Crime scene investigators perform duties that are critical to the success of criminal investigations. They analyze crime scenes, ensure the proper collection of evidence, take photos, and record descriptive and statistical information. Many also oversee the analysis and submission of evidence for courtroom procedures—an essential task for ensuring innocent people do not get falsely accused. Given the sensitive nature of their work, many consider a master’s degree to refine their skills.
A master’s degree offers intensive and practical training for professional careers. With advances in technology and cybercrime many investigators turn to such training to keep pace with changing criminal behavior. Courses in everything from criminal justice to data analytics ensures that students are able to adapt and respond to new investigative practices as they arise. The resulting literacy with cutting edge tools and techniques, allows degree holders to become trustworthy and invaluable pieces of the criminal justice system.
While most degree holders become crime scene investigators, others opt to pursue careers in forensic science or crime scene technicians. In other words, the skills a graduate obtains from a master’s program and versatile and can lead to fulfilling careers in law enforcement.
What Can I Expect from an Online Master’s in Crime Scene Investigation Program?
Online master’s in crime scene investigation programs offer career-focused courses that equip graduates with specialized skills in evidence collection. Crime scene investigation falls under the forensic sciences. Crime scene investigators, also called forensic science technicians or forensic investigators, gather and analyze physical and trace evidence at the scene of a crime. Online master’s programs are available through traditional colleges and universities and offer the same degree of professionalism as on-campus programs. Full-time graduate students and working adults pursuing their master’s part-time benefit from convenient online sessions they can often pursue at their own pace or at an accelerated rate.
Concentrations Offered for an Online Master’s in Crime Scene Investigation
When crime scene investigation is incorporated into a criminal justice or forensic science program, it’s considered a concentration area itself. Stand-alone crime scene investigation programs may allow graduate students to specialize in numerous concentrations, such as DNA, bloodstain, firearm, tool mark, latent print or trace evidence analysis.
|CONCENTRATION||DESCRIPTION||POSSIBLE CAREERS THIS CONCENTRATION PREPARES FOR|
|Crime Scene Investigation||An online master’s in crime scene investigation with a general concentration in the investigative methodologies used to solve major crimes.||Crime scene investigator, criminal investigator, forensic scientist, law enforcement detective, FBI agent|
|Crime Scene Photography||Delves on producing tangible images of crime scenes, evidence and other details of a crime to potentially present in court.||Crime scene photographer, forensic photographer, expert photo analyst, crime scene specialist|
|Latent Print Analysis||Focuses on how to identify suspects by studying fingerprints, palm prints, footprints and related clues from a crime scene.||Latent print examiner, latent print expert, fingerprint analyst, crime scene specialist|
|Firearm Analysis||Studies firearms, bullets, spent bullet casings, bullet striations and other markings to uncover evidence about the weapon used to commit a crime.||Firearm analyst, crime scene specialist|
Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Crime Scene Investigation
Some online master’s in crime scene investigation programs allow you to complete all required coursework online, while others require a certain amount of lab work or other hands-on training on campus or at an approved facility. Many programs have prerequisite requirements, such as one or more semesters in chemistry and/or biology during your baccalaureate studies, or completing your bachelor’s degree in a science-related field. Online master’s programs often offer a thesis or non-thesis track and varied crime scene investigation curriculum that may include:
|Science of Fingerprints||General overview of recording, classifying and comparing fingerprints and palm prints, and cover latent print development methods.|
|Bloodstain Pattern Analysis||Analyze and interpret bloodstain patterns as part of the crime scene reconstruction and cause of death process.|
|Forensic Pathology||Study terminology and scientific techniques used in violent crimes, unexplained or accidental deaths, suicides and medico-legal investigations.|
|Photography in the Forensic Sciences||Provides basic information about crime scene photography, such as equipment selection, photography as evidence and common misconceptions about crime scene photography.|
|Firearms and Tool Mark Identification||Cover methods for identifying firearms, bullets, bullet casings, gunshot residue, tool marks, etc.|
How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s Degree in Crime Scene Investigation?
On average, obtaining an online master’s degree in crime scene investigation requires completion of 36 credit hours; however, programs vary, so required credit hours can range anywhere between 30 and 54. You can typically complete your program in two years, but this time frame also varies based on the program and your enrollment status. Online programs offered at an accelerated pace can often be completed in as little as a year; however, you must attend full-time to finish this quickly. Part-time students, especially those with limited study time due to family or work obligations, naturally take longer to complete their coursework.
Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in Crime Scene Investigation Prepares For
|Crime Scene Investigator/Crime Scene Analyst||. A master’s in crime scene investigation may prepare you for professional development courses through the International Association for Identification. Once you complete the required instruction hours, you can sit for the Certified Crime Scene Investigator or Certified Crime Scene Analyst exam.|
|Forensic Crime Scene Investigator||The credit hours you earned for crime scene processing through your master’s in crime scene investigation program may help qualify you for Forensic Crime Scene Investigator certification through the International Crime Scene Investigators Association. Certification requires active law enforcement employment, two years of experience processing crime scenes, 50 hours of crime scene courses, documentation of previous crime scenes you’ve worked and passing a written exam.|
Accreditation for Online Master’s in Crime Scene Investigation Degrees
The accreditation process encompasses an official evaluation of the college/university and its academic programs to ensure they meet the highest educational standards, including qualified faculty and comprehensive curriculum. Attending an accredited school makes you eligible for federal and state financial aid, and many scholarships are only available to students at accredited schools.
