Master’s in Crime Scene Investigation Program Guide

October 28, 2020

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A master's in crime scene investigation teaches graduate students to preserve and analyze crime scenes. In this field, where many crime scene investigators have only a bachelor's degree, a master's degree in crime scene investigation offers graduates job security and lucrative employment opportunities. Employment in crime scene investigation continues to grow faster than other sectors; the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects 17% growth for crime scene technician jobs by 2026. Explore this guide to learn more about what you can do with a master's degree in crime scene investigation.

Should I Get a Master's in Crime Scene Investigation?

Students pursuing a master's in crime scene investigation have a desire to examine crime from a microscopic level. Crime scene investigators perform laboratory analysis to provide evidence in legal proceedings; many graduates work in laboratory settings, in the field, or in classrooms. Those pursuing a master's in crime scene investigation should ideally have a bachelor's degree in subjects such as biology, chemistry, or mathematics. Most programs teach students principles of forensic science and research, which includes toxicology, serology, applied statistics, and forensic pathology. Some programs provide combined curriculum with the college's business school or pharmaceutical departments.

Students study toxicology, biochemistry, pharmaceutical analysis, and environmental forensics in practicums that allow students to hone their skills and form networks with working professionals. Programs often allow students to practice presenting crime scene evidence in mock trial courtrooms. These skills and connections help graduates land jobs in crime labs, police departments, law firms, and pharmaceutical companies.

Students with work and family obligations typically enroll in online classes, but students fresh from high school who want personal interaction and in-person laboratory experiences often attend classes on campus.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Crime Scene Investigation?

Beyond working in a laboratory, graduates of master's in crime scene programs find jobs in fields where their investigative skills give them an advantage. Graduates work independently and with law enforcement to collect and analyze crime scene data. These individuals display an attention to detail and have a passion for fair criminal proceedings. The majority of graduates work as crime scene investigators, but students also find jobs in law, journalism, education, and computer science. Below, you will find some of the prospective job opportunities open to graduates of a master's in crime scene investigation program.

Forensic Science Technicians

Also known as crime lab technicians, these professionals work in laboratories for various private and public agencies analyzing evidence and DNA. To become a crime lab technician, graduates need a bachelor's degree, but many earn a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $57,850*

High School Science Teachers

Science teachers develop lesson plans and assist students in experiments. With a master's degree, science teachers can instruct at the community college level and perform adjunct professor duties at four-year institutions. In some states, high school science teachers will need a master's degree in order to instruct.

Median Annual Salary: $59,170*

Information Security Analysts

Also called forensic computer examiners or forensic computer analysts, these professionals work with attorneys and law enforcement officials to recover and examine digital evidence for criminal proceedings. They also work in accounting firms and banks to uncover cybercrimes. Forensic computer examiners need at least a bachelor's degree to work, though some employers prefer a master's degree.

Median Annual Salary: $95,510*

Detectives and Criminal Investigators

Detectives and crime scene investigators work with law enforcement officials to preserve and analyze evidence at crime scenes. They may work on a freelance basis or hold full-time staff positions within governmental agencies and law enforcement offices.

Median Annual Salary: $50,700*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Choose a Master's in Crime Scene Investigation Program

All master of science in crime scene investigation programs train students to work as crime scene investigators, but the curriculum and instruction varies by school. To ensure that students find a program that meets their career goals, they should consider the program's curriculum, cost, length, and post-college job placement rate.

Generally, the program will take two years to complete; however, some online master's in crime scene investigation programs can be completed in one year. If you work full time, online classes may suit your busy schedule. Online programs typically follow an asynchronous format that allows students to tailor their school hours to their schedule. Unfortunately, online students miss out on the in-person interaction and hands-on experiences, such as mock court trials, that benefit on-campus students.

A student's status also influences the cost and length of a master's program in crime scene investigation. Part-time studies benefit working professionals, but these programs take longer to complete. Furthermore, part-time tuition rates are pricier. To graduate more quickly -- and save money -- students can transfer credits from accredited colleges or request college credit for work experience.

Lastly, the curriculum differs depending on where you go to college. Some crime scene investigation programs integrate with pharmacy or business departments to offer specialized education for students. To find the ideal program, make sure the curriculum caters to your career goals.

