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Best Online Master's in Forensic Science Degree Programs

There are several different types of online master's degree programs in the field of forensic science. Find out details for a handful of the top programs in the field, as well as career information and common degree requirements.

Best Online Master's Programs in Forensic Science

Some of the best online master's degree programs in forensic science are available in states like California and Florida. These programs prepare students for a range of careers in the field and may be considered some of the best for their expert faculty, unique hands-on learning opportunities, and/or flexible program formats. Compare and contrast a handful of these top online master's programs here.

1. La Salle University

LocationGraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Philadelphia, PA$25,020

La Salle University provides a unique online Master of Science in Economic Crime Forensics that consists of 36 credits. The program offers a track in network security and corporate fraud and requires a capstone project. Students can complete the program fully online with synchronous courses that are 8 weeks in length. Unique to its region, this master's degree in economic crime forensics includes key concepts from other graduate programs at the school, like the Master of Business Administration (MBA), Computer Information Science, and Information Technology Leadership programs.

2. National University

LocationGraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
La Jolla, CA$15,480

National University has an online Master of Forensic Sciences that requires at least 54 quarter units. Students in the program can choose from a specialization in investigation or criminalistics and must complete a final research project. The school provides year-round enrollment and courses that are 4 weeks in length for flexibility. The program can be completed fully online and gives students hands-on experience with forensic photography and technology in the field.

3. Saint Leo University

LocationGraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Saint Leo, FL$8,498

Saint Leo University is a Catholic-affiliated institution that offers an online Master of Science in Criminal Justice with a specialization in Forensic Science. Students in this program can benefit from hands-on teaching and the more than 30 years of investigative experience the director for the program provides, according to the school's website. The program requires 36 credits, including a course in leadership and an applied project in criminal justice administration.

4. Stevenson University

LocationGraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Stevenson, MD$8,040

Stevenson University has an online Master of Forensic Science that offers a concentration in biology or chemistry. Students in the program are taught by expert faculty with real-world experience and can benefit from the school's partnerships with professional organizations in the field, like the US Secret Service Lab and the Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Division, and the FBI National Academy Associates (FBINAA) Academic Alliance. Students can choose to complete the program completely online or opt to take a practicum rotation course where they gain hands-on experience in a forensic unit.

5. University of Central Florida

LocationGraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state)
Orlando, FL$8,872

The University of Central Florida provides an online Master of Science in Forensic Science that requires 32 to 34 credits. The program includes a thesis and non-thesis option and can be completed in 2 years. Students learn from internationally known experts in the field and are trained in interdisciplinary science. The program was ranked as a top innovative program from US News and World Report for 2020 and offers students a concentration in forensic professional, forensic analysis, or forensic biochemistry.

All statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition based on 2018-2019 school year.

Learn.org's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value, and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

Overview of Online Master's Degree Programs in Forensic Science

Online master's degree programs in forensic science are most commonly offered as a Master of Science in Forensic Science or a Master of Forensic Science. However, there are also some online master's degree programs in criminal justice that feature a concentration in forensic science and online Professional Science Master's (PSM) degree programs in forensic science available.

These degree programs are designed to help train students in forensic science, law enforcement, investigation, and other related areas to prepare for an array of careers in the field. Most of these degree programs can be completed fully online, but may offer students the option of completing in-person experiences, such as a practicum. Get more details about online master's programs in forensic science below.

Program Length

Traditionally, online master's degree programs in forensic science consist of 30-40 credits and take around 2 years to complete. However, there are some online master's programs that may accept transfer credits, which could potentially decrease the total time to degree completion. Depending on the program, courses for these programs may range from about 4 to 8 weeks in length.

Concentrations

Forensic science may be offered as a concentration for some online master's programs in criminal justice, but other online master's programs specifically in forensic science may also offer different areas of concentration. These concentrations may help prepare students for a more specific career in the field. Some examples of possible concentration areas for forensic science include the following:

  • Forensic analysis
  • Criminalistics
  • Forensic biochemistry
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Investigation
  • Forensic professional

Common Courses

Online master's degree programs in forensic science typically include curriculum that is broken up into required core courses and specialization courses and/or electives. It is also fairly common for these forensic science programs to require some version of a culminating experience, such as a thesis, capstone course, or applied project. Common course topics for these degree programs may include:

  • Ethics- Courses in ethics examine ethical codes and issues pertaining to forensic science and/or criminal justice. Students may look at how these codes were developed and explore the effects of these ethical standards. Students may also use case studies to apply ethics to different issues they may encounter as professionals in the field.
  • Leadership- Although the specific type of leadership course may vary by program, in general these courses are designed to further develop students' leadership skills and help prepare them to make quality decisions in the workplace. Some courses may explore leadership in the laboratory, leadership in criminal justice, or general topics like leadership assessment. Students in these courses typically identify and discuss various leadership skills and how they are necessary for the field.
  • Introduction to Forensic Science- Students generally take multiple courses in forensic science, which are usually broken down into introductory and advanced courses in the field and/or examine specific aspects of forensic science, such as forensic toxicology. Typically, introductory courses in forensic science help provide students with key concepts in the subject and work to equip students with the necessary skills needed to perform laboratory analysis. This may also include discussing different procedures and techniques.
  • Crime Scene Investigations- There are multiple courses relating to forensic investigations, including those that explore the laws and rights applied to criminal investigations. However, crime scene investigation courses are the most common and usually explore criminal procedures and/or techniques used in investigations. These courses focus on the forensic techniques and methods used to collect evidence and manage crime scenes. Through this study, students develop their forensic science skills and techniques, so they can be prepared for the role of forensic crime scene investigators, especially in the judicial process.

