How Much Can You Make in a Crime Scene Investigation Career?
While earning a bachelor's degree does not guarantee employment, graduates of CSI programs acquire investigative and technical training that gives them an advantage over nondegree and associate degree-holders. This degree serves as the standard credential for employment; investigators and forensic analysts in law enforcement must pay close attention to details and possess expertise related to technical applications and data analysis.
Employers assign various titles to CSI-trained professionals, such as crime scene investigator, forensic technician, and evidence technician. While the qualifications and demand for these positions vary by employer, a bachelor's in crime scene investigation can give candidates a competitive edge in the job market. This degree also provides a strong foundation for graduate work in specialized fields, which can lead to greater career prospects and increased salary potential.
- Private Detectives and Investigators
Private detectives and investigators contract with individuals, attorneys, and businesses who solicit their services to search for legal, financial, and personal information. They perform background checks, missing persons investigations, and surveillance. Much of their routine work requires computer and research skills as they trace records, uncover civil judgements and criminal histories, and conduct interviews. In addition to state licensure, many private detective agencies require a bachelor's degree in criminal justice or an investigations-related field.
Median Annual Salary: $50,090
Job Growth (2018-2028): 8%
- Forensic Science Technicians
Forensic science technicians collect and analyze physical evidence at crime scenes and crime laboratories. At crime scenes, their activities may include taking photographs; collecting physical evidence like weapons, fingerprints, and body fluids; and preserving evidence for transfer to crime labs for further analysis. In laboratory settings, they perform biological, chemical, and microscopic analyses of physical evidence and consult with law enforcement and forensic experts about their findings.
Median Annual Salary: $58,230
Job Growth (2018-2028): 14%
- Fire Inspectors
These specialists determine the origins of fires and explosions at private businesses, residences, and public properties. Their investigations may reveal whether a fire began accidentally or was caused by arson. They may also examine buildings to detect fire hazards and ensure that property meets federal, state, and local codes.
Median Annual Salary: $60,200
Job Growth (2018-2028): 8%
- Detectives and Criminal Investigators
Detectives and criminal investigators work in government and law enforcement agencies, conducting investigations related to suspected violations of local, state, and federal laws. They preserve and analyze evidence, including lifting fingerprints, collecting trace evidence for DNA analysis, examining weapons, and determining the time and cause of death. They spend much of their time documenting their findings and conferring with other law enforcement officers and prosecutors to build a case.
Median Annual Salary: $81,920
Job Growth (2018-2028): 3%
- Information Security Analysts
These specialized analysts implement security measures to protect computer systems and networks in public and private organizations. As part of their daily routine, they may monitor networks for security breaches, investigate threats, and prevent cyberattacks by installing software like data encryption programs and firewalls. Professionals who specialize in forensic computer analysis recover and examine digital evidence of fraud and cybercrime for criminal proceedings.
Median Annual Salary: $98,350
Job Growth (2018-2028): 32%
CSI salaries vary based on a worker's education level, years of experience, employer, and geographical location. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the demand for forensic science technicians is projected to grow at a rate significantly above the national average for all occupations. These technicians can expect to earn the highest average salaries in metropolitan areas in California around Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Oxnard.
What Courses Can Be Taken for an Online Crime Scene Investigation Degree?
The curricula of online crime scene investigation schools vary by program. Some programs require core courses in chemistry, biology, and the natural sciences, while others focus more on investigative techniques and forensic applications. The following list covers common courses found in bachelor's in crime scene investigation programs; however, students should look into the curricular requirements at each of their prospective schools.
This course introduces students to the techniques used to examine and analyze crime scenes. Students learn to collect, record, and preserve evidence; interview witnesses and suspects; and conduct basic forensic examinations of evidence.
Students gain the analytical and technical skills needed to identify firearms based on caliber, manufacturer, design, and load. They also learn how these differences leave distinctive wound patterns and forensic evidence on victims.
This class examines the principles and techniques used during an autopsy to determine the cause of death. Students learn how to identify types of physical injuries and how to present their findings as evidence in court testimony.
This course introduces students to techniques and procedures that enable them to perform a digital investigation through the phases of preservation, analysis, and acquisition of artifacts that reside in hard disks and random access memory.
This course introduces students to contemporary forensic biochemistry and serology. Students learn the techniques currently used in forensic investigations related to pattern evidence and the identification of body fluids.
How to Choose the Best Online Crime Scene Investigation Program
Several schools offer online bachelor's degrees in crime scene investigation. When researching schools, factors to consider include degree requirements, elective courses, tuition costs, and accreditation status. This section answers a few common questions to help students choose the best program for their goals and interests.