Accreditation for Master's in Crime Scene Investigation Programs

Regional accreditation is given to four-year and two-year colleges, while vocation and technical schools typically receive national accreditation. When students attend a regionally accredited college, they can be assured their credits will likely be accepted if they transfer schools; credits received at nationally accredited college do not always transfer to regional colleges.

Many master's in crime scene investigation programs receive programmatic accreditation under the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). FEPAC conducts formal evaluations of undergraduate and master's programs in crime scene investigation at regionally accredited colleges. They evaluate the curriculum, education outcomes, and instructors to ensure that graduates are prepared professionally.

Master's in Crime Scene Investigation Program Admissions

The admissions process functions similarly for online and on-campus programs. However, online programs often have more stringent admissions requirements for candidates, as the programs often run at an accelerated pace and require independent study. Students should be prepared to spend up to five months preparing their application and supplemental materials. Applicants will be required to fill out online forms, pay a fee, and upload or mail supplemental materials, such as college transcripts.


Students will be required to have a bachelor's degree in a science-related field to ensure that they can do master's level coursework. Specific prerequisites such as completion of advanced chemistry may be required. Candidates applying for a master's in crime scene investigation typically do not need work experience. On average, admissions offices require a 3.0 GPA or higher. Some colleges will admit students who do not meet the GPA requirements on a probationary status.

Admission Materials

Most often, students will be able to create online accounts and fill out applications entirely through the college's website. For a small fee, students must request transcripts to be mailed directly to the admissions offices. Most colleges require three letters of recommendation from professional references, including former employers or professors. Make sure to give your references at least one month's notice. Generally, references must email their letters directly to the college. Admissions offices commonly require master's in crime scene investigation candidates to take the GRE. Students must pay a nonrefundable application fee; colleges sometimes waive applications fees for veterans, seniors, and eligible low-income students.

What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Crime Scene Investigation Program?

A master's in crime scene investigation program often has different concentrations geared toward specific professions. Below are some examples of concentrations offered in a crime scene investigation program.

Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in Crime Scene Investigation
Concentration Description Careers
Financial Crimes A concentration in financial crimes teaches students how to investigate potential crimes in the public and private sector and often includes courses on white collar and computer crimes. Detective, criminal investigator, digital forensics accountant
Digital Forensics Students study criminal activity on the internet, computers, and mobile devices. Courses such as computer systems and computer networking teach students to investigate cybercrimes and recover data that can be used in criminal proceedings. Computer forensic analyst
Criminal Investigations Criminal investigations teaches students advanced investigation methods, including profiling offenders and conducting in-depth crime scene analyses. Students work in the lab analyzing evidence and reporting their findings. The course also covers medicolegal investigation techniques. Criminal investigator
Forensic Psychology This concentration examines the intersection of psychology and the criminal justice system. Students study criminal behavior and rehabilitation theories with an emphasis on mental health. Crime scene investigator
Forensic Chemistry Students study advanced biochemistry, toxicology, and forensic chemistry. The coursework consists of lectures and laboratory work, and students conduct hands-on experiments to strengthen their understanding of current forensic laboratory practices. Forensic science technician, crime scene investigator, science teacher

Courses in a Master's in Crime Scene Investigation Program

Every college has a different master's in crime scene investigation program. However, many programs share similar core courses in the fundamentals of crime scene investigation, forensics, and medicolegal investigation. Below are several examples of common courses.

Crime Scene Investigation

Crime scene investigation teaches students how to examine and analyze crime scenes. Students learn to collect, record, and preserve evidence. Courses may include mock crime scenes to provide students with hands-on experience. This class provides the foundational skills needed to work as a crime scene technician.

Forensic Pathology

Forensic pathology teaches students how to work at crime scenes alongside medical examiners who conduct death investigations. Students may have the opportunity to shadow investigators at real crime scenes. This class prepares students to work as medicolegal death investigators or crime scene investigators.

Bloodstain Pattern Analysis

Students will learn to analyze and interpret bloodstain patterns. These skills help students recreate a crime scene and determine cause of death. The course typically includes lectures and labs where students conduct experiments. This class prepares students to become crime scene technicians.

