Best Online Master’s in Crime Scene Investigation Programs
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Criminal investigators analyze the circumstances surrounding crimes and draw conclusions from collected evidence. A master's degree in crime scene investigation can prepare learners to collect evidence, collaborate with various forensic specialists, document crime scenes, and provide expert testimonies in court.
Much like in-person programs, an online master's in crime scene investigation is a significant investment. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average tuition for graduate programs was $12,410 per year at public universities and about $26,600 per year at private universities during the 2019-2020 school year.
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Full-time students can complete this degree in two years, while part-time students usually complete this degree in three or four years. In some cases, learners can complete accelerated programs in as little as one year. However, the exact length can vary, particularly for students enrolled in self-paced, asynchronous programs.
Graduates can work in a variety of well-paying and in-demand careers. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), detectives and criminal investigators earned a median annual salary of $83,640 in 2021. In that same year, forensic science technicians earned a median of $61,930 per year. The BLS also predicts that between 2020 and 2030, jobs for forensic technicians will grow by 16%, and jobs for private investigators will grow by 13%, exceeding the average job growth rate of 8%.
What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Crime Scene Investigation Program?
Crime scene investigation is a broad discipline that integrates principles of forensics, criminology, and the hard sciences. This field is suitable for analytical and detail-oriented individuals with foundational knowledge in areas like biology, chemistry, and human anatomy.
While planning their graduate studies, students can sometimes choose between MA and MS tracks. MA curricula may emphasize the social causes and impacts of crime or the ethics of investigative procedures. MS curricula may be more technical and emphasize the scientific elements of forensics.
Most online master's in crime scene investigation programs consist of 30-36 course credits. Many courses have lab or practicum components where students gain hands-on experience.
Often, individuals pursuing master's in crime scene investigation choose concentrations that align with their career goals. Some common examples include:
- Digital Forensics
- Forensic Chemistry
- Forensic Psychology
- Forensic Anthropology
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What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Crime Scene Investigation Program?
In this course, students apply principles of analytical and organic chemistry to learn the basics of forensic toxicology. Students learn to detect drugs and other substances in bodily fluids and other biological samples and report the significance of their findings.
Bloodstain Pattern Analysis
In this course, students learn how forensics teams use blood splatter patterns to make crucial inferences about violent crimes. This course often consists of both lecture and lab components in which students learn to draw conclusions about time frames, physical positioning, and injuries using simulated splatter.
Expert Testimony and Challenges in Court
Investigators and forensics professionals routinely offer expert testimonies in court. This course explores how expert witnesses can tactfully and ethically offer empirical evidence in criminal cases. Learners use case studies and mock testimonies to demonstrate courtroom proceedings and protocols.
In this course, learners study the protocols and conventions of death investigations. They learn how investigators and forensics professionals collaborate to determine the circumstances surrounding death. Students explore how investigators effectively document scenes, perform preliminary body examinations, and identify environmental evidence.
Crime Scene Photography
Crime scene photography is used to document evidence for investigation and courtroom use. In this course, learners study basic principles of photography, such as depth of field, lighting, and shutter speed. Students then learn to apply these technical skills as a means of capturing detailed and clear visual evidence.
What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Crime Scene Investigation Program?
Admission requirements for online master's programs are generally comparable to those of on-campus programs. Most master's in crime scene investigation programs do not have specific prerequisites or degree requirements. However, applicants should have successfully completed some criminal justice, biology, and chemistry courses.
Online programs tend to attract students returning to school after some time in the workforce, so graduate admissions departments may place a greater emphasis on work experiences and professional certifications. Ultimately, an application should paint a picture of a well-rounded individual who will embrace their degree as a means of personal and professional development.
Almost all graduate programs will require students to fill out an application. Here, prospective students can catalog preliminary information about their undergraduate background, extracurriculars, work experience, awards, and contact information. Usually, these can be completed on schools' websites.
Although an increasing number of universities are test-optional, applicants can supplement their other credentials with competitive GRE or GMAT scores. Generally, students can leverage GRE scores above 300 or a GMAT score above 565 to showcase their capabilities. However, averages vary by institution, and students should research the median test scores of students in their desired programs to see how their scores compare.
