Master’s in Forensic Science Degrees & Schools Guide

Master's Degree in Forensic Science Career Options & Salary

Why Earn a Master’s in Forensic Science?


If you're considering entering the field of forensics, it's an excellent idea to make a master's degree part of your long-term plans. There are many different fields within the realm of forensic science and a master's degree will allow you to focus on a specific aspect so you can find your niche and become proficient in that area.

Although a lower degree is usually enough to enter your field of choice, as you gain experience you'll find a master's degree is necessary to advance in most areas of forensics. Because forensic science is used to prove guilt or innocence in a court of law, those who are asked to testify about their findings must be considered an expert in their field. By earning a master's degree you will also earn the right to call yourself an expert in your chosen area of forensic science.

Criminal Justice & Law Degrees & Career Paths


PROS

As with all education, earning a master's degree has both good and bad points. Here's a look at both:

  • Those who hold a master's degree have higher average earnings than someone with the same position and experience, regardless of the occupation.
  • A master's degree showcases your expertise within your chosen field, whether it is crime scene investigation, ballistics analysis, or one of the many other forensic science occupations.
  • A graduate degree will make you eligible for many other job options in addition to your area of expertise.
  • Most courts require a forensic scientist to hold at least a master's in order to be considered an "expert" witness.
  • A master's degree is one of the qualifications for some of the higher proficiency certifications available to forensic scientists who wish to showcase their expertise.
  • Your graduate degree will allow you to focus on a specific area of forensics rather than a broad range of investigative areas.
  • You must first earn a master's degree if you plan to continue your education and earn a doctoral degree.

CONS

  • Earning a master's degree takes time, and you may have a hard time adding classes to your already busy schedule.
  • A graduate degree is expensive, and it will take time to see a return on your investment.
  • Some forensic science positions require a doctorate degree, so your master's won't make you top in your field of expertise.
  • A master's degree will not guarantee you will land the position you covet within your area of forensic science.
  • Because forensics is constantly evolving, you'll still need to take continuing educational courses to stay on top of new developments in the field.
  • It may be hard to find a master's degree program that offers a specialization in your chosen field.
  • Working in forensics can lead to exposure to drugs and other harmful chemicals that may cause lasting damage.
  • Laboratory work means standing much of the day and may cause injury to your feet and spine. Likewise, there is often heavy lifting involved which may cause permanent injury.

Overview of a Master's in Forensic Science


What Forensic Science Master’s Degrees are Available?


Because forensics is within the realm of science, you'll find nearly all master's degree programs are Master of Science (MS) degrees. That being said, if you're interested in a crime scene investigation degree you may find a Master of Arts (MA) degree offered as part of a criminal justice program rather than a science program.

Some MS programs offer a degree in chemistry with a specialty in forensics, so you should look closely at curriculums, specializations, and concentrations to find a program that matches your goals rather than choosing a program by its title.

Here are some examples:

  • Master of Science in Forensic Sciences
  • Master of Science in Investigations
  • Master of Science in Forensic Science - Forensic Scientist Track, and Forensic Examiner Track
  • Master of Arts in Criminal Justice Investigative Forensics concentration

Admission Requirements


While each school sets its own admission requirements, there isn't a lot of variation on what they require. Here is a list of what you'll most likely have to submit when you apply for entry into a master's degree program:

  • Completed application with a processing fee
  • Your official transcripts from your bachelor’s degree program
  • Proof of your grade point average (GPA; the usual minimum is 3.0 but may be higher at a more competitive school)
  • Your personal statement

Some schools also require you to pass a standard test such as the GRE, submit your resume, and submit references. You will also need to meet the prerequisite requirements for the program you wish to enter; for example, you may need a bachelor’s degree in chemistry to qualify for a science-heavy Master’s of Forensic Science program that specializes in trace evidence.

How long does it take to earn a Forensic Science Master’s?


A master's degree will typically require you to complete 30 to 40 credit hours; the average length of time is two years but you may graduate sooner by taking a heavier class load. Some schools offer an accelerated program that can be completed in 12 months. However, some students already have a full life and work schedule and may take up to six years to earn their degree.

Check with your school of choice to see if they accept credits for job experience, civic service, or professional training in order to speed up the time it takes to earn your master's degree in forensic science. You should also verify all your bachelor’s degree credits are transferable before enrolling in your school of choice.

Potential Careers in Forensic Science with a Master’s


Your master's degree will allow you to advance in most areas of forensic science. It will also make you eligible for many management positions. It's important to note that your master's will also allow you to concentrate on a specific area within a career zone; for example you may become a forensic scientist who specializes in trace evidence or toxicology. Here's a look at some other potential careers with a master's in forensic science:

  • Crime Scene Investigator (CSI)
    You’ll secure and examine the details of a crime scene; supervise the collection and preservation of possible evidence and assure chain of evidence protocol is followed. As a CSI with a master's degree, your role will most likely be supervisory and may include testifying at trials.
    The average pay for a crime scene investigator (CSI) is $45,500
  • College Educator
    You’ll teach one or more aspects of forensic science at a community college, state college, or university. Depending on your area of expertise you may teach as part of a criminal justice program or an advanced chemistry program.
    The average annual salary is: $57,900.
  • Forensic Scientist
    You’ll gather and analyze possible evidence to determine whether it is pertinent to the commission of a crime. Depending on the size of the jurisdiction, a forensic scientist may work both at a crime scene and in a lab, testify as an expert witness in court, and be tasked with training law enforcement how to handle and preserve evidence. The average pay for a forensic scientist is $53,800.
  • Forensic Analyst
    You’ll use a range of analytical and scientific means to aid in evaluating crime scenes at the onset of an investigation. You may also work in the lab to examine samples to determine whether they have evidential value. In smaller jurisdictions, a forensic analyst may perform both duties; in a larger department they may perform only one aspect of analysis. Average salary is $64,500.
  • Forensic Ballistics Expert
    You’ll examine any evidence relating to firearms, match wounds, spent bullets, and fragments with a specific firearm or type of weapon. You may testify to findings in a court of law as an expert witness or be hired as an independent consultant.
    The average forensic ballistics expert salary is $72,700.

Options to Advance


You have several options for advancement once you hold a master's degree in forensic science. First of all, experience alone will allow you to advance steadily in most careers in this field. You can also continue your education to the doctoral level and become an expert who stands out among your peers, allowing you to focus on a single aspect, such as expert testimony.

You can seek certifications in one or more areas from the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) to showcase your knowledge in one or more areas within your areas of expertise. Many with master's degrees opt to enter management, which allows you to oversee or supervise an entire CSI team or lab. You can also choose to start your own consulting business, hiring out your expertise to defense lawyers or prosecution teams to give your opinion on case evidence.

Regardless of your area of work, forensic science is constantly evolving, and you should plan to take continuing education courses to stay abreast of new developments in your field. This will allow you to advance in your current position or make you eligible for higher positions in another jurisdiction.

Best MS in Forensic Science Programs


When choosing a school for your master's degree program you should first verify the program is supported by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). This will assure that your degree is both respected in the field of forensics and accepted for certifications.

  • University of Alabama at Birmingham
    Birmingham, Alabama

    The University of Alabama forensic science program is one of 16 schools nationwide that are fully accredited by FEPAC. Because the program is closely affiliated with state law enforcement agencies, the majority of graduating students acquire employment in a laboratory setting after earning their graduate degree.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Science in Forensic Science
  • DeSales University
    Center Valley, Pennsylvania

    At DeSales you can earn a concentration on investigative forensics that focuses on violent crimes and the legal issues faced by criminal investigations, making you a specialist and expert witness on the topic of violent crimes.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Arts in Criminal Justice Investigative Forensics concentration
  • Drexel University College of Medicine
    Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    Drexel's forensic program is limited to students who have already demonstrated a strong science background and the prerequisites reflect this fact. This program is recommended for those with undergraduate degrees in chemistry, biology, and pre-med.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Science in Forensic Science
  • Sam Houston State University
    Huntsville, Texas

    At Sam Houston the program is fully accredited by FEPAC and requires 44 semester hours to graduate. Student placement rate is over 90% in research and forensic science labs throughout the country.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Science in Forensic Science
  • Texas Tech University
    Lubbock, Texas

    At Texas Tech's Institute for Forensic Science (IFS) you'll find a state-of-the-art program and facilities and can choose to concentrate in either Forensic Investigation or Forensic Chemistry. Students enrolling in the forensic chemistry program must have an undergrad degree in chemistry or biology.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Science in Forensic Science - Forensic Scientist Track, and Forensic Examiner Track

Traditional Schools Offering a Master's Degree in Forensic Science


  • University of Florida
    Gainesville, Florida

    At the University of Florida's College of Pharmacy, you can choose from a number of forensic specializations such as serology, DNA, drug chemistry, and toxicology. Although the program is online, students are required to visit campus for a three-day special topics event.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Science in Forensic Science
  • Oklahoma State University
    Tulsa, Oklahoma

    Oklahoma State offers specializations in forensic biology and DNA, death scene investigation, forensic chemistry, and forensic psychology so you have a wide range of options from which to choose your concentration. All programs are FEPAC accredited and consist of 39 credit hours of instruction.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Science in Forensic Sciences
  • University of New Haven
    West Haven, Connecticut

    The University of New Haven offers concentrations in Financial Crimes, Criminal Investigations, and Digital Forensics with focus areas in each concentration. The program is 10 courses designed to be completed in one year, making it one of the fastest master’s degree programs available.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Science in Investigations
  • Stevenson University
    Stevenson, Maryland

    At Stevenson you'll find a program designed for working adults. Students can tailor their coursework to reflect personal career tracks which makes it easier to attend while working a full-time job. The program is taught in partnership with the Baltimore County Crime Lab, Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Division, and the U.S. Secret Service Lab and offers excellent networking opportunities while you learn.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master's in Forensic Science
  • National University
    San Diego, California

    At National you can specialize in investigation or criminalistics to tailor your master’s degree to fit your career plans. National is one of the oldest online campuses dedicated to lifelong learning making it an excellent choice of schools for your online degree.

    Degrees Offered:

    • Master of Forensic Sciences
[wi_autosearch_suggest_form1]