Forensic Toxicology

Students enrolled in forensic toxicology learn to prepare samples, analyze drug and bodily fluids, and interpret the results. The course requires that students have a background in organic and analytical chemistry. Students enrolled in the course learn the essentials needed to work as forensic toxicologists or crime scene investigators.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Crime Scene Investigation?

Master's in crime scene investigation programs generally require between 30-36 credits and can be completed in two years, but this varies based on enrollment status. Online programs often run an accelerated pace, allowing students to graduate more quickly.

How Much Is a Master's in Crime Scene Investigation?

The cost of this degree can vary. Private colleges tend to be more expensive than public colleges because they do not receive state funding. Master's students should also factor in the additional costs associated with transportation, technology fees, books, and lab fees.

Online classes can be a cost-effective, flexible option for students working or supporting a family while attending school. Online courses often cost less than on-campus classes. Schools often offer in-state tuition to online students who live out of state.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Crime Scene Investigation Prepares For

Bloodstain Pattern Analysis Certification

To apply for this certification, applicants need 240 hours of educational courses related to blood stain analysis. The certification includes a four-part exam, and students must score at least 75% to pass.

Forensic Crime Scene Investigator's Certification

This certification requires two years of crime scene experience, a 100-question written exam, and a mock crime scene written test. Applicants must submit photographs and reports about crime scenes they have investigated, plus pay an application fee.

IAI Crime Scene Certification

The International Association for Identification offers certifications for full-time crime scene investigators, crime scene analysts, senior crime scene analysts, and crime scene reconstructionists. Applicants must take continuing education courses and pass a certification exam with a minimum 75%.

American Board of Criminalistics Certification

Applicants may choose from six different examinations: the comprehensive criminalistics exam, drug analysis, molecular biology, fire debris analysis, hairs and fibers, and paints and polymers. These exams include 220 multiple choice questions and take approximately three hours to complete.

Resources for Graduate Crime Scene Investigation Students

NCSL Forensic Science Laws Database

This database offers access to forensic science laws. You can search the directory by state or policy; every state has different laws governing how crime scene investigation services can be performed.

Journal of Forensic Identification

This prominent journal features forensic science articles on everything from closed cases to forensic photography. IAI publishes this journal and provides members with free copies.

National Criminal Justice Reference Service

The NCJRS serves as a research and policy resource for anyone interested in criminal justice. Students can receive updates about grants and funding opportunities. The website also provides access to publications and abstracts and includes information about upcoming industry events.

Forensic Magazine

This magazine, available in print and online, features stories geared toward professionals who work in crime scene investigations. The website also features an events section with links to upcoming forensics conferences.

National Institute of Justice

The NIJ provides updates on the latest criminal justice news as well as forensics workshops, meetings, and webinars. Students can also apply for funding, awards, and fellowship opportunities.

Professional Organizations in Crime Scene Investigation

College offers students the opportunity to network with faculty and colleagues who share a passion for crime scene investigation. Beyond college, students can form connections and share ideas with working professionals by joining organizations. When students join a professional forensic or crime scene investigation association, they gain access to awards, scholarships, journals, training seminars, and conferences where they can meet potential employers. Many associations, such as those listed below, offer discounted membership rates to students.

International Association for Identification

With more than 7,000 members, IAI helps working professionals advance in the field by promoting career growth through educational and training seminars. Members also receive discounted attendance to the annual conference. The association offers scholarships every year.

International Crime Scene Investigators Association

ICSIA is dedicated to providing students with the opportunity to meet professionals working in crime scene investigation. Members receive discounted entry to the annual conference. The association also offers a certification program and job postings.

Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction

The ACSR provides members with research grants, training classes, access to research, and discounted entry to their annual conference.

American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors

The ASCLD is a community for chemists, biologists, toxicologists, and law enforcement officials who work in crime laboratories. Members have access to webinars, podcast training seminars, and job postings. The association also holds an annual symposium, conferences, and workshops.

American Academy of Forensic Sciences

The AAFS began in 1948 and consists of about 6,600 members from a wide range of disciplines. They offer access to employment opportunities, scholarships, educational workshops, meetings, and an annual conference. Students get reduced memberships dues.

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