If you’re interested in furthering your career in the field of forensic science, you may consider enrolling in an online masters in forensic science.
Through extensive coursework, you have the opportunity to advance your technical skills in all aspects of crime scene investigation and evidence analysis.
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In addition to core topics—such as crime scene management, DNA analysis, and toxicology—forensic science graduate programs can also provide opportunities for you to develop leadership skills.
A masters may give you a considerable edge in the future if you ever decide to pursue any forensics-related management role.
Online Masters in Forensic Science Programs
Depending on your interests, you can often tailor your online master’s in forensic science to be as broad or as specialized as you want. If you do focus on a particular concentration, your final degree will often contain that specialized title.
For example, a broad masters program may result in a more generic MS in Forensic Science degree that doesn’t commit to a concentration. You may also find specialized programs that result in degrees like the following:
- MS in Forensic Toxicology
- MS in Forensic Serology
- MS in Forensic Drug Chemistry
- MS in Forensic Psychology
- MS in Criminal Justice
Every concentration will likely involve core courses in criminalistics, which introduce practical techniques to investigate a crime scene and properly collect evidence. In addition, nearly all concentrations will build on key biology, chemistry, and mathematics courses taught in a bachelor’s program.
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Certain concentrations, such as toxicology and serology, can qualify you for advanced positions in crime labs. Becoming a forensic scientist in a lab is far from the only available career path, though. Courtrooms, government agencies, and even software companies are just a few other places you might seek employment.
- Court liaison: Suitable for those with an affinity for forensic psychology or interest in criminal justice, court liaisons are responsible for keeping court systems running smoothly.
- Forensic pharmacist: If you’re interested in pharmaceutical science and criminal justice, you may consider becoming a forensic pharmacist. They can work with local law enforcement to analyze drug-related evidence in criminal cases.
- Cybersecurity engineer: The rise in cyber crimes has led to a new concentration in cybersecurity within forensic science. Those also interested in computer science may find work in software development as a cybersecurity engineer.
It’s possible for you to combine other interests with forensic science in order to produce a career path that’s complementary for you.
If you do have a specific role within forensics that you want to pursue, you can try to mold your online masters coursework accordingly. Otherwise, you can also decide to take a broader approach in your program to keep your career options open.
Common Forensic Science Master’s Specializations
Before going further, let’s dive deeper into some of the most common forensic science masters specializations.
1. Forensic Biology
Forensic biology is a popular discipline within forensic science that applies principles of biology to aid in criminal investigations.
This can include gathering cellular and molecular evidence from blood, hair, and fingerprints to solve cases. Courses also typically discuss how to properly collect and preserve such evidence from crime scenes.
2. Forensic DNA
Forensic DNA can be seen as a further sub-discipline of forensic biology. This specialization focuses on examining DNA specimens left behind in crime scenes.
During a typical investigation, DNA evidence may be gathered from fingerprints, hair, skin, or saliva to link potential suspects and victims to a crime.
3. Crime Scene Investigator
Crime scene investigators are primarily responsible for being the first responders onto a crime scene, properly securing the area, and collecting and preserving evidence.
While working hand in hand with police officers and other law enforcement, other duties may include photographing the crime scene, writing reports, and testifying in court.
4. Digital Forensics
Digital forensics is a growing modern field in the intersection between computer science and forensics that focuses on investigating digital forms of evidence.
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Most digital forensics experts work to stop cybercrimes, such as tracing and preventing data breaches as well as trying to recover stolen or compromised data.
5. Forensic Toxicology
In forensic toxicology, you’ll examine the effects of drugs and chemicals on the body. Through examining a person’s bodily fluids, forensic toxicologists are able to answer questions, such as whether drugs were involved in a crime or whether a person was driving under the influence.
Forensic Science Careers & Salaries
The most common career path for graduates is to become a forensic science technician. Forensic science technicians may sometimes have to work irregular shifts, especially crime scene investigators who may need to be available around the clock.
