Best Online Master’s in Forensic Science Programs
Our experts at BestColleges have ranked the top online master's in forensic science programs. Compare schools by cost, convenience, and academic quality to help inform how you decide on your...
A master's in forensic science equips graduates with specialized law enforcement, science, laboratory, and investigative skills. Typically two years in length, the programs feature training in crime scene investigation and evidence analysis. Graduates can steer toward traditional or specialty law enforcement careers depending on their program choices and interests.
Combining online criminal justice degree and science degree elements, the online master's in forensic science positions graduates to take advantage of a growing field. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 16% growth for forensic science occupations between 2020 and 2030. These professionals made a median annual wage of $61,930 in May 2021.
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According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average graduate program tuition and fees cost $19,792 annually in 2019-20. In addition to cost, prospective students should consider program formats, admission requirements, and career outlooks when deciding to attend graduate school. Here, we provide details on these considerations and look at the best online master's in forensic science from the top online schools.
What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Forensic Science Program?
Part of preparing for graduate school involves understanding programs of interest and choosing the right style to meet your goals. The typical online master's in forensic science features 30-45 credits and runs for about two years. The training includes topics in criminal profiling and forensic psychology. Students also learn fingerprint analysis, DNA analysis, and toxicology reporting.
The programs usually combine theoretical forensics explorations, research, leadership training, and hands-on lab work. Most programs include an extensive practicum to provide students with practical experience before graduation. Learners develop and hone many skills, including critical thinking, communication, and leadership.
A master's in forensic science can award an MS or a master of forensic science (MFS) degree. While both degrees can lead to the same career paths, they may differ somewhat. For example, MFS programs tend to be more specialized and career-focused. MS programs feature an analytical focus and may provide more varied postgraduate options.
Furthermore, programs can be course-based or require writing a thesis. Forensic science is often offered as its own specialization within a larger program, but students may find further specialization options. For example, degree-seekers might find concentrations in investigation, criminalistics, and behavioral science.
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Popular Online Master's in Forensic Science Programs
Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.
What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Forensic Science Program?
Forensic Science Methods
This course teaches students the leading methods and techniques used by forensic science professionals. The training typically covers evidence collection, analysis, and forensic etymology.
In this course, students learn how to examine documents as evidence using the leading technologies and techniques. They also learn how to record, protect, and present findings from documents.
Criminal Investigative Analysis
Students in this course examine the criminal investigation process and crime and criminal behavior theories. Learners look at criminal motivations, patterns, and traits, plus analysis methods and techniques.
This course shows students how professionals identify and collect trace evidence. They look at the methods and instruments of analysis for chemical and microscopic evidence as well as the reporting process.
Scientific Data Interpretation
In this course, learners look at the methods for interpreting and analyzing scientific data as evidence. They also learn about data collection, data protection, and security measures.
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What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Forensic Science Program?
Prospective students usually need a bachelor's degree to enter most master's programs. Graduate admission into an online master's in forensic science could require a specific bachelor's degree, such as a criminal justice or a science degree.
Applicants might need specific course prerequisites, such as chemistry, biology, or medical science. Competitive programs might also ask for a minimum GPA. Online programs usually include technological requirements as well.
College application requirements vary by school and program. In general, prospective students need to provide their personal information and identify which program interests them. While most graduate students apply directly to the school of their choice, college application systems can help simplify the process of applying to two or more schools at once.
Standardized test scores provide schools with more information to help compare and contrast applicants. As a result of COVID-19, many schools introduced test waivers, but students are still welcome to submit scores in most cases. To improve their admission chances, prospective students can take GRE prep courses before taking the test.
Letters of Recommendation
Most college applications require 2-3 letters of recommendation, which provide schools with more insight from professionals who know the applicant. These letters usually come from teachers and employers who can speak to the candidate's qualifications and capabilities. Prospective students should give their references enough information and time to ensure they receive the highest quality recommendations.
Resume and Work Experience
Many college applications include a resume, which schools use to gain more information about the candidate's professional history and skills. In some cases, however, the college application resume needs to highlight a minimum amount of relevant experience. Schools may even award transfer credit for work and life experience.
Grad school essays might look different from each other depending on a program's requirements. Some schools allow prospective students to discuss their personal or academic journeys, whereas others want candidates to discuss their research goals and interests. Schools can also pose a specific question or questions to be answered in the essay.
Official transcripts provide schools with the academic history of every applicant. They identify what courses the candidate completed and what grade they received. Transcripts also provide necessary information for admission prerequisites and transfer credits.
What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Forensic Science Degree?
Steady demand for protective service professionals and the growing technological capabilities of the forensic science field provides a positive job outlook for forensic science graduates. The BLS projects 16% growth for professionals in this field between 2020 and 2030, twice the rate of 8% for all occupations.
In addition to forensic science technician roles, graduates in this field can pursue investigator and analyst roles in government and law enforcement agencies. They can also apply their skills to traditional law enforcement positions.
Not only does a master's degree open the door to more career opportunities, it often leads to higher salary potential as well. While the median annual wage for forensic science technicians was $61,930 in May 2021, the top 10% of earners made over $103,430, as per the BLS.
