The popularity of crime scene shows has greatly increased interest in online crime scene investigator degree programs.
These shows make working as a crime scene investigator look exciting and sometimes even glamorous. While TV has a way of making everything look more thrilling than it really is, a job in CSI can be a very rewarding fit for some people.
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But how do you become a crime scene investigator? And is it possible to earn your degree online?
Online Crime Scene Investigator Degrees
There is actually more than one way to become a crime scene investigator, and a couple of different degrees can help get you there. Some schools offer both online and in-person program options.
Select the program that most interests you to jump to that section of the guide:
Regardless of the specialty you select, you will still receive a strong foundation in crime scene investigation and related courses.
Online CSI Degrees
An online crime scene investigation degree program helps you learn about the criminal justice system, crime resolution procedures, police accountability, and the legal process.
A career as a crime scene investigator can be very hands-on, so while most classes are online, some programs may require labs to be performed in person. This may involve on-campus attendance or attending at an affiliate center. Some programs do offer virtual labs.
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CSI degree programs are typically heavy in chemistry, biology, and psychology courses. You may also complete a capstone project in your final semester. A capstone project can also be known as an exhibit or a thesis, and it’s used to test your knowledge of the material.
Online Computer Forensics Degrees
Another degree path you can pursue is computer forensics. This degree has a different emphasis than the crime investigator degree.
Computer forensic scientists most often work in labs, while crime scene investigators most often work at the scene of a crime. Both can involve field work as well as lab work, though. This degree helps you develop analytical, computer science, and communication skills so you can investigate computer crimes.
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A computer forensic scientist recovers, collects, and analyzes computer evidence at a crime scene. They work very closely with crime scene investigators. Once they analyze evidence, they may be required to write up official reports or present their findings in court.
In this type of program, you can expect to study cybercrime, cyber criminology, database design, network security, cyber threats, and cyber laws.
Online Forensic Science Degrees
A forensic scientist is also similar to a crime scene investigator, but their job roles differ slightly.
A CSI collects evidence, while the forensic scientist analyzes it. So, a crime scene investigator works the scene of the crime, and a forensic scientist most often works in the lab. They do take a lot of the same classes, though.
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If you choose to pursue forensic science, you can expect to learn how to solve crimes and how investigations are conducted. You’ll generally study theories of crime and criminal justice and learn about common criminal procedures as well.
The majority of your coursework will cover chemistry, biology, physics, human anatomy, law, and criminal justice. Of course, you may be required to participate in labs and to complete an internship at the end of the program.
A growing number of universities now offer forensic science degrees online, which may help you to earn your degree while balancing your other responsibilities.
CSI Careers & Salaries
Crime scene investigators are a type of forensic science technician. Although they work at crime scenes, they can also spend countless hours in labs and offices.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for forensic science technicians is $60,590, which is higher than the average salary for all occupations.
|Careers||Annual Median Salaries|
|Forensic Science Technicians, Federal Executive Branch||$122,600|
|Information Security Analysts||$103,590|
|Forensic Science Technicians, State Government||$62,570|
|Forensic Science Technicians, Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services||$61,590|
|Forensic Science Technicians, Testing Laboratories||$61,540|
|Forensic Science Technicians, Local Government||$60,870|
|Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians||$54,180|
|Private Detectives and Investigators||$53,320|
|Forensic Science Technicians, Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories||$38,870|
The majority of forensic science technicians work for the federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In fact, just 6% of crime scene investigators work for other agencies and companies, such as medical, testing, and diagnostic laboratories.
Crime Scene Investigation Curriculum & Courses
Most crime scene investigative programs offer both modern and classic crime scene investigative techniques, from forensic anthropology to modern DNA techniques.
If you enroll in a crime scene investigator major, you’ll likely take classes similar to the following:
- Genetics: This class focuses on heredity in families and populations.
- Microbiology: In microbiology, you’ll learn about cell structure, genetics, metabolic and biosynthetic activity, and ecology.
- Insect Identification: You’ll learn how to identify families and orders of insects.
- Fingerprint Analysis: This class studies the history of fingerprint science and the systems used for processing crime scenes.
- Crime Scene Photography: This class teaches the basics of photography as it relates to law enforcement.
- Forensic Chemistry and Trace Evidence Analysis: This class provides a detailed overview of the types of evidence usually submitted for analysis.
- Forensic Biology and Impression Evidence: In this class, you’ll learn how to analyze evidence using modern DNA techniques.
- Crime Scene Investigation: You’ll learn how to process crime scenes.
- Crime Scene Management: You’ll learn about the reasoning, investigative failure, resource management, and supervision of a crime scene investigation.
- Human Remains in Forensic Science: You’ll learn how to determine the identity and cause of death.
A crime scene investigator needs to learn both theory and hands-on techniques. You may also take courses on blood patterns and crime scenes, latent print and fingerprint ID, ballistics and firearm ID, courtroom testimony, and report writing.