Legitimate universities/colleges and online degree programs receive accreditation from agencies recognized by the Department of Education or Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Master’s in crime scene investigation online programs may also receive specialized accreditation from professional organizations, such as the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences or the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission.
Employment Outlook for Master’s in Crime Scene Investigation Graduates
Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s
Earning a master’s in crime scene investigation can open up lucrative careers in law enforcement and forensic science. Your master’s often makes you a more desirable applicant and helps you stand out when applying for highly competitive jobs in the forensic sciences. Those already employed in the field may enjoy quicker advancement into higher-paying positions after earning a graduate degree. Master of science programs in crime scene investigation also offer graduates the chance to specialize in DNA analysis, bloodstain pattern analysis, firearm identification, latent print development, forensic chemistry, crime scene photography or other investigation techniques, which can put you ahead of the pack for supervisory roles.
Crime scene investigators can work independently but most often work for a local, state or federal law enforcement agency. As part of the forensic science field, a master’s in crime scene investigation opens up numerous types of job opportunities in a variety of career paths. Increase your salary by becoming a specialist in DNA, fingerprints, tire treads or another evidence collection niche. To learn more about typical salaries, consider these salary ranges for some popular forensic science positions.
|Job Title||Salary Range|
|Crime Scene Investigator||$31,277–$75,082|
|Forensic DNA Analyst||$37,800–$77,869|
|Forensic Computer Analyst||$44,065–$116,651|
Earning a master’s in crime scene investigation, along with your training and experience, can all affect your annual wage. However, the difference in salary ranges is mainly geographical. All types of forensic science technicians tend to make more in states with large metropolises, but these states top the list of highest wages.
Top 5 Paying States for Forensic Science Technicians
And below is a map of the mean wages of a forensic science technician nationwide. Blank states indicate data was not available.
Forensic Science Technician Mean Wages by State
Figures in US Dollars per year
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Crime scene investigators are in demand, with career opportunities at the federal, state and local levels, primarily in law enforcement, but they may also find employment in laboratory settings. Most CSIs are sworn law enforcement officers, but there’s a good number of civilians doing the same job. Newly hired CSIs on a police force usually work under experienced investigators to learn proper procedures and evidence documentation and collection methods for that particular agency before they can move up the career ladder. Civilian crime scene investigators may work as a private detective or under contract with a law enforcement agency and typically have little to no upward mobility.
|JOB TITLE||JOB DESCRIPTION||MEDIAN SALARY||PROJECTED GROWTH RATE|
|Detectives & Criminal Investigators||Detectives and criminal investigators use crime scene investigation skills to collect evidence to build a criminal case, make arrests and testify in court. Detectives can work for local, state or federal law enforcement agencies.||$79,970 per year||5%|
|Forensic Science Technician||Also called crime scene technicians, forensic science technicians aid criminal investigations by collecting and analyzing evidence and may work for local, state or federal law enforcement agencies, in laboratories or at private or self-owned investigative companies.||$57,850 per year||17%|
|Private Detectives & Investigators||Private investigators may work as contractors with law enforcement agencies to provide professional evidence collection services. Self-employed private detectives often earn less than staff detectives.||$50,700 per year||11%|
Join professional organizations in the crime scene investigation field to network with peers, collaborate on research, strengthen your job prospects and gain access to additional guidance, resources and professional services. Many organizations host conferences, offer scholarships to pursue higher education, provide training opportunities and/or publish professional journals. These are some of the top organizations of interest to those with a master’s in crime scene investigation.
Association for Crime Scene Reconstruction: An international association of criminalists and forensic professionals dedicated to the advancement of forensic science and crime scene reconstruction. It hosts annual conferences and skill development opportunities through on-site training sessions and offers a professional journal and research grants.
International Association for Identification: Membership to this international association provides access to research opportunities, job listings, training programs and certifications, a quarterly journal written by forensic authorities and an annual weeklong conference with hands-on workshops.
American Academy of Forensic Sciences: A multidisciplinary professional organization for forensic professionals that provides access to networking events, research journals, webinars, job opportunity listings, expert witness referrals, scientific reference studies, an annual scientific meeting and other professional resources.
International Crime Scene Investigators Association: This internet-based association offers job postings, certifications, quarterly newsletters, a collection of member-written white papers on crime scene topics and an annual forensic conference for CSIs.
Association of Forensic DNA Analysts and Administrators: A nonprofit organization composed of professionals engaged in the forensic aspects of DNA analysis for the judicial system that offers twice yearly meetings and job postings.
Financing Your Online Master’s in Crime Scene Investigation
While taking classes online is often less expensive than on-campus programs, sometimes there are hidden costs and higher rates for out-of-state programs. Online students qualify for many of the same types of state and federal financial aid, grants and scholarships as traditional students and may also have access to awards only available to distance learners. The resources below offer more information about various ways to finance your higher education.