Online Education in Forensic Criminology: Learning Options

Research various online distance learning programs in criminology that include studies in forensics. Find out what you can learn in the different programs and what you'll need in order to participate in online learning to determine if it's right for you.

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Essential Information

While online programs in forensic criminology are rare, online criminology programs with courses in forensics are more common. In fact, online criminology studies can be found at both the undergraduate and graduate levels and can lead to an associate's, bachelor's or master's degree. Forensic criminology is often covered in these programs. Common areas of study may include topics in forensic law, science or psychology, criminalistics and victimology.

Though these programs are fully online, students may have to complete a capstone project or internship. Some programs may require exams to be proctored. Master's programs require an essay, GRE scores, an interview and recommendation.

Associate's Degree Programs

Although limited in number, some private for-profit schools offer online programs that can lead to an Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science in Criminology and Forensic Technology. The programs are designed to prepare students for entry-level positions in correctional institutions, investigative services or related areas in the criminal justice system. In general, students receive an introduction to criminal investigations, law, forensics and law enforcement. They also have the opportunity to acquire computer skills, solve problems and write formal reports.

Program Requirements

Though the coursework is primarily available over the Internet, some programs may require or give students the option to complete an in-person internship. Students should be aware in advance that individual schools may have their own computer hardware and software requirements for online students.

Online students must have their own computers and software, as well as access to the Internet and an e-mail account. Communication with classmates and teachers is conducted via online discussion boards and email; students receive their course materials from the school. These can include CDs, course syllabi and textbooks. In addition to fulfilling the general education requirements, students complete core courses in community corrections, criminal justice and criminology and participate in a capstone project.

Common Courses

An associate's program in criminology may include topics in computer forensics, criminalistics, forensic technology and investigations. Below are sample descriptions of these courses.

Computer Forensics

Students learn about the basic steps involved in securing a crime scene. They also find out how to collect evidence from computers that have been used during crimes.


Aspiring professionals learn about current methodologies for analyzing and studying evidence. A lab component and the chance to solve problem sets are also included.

Forensic Technology

This course builds upon what students learned about forensics in the criminalistics course. Students recreate crime scenes and examine evidence using forensic principles and technology.


Students are introduced to the procedures used to conduct formal criminal investigations. They also have the opportunity to examine and solve criminal justice problems and practice their detecting skills.

Bachelor's Degree Programs

Several schools offer online undergraduate programs that can lead to a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice or a Bachelor of Science in Criminology. Students learn how criminology theories may explain criminal behaviors and intent and they become acquainted with the research procedures used in the social sciences. Students may also learn about the inner workings of the criminal justice system and the legal aspects of gathering evidence.

Program Information and Requirements

Technical prerequisites typically include an Apple or Windows computer with specific operating system and software capabilities. In addition to study guides and textbooks, some courses require the use of audiotapes, CDs or videotapes. Students may also have to take site-based, proctored exams. The bachelor's degree programs usually require 120 credits to complete and may allow for a capstone or an internship.

Common Courses

In an undergraduate criminology program, students may take courses in forensic science and studies, qualitative and quantitative research, crime analysis and ethics. Select topics in forensics are described below.

Criminal Deviance

Aspiring forensic scientists are introduced to the psychosocial aspects of criminally disposed individuals, including those related to biology and learning issues.

Forensic Law

In this interdisciplinary course, students learn about the legal, scientific and technological aspects of examining and using evidence. The use of ballistics, fingerprints and photographic evidence will be covered, along with the admissibility and reliability of evidence.

Forensic Psychology

This course examines forensic psychology from a practical and scientific viewpoint, including the psychological aspect of the courtroom. Students pursue topics in expert and witness testimony, interviewing techniques, recovered memories and witness credibility.

Introduction to Forensic Science

Students learn how to use critical thinking skills and scientific methodology to consider crime scene evidence.

Master's Degree Programs

At this level, online students can earn a Master of Arts or a Master of Science in Criminology. In addition to completing coursework online, students may have the opportunity to research an area of special interest in criminology.

Program Information and Requirements

In addition to a bachelor's degree, admission requirements can include submitting an essay, GRE scores, an interview and recommendations. In general, students complete 33-36 credits or coursework, which may allow for a capstone experience. Online technical requirements mirror those found in the associate's and bachelor's programs.

Common Courses

An online master's program in criminology can include core and elective courses in criminology procedures and theory, research methodology, science and statistics. Those that relate to forensics are highlighted below.

Contemporary Issues in Criminology

In this course, students explore the field from a practical and research-based point of view. Topics include the study of issues related to crime prevention, restorative justice, public safety and victimology.

Criminal Psychopathology

Graduate students pursue advanced level studies of criminal behavior patterns and pathology. Environmental and demographic influences on criminals are also discussed.

Forensic Science in Investigation

Students learn how criminals leave evidence during an offense and how evidence helps law enforcement and legal systems investigate and prosecute crimes. Students also have the opportunity to develop skills in decision making and analysis as they relate to forensic inquiries.


This course examines the effects of crime on the victims, including the basic theories associated with this field of study. Students also learn how concern for crime victims affects policy developments and applications in the criminal justice system.

Career Information

Successful completion of a degree program in criminology could lead to work within a number of sectors, including corrections, investigations, law enforcement, and victim advocacy, to name just a few. In fact, some graduates may also go on to work for government organizations or departments such as the FBI, Securities and Exchange Commission or U.S. Border Patrol.

Careers for graduates may include that of forensic science technician; psychologist; police officer; detective or criminal investigator; victim services specialist; juvenile caseworker; security consultant; customs officer; credit investigator; and more.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities for forensic science technicians are projected to grow just 27% between 2014 and 2024 ( Jobs for police officers, detectives and criminal investigators are expected to increase at a rate of 4%, over the same 10-year period. That's slower than the average growth rate. As of May 2015, forensic science techs earned a median salary of $56,320; police officers earned $58,320; and, detectives and criminal investigators earned a median of $77,210, as reported by the BLS

Continuing Education

Another option for undergraduate students is a certificate program in justice studies with a focus on crime and criminology. This is an interdisciplinary course of study that covers topics in criminal law and social science. The credits earned through this program may be applicable towards an online Associate of Science or Bachelor of Arts in Justice Studies.

Furthermore, some schools offer undergraduate certificate programs in crime scene analysis, crime scene technology or legal studies. These programs may include the study of forensic evidence as well, in addition to investigations and testimony.

Students currently enrolled in a bachelor's program in criminology and forensic technology may want to pursue a student affiliate membership in the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Through a membership option specific to criminalistics, students have access to an online reference library, information about internships and a webinar series.

Professionals employed as nurses, paralegals, social workers and other related positions may be interested in an online graduate certificate program in forensic criminology or criminology. Required courses include topics in criminal behavior or profiling, forensic psychology and victimology. Graduate students can also pursue a campus-based Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Criminology that can help to prepare them for administrative positions in research and development, education or policy making.

Many schools offer fully online programs in criminology with courses in forensics for those wanting to pursue a career as a police officer, detective, forensic science technician or other related position. These programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels and provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to work in the field.

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