What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s in Forensic Science Program?

If you’re looking for a program to earn your master’s degree in forensic science, online options offer convenience and a quality education that rivals traditional on-campus programs. Not all online master’s in forensic science programs are the same, though — you should compare the curriculum and demands of several distance learning institutions to find one that matches your career goals and won’t interfere with your current obligations.

Available concentrations

The first step to selecting an online master’s in forensic science program is narrowing your search to schools that allow you to focus on the specific aspect of this field you are most interested in. Some of the most common concentration options include:

  • Crime Scene Investigation: Master the optimal ways to preserve a crime scene. Learn how to enter, analyze, and protect a crime scene and make sure searches and seizures are conducted in a legal, court-admissible way.
  • Forensic Biology: Learn how to identify and classify various biological materials, including human and animal cells and fluids. You may also learn modern DNA evidence techniques.
  • Forensic Chemistry: Explore analysis and identification techniques and apply them to various samples from crime scene investigation, such as fibers, paints, and residues.

Common degree curriculum

When it comes to online master’s in forensic science programs, there can be differences in the curriculum and courses offered, so it’s always important to check with your intended program and ensure the classes work with your career goals. You’ll also want to ensure no on-campus requirements if the program is out of your area. However, some courses are central to the forensic science discipline and included in most programs, such as:

  • Statistics: Learn how to work with data — this course covers standard deviation, linear regression, and identifying relationships and trends.
  • Law and Criminal Procedure: From documenting evidence to testifying in court, this course reviews what forensic scientists need to know about the legal system.
  • Serology: Learn laboratory techniques for analyzing body fluids.
  • Toxicology: Study the adverse effects of drugs and other harmful substances and how to test for such substances.

Certification and license preparation

Earning professional credentials in addition to your master’s degree will allow you to refine your skills and access more job opportunities. Some of the most valuable certification programs for forensic scientists include:

  • Certified Forensic Litigation Consultant: The Forensic Expert Witness Association grants this certification to members who have completed their rigorous application process and passed the CFLC exam. You must recertify every three years.
  • Certified Criminal Justice Specialist: Your master’s degree in forensic science prepares you for this certification from the National Association of Forensic Counselors. You must submit all required documentation and complete all the necessary exams.
  • Certified Forensic Computer Examiner: If you are particularly interested in how computer technology is used in forensic science, you can apply to be certified by the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists. Applicants must go through a peer-review phase and pass the final examination.
  • Certified Medicolegal Death Investigator: The American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators ensures that applicants for this certification have met rigorous standards and passed the required examination.

Program accreditation

To ensure a quality education, it’s essential to confirm that your online master’s in forensic science program is appropriately accredited. 

Only apply to schools approved by a DOE-recognized regional accrediting organization, such as the New England Commission of Higher Education or Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. If your school doesn’t have regional accreditation, you may be unable to access financial aid or transfer credits to another institution if needed. Ideally, your program will also be approved by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission.

Program completion timeframe

Most master’s in forensic science programs require completing at least 32 credit hours. For full-time students, this usually takes about two years. 

Some schools offer fast-track options that let you get your degree in as little as 18 months. Conversely, cohort programs, where you have to take classes with a group of other students, can take longer because courses are only offered every couple of semesters. If you plan on going to school part-time, finishing the program may take three to four years.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Forensic Science Graduates

A master’s degree typically isn’t required for forensic science jobs, but this advanced level of education can offer significant career benefits.

For example, a master’s degree tends to lead to higher salaries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that workers with a master’s earn an average weekly salary of $1,661, while those with a bachelor’s earn $1,432. Over a year, that’s a difference of nearly $12,000.

A master’s degree also allows you to stand out from other candidates and get hired more quickly, which is especially important for occupations, such as detective/criminal investigator, that are only expected to see average job growth over the next decade.

Job Title Job Description Median Yearly Salary Projected Growth Rate (2022 – 2032)

Forensic Science Technician

Forensic science technicians are responsible for investigating crime scenes and analyzing samples of everything from fibers to blood in a criminal laboratory environment.

$63,740

13%

Detective

Detectives solve criminal cases, which may involve collecting evidence at crime scenes, interviewing and monitoring suspects, and conducting raids and arrests. While a college education isn’t required for most detective jobs, it may be needed for the most prestigious and high-paying opportunities, such as being an FBI special agent.

$69,160

3%

Professional organizations

Forensic science is a field that requires a great deal of collaboration with others, so membership in a professional organization can be nothing but helpful. These organizations help you stay current on industry news and developments, network with others in your field, and pursue continuing education opportunities. Here are a few organizations to consider:

  • American Academy of Forensic Sciences: The AAFS is dedicated to advancing science and how it is applied in the legal system through a multidisciplinary approach. It offers members an extensive resource library, meetings, and educational opportunities throughout the year.
  • American Board of Forensic Toxicology: The ABFT works to identify and promote standards of practice in forensic toxicology. Members of the ABFT have access to certification and continuing education programs as well as networking opportunities with others in the field.
  • Association of Forensic DNA Analysts and Administrators: The AFDAA helps those within the legal system understand how DNA analysis can contribute to the field. It offers members-only access to job postings, sponsorship opportunities, and meetings.

Financing Your Online Master’s in Forensic Science Degree

Most students find that an online master’s degree in forensic science is cheaper than its traditional, on-campus counterpart. However, there are still textbooks and instructional fees, and you may very well need financial assistance to achieve your educational goals. The first step toward finding financial aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), which is required for eligibility for any federal aid. Many organizations and universities also use it to determine eligibility for private assistance, scholarships, internships, and other opportunities.

Student Finance Resources and Guides

With all the different financing options available, it can be hard to figure out exactly what you should do after submitting your FAFSA. The following resources will show you how to make sense of your financial aid situation and save as much money as possible:

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Interested in a degree?

Learn more about online degrees, their start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.