Other adjacent jobs include private detective, law enforcement, lab technician, and even fire inspector. There are also fields that combine forensic science with other areas of expertise, such as cybersecurity engineering or digital forensics.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, here are some median salaries for occupations related to forensic science.
|Careers||Annual Median Salaries|
|Detectives and Criminal Investigators||$86,940|
|Forensic Science Technicians, State Government||$62,570|
|Forensic Science Technicians, Testing Laboratories||$61,540|
|Forensic Science Technicians, Local Government||$60,870|
|Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians||$54,180|
|Private Detectives and Investigators||$53,320|
|Forensic Science Technicians, Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories||$38,870|
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the median annual wage for forensic science technicians is $60,590, with the highest 10% earning more than $100,910. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also projects 14% job growth for forensic science technicians over the next 10 years.
A Master of Forensic Science can help give you a competitive edge when pursuing jobs in this rapidly growing field. If you decide to move to an adjacent field, certain courses within your master’s program may still prove useful. For example, your skills may qualify you to become a fire investigator, chemical technician, or clinical lab technician.
Forensic Science Master’s Curriculum & Courses
Forensic science masters programs may feature some of the following courses and electives:
- Criminalistics and Crime Scene Investigation: You’ll study general techniques to conducting a successful crime scene investigation.
- Forensic Toxicology: This course introduces concepts in analytical chemistry and pharmacology, specifically as it applies to drugs and human body fluids.
- Forensic Serology: You’ll cover multiple aspects of the crime scene investigation process, including how to properly collect, preserve, and analyze biological evidence in labs.
- Forensic Microscopy: A great supplement to toxicology and serology, microscopy will equip you with the technical methods needed to analyze evidence under a microscope.
- Forensic Anthropology: You’ll study the human anatomy and apply this knowledge to skeletal analysis in order to pinpoint possible causes of death.
- Forensic Pattern Analysis: A must-have for investigators, this course teaches you to recognize patterns such as blood splatter and tool marks to more effectively analyze a crime scene.
- Blood Distribution and Splatter: This course addresses how to interpret blood stain patterns as well as how to collect and prepare blood stains for processing.
- Forensic Psychology: You’ll combine principles of forensics with psychology to help evaluate the mental states of victims, suspects, and witnesses.
- Digital Forensics: This course is an introduction to computer forensics and cybercrimes, including how to obtain and examine digital evidence.
- Ethics in Forensic Science: Learning the ethics that revolve around sensitive areas in forensic science—including evidence gathering, court proceedings, and witness testimony—is crucial for anyone entering this field.
Many of these courses require prerequisites in science and mathematics. Specifically, you may want to brush up on topics such as organic chemistry, biochemistry, and applied statistics.
How to Become a Forensic Scientist
There are multiple ways to break into forensic science, but the most tried and true method still comes from a combination of getting the correct education, certifications, and experience. You might go through the following steps in your journey to become a forensic scientist.
- Bachelor’s in forensic science. Most forensic scientists have a bachelors degree in forensic science or a natural science. Throughout your bachelors program, your focus should be on building up solid fundamentals in biology, chemistry, and mathematics while also taking introductory courses in forensic science.
- Obtain industry experience. While it’s certainly possible to jump directly ahead to pursuing a masters or professional certification, many choose to go into industry first. By working in a forensics lab or federal agency, you can gain practical industry experience and discover where your true career interests lie.
- Master’s in forensic science. You may choose to further your education with a master’s in forensic science. This can be especially useful for those looking to get into leadership positions or get domain knowledge in a forensic science specialization.
- Obtain professional certifications. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the final step in your journey. Throughout your career, you may set aside some time to obtain professional certifications through reputable institutions like the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board.
Going for a masters is typically an early to mid-career move, and it can be useful for anyone looking to deepen their knowledge in a particular field or learn about a new concentration.
Admission requirements for an online master’s in forensic science program may include the following:
- Bachelor’s degree. Most programs will require a bachelor’s degree in forensic science or a closely related field.
- GRE or GMAT. Standardized testing is becoming an obsolete requirement for some schools, so you may want to check to see if it’s still a requirement for your program.
- Professional experience. Some specializations or accelerated degrees may require prospective students to have a few years of work experience before applying.
