Online Master’s Programs in Forensic Science

ASO Staff Writers
Updated May 14, 2024
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The need for forensic scientists has never been greater. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 17% job growth rate for forensic science technicians over the next decade — much higher than the national average for all occupations. An online master’s degree in forensic science prepares graduates with the methodological skills and specialized technological applications they need to succeed. Earning an advanced degree opens one to a rapidly expanding and diverse set of careers in forensic psychology, computer forensics, or forensic toxicology.

A master’s in forensic science provides bachelor’s degree holders a competitive advantage in the marketplace, while established working professionals benefit from career advancement. This guide provides a useful overview of online master’s degrees in forensic science and illustrates career possibilities, expected job growth, and salary potential.

What to Know About Online Master’s in Forensic Science Coursework

Many students enter a master’s program in forensic science holding a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, or computer science. Others possess a background in criminology or a related social science — or work in law enforcement or another criminal justice field. Program requirements vary by school, but most degrees emphasize critical thinking skills, data analysis, and investigative methods. Students receive hands-on technical training and learn to use current software applications. Both campus-based and online master’s in forensic science programs require between 32-40 credits. Most of these curricula culminate with an internship, a fieldwork experience, or a thesis.

Several variables affect the amount of time it takes to earn a master’s in forensic science. Depending on the program, full-time students usually take two to three years to complete the degree. Some schools even offer accelerated programs that students can finish in 18 months. Students with work or family responsibilities may enroll in only one or two courses per semester, extending the length of the degree to three or more years.

What Common Courses are Offered in a Master’s in Forensic Science Program?

Each forensic science master’s program establishes its own unique curriculum. Programs may offer distinctive electives and specializations in areas like computer forensics, pathology, DNA analysis, and forensic psychology. While requirements differ by school, most programs offer similar core courses in forensic analysis, statistical analysis, and crime scene investigation. The list below provides descriptions of some of the most common course offerings.

Common Forensic Science Master’s Courses

What Specializations are Available in a Master’s in Forensic Science Program?

Many master’s programs offer specializations for students to more narrowly focus their interests and career goals. Specializations represent every subfield of forensic science, such as computer forensics, forensic toxicology, and serology. However, each school’s program offers a small number of concentrations that generally reflect the research interests and strengths of the faculty. This list provides some representative examples.

What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?

Most forensic science master’s degrees require either a capstone experience or a written thesis. The capstone course — usually completed in a student’s final semester — requires students to produce a written paper or formal presentation. These culminating capstone projects integrate core concepts from coursework into a specific forensic application or analysis of a current issue. For example, topics may include an evaluation of facial recognition software or technological advances in DNA testing. A written thesis requires the student to conduct independent research or an in-depth critical evaluation of secondary data under the supervision of a faculty committee. Depending on the program, online students sometimes need to fulfill on-campus residency requirements to complete capstone or research requirements.

How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master’s in Forensic Science Program?

Selecting the right online master’s degree in forensic science requires some homework. You should investigate factors that indicate educational quality and affordability, such as graduation rates, in-state versus out-of-state tuition costs, the types and availability of electives and specializations, online course delivery formats, and on-campus residency requirements.

If you plan to attend part time, determine whether your intended program delivers courses asynchronously — allowing you the flexibility to progress through the degree at your own pace. If you anticipate enrolling full time, consider whether a program offers an accelerated degree, or whether it groups students together into a cohort that takes synchronously formatted classes at fixed times each term.

Accreditation is one of the most important variables to consider when choosing a program. Not only should you look for regionally or nationally accredited colleges and universities, you should also note those forensic science programs that receive specialized programmatic accreditation from the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission.

Career Opportunities With a Master’s in Forensic Science Degree

Forensic science provides a foundation for a broad range of careers focused on the collection and analysis of evidence. Students prepare for an array of employment possibilities in federal and state law enforcement agencies, crime labs, legal and criminal justice organizations, and even opportunities in business and educational settings.

A master’s degree in any field does not guarantee employment, but it does deliver a competitive edge to graduates entering the workplace. Master’s degree holders with specialized training in forensic psychology, computer forensics, and criminal investigation can expect to find expanding career opportunities through the next decade. While most forensic scientists already possess a strong natural science background, some positions may also require advanced laboratory experience or specialized credentials or licensure.

What’s the Expected Job Growth for Forensic Science Careers?

The field of forensic science looks poised to see above-average growth in occupations that require forensic science master’s degrees. These salary projections support recent findings by the BLS that forecast a 17% growth rate for master’s-level occupations between 2016 and 2026. The growth rates for information security analysts, forensic science technicians, and forensic psychologists — well above the national average for all occupations — indicate the rapidly expanding demand for graduate-trained and technologically savvy professionals.

Professional Organizations for Careers in Forensic Science

Several professional associations promote and support the interests of forensic scientists. Membership in these organizations offers graduate students important benefits as they prepare to enter the workforce and develop their professional networks. Many associations sponsor internships, fellowships, and certification programs, and student members may take advantage of career resources and job placement services.

  • American Academy of Forensic Sciences

    AAFS promotes the application of scientific principles and technological applications to legal and criminal justice issues. It welcomes members from every forensic science specialization who share an interest in improving education and professional practice.
  • American Academy of Forensic Psychology

    As the educational division of the American Board of Forensic Psychology, AAFP offers continuing education workshops for those seeking board certification or professional development credit. It also confers awards to outstanding practitioners in the field of forensic psychology.
  • American Academy of Forensic Psychology

    As the educational division of the American Board of Forensic Psychology, AAFP offers continuing education workshops for those seeking board certification or professional development credit. It also confers awards to outstanding practitioners in the field of forensic psychology.
  • Society of Forensic Toxicologists

    This professional association provides continuing education and certification opportunities and shares information about new developments in forensic toxicology. It sponsors the Young Forensic Toxicologists program to promote education and networking opportunities for practitioners just beginning in the field.
  • The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences

    Established in 1959, The Society boasts 3,000 members across 60 countries. This professional organization promotes and develops regulation in forensic science education and practice. Students receive a discounted membership rate and access to a job bank.
  • Association of Forensic DNA Analysts and Administrators

    This professional association draws its membership from forensic DNA analysts, supervisors, and administrators engaged in forensic applications of DNA analysis for the judicial system. Students preparing for these kinds of careers receive discounted membership rates.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Forensic Science Degree

An online master’s degree in forensic science represents a major financial investment. Many students defray the cost of their education by applying for loans, scholarships, grants, or fellowships. In addition to federally sponsored assistance programs, prospective graduate students should research other funding sources geared specifically for forensic science studies.

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