Admissions Requirements and Prerequisites

Admissions requirements for online master's degree programs in forensic science vary greatly by institution and even by concentration, so students should be sure to check the specific requirements for their program of choice. In general, most of these programs require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree and meet a minimum GPA requirement of a 3.0 or higher. Sometimes it may be required for the bachelor's degree to be in forensic science, chemistry, biology, physics, or another laboratory or natural science. In addition, these degree programs may also require prior coursework in specific areas like:

  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Biology
  • Statistics
  • Calculus

Most online master's degree programs in forensic science require applicants to submit the appropriate application(s) and their official transcripts. Some programs may also ask for a resume and/or a personal statement. There are even some programs, such as La Salle University's master's in economic crime forensics program, that require applicants to undergo an interview process.

How to Choose an Online Master's Program in Forensic Science

When choosing a program, students should first decide what type of degree they wish to pursue. This may require thinking about career goals and finding a program that best aligns with these goals through the concentrations, courses, and/or learning experiences the program offers.

Students may also seek out a program that best fits their personal schedule and provides the desired level of flexibility. They may also take into account factors like program length, course length, and/or start dates. Other personal preferences may include class size, transfer credit policies, and/or course delivery formats (synchronous vs. asynchronous).

Accreditation

Students should search for accreditation on a school and program level to ensure that they are receiving a quality education. Institution-level accreditation typically indicates that a school has met the academic standards set by an accrediting body for undergraduate and/or graduate degree programs. Online master's degree programs in forensic science are usually offered by schools that are regionally accredited by organizations like the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC), the Commission on Higher Education for the Middle States Association of Colleges and Universities, and the WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

Program-specific accreditation is usually provided by subject-specific organizations and indicates to students that programs have met academic standards that pertain to the subject area. Although many online master's degree programs in forensic science are not specifically accredited, there are two different accrediting bodies that accredit forensic science programs, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (AAFS-FEPAC) and the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). Students may want to check to see if the school they are interested in offers other forensic science programs that are accredited to indicate quality academics in the field.

Since this accreditation is uncommon for online master's programs, students may wish to look for programs that offer unique partnerships and/or opportunities with professional organizations in the field. For example, there are some of these online programs that are members of the FBI National Academy Associates Academic Alliance and/or have relationships with professional crime labs.

Scholarships and Financial Aid

The tuition and the availability of financial aid can play a big role in a student's decision about which online program to pursue. The first step in trying to reduce the cost of a program is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see what types of grants and loans students qualify for. Before accepting loans, students may also want to check and see what kinds of discounts a school offers. For example, several schools provide military discounts and/or other benefits, may offer tuition discounts for partnership organizations, and/or offer some tuition assistance packages.

Scholarships are another great way to help reduce the cost of a program. Some schools may offer scholarships for students based on different demographics and/or majors, but outside organizations are also a great source for scholarships. For students in forensic science, there are several different national scholarships that they may qualify for including:

  • The Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation- This scholarship program was established by Congress and is available to students demonstrating scientific talent in natural science, mathematics, or engineering.
  • The Floyd E. McDonald Scholarship- Offered by the Southwestern Association of Forensic Scientists, this scholarship awards $1,000 in honor of a charter member to a student pursuing a career in forensic science.
  • The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) Scholarship Program- The ASCLD usually provides multiple $1,000 scholarships to undergraduate and graduate students in forensic science each year.

Job Options in Forensic Science

There are a variety of positions in forensic science for graduates with a master's degree in the field. Usually those with a master's can take on more advanced and/or leadership-focused positions. Forensic science professionals may also work in a range of settings, including police departments, forensic laboratories, Homeland Security, the court systems, and more. Some specific job titles for graduates in forensic science may include:

  • Criminal investigator
  • Law enforcement officer
  • Forensic pathologist
  • Forensic chemist
  • Forensic scientist
  • Forensic DNA analyst
  • Lab director
  • Research specialist

Detectives and Criminal Investigators

As of 2018, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that detectives and criminal investigators made a median annual salary of $81,920 and had a job outlook of 3% from 2018 to 2028. These professionals may need a high school diploma or a college degree, but must also undergo training academy. Detectives and criminal investigators investigate possible crimes and work to keep their communities safe. They may be responsible for collecting evidence, interviewing suspects, and preparing reports.

Forensic Science Technicians

The field of forensic science technicians may include job titles like forensic chemists, crime scene investigators, and digital forensics analysts. These technicians made a median salary of $58,230, as of 2018, and had a job outlook of 14% from 2018 to 2028, which was much faster than average, according to the BLS. Forensic science technicians typically need at least a bachelor's degree and some training, although many possess a master's in forensic science. Job duties vary by position, but in general, forensic science technicians help collect and analyze evidence found at crime scenes. This may require them to work in the field and/or the laboratory. These technicians also help photograph and reconstruct crime scenes and maintain records of evidence.

Laboratory Directors

Laboratory directors are usually responsible for overseeing the activities of a laboratory and the scientists and staff members who work there. They need to make sure their labs are stocked with the necessary equipment and observe staff to make sure they are using proper techniques and following all safety rules. Many lab director positions require at least a master's degree and some work experience in a laboratory setting, so those with a master's in forensic science could be a perfect fit for this career. According to PayScale.com, laboratory directors made a median salary of $93,647 as of 2020 and the BLS reported that all natural sciences managers (including laboratory directors) had a job outlook of 6% from 2018 to 2028.