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 2021) estimates that between 2020 and 2030, the occupation of forensic science technicians, a closely-related career field, will grow 16 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.
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.
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 requirements for the certification and the focus of the program.
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.
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.
The International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA) offers CSI certification to those actively employed by law enforcement and 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:
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.
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:
Individuals with these credentials must prove ethical and professional reputations to maintain board certification with the IAI.
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:
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.
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 preservation and protection of evidence; documentation verification; firearms and tool mark identification; forensic psychiatry; and child abuse investigation.
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 certificate in forensic and crime scene investigation (FCSI) 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.
In partnership with Florida International University, the National Forensic Science Technology Center (NFSTC) has a 16-hour program in crime scene investigation that can be completed online at a student’s own pace. The course covers physical evidence, firearm evidence collection, and trace evidence.
A certificate of completion is given to students who complete the course with a grade of at least 75 percent. Students can complete this program in a hybrid format with online classes and in-person instruction.
Purdue Global University offers an online crime scene technician certificate that is 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 in length, 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.
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 standards in learning and that students are receiving 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.
|Featured CSI & Forensic Science Programs|
|Purdue University Global||BSCJ - Crime Scene Investigation||Visit Site|
|Purdue University Global||BSCJ - Forensic Psychology||Visit Site|
|Arizona State University||Forensic Psychology (MS)||Visit Site|
|Arizona State University||Forensic Science (BS)||Visit Site|
|Arizona State University||Forensic Science (PSM)||Visit Site|
|Maryville University||Online BA - Forensic Psychology||Visit Site|
|University of West Alabama (Campus)||Chemistry Comprehensive - Forensic Chemistry (BA/BS)||Visit Site|
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).