How to Become a Crime Scene Investigator
Most crime scene investigators have a bachelor’s degree and work within law enforcement for a couple of years under the supervision of another CSI. Crime scene investigators can come from a variety of majors.
Here are some common steps to becoming a crime scene investigator:
- Obtain a bachelor’s degree. Common CSI majors include criminal justice, computer science, forensic science, a natural science, crime scene technology, or criminology.
- Gain work experience. You’ll often acquire 6 months to 2 years of job experience, either working in the field under another crime scene investigator or as an intern.
- Earn certification. Earning a certification can allow you to develop specialized knowledge in the field, such as forensic photography or bloodstain pattern analysis. Some states may also require licensure, though a majority do not.
Many crime scene investigators go on to earn a graduate degree to advance their career opportunities. Some positions don’t require a specific degree but rather specific classes, such as lab-based chemistry courses. Some crime scene investigators have worked their way up through promotions within the police force.
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This field is extremely competitive, rapidly changing as technology changes. You can expect to keep up with continuing education and pass regular exams to show you know the new techniques and technology.
If you are interested in becoming a criminalist, you may want to consider admissions into an undergraduate program.
Most undergraduate programs require the following:
- High school transcript and GPA
- Letters of reference from your guidance counselor or teachers
- SAT or ACT scores (only some schools require them)
You can check with the program you’re interested in to discover their specific admissions criteria. A school’s admissions requirements will likely be posted on their website, but you can also contact someone in the admissions department.
Enrolling in an undergraduate program that’s accredited is an important factor. If a program is regionally accredited, it means that the school has voluntarily subjected itself to review from an outside agency. These agencies have strict standards that schools need to meet in order to ensure they’re providing a high quality education.
Employers often look for candidates from accredited schools. Some financial aid options are only given to students who are enrolled in an accredited university. Plus, if you decide to pursue a master’s degree, most graduate programs only recognize bachelor’s degrees earned from accredited universities.
To ensure your school is accredited, you can visit the website of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and search their database of schools.
Criminal Investigator Certifications
Crime scene investigators can pursue certification in a specialty area within the field. Specialties can involve bloodstain pattern analysis, forensic art, latent print, bullet trajectory paths, and forensic photography.
Some of the most popular certificates among criminal investigators include:
- Certified Law Enforcement Analyst (CLEA)
- Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE)
- Certified Criminal Investigator
Certified Criminal Justice Specialist (CCJS)These certifications not only help you specialize but also increase your knowledge, skill-set, and experience. They offer professional recognition as well, which may help you to stay competitive.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
Many undergraduate students can qualify for federal, state, and local financial aid. To see if you qualify, you can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). You can also search for scholarships and other awards.
You can look for community organizations, nonprofits, and clubs in your area that offer scholarships. Most high schools have a list of scholarship opportunities, so you may want to check with your guidance counselor.
If you already know where you want to work, some places of employment offer assistance in exchange for a guarantee that you’ll remain employed there for a set number of years.
Crime Scene Investigation Professional Organizations
Many crime scene investigators belong to a professional organization because it can promote growth within the profession.
These organizations establish a standard level of knowledge, skills, and abilities that criminalists across the board need to meet. Common professional organizations to consider include:
- American Board of Criminalistics (ABC)
- International Association for Identification (IAI)
- International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA)
These organizations strive to promote professionalism, competency, integrity, education, collaboration, and networking among crime scene investigators.
What Is a Crime Scene Investigator?
A crime scene investigator is responsible for collecting evidence at a crime scene. They need to seal off the scene and keep it from being tampered with. They then collect and document the evidence, preserve it, and send it off to a lab for analyzing. They often need to report their findings in court.
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They are most often employed by the government, although civilians with backgrounds in science may also become crime scene investigators. Because crime scene investigators work at the scene of a crime, they often need to be comfortable with harsh realities, such as a decomposing body.
Where Do Crime Scene Investigators Work?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 58% of crime scene investigators work for the local government, such as the police department, the coroner’s office, and crime labs.
State police departments currently employ 29% of crime scene investigators, and 6% of CSIs work for medical, diagnostic, and testing laboratories. Crime scene investigators can work at crime scenes, in labs, and in offices. Crime scene investigators may travel frequently as well.
What Degree Do You Need to Be a CSI Investigator?
There is no one specific degree you need to earn to become a crime scene investigator. Most crime scene investigators earn a bachelors degree in a natural or forensic science, such as chemistry or biology. Majors in criminal justice, crime scene technology, or criminology are also common.
Some entry-level positions only require an associate degree or specific classes, such as lab-based chemistry courses. The field is highly competitive, so many crime scene investigators continue on to earn a master’s degree. Obtaining certification in a specialty area is also common for CSIs.
What Can You Do with a CSI Degree?