Find out what professional opportunities await graduates with a master's in forensic science.Learn more about criminal justice careers
Forensic Science Technician
Forensic science technicians collect and analyze evidence used in criminal investigations. They provide investigators with information based on their findings, helping law enforcement professionals reconstruct crime scenes and identify DNA and trace evidence. They may specialize in certain fields, such as biology, chemistry, and toxicology.
Median Annual Salary: $61,930
Police and Detective
Police and detectives investigate crimes, respond to emergencies, and enforce the law. These professionals patrol their jurisdictions and look for suspicious or criminal behavior. They also collect evidence and write reports for their investigations, and prepare and present their findings in court. Police and detectives may specialize by types of crime or by regions.
Median Annual Salary: $66,020
Federal Law Enforcement Agent
Federal agents work for organizations like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security. These professionals investigate crimes that break federal laws or threaten national security. They may also take over crime investigations from local police when they reach a certain scale or cross state lines.
Median Annual Salary: $93,970
Crime Scene Investigator
Crime scene investigators specialize in collecting, documenting, and analyzing crime scene evidence in a precise and detailed manner. They can help determine the cause of death or find evidence that places a suspect at the crime scene. These investigators may specialize in working with certain types of crimes or evidence.
Average Annual Salary: $50,140
Forensic Computer Analyst
Forensic computer analysts collect, document, and analyze computer-based evidence for investigations. They look at user activities and patterns, pull useful files and records, and restore damaged information. These professionals must follow proper protocol when collecting information and may need more training to qualify for employment.
Average Annual Salary: $75,420
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Many graduates enter the workforce after graduation. But learners who wish to teach or pursue the most advanced and prestigious laboratory positions often continue their education. Even entering a law enforcement organization often requires graduates to complete an academy training program.
Master's degree graduates can access many doctoral programs, including forensic science, law enforcement, and criminal justice programs. Other options may include science or computer science doctorates, depending on students' field specialties.
How Do I Choose an Online Master's in Forensic Science Program?
Cost often plays a primary role in helping prospective students choose the right program. Along with comparing online and on-campus program costs, learners should consider comparing in-state and out-of-state program costs and public and private school costs. They might also look at the true program cost, which factors in the impact that studies have on income.
Prospective students need to look at program formats to find the right schedule and study balance. For example, they might begin by comparing synchronous vs. asynchronous learning and full-time vs. part-time studies. If they need to graduate quickly and their schedule allows it, an accelerated program might also work.
Regardless of how they choose between online and on-campus studies, prospective students should think about location. On-campus learners must find a place that they can live near or travel to regularly. Online learners have more flexibility, but they may also need to travel to campus to complete on-campus residency requirements.
Prospective students need to pay close attention to institutional and programmatic accreditation. According to our online college accreditation guide, institutional accreditation can influence a school's access to federal financial aid and ability to transfer credits. While not required, programmatic accreditation from the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission provides quality assurance to forensic science students.
The student services a school provides tell prospective students what type of support they can receive during their studies. Online learners should look at the online student services in particular, including online tutoring, career services, and wellness programs. They might also look at things like college mentorships and internship programs.
Best Accredited Online Master's in Forensic Science Programs
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Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Forensic Science Programs
Is a master's in forensic science worth it?
Yes. While every student needs to determine the value of a degree for themself, a master's in forensic science provides many benefits for graduates. With this degree, graduates can access specialized forensic science and science and law enforcement careers.
Students also benefit from the value of an online degree, which provides them with more program selection and flexibility. These benefits often give learners a better chance of finding the most suitable program and school for their interests and learning needs.
What can I do with a master's in forensic science?
After completing an online master's in forensic science, graduates typically pursue forensic science and criminal investigator careers. They can also apply their skills to law enforcement and science careers. Their graduate-level training prepares them for leadership positions as well.
Master's graduates can also continue their training in a doctoral program. Graduates can stay on the forensic science path or move into law enforcement, criminal justice, or traditional sciences.
Are forensic science graduates in demand?
Yes. As the technological capabilities in the field grow, the demand for forensic science graduates often does as well. The BLS projects 16% growth for forensic science technicians between 2020 and 2030, an increase of more than 2,500 jobs per year in the highly specialized field. The BLS also projects 8% growth for protective service occupations and 8% growth for life, physical, and social science occupations during the same time.
How much money can I make with a master's in forensic science?
The wages available to graduates with a master's in forensic science depend on many factors, including their location, employer, credentials, and experience. Forensic science technicians earned median annual wages of $61,930 in May 2021, as per the BLS. The top 10% of professionals in the field made more than $103,430.
The industry type can make a big difference as well. For example, the median annual wages for state government technicians was $64,250, local government wages were $61,930, testing laboratories were $49,900, and medical and diagnostic laboratories were $36,570.
What are the highest-paying jobs with a master's in forensic science?
The highest-paying job available to graduates with a master's in forensic science is as a federal law enforcement agent. According to the BLS, federal law enforcement professionals made $93,970 in May 2021. Compared to the median annual wage for police and detectives of $66,020, agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation offer considerable pay bumps.
Other high-paying positions include forensic computer analysts. According to Payscale, these professionals' average annual base salaries exceed $75,000 as of January 2022. Late-career analysts make average wages over $100,000.
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