Master’s in Crime Scene Investigation (CSI) Career Guide

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:

COURSES DESCRIPTION
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

CERTIFICATION DESCRIPTION
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.

Expected Salary

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
Detective/Criminal Investigator $38,343–$106,472
Evidence Technician $28,047–$50,143
Forensic DNA Analyst $37,800–$77,869
Forensic Scientist $36,358–$90,142
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.

And below is a map of the mean wages of a forensic science technician nationwide. Blank states indicate data was not available.

Career Opportunities

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%

Professional Organizations

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.

Resources

Scholarships

Scholarships

Details

American Society of Trace Evidence Examiners Scholarship

Award: $500

Deadline: February 15

Eligibility: Graduate students enrolled in forensic science or a related program who plan on pursuing work in the trace evidence field.

Association of Firearms and Tool Mark Examiners Scholarship Program

Award: $2,000

Deadline: January 1-April 1

Eligibility: Advanced degree students in any semester and enrolled at least half-time in an accredited school with the intent of seeking a forensic science career.

American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Annual Scholarship Awards

Award: $1,000

Deadline: April 15

Eligibility: Graduate students currently pursuing a forensic science, forensic chemistry or closely related degree at an accredited institution in a program approved by FEPAC.