From reviewing computer files for digital fingerprints to processing evidence at a crime scene, forensic scientists are on the front lines when it comes to ensuring justice is served within the legal system. If you've been interested in a forensic science career but don't have time to devote to a traditional, on-campus program, an online degree may the right choice for you. However, you'll want to select a school that not only has a quality reputation but one that also offers favorable class sizes, a good retention rate and affordable tuition.
To help narrow your options, we've compiled a list of ten online forensic and criminal justice colleges. These schools offer education options at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. They were selected based upon information provided through the American Academy of Forensic Sciences website and then cross-checked with our own Top Online Colleges tool.
Florida Tech University Online
As a nationally recognized, regionally accredited institution, Florida Tech University has been named to top college lists by U.S. News and World Report, Times Higher Education, Fiske Guide to Colleges and Baron's Best Buys in College Education.
Its bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice can be earned entirely online. The curriculum covers a variety of forensic science subjects including crime analysis, legal concepts and current, best practices. Upon graduation, students may go on to work in a variety of forensic science and criminal justice occupations.
With 14 campuses in five states as well as robust online options, Westwood College is focused on providing the education needed to secure today's jobs. The school offers an Employment Pledge as evidence of its belief in the quality of its programs and graduates. Under the pledge, Westwood will help pay six months of bills for qualifying students who have actively pursued employment, but have been unable to find a job.
Westwood offers both online associate and bachelor's degrees in Criminal Justice. At the bachelor's degree level, students can major in Administration, which may be a good choice for those who want to oversee a team of forensic science technicians.
Portland State University
Portland State University is another school with an online bachelor's degree that may be of interest to those considering forensic science careers. Although based in Oregon, students don't need to travel to the Pacific Northwest to participate in its nationally recognized degree programs. According to U.S. News and World Report, Portland State University is one of the nation's up and coming national universities.
The school's online bachelor's degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice offers an education that may be applicable to careers in forensics. The fully online program covers a curriculum that includes leadership in criminal justice, criminal behavior and crime analysis.
Utica College of Syracuse University
Located in central New York, Utica College is a private school established by Syracuse University nearly 70 years ago. It offers accredited degree programs at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Utica is also one of the few colleges to offer an online bachelor's degree in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance. This program offers a specialized education to those who want to focus on forensic science as it relates to cyber crime and fraud. Students receive extensive instruction in digital forensics and investigations.
University of Cincinnati
Those with a bachelor's degree may want to consider enrolling in the University of Cincinnati's top ranked master's degree program. The university's Criminal Justice program was named third best in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. In addition, students may be able to complete their graduate education in only one or two years.
The University of Cincinnati offers three concentrations for its master's degree in Criminal Justice: corrections & offender rehabilitation, analysis of criminal behavior, law enforcement & crime prevention. Of these, criminal behavior analysis may be of particular interest to those considering a career in forensic science.
University of North Dakota
The University of North Dakota is another institution with a top ranked online program. The 2012 Guide to Online Schools found it was the 11th best online nonprofit school in the nation.
The school's master's degree in Forensic Psychology is offered online with recorded lectures and one on-campus visit required. With an estimated completion time of two years, students learn how to apply psychological principles to the legal field and crime investigations. Students enrolled in the program may be eligible for in-state tuition regardless of their residency.
Catering largely to adult learners, Kaplan University is an outcome-based institution focused on helping students gain the skills needed to smoothly transition into the workplace. Although it maintains campuses in four states, 90 percent of Kaplan students are enrolled in online degree programs. If you're not sure whether the school is right for you, Kaplan gives new students a three-week trial to enroll in a program and participate in classes with no tuition obligation.
Forensic science professionals and students interested in the field may want to consider a master's degree in Criminal Justice at Kaplan University. Among other things, students will learn to analyze criminal behavior, explore research methods and develop leadership skills.
Loyola University New Orleans
Although a Catholic institution operating under the Jesuit tradition, Loyola University New Orleans is a regionally accredited school open to students of all faiths. Its online programs have no campus requirements and feature 24/7 tech support and minimal hardware and software requirements. In 2013, the university's programs were recognized on national rankings published by U.S. News and World Report, The Princeton Review and Washington Monthly.
At Loyola University New Orleans, students can earn a master's degree in Criminal Justice Administration online. This degree program is available in two concentrations, one of which is Forensic Science Administration. Those enrolled in the program learn, among other things, how to manage forensic laboratories and review laws and ethics related to their operation.
California University of Pennsylvania
Students enrolled in the Global Online option at California University of Pennsylvania get an education drawing on a 160-year heritage. That's how long the university has been serving students in the greater Pittsburg area. Although a more recent addition to the university, the Global Online campus has garnered accolades and was ranked third in the nation in 2013 by the Guide to Online Schools.
Within the realm of forensic science, California University of Pennsylvania offers an online master's degree in Social Science in Applied Criminology. The degree combines theoretical knowledge with the practical skills needed to analyze data and solve crimes. While the university suggests an undergraduate degree in Criminology, Forensic Science or a related field may be helpful, students with any bachelor's degree may eligible for admittance to the program.
University of Massachusetts
Finally, students who want a graduate education in forensic science but don't want or need a master's degree may want to consider a graduate certificate in Forensic Criminology from the University of Massachusetts. The program is offered as part of UMassOnline which was created in 2001. Since then, the school has been recognized numerous times for the quality of its online degrees, most recently when it was ranked third on the list of The 30 Best Online Colleges for 2014 by The Best Schools.
The graduate certificate in Forensic Criminology may be a good choice for criminal justice professionals who want to specialize. In addition, UMassOnline says individuals in the nursing/public health, psychology, legal and social work fields may also benefit from this certification.
You can find other schools ranked by affordability, flexibility and quality using our Top Accredited Online Colleges search tool.
1. About Online & Distance Education, University of North Dakota http://distance.und.edu/aboutode/
2. Choosing a Career, American Academy of Forensic Sciences http://aafs.org/students/student-career/choosing-career
3. Colleges and Universities, American Academy of Forensic Sciences http://aafs.org/students/colleges-universities
4. Employment Pledge Details, Westwood College http://www.westwood.edu/why-westwood/pledge/employment-pledge-details
5. Florida Tech University Online http://www.floridatechonline.com/
6. Kaplan University Facts and the Annual Report, Kaplan University http://www.kaplanuniversity.edu/about/annual-report.aspx
7. Our Accreditation and National Recognition, Loyola University New Orleans http://elearning.loyno.edu/about/regionally-accredited-school.asp
8. Portland State University Facts http://www.pdx.edu/portland-state-university-facts
9. Portland State University Online Degree in Criminology and Criminal Justice, http://online.ccj.pdx.edu/
10. Quality, UMassOnline http://www.umassonline.net/quality
11. Westwood College School of Justice, http://www.westwood.edu/programs/school-of-justice
12. Why Cal U Global Online? California University of Pennsylvania http://www.calu.edu/prospective/global-online/index.htm
13. Why Utica College? Utica College of Syracuse University http://programs.online.utica.edu/about-us/about.asp
14. University of Cincinnati Top Ranked Online CJ Program, http://cjonline.uc.edu/
15. Utica College Online Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance, http://programs.online.utica.edu/programs/online-cyber-security-degree.asp