In addition, some programs may also have a minimum GPA requirement.
When picking out a program that’s right for you, it’s beneficial to pay attention to whether the institution is accredited. Regionally accredited schools have met or exceeded official educational standards, which can help give you assurance on the quality of their programs.
Accreditation can also be a benefit in other areas, such as determining eligibility for federal financial aid as well as whether you can transfer existing credits. In addition, employers may have preference for candidates with degrees from accredited institutions.
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To check if a program’s accredited, you can refer to the US Department of Education’s database of schools.
Financial Aid and Scholarships
To help cover some of the costs of a master’s degree, you can explore all of the financial aid and scholarship options to discover what’s available to you. If you’re currently employed, your employer may have programs in place to help financially assist those seeking further education.
There are also multiple organizations that offer scholarships to students studying forensic science. Most scholarships are merit-based and require additional work to apply for, but they can be well worth it for many.
Finally, you don’t want to overlook perhaps the simplest way to get financial aid: the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). While this is a loan you’d have to pay back, it’s convenient and free to apply for. A single FAFSA application can determine if you qualify you for work-study programs as well as federal and state aid.
Forensic Science Professional Organizations
Joining a professional organization not only helps you network with others but can also open the door to scholarship opportunities as well.
- American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS)
- Association of Forensic DNA Analysts and Administrators (AFDAA)
- International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA)
A professional organization is also a great opportunity to learn about other areas of forensic science you may not get the chance to explore in a classroom setting.
What Can You Do with a Masters in Forensic Science?
Forensic science graduates usually enter the industry as a specialist in their masters concentration. Most forensic scientists are employed by state and local government agencies as well as testing laboratories.
Whether you frequently go on-site for crime scene investigations or spend most of your time in a forensics lab, a master’s degree can help qualify you to pursue senior leadership positions. It’s also possible to move into adjacent careers related to biology, chemistry, mathematics, or computer science, depending on your concentration.
Where Do Forensic Scientists Work?
Forensic scientists most commonly work for law enforcement agencies in crime laboratories. This is usually one of the more high-paying professions within forensic science.
Crime scene investigators also work outside of the lab, traveling to crime scenes to collect evidence. Forensic scientists who have a background in nursing can work in hospitals as well, evaluating, documenting, and collecting physical evidence from victims.
A masters may also qualify you for teaching positions at junior colleges. Some professionals go on to pursue doctoral degrees in order to become professors at universities.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Forensic Scientist?
It’s possible to find entry-level forensic scientist positions with a bachelors degree, which typically takes around 4 years to complete with traditional full-time study.
Like many other professions in biology, chemistry, and biotechnology, a masters degree is generally required to be considered for senior promotions after a few years of work. A typical timeline from start to advancement may involve a 4 year bachelors degree, 3 years of industry work, and then a 1 to 2 year masters program.
Is a Masters in Forensic Science Worth It?
Yes, a masters in forensic science is worth it for many students. With explosive 14% job growth projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics for forensic scientists, now may be a great time to earn your masters degree to get ahead of the curve.
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The most common forensic scientist careers include lab work or crime scene investigation, but there are other job opportunities that exist in this field. In addition, a forensic science degree paired with another concentration or interest can open up different career paths that you can choose to pursue later on.
Universities Offering Online Masters in Forensic Science Degree Programs
Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.
ASU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.
Champlain College is accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
Florida International University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Grand Canyon University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
National University is accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission.
Oklahoma State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
Saint Leo University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Stevenson University is accredited by the Commission on Higher Education, Middle States Association of Colleges and Universities.
The University of Central Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
The University of Florida is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Getting Your Masters in Forensic Science Online
If you have a passion for forensics and criminal justice, you may want to consider pursuing a masters degree in forensic science online.
Whether you want to work with law enforcement, in a testing laboratory, or in a hospital, a masters degree is often needed for career advancement. Besides the technical skills you can gain in the classroom, you may also have the chance to network with professors and peers who share your passions.
You can start the next step in your educational journey today by researching accredited online forensic science degree programs that align with your personal career goals.
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