Letters of Recommendation
Many master's programs require applicants to submit multiple letters of recommendation. These provide admissions personnel with holistic accounts of applicants' abilities, experience, and character. The best recommendation letters come from professors, coworkers, supervisors, and mentors who have worked closely enough with applicants to have observed their capabilities in professional or academic settings.
Resume and Work Experience
Although master's programs rarely require prior work experience, many graduate applicants have spent considerable time in the workforce. Jobs and internships, particularly those in forensic science or criminal justice areas, demonstrate that applicants have skills and insights drawn from real-world exposure. Applicants should be sure to detail these experiences in polished resumes.
Usually, graduate applicants must submit one or more essays. These give admissions personnel a more perspective on prospective students' writing abilities, background, goals, experiences, and capabilities. Prompts vary considerably by program. However, often, applicants must reflect on their past experiences, core values, and how a master's degree will help them achieve their career goals.
Almost all graduate programs will require applicants to submit their undergraduate transcripts. These should detail all undergraduate institutions that applicants have attended. Admissions personnel assess applicants' GPAs and course history. Ideally, individuals pursuing an online master's in crime scene investigation will have completed foundational courses in criminal justice, forensic science, and the social sciences.
What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Crime Scene Investigation Degree?
The BLS predicts that between 2020 and 2030, the number of jobs for private investigators will grow by 13%. The number of jobs for forensic technicians is projected to grow by 16%, and the number of jobs for information security analysts is projected to grow by 33%.
Many individuals who work in crime scene investigation earn above-average salaries. The BLS reports that the median annual salary for detectives and criminal investigators was $83,640 in 2021. Payscale reports that forensic anthropologists earned an average annual salary of $63,720 in February 2022. Forensic computer analysts earned an average of $74,800 in February 2022, and forensic toxicologists earned an average of $77,300 in October 2021.
See where an online master's in crime scene investigation can take you. Learn more about criminal justice careers.
Criminal investigators and detectives gather information, identify perpetrators, and analyze evidence to investigate criminal offenses. They use tools like forensic evidence, digital data, witness accounts, and surveillance resources to draw conclusions. Investigators may have experience working in other law enforcement positions and often start their careers as police officers.
Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $83,640
Forensic Computer Analysts
These specialists combine principles of forensic analysis and cybersecurity to analyze digital evidence. They search data on a variety of devices and hard drives, including damaged devices, to collect evidence and analyze user activity to track suspicious behaviors or patterns. They may also monitor and prevent cybersecurity breaches to protect sensitive information. These individuals should have a background or concentration in digital forensics or cybersecurity.
Average Annual Salary (February 2022): $74,800
Forensic scientists gather empirical information to draw legally verifiable conclusions. In this broad field, specialists, such as forensic chemists or forensic toxicologists, use scientific principles to identify evidence. This area is often interdisciplinary, and scientists may integrate principles of chemistry, biology, anatomy, molecular biology, and biochemistry to inform conclusions. They collect evidence in the field, examine samples in forensic laboratories, and testify in court as expert witnesses.
Average Annual Salary (April 2022): $56,470
These professionals collect evidence from crime scenes and assess which elements will provide relevant information, such as DNA material or fingerprints. They document details through photographs, sketches, molds, or samples. In laboratory settings, they examine biological evidence, such as tissue samples, or environmental evidence, such as soil or carpet fibers. Specialists in specific areas of forensics, such as fingerprint or blood splatter technicians, often collaborate to draw conclusions.
Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $61,930
A master's degree enables forensic and criminal justice professionals to teach related subjects at a postsecondary level. Often, these individuals must compete with faculty members who hold doctoral degrees, so educators who hold a master's in crime scene investigation typically teach undergraduate courses. They must plan course syllabi, conduct assessments, and lead lectures.
Median Annual Salary (May 2021): $79,640
Crime Scene Investigation Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.
Some crime scene investigation professionals wish to earn additional certifications or degrees to further their expertise within certain specializations. They may bolster their credibility through Certified Crime Scene Investigator (CCSI), Certified Crime Scene Analyst (CCSA), or Certified Senior Crime Scene Analyst (CSCSA) credentials from the International Association for Identification (IAI).
Doctoral degrees may allow professionals to apply for leadership positions in criminal justice spaces or more prestigious faculty positions in academic settings. Specialists may pursue doctoral degrees in fields like criminal justice, forensic chemistry, forensic psychology, forensic anthropology, or forensic pathology.