What's the difference between a bachelor's in crime scene investigation and similar degrees with other names?
Degree programs may offer similar curricula but go by different names. Students should compare course offerings and degree requirements for different schools, looking for a curriculum that features courses in natural and forensic sciences, criminal justice procedures, and crime scene investigation and evidence.
What strategies should I follow when choosing courses?
Students should look for classes that interest them and help them achieve their career and educational goals. They should also research foundation requirements and prerequisites for the upper-division courses they plan to take. Students can meet with a faculty advisor to devise a plan of study that maps out the courses they need to graduate and meet their career goals.
What do I need to know about the online program format?
Online programs use different delivery formats. Highly motivated students might prefer the challenge of an accelerated program. Some learners might appreciate the fit of a fully online, asynchronous program that allows them to advance through coursework at their own pace. Students who prefer a more structured learning environment might look for programs that rely on a synchronous delivery format — offering classes at the same time each week — or hybrid courses that require some in-person components.
Should I look for a specific curriculum focus, concentration, or other features?
Students who know the specific job they hope to attain, such as crime scene technician or cyber forensic analyst, should look for programs that offer electives and concentrations aligned with their career goals. Additionally, some schools may allow students to design their own concentration based on their goals. Programs may also feature internships that give students valuable experience in the field.
What is accreditation and why is it important?
Accreditation indicates that a college or university meets certain academic standards. Many programs only accept transfer credits from accredited schools. Accreditation also determines a student's eligibility for federal financial aid. Additionally, many prospective employers and graduate schools give preference to candidates with degrees from accredited institutions. Vocational, technical, and for-profit schools generally hold national accreditation, while four-year, degree-granting institutions usually earn the more prestigious regional designation.
How long will it take to earn my crime scene investigation bachelor's degree online?
Most bachelor's in crime scene investigation programs require around 120 credits. Full-time students usually earn their degree in four years, while part-time students may need five or more years to graduate. However, students in accelerated online programs may finish degree requirements in less time.
What kind of support services and resources can I access as an online student?
Academic success for busy students often depends on their ability to access essential student services online at convenient times to help them with technology glitches, advising questions, tutoring, and library research. The best online crime scene investigation schools offer the same resources and support services to distance learners that on-campus students receive.
Scholarships and Financial Aid for Crime Scene Investigation Programs
Many students rely on financial assistance, such as loans and scholarships, to help pay for their bachelor's in crime scene investigation. Scholarships and grants, unlike loans, do not require repayment. Students planning for careers in crime scene investigation and forensic science can help defray the cost of tuition and other expenses by applying for need-based and merit-based scholarships. The following table outlines several scholarship opportunities for CSI students.
- American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Scholarship Program
ASCLD awards annual scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students in forensic science, forensic chemistry, a physical or natural science, or a related forensic field. Juniors or seniors in a bachelor's program or graduate students may apply for these $1,000 awards. The scholarship board prefers applicants enrolled in programs accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission but considers students from other programs who fulfill the eligibility requirements and demonstrate their commitment to a forensic science career.See Scholarship
- Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners Scholarship Program
The $2,000 AFTE scholarship supports students interested in careers in firearm and weapons identification. Candidates for this annual award must provide documentation of their enrollment in a forensic science degree program, transcripts, employer and faculty references, and a personal statement explaining their education and career goals. The scholarship committee seeks a geographically diverse pool of high academic achievers. Recipients may renew AFTE scholarships throughout their program but must reapply each year.See Scholarship
- Floyd E. McDonald Scholarship Program
The Southwestern Association of Forensic Scientists awards this $1,000 scholarship to juniors or seniors enrolled in bachelor of science programs who plan to enter careers in forensic science. Applicants must major in chemistry, biology, or a natural science and hold a minimum 3.0 GPA. Candidates must submit recommendations from an employer or faculty member and a narrative statement that describes their contributions to the community and their educational and career interests in the forensics field.See Scholarship
- Johnson-Whyte Memorial Foundation Fund
The International Association for Identification established this fund to support education and research in forensic identification. The foundation awards annual scholarships to students enrolled in a full-time course of study related to forensic identification at an accredited college or university. Applicants need junior or senior status and a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or higher.See Scholarship
- The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives Scholarship Program
NOBLE administers one-time, need-based awards for high school seniors planning to enter a career in law enforcement, crime investigation, or another criminal justice-related field. Students can apply for scholarships that award $1,500-$2,500. Applicants must pursue a degree at an accredited postsecondary institution in any of the social sciences, including forensic technology, forensic investigation, or criminal investigation.See Scholarship