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 forensic science degree will allow you to focus your academic study on a specific aspect so you can find your niche after completing your general coursework 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 beyond support positions, such as those of forensic science technicians. 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; whether that is in forensic biology, molecular biology, analytical chemistry, blood splatter, digital forensics, biological evidence, and other physical evidence or specific techniques or technologies you use in your career within forensic science laboratories or crime laboratories run by law enforcement agencies. As you can see, forensic professionals have plenty of paths to choose from as they strive for career advancement after graduating from their school with a degree or certificate in criminal justice and forensics. This is including careers as forensic professionals such as a forensic science technician, a medical examiner, laboratory managers, and other options.
Full-time students can complete the main general coursework of their curriculum content in the first two years of their on-campus or online program. After that, a program will provide access to criminal justice and forensics core courses, which will teach undergraduate or graduate students the skills they need to succeed as forensic professionals: forensic laboratory techniques, criminal justice laws and policies, and more info from within the forensic science field. They may also have the chance to earn relevant work experience in an internship.
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.
- 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 as a forensic scientists 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.
What are the Best Online Forensic Science & Crime Investigation Master's Programs?
University of Central Florida
- Net Price: $11,575
- Retention Rate: 92%
- Graduation Rate: 75%
- Total Enrollment: 71,881
- Undergrad Students: 61,401
- Graduate Students: 10,480
- Grads Salary: $67,000
- Student-to-faculty: 31:1
Arizona State University
- Net Price: $14,934
- Retention Rate: 86%
- Graduation Rate: 66%
- Total Enrollment: 74,795
- Undergrad Students: 63,124
- Graduate Students: 11,671
- Grads Salary: $73,000
- Student-to-faculty: 18:1
Oklahoma State University
- Net Price: $14,603
- Retention Rate: 85%
- Graduation Rate: 66%
- Total Enrollment: 24,535
- Undergrad Students: 20,323
- Graduate Students: 4,212
- Grads Salary: $71,000
- Student-to-faculty: 18:1
- Net Price: $9,966
- Retention Rate: 45%
- Graduation Rate: 47%
- Total Enrollment: 18,070
- Undergrad Students: 8,441
- Graduate Students: 9,629
- Grads Salary: $78,000
- Student-to-faculty: 16:1
La Salle University
- Net Price: $25,401
- Retention Rate: 78%
- Graduation Rate: 65%
- Total Enrollment: 4,624
- Undergrad Students: 3,293
- Graduate Students: 1,331
- Grads Salary: $74,000
- Student-to-faculty: 13:1
- Net Price: $27,770
- Retention Rate: 80%
- Graduation Rate: 62%
- Total Enrollment: 3,492
- Undergrad Students: 3,027
- Graduate Students: 465
- Grads Salary: $66,000
- Student-to-faculty: 15:1
Grand Canyon University
- Net Price: $21,644
- Retention Rate: 74%
- Graduation Rate: 45%
- Total Enrollment: 103,427
- Undergrad Students: 63,752
- Graduate Students: 39,675
- Grads Salary: $65,000
- Student-to-faculty: 21:1
California University of Pennsylvania
- Net Price: $20,317
- Retention Rate: 70%
- Graduation Rate: 48%
- Total Enrollment: 6,885
- Undergrad Students: 4,785
- Graduate Students: 2,100
- Grads Salary: $61,000
- Student-to-faculty: 19:1
Overview of an Online Master's in Forensic Science
What Forensic Science Master’s Degrees are Available Online?
Because forensics is within the realm of science, you'll find nearly all online master's degree forensic science 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 forensic science 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 Forensic Psychology
- 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
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 forensic science 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?
An online master's forensic science 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 forensic science 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 online 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 forensic toxicology. Here's a look at some other potential careers with a master's in forensic science:
- Crime Scene Investigator (CSI)
You’ll conduct a crime scene investigation by securing and examining 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 once the crime scene investigation has concluded, 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 forensic 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.
- Forensic Psychologist
Forensic psychology is a specialized field of psychology that focuses on the application of psychological principles and theories to the legal system. The role of a forensic psychologist is multifaceted and ranges from providing assessments for legal cases to facilitating meaningful communication between victims and perpetrators. In courtrooms, forensic psychologists provide expert testimony as to an individual’s mental state or capacity at the time of an alleged crime. Outside the courtroom, forensic psychologists can offer therapy services and consultations with law enforcement personnel to help them better understand how criminals think and behave.
The average forensic psychologist salary is $73,180.
Salary by Occupation
|Crime Scene Investigator||$45,100||$47,200||$52,000|
Options to Advance
You have several options for advancement once you hold an online 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 online 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I need a master’s degree in forensic science to get a job?
Generally, you will not need to have a master’s in forensic science to gain access to entry-level positions. However, if you plan to work in law enforcement roles, you are probably going to need a master’s in order to earn any promotions and move into supervisory or higher-paying positions. Those who plan to work for private labs that may do law enforcement testing will have to figure out the requirements for those roles in their area, but they may also end up needing a master’s degree if they wish to find roles and gain promotions in a competitive environment.
What specialties fall under the umbrella of forensic science?
There are several specialties that could be discussed as being part of forensic science, and a bachelor’s degree in the field of forensic science might be able to prepare you for these specialties, which are more often studies at the master’s level. These specialties include the following.
- DNA Analysis
The interpretation of genetic sequences, used to identify the source of investigatory materials
- Forensic Anthropology
The examination of human remains
- Forensic Botany
The application of the study of plants to the investigation of crime
- Forensic Entomology
-The application of the study of insects to the investigation of crime-And More
Is forensic science difficult?
The short answer is yes. Not only are there many various pieces of information that you will need to remember in this field, but the field is also highly competitive. You’ll need to have excellent science skills and a passion for the field in order to succeed.
How do I get financial aid to help pay for my Online Master's Degree?
For many students, obtaining an Online Master's Degree can be an important step forward in their career. However, it can also be expensive and financially challenging to achieve this goal. If you're struggling to come up with the funds for your Online Master's Degree, you might want to consider seeking out financial aid opportunities. Financial aid can come in a variety of forms, including student loans and grants. Student loans are often available from both private lenders as well as federal sources like the Department of Education. Grants, on the other hand, are typically need-based awards that don't have to be repaid like student loans do. Additionally, there may also be scholarship opportunities available through certain universities or organizations that could help cover some of your costs associated with getting your Online Master's Degree.
How long does it take to earn my online master's in forensic sciences?
Earning an online master's in Forensic Sciences can open up new opportunities for students to advance their careers. With the right dedication, you could complete your online master's degree in as little as two years. However, this timeline may depend on several factors such as enrollment status and course load.
When considering an online program, it is important to do research and understand the estimated timeline of completion. Full-time students typically finish their degrees within two years while part-time students often take three or more years to graduate. Additionally, some programs require internships or other components that can add to the length of a student’s program. Depending on your specific program requirements, it is possible that completing your online Master’s in Forensic Sciences could take longer than two years.
Is the forensic science master's program accredited by the colleges and schools commission?
The forensic science master's program is a popular choice for students who want to gain knowledge and skills in crime scene investigation, criminal procedures, and evidence analysis. However, it’s important to know whether this program is accredited by the Colleges and Schools Commission (CSC). CSC accreditation provides prospective students with reassurance that the educational institution meets the highest standards of educational quality.
In order to answer this question of accreditation status, one must examine the institution offering the forensic science master's program. The school should be able to provide proof of their CSC accreditation status if they are indeed accredited by them. Additionally, one can check directly with the CSC via their website or telephone number to confirm any details about an institution’s accreditation status.