IAI members; $400 for non-members

Graduate CSI Certificate & Certification Programs

At the graduate level, students will find courses much more rigorous. In this case, a strong foundation in the sciences may be helpful. Sample courses at the graduate level could include:

  • Forensic Pathology I and II: Students learn the anatomy, physiology, and terminology that applies to a physical body that has typically undergone sudden death, including Sudden Infant Death syndrome or drug overdoses, and also understands the injuries that present as a result of trauma, such as rape or sexual assault.
  • Advanced Criminalistics: Understanding where evidence is analyzed is essential, so this class about the operations of a forensic science laboratory has high relevance. Students learn the correct procedures for documenting lab results and how a forensic scientist is often called on to act as an expert witness.
  • Digital Evidence: This class provides students with an understanding of digital-related crimes, including identity theft and online fraud. As part of this class, students learn about the theories and processes inherent in digital investigation.

For an advanced certificate at a campus-based institution, students can turn to George Mason University, in Fairfax, Virginia., for a graduate certificate in the forensic sciences with a concentration in crime scene investigation. The 18-credit certificate requires 12 credits in the area of concentration, which in this case would be CSI, although other concentrations are offered.

Courses include basic crime analysis, forensic photography, and medicolegal death investigation and pathology. This program can be completed part-time or full-time and qualifies for Title IV Federal Financial Aid. Applicants must have a BA or BS degree from a regionally-accredited university and a minimum 3.0 GPA to be admitted to this program. In addition, a capstone project in moot court expert testimony is required.

  • Location: Fairfax, VA
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $33,305 total

The George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, D.C., offers a graduate-level certificate in forensic investigations. This 18-credit program serves students in two ways: a certification that proves competency for those applying for CSI positions and students hoping to pursue crime scene investigation at the graduate level with GWU’s master’s of science with a concentration in crime scene investigation (MS/CSI).

To be eligible to apply for this certificate program, students must have a bachelor’s degree in any field. Topics covered include best practices in preserving and protecting evidence; documentation verification; firearms and tool mark identification; forensic psychiatry; and child abuse investigation.

  • Location: Washington, D.C.
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MECHE)
  • Tuition: $2,080 per credit

Hybrid and Online CSI Certification Programs

Like many other subject areas, students seeking CSI certification programs can find options online. Some of these may be hybrid programs, meaning they combine online learning with some classroom instruction or be offered entirely online. Below, several different options are listed.

National University offers a forensic and crime scene investigation (FCSI) certificate for current and future law enforcement professionals. This program attracts cross-disciplinary career fields such as forensic nurses, forensic scientists, and lawyers.

In addition, students in this program can choose to apply credits earned in this program towards a master’s degree in forensic science. Upon completion, graduates learn techniques for identification, characteristics of violent deaths, and how to identify, collect, transport, and preserve crime scene evidence. Courses include forensic pathology, crime scene investigation, digital evidence, and fingerprint analysis. Classes are offered on-campus and online.

  • Location: San Diego, CA
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Tuition: $442 per quarter unit

Florida International University

The Undergraduate Certificate in Forensic Science program at Florida International University’s (FIU) Global Forensic and Justice Center offers a comprehensive and interdisciplinary undergraduate certificate for students seeking careers in the diverse field of forensic science.

This program delves into various aspects of forensic science, including crime scene investigation, forensic chemistry, and DNA analysis, providing students with a solid foundation in theoretical and practical skills. Through hands-on experiences, such as laboratory work and simulated crime scenes, students gain valuable insights into the real-world applications of forensic science, preparing them for careers in law enforcement, criminal justice, and related fields.

  • Location: Largo, FL (and other FIU campuses)
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Tuition: $3,084 per year (in-state)

Purdue Global University offers an online crime scene technician certificate of 41 credits in length, and 25 of those credits must be earned through prerequisite courses. In addition, students take courses such as Criminal Investigation, Forensic Fingerprint Analysis, and Homeland Security. They also complete a three-credit independent study project based around an area of interest and approved topic of inquiry. Students may also find this certificate available on campus at various Kaplan University sites.

Courses are ten weeks long, and students can expect to spend 15 to 18 hours per week on their studies. Credits earned in this certificate program can be applied toward an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program at Purdue Global University.

  • Location: West Lafayette, IN
  • Duration: 11 months
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Tuition: $371 per credit

CSI Program Accreditation

When it comes to completing a CSI certification program through a community college or university, students will want to ensure that the school has been accredited through an accrediting agency. This helps to ensure that the programming and instruction at a school meet specific learning standards and that students receive a quality education.

For example, George Mason University is accredited through the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Programs offered through centers or other organizations may have a different type of accreditation, but it’s always best to ask if the school or program is accredited.

Students might also find that some programs or schools are accredited through the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). However, FEPAC accredits very few programs and only offers accreditation to those heavily focused on the scientific aspects of forensics, meaning that most CSI programs are ineligible.

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Rachel Drummond, MEd

Rachel Drummond has given her writing expertise to since 2019, where she provides a unique perspective on the intersection of education, mindfulness, and the forensic sciences. Her work encourages those in the field to consider the role of mental and physical well-being in their professional success.

Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.