As a crime scene investigator, you can work the scene of a crime with your local or state law enforcement. You may also go on to work for an agency in the federal government, such as the FBI.
You can also choose to specialize within the field. For example, some study and earn certification to specialize in ballistics, fingerprinting, or forensics photography. A crime scene investigator may also be known as a forensic science technician, crime laboratory analyst, crime scene specialist, or crime scene technician.
How Much Do Crime Scene Investigators Make?
The median salary for forensic science technicians is $60,590 a year (Bureau of Labor Statistics). The lowest 10% earn around $36,630, and the top 10% can earn more than $100,910.
Crime scene investigators who work in medial and diagnostic laboratories tend to make the least, with a median salary of $38,870. Forensic science technicians employed by state and federal governments tend to make the most.
How Long Does It Take to Become a CSI?
How long it takes to become a CSI can vary by state since not all states have the same licensing or certification process.
Which route you decide to take can also play into how long it takes you to qualify as a crime scene investigator. Most CSIs earn a bachelor’s, which typically takes around 4 years to complete with full-time study. Many students also earn a CSI certification to specialize in the field.
Some graduates may go on to earn their master’s degree, which generally takes 1 to 2 years to complete. It can often take longer to complete your degree if you enroll part-time. As an entry-level crime scene investigator, you’ll often receive supervised on-the-job training for 6 months to a year.
Is a Crime Scene Investigator Online Degree Worth It?
Yes, a crime scene investigator online degree is worth it for many students. Forensic science is a prestigious, highly competitive field. Plus, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 14% job growth for forensic science technicians, which is faster than the average growth for all occupations.
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CSIs often work at crime scenes as well as in laboratories, so this type of position can offer variety in tasks and a fast-paced work environment.
Universities Offering Online Bachelors in Crime Scene Investigation Degree Programs
Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.
California University of Pennsylvania offers a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with a Forensic Investigation concentration.
To graduate, students must complete 120 credit hours, with 12 courses dedicated to the concentration. First-year students may apply online with a copy of their high school transcripts. Letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and SAT or ACT scores are optional.
The California University of Pennsylvania is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Colorado State University offers a degree specialization in Criminal Forensics. The specialization can be added to a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice, Information Technology, or Organizational Leadership.
Students must add 15 specific credits to obtain the degree. Classes start every month. Applicants must have a high school degree or equivalent and 2 years of professional experience.
Colorado State is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.
Columbia College offers a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice. Students interested in the Forensic Track must complete 3 courses in DNA, Toxicology, and Fingerprint Recognition and Comparison. Applicants may apply online with official transcripts. ACT or SAT scores may be submitted but are not required.
Columbia College is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
DeVry University offers a Bachelor’s in Technical Management with a specialization in Criminal Justice. To receive the specialization, students must complete 9 specific courses, including Juvenile Justice and Ethics and Criminal Justice. Applicants should have a high school diploma or the equivalent with a GPA of 2.0 or higher.
DeVry University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.
Florida International University offers an online program for a Bachelor of Science in Crime Science.
To graduate, students must obtain 120 credit hours, with 43 credit hours focusing on the major. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have completed prerequisite courses in Statistics, Biology, and Chemistry. Official transcripts and SAT or ACT scores must be submitted to the school.
Florida International University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Liberty University offers an online program for a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice with an emphasis in Crime Scene Investigation. The program can typically be completed in 3.5 years and requires students to obtain 120 credit hours. Classes are 8 weeks long. Interested applicants must have a GPA of 2.0 or higher.
Liberty University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Louisiana State University offers an online program for a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice. Students must complete 120 credit hours to graduate. To be eligible for the program, applicants must have a high school diploma or the equivalent with a GPA of 2.0 or higher and an ACT composite score of 20.
Louisiana State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Salem University offers a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice with a specialization in Crime Scene Investigation.
To graduate, students must complete a final capstone project and 5 courses specific to the specialization. Accepted students may start the program at the start of any month. To be eligible, applicants must have a high school diploma or an equivalent degree.
Salem is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission.
The University of Maryland Global Campus offers a Bachelor’s in Investigative Forensics. To graduate, students must complete 120 credit hours, including 32 courses related to the major. Applicants must have a high school diploma or the equivalent and must submit official high school transcripts.
UMGC is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Getting Your Crime Scene Investigation Degree Online
Crime scene investigators often hold a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences, forensic science, or criminal justice. You can typically choose the major that interests you the most.
There are also a number of credible online crime scene investigator degrees from accredited universities. This may include bachelors and masters in forensic science online, for example. Online learning options tend to offer more flexible scheduling, helping you earn your degree while maintaining other obligations. Plus, many labs and crime scenes are now offered virtually.
If you want to study crime scene investigation online, you can start your educational journey by searching for a CSI degree program that meets your specific needs and career goals.