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A master’s in crime scene investigation degree prepares students for a variety of careers in the criminal justice field. Although each program is a little different, CSI programs typically cover fingerprinting, crime scene photography, forensic pathology, and legal issues related to crime scene investigation.

Potential careers include detective, lawyer, medical examiner, and forensic pathologist. Median salaries for these roles range from $74,910 per year for detectives to $145,760 per year for lawyers. Pathologists earn an average salary of $270,560 per year due to the requirement to attend medical school and complete a residency.

It typically takes two to four years to complete a master’s in crime scene investigation degree, but it may be possible to finish a CSI program in as little as 18 months. Tuition costs an average of $19,749 per academic year, so the total cost of a master’s in science degree is about $39,500 to $79,000, depending on how long it takes to complete.

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

Choose your area of study

Crime scene investigation requires many skills, so it’s common for students to focus on a specific aspect of the field. For example, it’s possible to focus on forensic chemistry or criminal justice. Before you research schools and program requirements, think carefully about what you hope to achieve by completing a master’s in crime scene investigation degree. If you want to work as a detective, it makes sense to minor in criminal justice. Students who want to work in a crime lab may benefit from focusing on forensic chemistry.

It’s also important to consider whether you want to enroll in an online or on-campus program. Online programs are convenient, but some students want to network with students and professors, making on-campus learning a better fit.

Research schools and programs

Crime scene investigation is different from criminal justice and crime analysis, so it’s important to research potential programs carefully. The school you choose should have professors with extensive experience collecting evidence and performing other investigative duties. Look for programs with a strong track record of preparing students to apply real-world CSI techniques in various settings.

When you finish your research, you should have a list of no more than five programs. Narrowing your list makes it easier to get through the application process and make a decision regarding attendance.

Prepare for tests and applications

Some schools require applicants to take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), a standardized test used to assess a student’s reading, writing, and math abilities. The GRE also tests your ability to think critically. If one of the programs on your list requires GRE scores, schedule the test as far in advance as possible. This ensures you have plenty of time to take the exam and submit your scores before the application deadline.

It’s also common for schools to require a completed application and supporting materials. These materials include letters of recommendation, personal statements, and college transcripts. To avoid last-minute stress, ask professors, job supervisors, and other references to write their letters as early as possible.

Select your program

Although the quality of the education provided is the most important consideration, you also need to consider class sizes, scheduling options, and program requirements. For example, if you don’t have your own transportation, you may want to enroll in a program that doesn’t require an internship. Otherwise, you may struggle to complete your field placement.

It’s also helpful to think about how in-person and online classes might fit into your schedule. If you live in a rural area, you may want to take online classes to avoid a long drive to campus. It’s easier to attend in-person classes if you live close to your school or have public transportation available.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

You have several options when it comes to paying for your degree. If you have the funds available, you can always enroll as a self-pay student. Graduate students don’t qualify for unsubsidized federal loans, but you may qualify for a direct unsubsidized loan or a PLUS loan. If you’re interested in federal assistance, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid.

Another option is to apply for scholarships or grants. Some scholarships are need-based, which means you have to provide information about your income and assets. Others are merit-based, which means they are awarded based on your grades or participation in extracurricular activities.

Best 50 Accredited Master’s in Crime Scene Investigation Programs

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How we rank schools

This list covers universities that offer master’s degree programs in crime scene investigation, forensic science, justice administration, and similar areas of study. It includes both online and in-person programs, as well as those that combine the two.

These programs have earned a variety of accreditations, including from the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission, whose mission is to maintain and enhance the quality of forensic science education through formal evaluation and recognition of college-level academic programs.

We evaluated each program on the basis of flexibility, faculty, course strength, cost, and reputation. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score for each program on a scale from 0 to 100. For a more extensive explanation, check out our ranking methodology.

What Can You Expect From a Master’s in Crime Scene Investigation Program?

Students enrolled in a master’s in crime scene investigation program should expect to learn a variety of investigative techniques, such as fingerprinting, evidence collection, crime scene photography, and digital imaging. It’s also common for graduate CSI programs to cover the medicolegal aspects of investigation. For example, students may learn how to prepare reports or give testimony when the cases they investigate go to trial.

The length of a master’s in CSI program depends on whether a student attends full-time or part-time. Generally, full-time students complete their coursework in two years. It may take longer if the program requires an internship or local residency. Part-time students may take as long as four years to complete a master’s in crime scene investigation, but it depends on how many courses they complete each semester.

Potential courses you’ll take in a master’s in crime scene investigation program

  • Forensic Science: This course focuses on the use of laboratory techniques to aid in the investigation of crimes. Students learn about forensic toxicology, drug chemistry, explosives, trace evidence, fire debris, and more. It usually includes a laboratory component, giving students a chance to practice what they learn in the classroom.
  • The Science of Fingerprints: Students learn how to lift prints from various surfaces and compare them with prints taken from suspects. Some courses also include an overview of fingerprinting history.
  • Medicolegal Death Investigation: This course covers the legal and medical aspects of crime scene investigation. Students learn about criminal death investigations, autopsy procedures, mass disaster investigations, and other related topics. It may also include a hands-on laboratory component.
  • Forensic Pathology: In this course, students are introduced to the techniques used to determine the cause and manner of a person’s death. Topics covered include homicide versus accidental death, suicide, and deaths due to natural causes.
  • Digital Image Processing: Crime scene investigators use digital images daily. In some cases, original images need to be enhanced to make fine details much clearer. This course teaches students best practices for enhancing images without distorting them.

Master’s in Crime Scene Investigation Degree Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to a master's in crime scene investigation degree program?

Before applying, speak to an admissions counselor about the requirements. Admissions professionals understand the acceptance criteria for each program, making them a valuable source of information for prospective students.

Schools typically require a completed application, college transcripts, and letters of recommendation. You may also have to write a personal statement or provide a copy of your résumé for review. If your preferred school requires GRE scores, take the exam well in advance of the application deadline. Taking the test early gives you an opportunity to take it again if you’re not happy with your first score.

How much does a master's in crime scene investigation degree cost?

The National Center for Education Statistics reports that tuition for a master’s in crime scene investigation program costs an average of $19,749 per academic year. This doesn’t include textbooks, laboratory fees, and other educational expenses, so the true cost of attendance may be much higher.

Some students assume that online courses are less expensive than in-person courses, but that’s not always the case. Many schools charge additional fees to recoup the cost of upgrading their tech infrastructure to accommodate online programs, making virtual learning more expensive than in-person learning.

How long does it take to earn a master's in crime scene investigation degree?

It generally takes two years of full-time study or four years of part-time study to earn a master’s in crime scene investigation degree. However, completion time depends on several factors, such as how many credits a program requires and whether a student takes online or in-person classes. For example, it generally takes longer to complete a program with 36 required credits than it does to complete a 24-credit program. Internship requirements may also affect the completion time for a master’s in crime scene investigation degree.