If it seems like there are just too many obstacles between you and a career in forensic science, it may be time to consider an online education. A college degree is necessary for many jobs in crime scene investigation, both in the field and in the laboratory, and studying online can help you overcome challenges related to pursuing a degree. If you think online learning may be an option for you, familiarize yourself with the typical curriculum of an online forensic science program and the processes of completing laboratory courses online. There are plenty of factors to think about when choosing the right online program for you, from the format of the online courses to matters of accreditation.

The Curriculum of an Online Forensic Science Program

The classes you take in an online program in forensic science are similar, if not identical, to those you complete in a traditional degree program in the field. While some forensic science degrees are based in criminal justice departments and others in natural science departments, you should take some combination of coursework in both of these disciplines. Expect to complete laboratory courses in chemistry and biology and classes in criminalistics, including the identification and analysis of the different types of physical evidence collected at a crime scene.

In the course of your online forensic science studies, you will also learn more about the foundations and practices of criminal justice systems, criminal and constitutional law and procedures and the theory of crime causation.

Taking Laboratory Courses Online

As the degree title suggests, a forensic science program has a strong basis in science – even if it is offered through an academic department of criminal justice. Laboratory science coursework is crucial in this field of study for both general science courses – like chemistry and biology – and for specialized courses in the science of crime scene investigation procedures. If you’re an online learner, however, how exactly are you supposed to fulfill laboratory science requirements?

Fortunately, many colleges use special online learning software that allows students to practice their laboratory skills virtually. In the case of your natural science courses, the laboratory component for online students can take different forms, according to U.S. News & World Report. You might enroll in a mail-order program that delivers laboratory materials to your home, or you might begin the semester by purchasing a lab kit that includes all of your materials. Other lab experiences take place completely in the virtual space of the learning platform, while schools may also have optional or mandatory in-person laboratory experiences.

When it comes to your forensic courses, specifically, the difference between an online learning experience and an in-person one may not be as pronounced as you might think. Whether you study on campus or online, the crime scenes you examine are either simulated or in the form of photographs and reports of past real crime scenes – not a unique, real-time crime scene that you explore in person. As a result, the practical skills you gain from these virtual experiences are on par with what students of an in-person program would acquire.

Because having the technical knowledge to use equipment in a real crime laboratory matters, gaining some amount of in-person experience is valuable for online students. You might fulfill this expectation through an internship or past work experience.

Comparing Online Programs in Forensic Science

Now that you know an online education in forensic science is possible, your next question may be which online program is right for you. There are several factors you should keep in mind when considering an online degree program. For one thing, you should do enough research to determine whether your program is offered completely online or whether you may need to make on-campus appearances during your education. Some “online” degree programs are more accurately classified as hybrid learning, combining regular studies both in the classroom and in a virtual learning platform. Other programs require occasional residential experiences. Although not being completely online isn’t necessarily a dealbreaker, students who live in another state or have a strict work schedule or family demands may decide that a program that isn’t 100 percent online doesn’t meet their needs.

Another big factor to consider is accreditation. Before you enroll in an online – or on-campus – degree program in any discipline, you should find out if the school has institutional accreditation. Otherwise, you may be wasting your time and money earning a degree that doesn’t meet minimum standards. Generally, regional accreditation is preferred over national institutional accreditation. If possible, look for a program approved by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission, part of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

Online courses can be synchronous, or occurring in real-time, or asynchronous, allowing the pace of your work to be self-directed. Students seeking flexibility will fare better with an asynchronous program that doesn’t require a rigid schedule of course attendance.

Additional Resources

Are There Actual Bachelor’s Degrees in Crime Scene Investigations?  

Do I Need a Ph.D. to Become a CSI?

If I Want to Become a CSI, Is It Better to Have Great General Knowledge or Be an Expert in a Particular Area?