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

If you’re shopping for a program to earn your master’s degree in assessment and measurement, online options offer convenience and a quality education that rivals that of traditional on-campus programs. Attendance requirements are often broad, setting parameters and giving you the freedom to choose your class engagement times within them. This makes it easier to pursue your graduate degree while you work full-time or fulfill other personal obligations. You also have some control over completion time, with accelerated programs that get you to your degree faster and part-time options if you keep a busy schedule. To find the program that works best for your situation, compare the curriculum and demands of several distance learning institutions to find the one that matches your career goals and won’t interfere with your lifestyle.

Concentrations Offered for an Online Master’s in Forensic Science

CONCENTRATION DESCRIPTION POTENTIAL CAREERS FOR THIS CONCENTRATION
Criminal Behavior Analyzing and understanding why criminals act the way they do. It looks at the reasons behind behavior and may also deal with rehabilitation strategies. Detective, FBI agent, forensic psychologist, profiler
Institutional The science behind how and why criminals choose their victims and what the victim can tell detectives and the rest of the justice system about the motivations of the criminal. Detective, police officer, FBI agent, forensic psychologist, profiler
Conflict Resolution and Crisis Management Focuses on the psychology and strategies involved in managing crisis situations and bringing these to the best resolution possible. Forensic psychologist, parole officer, mediator, crisis negotiators

Curriculum for an Online Master’s in Forensic Science

When it comes to online master’s in forensic science programs, there can be some differences in exact curriculum and courses offered. This is why it’s always important to check with your intended program and make sure the classes work with your career goals. You’ll also want to ensure there aren’t any on-campus requirements if the program is out of your area. However, there are some classes that are central to the forensic science discipline and these include:

COURSES DESCRIPTION
Forensic Chemistry Explore analysis and identification techniques and apply them to various samples that come from crime scene investigation, such as fibers, paints and residues.
Forensic Biology Learn to identify and classify various biological materials, including human and animal cells and fluids. You may also learn modern DNA evidence techniques.
Forensic Psychology Examine how psychology is used in the court setting. Topics might include profiling and criminal psychopathology as well as how things like eyewitness testimony and the insanity defense are used.
Crime Scene Investigation Master the optimal ways on preserving a crime scene. Learn how to enter, analyze and protect a crime scene and how to make sure searches and seizures are conducted in a legal, court-admissible way.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Master’s Degree in Forensic Science?

Most master’s degree in forensic science programs require you to complete at least 32 credit hours. This means that for full-time students, completion of the degree usually takes about two years. However, some schools may 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 along with a prescribed group of other students, can take a bit longer because courses are usually only offered every couple of semesters. If you’re planning on going to school part time, it may take three to four years to finish.

Certifications and Licenses an Online Master’s in Forensic Science Prepares For

CERTIFICATION DESCRIPTION
Certified Forensic Litigation Consultant The Forensic Expert Witness Association grants this certification to members who have completed the 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 required 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.

Accreditation for Online Master’s in Forensic Science

To ensure you get a quality education, it’s important to check that your online master’s in forensic science is accredited. There are national and regional accreditations, and regional accreditation is generally considered the standard to look for and most prestigious. For forensic science, it’s best to look for programs accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission. Reputable national accreditations include those by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education.

Employment Outlook for Master’s in Forensic Science Graduates

Job Placement: Master’s v. Bachelor’s

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, forensic science is a very fast growing field with a healthy job outlook. Experts project job growth in this field to increase by approximately 17 percent overall from 2016 to 2026. When it comes to available jobs and salaries, having a master’s degree can put you at a distinct advantage over applicants who only have a bachelor’s degree.

Expected Salary

Completing your master’s degree in forensic science sets you up to be eligible for higher-level positions, and these come with higher salaries. Consider the possible job titles and corresponding average salaries below. A master’s degree positions you to demand a higher salary in many cases.

Source: PayScale.com

The industry in which you’re searching for a job in forensic science can also make a big difference in your potential salary. Consider the following table, which shows the highest paying industries for forensic science and their percent of industry employment. While the federal agencies tend to pay the most, they higher fewer people than many of the other agencies, making job placement very competitive. A master’s degree is one way you can stand out from the crowd to get these jobs.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Opportunities

Depending on your concentration and classes in your online master’s in forensic science program, you may be better suited to certain specialties within the industry. Here are some of the career opportunities this master’s degree prepares you for as well as their median salaries and projected growth rates.

JOB TITLE JOB DESCRIPTION MEDIAN SALARY PROJECTED GROWTH RATE
Detective and Criminal Investigators Detectives and criminal investigators work with other law enforcement professionals to investigate crimes and help determine what happened and who was responsible. They are tasked with evaluating crime scenes, witness statements and other factual evidence. $62.960 per year 7%
Forensic Science Technician Forensic science technicians are responsible for investigating crime scenes and more specifically analyzing samples of everything from fibers to blood in a criminal laboratory environment. $57,850 per year 17%
Computer Forensic Analyst Computer forensic analysts work in collaboration with other law enforcement personnel to gather information off of computers and other electronic devices that may aid in an investigation. $95,510 per year 28%

Professional Organizations

Forensic science is a field that requires a great deal of collaboration with others, and that means that a 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 and both 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 opportunities 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 better understand how the forensic aspects of 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

Most students find that an online master’s degree in forensic science is cheaper overall compared to its traditional, on-campus counterpart. However, there are still textbooks and instructional fees, and you may still find yourself in need of financial assistance to achieve your educational goals. The first step towards finding financial aid is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). This is required for eligibility for any federal aid, but many organizations and universities also use it to determine eligibility for private aid, scholarships, internships and other opportunities. Here are some resources to help you get started on your search.

Resources

Scholarships

Scholarships

Details

Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners Scholarship Program

Award: $2,000

Deadline: April 1

Eligibility: Students must be pursuing a degree related to forensic science, enrolled at least half-time and have a GPA of 3.0.

American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors Scholarship

Award: $1,000

Deadline: April 15

Eligibility: Students must be pursuing a degree in the forensic science field, attending an accredited U.S. school and have a faculty recommendation.

Ellis R. Kerley Forensic Sciences Scholarship

Award: $2,500

Deadline: April 30

Eligibility: Students must be enrolled in a master’s or doctorate program, be a member of the AAFS and complete all required documentation.