How Do I Choose an Online Master's in Crime Scene Investigation Program?
Cost is one of the most crucial factors for learners when deciding where to pursue their degree, and can ultimately determine programs' accessibility. Generally speaking, public universities are more affordable than private universities, particularly for in-state learners.
However, the cost is based on numerous factors, like students' eligibility for scholarships and financial aid. Although the tuition costs of online programs are usually comparable to those of in-person programs, remote learners can save money on housing and transportation. Often, online programs charge tuition on a per-credit basis, which coincides with more flexible learning formats.
Graduate students can choose from a variety of program formats depending on their work obligations, time constraints, and learning preferences. Although full-time students can typically complete an online master's in crime scene investigation in two years, not all learners can commit to a full-time schedule and may pursue their degrees part time.
Working professionals often enjoy the flexibility of online learning, and remote learners can choose either synchronous formats, which consist of live meetings and set course schedules or asynchronous formats, which are self-paced.
While in-person students usually choose programs within commuting distance, remote learners may have far more flexibility regarding location. However, some virtual learners may choose a program close by to take advantage of affordable in-state tuition. Access to a campus also poses numerous advantages for online learners. They have the option to meet with faculty members, access campus resources, and take hybrid courses.
Institutions are evaluated by accrediting bodies and earn institutional or programmatic accreditation based on standards of academic excellence and student learning outcomes. Prospective students should always make sure that online programs are properly accredited with institutional accreditation. Crime scene investigation programs can also be accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).
Top online programs provide remote graduate students with a variety of student services to promote positive academic and career outcomes. Many schools offer online academic support services, such as tutoring centers, digital libraries, and writing centers. Institutions may also offer career support services, such as mentorship programs, internship opportunities, and career counseling.
Best Accredited Online Master's in Crime Scene Investigation Programs
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Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Crime Scene Investigation Programs
Is a master's in crime scene investigation worth it?
Earning a master's degree in crime scene investigation requires a significant investment of time and money. However, for individuals who are passionate about working in criminal investigation and forensics, particularly within more specialized areas, earning a graduate degree can be worthwhile.
A master's degree allows professionals to apply for leadership positions or higher-paying roles within specialty areas like forensic psychology, forensic chemistry, and digital forensics. A graduate degree also allows students to teach at a postsecondary level.
Do crime scene investigators work with other agencies?
Although every organization has different staffing protocols, most crime scene investigators are affiliated with court systems or state and local police departments. They may have experience working in law enforcement positions. Professionals with highly specialized training, such as forensic odonatologists, may be on call to lend their services to a number of police departments within a specific region or district.
Some investigators work for federal agencies. These positions are often prestigious, and many federal organizations require thorough background checks. Some individuals with crime scene investigation experience can work independently as consultants or private investigators.
Are crime scene investigation graduates in demand?
Criminal investigations and forensics professionals play important roles in our criminal justice system and are in consistent demand. As forensics and investigative procedures improve, demand for certain professionals will grow.
The BLS predicts that between 2020 and 2030, there will be an additional 2,800 jobs available for detectives and criminal investigators. During the same period, the number of jobs for postsecondary teachers is projected to grow by 12%, jobs for private investigators are projected to grow by 13%, and jobs for forensic technicians are projected to grow by 16%.
How much money can I make with a master's in crime scene investigation?
Though salary potential depends greatly on job title, experience level, location, and employer, many crime scene investigation professionals work in well-paying positions. The BLS reports that in 2021, forensic technicians earned a median annual salary of $61,930, postsecondary educators earned a median of $79,640, and criminal investigators earned a median of $83,640.
According to Payscale, in February 2022, forensic computer analysts earned an average annual salary of $74,800. Forensic toxicologists earned an average of $77,300 per year in October 2021. Often, a master's degree can help professionals in these specialized sectors compete for more well-paying positions.
What are the highest paying jobs with a master's in crime scene investigation?
Certain roles in crime scene investigation and forensics are especially well-paying. In 2021, criminal investigators who worked for the federal government earned a median of $93,970, according to the BLS. Payscale reports that special agents earned an average salary of $87,450 per year in March 2022.
Digital forensics and cybersecurity positions can be especially lucrative. According to the BLS, information security analysts earned a median salary of $102,600 in 2021. Payscale reports computer security consultants made an average of $87,310 in April 2022.
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