Online bachelor's and master's degree programs specifically in criminalistics may be difficult to find. It's possible to find fully online bachelor's degree programs in criminal justice that include some criminalistics coursework. These programs typically combine online practical and theoretical instruction, and an in-person internship may be available. At the master's degree level, forensic science programs are available online; however, some programs are offered in a hybrid format that requires students to attend on-campus labs or workshops. A thesis may be required as well.
Bachelor's Degree in Criminal Justice
Through an online undergraduate program in criminal justice, students become familiar with the many areas of the criminal justice system, including crime scene investigation, juvenile justice, law enforcement, corrections and criminology. Students learn how law enforcement, homeland security, public safety and regulatory agencies work together to provide safety and security to society.
Many criminal justice programs also introduce students to forensic science and criminalistics principles. Some online programs even offer a concentration in forensic science or crime scene investigation, which allows students to gain an in-depth understanding of the criminalistics field.
Coursework requirements for an online bachelor's degree in criminal justice can range from 128-180 credit hours. On average, students usually take four years to complete this type of degree program.
Courses provide both practical and theoretical instruction through distance learning mediums, such as streaming video, online discussion boards and video conferencing. Online criminal justice degree programs often offer students the opportunity to specialize in a certain aspect of the field, such as law enforcement, cyber crime, corrections or crime scene investigation.
Common Undergraduate Criminal Justice Courses
In addition to the online courses that introduce students to the various aspects of the criminal justice system, courses in crime scene investigation familiarize students with evidence collection and processing -- the cornerstones of crime solving. These online courses focus on preserving physical evidence, reconstructing crime scenes and understanding the function of a crime lab.
Through classroom lecture and practical exercises, this distance learning course prepares students to recognize, identify, collect, preserve and evaluate physical evidence. Student study techniques used on various types of evidence, including fibers, blood, glass, firearm residue and chemicals. Online students also learn to document a crime scene through photography, scene sketching and notes.
This online course introduces students to the nature of law and provides an overview of general legal principles. Students also become familiar with the history of criminal law in the U.S. and the function of contemporary law in today's society.
Focus is placed on the theories of criminal behavior and the causes of crime in this class, including sociological, biological and psychological theories. Students study current issues in criminology and recent developments in criminological theory.
Master's Degree in Forensic Science
An online master's degree program in forensic science is designed for individuals seeking employment in local, state, or federal crime laboratories, including criminalistics labs. A forensic science graduate degree program provides instruction in the key components of criminalistics -- biological evidence, toxicology and forensic analysis. Most distance learning programs require applicants to have a bachelor's degree in forensic science or other natural science, such as chemistry or biology. Some programs may even require students to have professional experience prior to enrollment.
Usually consisting of at least 32 credit hours, an online master's degree program in forensic science typically requires two years to complete. Although most coursework is offered entirely online, some programs require the students to appear on campus for brief laboratory workshops, presentations or final exams. Campus visits typically do not last longer than one week and take place towards the end of the semester. Depending on the program, a thesis may also be required.
Students use online course modules and e-journals to complete the online portion of the program. Though many programs may be completed at the students own pace, some professors may have specific assignment due dates or quiz times. Online graduate students typically communicate with their professor via e-mail, online chat rooms or instant messaging.
Common Master's Degree Courses - Forensic Science
Online courses included in a master's degree curriculum provide students the opportunity to further their expertise in collecting and processing biological evidence through the use of forensic science. The curriculum typically consists of a core group of required courses, accompanied by a number of elective credits in specialty areas of forensic science, such as forensic genetics, metabolic biochemistry, environmental forensics and forensic anthropology.
Students study the basic principles of chemistry as they apply to body fluid and drug analysis. Topics covered include sample extraction, thin layer chromatography, drug identification and spectrophotometry in forensic chemistry.
This online course provides students with advanced knowledge of the standard eight trace evidence categories, including glass, hair, firearm discharge residue, illicit drugs and textile fibers. Lessons introduce the individual evidence types, its significance and characteristics and then present the analytical techniques applied to it in the criminalistics laboratory.
Blood Distribution and Splatter
The focus of this class on the principles of blood splatter creation, the importance of biological evidence and blood stain interpretation. Specific topics include crime scene reconstruction, point of origin, impact splatter stains and characteristic blood patterns. Students become familiar with the processes involved in recording, collecting and processing blood splatter and stain evidence.
Career and Certification Information
Individuals with a bachelor's degree in criminal justice may secure entry-level positions in a variety of law and legal-related areas, including criminal investigations and crime labs. Graduates with an undergraduate specialization in forensic science or criminalists may pursue entry-level positions as crime scene analysts.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) employment opportunities in local law enforcement agencies are expected to be favorable for qualified individuals, while keen competition is expected for opportunities in state and federal organizations (www.bls.gov). The BLS has projected the employment of police and detectives to grow by 4% between 2014 and 2024. As of May 2015, the BLS listed the annual average salary for public detectives and criminal investigators as $79,620. Additional experience, on-the-job training or higher levels of education may be needed to secure positions as forensic science technicians or other advanced positions within a criminalistics lab.
Graduates with a master's degree in forensic science can obtain a variety of positions with a crime lab, including forensic science technician, criminalist or lead scientist. The BLS has projected job opportunities for forensic science technicians to increase at much faster than average rate of 27% between 2014 and 2024. The BLS also reported that, as of May 2015, forensic science technicians earned an average annual wage of $60,090.
The American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) offers a voluntary certification for professionals to demonstrate their expertise in one or more disciplines involved in criminalistics. Topics covered on the certification exam include ethics, trace evidence, crime scene reconstruction, drug analysis, DNA and fire debris, among others. ABC certification is valid for five years and available at two levels -- diplomate and fellow. Recertification can be achieved through continued practice in the field and continuing education, casework, publishing or retesting.
Individuals who are interested in criminalistics can choose an online bachelor's degree program in criminal justice or a master's degree program in forensic science. These programs combine theory and real-world practice in areas such as criminalistics, criminal law and forensic toxicology.