“You have no victim to avenge, no guilty or innocent person to convict or save—you must bear testimony within the limits of science.”
Dr. P.C.H. Brouardel, 19th-Century French Medico-Legalist
The term “forensic” embraces many meanings. Derived from the Latin word for a public discussion, forensic science is at its heart the process of analyzing evidence for use in a court of law; it’s the systematic discovery of physical matter and other criminal traces which help law enforcement reconstruct what happened at a crime scene.
While some assume that blood or fingerprints are the predominant sources of evidence in forensics, in reality, the bread crumbs leading to a criminal perpetrator are varied and include digital documents, soils, explosive residues, plastics, tool marks, fibers, and toxins, to name a few. In short, the field of forensic science is complex and varied, but its centrality to public safety and the integrity of the law is undeniable.
For those interested in establishing fact- and evidence-based cases to solve crimes, specifically by deconstructing clues with reasoned analysis and scientifically based methods, becoming a forensic scientist can prove a rewarding career. According to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS 2021), forensic scientists search for truth above all else and have various responsibilities such as processing and testing varied types of evidence in a laboratory using valid, reliable techniques; writing detailed reports on findings; and testifying as expert witnesses in court to convict or acquit alleged criminals, among other duties. These professionals must be methodical, accurate, detail-oriented, and knowledgeable since forensic evidence is often sensitive.
To become a forensic scientist, a person must have proper training and credentialing. While some of these professionals may find that a bachelor’s degree is sufficient for an entry-level position (e.g., forensic science technician), others may wish to develop more granular expertise, pursue leadership opportunities, or qualify for higher pay.
In addition to the traditional campus-based programs, there is a growing number of online master’s degrees in forensic science, which generally combine distance-based coursework with in-person laboratory externships or residencies completed at approved facilities. Many of these face-to-face training experiences are completed in federal, state, or local crime labs, and there are some opportunities available in private facilities.
Online master’s students generally will specialize in an aspect of forensic science at this stage, gaining expertise in areas such as chemistry, biology, criminalistics, psychology, geology, entomology, anthropology, or other subfields of this exciting discipline, many of which offer professional credentialing through certification entities approved by AAFS’s Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB).
www.forensicscolleges.com systematically gathers data about more than 200 online forensics programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, PhD, and certificate level in varied subfields. This guide examines all of the online master’s in forensic science programs, including three standout professors, details about the distance-based experience, and accreditation information.
As mentioned above, there are over 200 online forensics programs at the undergraduate, graduate, and certificate levels. Here is the complete list of online and hybrid master’s in forensic science programs:
Master of Science in Forensic Science, University of Florida
UF offers several online MS programs through its College of Pharmacy, including specializations in forensic DNA and serology; forensic toxicology; forensic drug chemistry; and forensic science. The latter comprises 32 credits of coursework in criminalistics, environmental forensics, forensic medicine, forensic anthropology, forensic DNA analysis, drug analysis, and toxicology. This program may be ideal for people seeking work in crime labs, law enforcement agencies, pharmaceutical companies, and medical examiner offices.
It’s important to note that this is an online MS program in pharmacy with a concentration in forensic sciences. Additionally, students must visit the campus for a special topics course, which offers three days of reviews, oral exams, and a comprehensive exam. The “critical dates” are provided well in advance for distance-based students to plan accordingly.
Master of Forensic Sciences, National University
The distance-based MFS program is a professional degree program ideal for those who wish to work with police departments, attorneys, lab personnel, criminal investigators, etc. This 54-quarter-credit program is offered in two specializations: investigation or criminalistics. Please note that those interested in the criminalistics track must have an undergraduate degree in laboratory sciences to qualify.
Both tracks have courses in forensic pathology; forensic psychology; major case investigation; forensic photography; crime scene investigation; and a supervised research program. Since tuition varies by location of the student and campus through which they are enrolled, please reach out to program coordinators for a cost estimate.
Master of Science in Forensic Sciences, Oklahoma State University
This online MSFS program is offered in two tracks: a thesis (hybrid) and a non-thesis (online) track. The specialized thesis tracks are in death scene investigation, forensic biology and DNA, forensic chemistry, and forensic psychology. The non-thesis options can be taken 100 percent at a distance in forensic document examination and forensic science administration.
Notably, OSU provides on-campus programs which are FEPAC-accredited, the gold standard in this academic field. All tracks comprise 39 credit hours and in-state tuition for students from “Academic Common Market” states (e.g., AL, AR, FL, GA, TX, etc).
Master of Science in Forensic Science (Hybrid), Stevenson University
This hybrid (i.e., online and on-campus) MS program comprises 28 credits of coursework in subjects such as the survey of forensic science, physical evidence at crime scenes, foundations of criminal justice, evidence, mock trials, and practicum rotations, as well as a thesis.
Three distinct tracks determine the rest of the courses: biology, chemistry, and crime scene investigation. While much of the coursework is available online, some of the classes require face-to-face meetings.
Master of Science in Forensic Science (Hybrid), University of Central Florida
This MSFS program offers most of its courses online, but some of them require in-person attendance. Classes include the forensic expert in the courtroom; quality assurance for forensic scientists; statistical analysis; applied molecular spectroscopy; atomic spectroscopy; forensic molecular biology; and advanced biochemistry. This program is offered in three tracks: forensic analysis (thesis), biochemistry (thesis), forensic professional (non-thesis).
Master of Science in Criminal Justice with a Forensic Science Concentration, Saint Leo University
This online MSCJ program with a forensic science emphasis is directed by Dr. Robert J. Diemer, a renowned investigator in the state with 30 years of investigative experience. This program offers instruction in the history of forensic science and criminalistics; the laboratory analysis of physical evidence; forensic and medicolegal death investigation; crime scene investigation and management; human resources issues and innovations; offender treatment methodology; information resource systems and technologies; and courtroom acceptance of new forensic technologies, among other topics.
Professional Science Master of Forensic Science (Hybrid), Florida International University
The hybrid 32-credit MSFS program is a collaborative effort between FIU, UF, and UCF, a statewide initiative to meet the demand for forensic professionals in the state. In a combination of distance-based classes and a capstone internship, this 16-month program provides instruction in forensic science, leadership, expert testimony, business and management, and other areas. It may be ideal for people currently working in crime labs or medical examiner’s offices who seek to advance their skills and salary prospects.
Master of Forensic Sciences Graduate Certificate, George Washington University
GWU’s MFS certificate program can be completed online and provides four concentration options in forensic chemistry, forensic toxicology, forensic molecular biology, and friction ridge analysis. This 18-credit STEM-designated program includes courses in a homicide investigation, forensic pathology, and crime scene photography. The certificate coursework can be applied towards the master of science in crime scene investigation degree program in tandem with a GRE score.
Please note that the school also offers four FEPAC-accredited on-campus MS and MFS degrees in forensic science, forensic chemistry, forensic molecular biology, and crime scene investigation.
Master of Science in Digital Forensics and Cyber Investigation, University of Maryland Global Campus
The University of Maryland Global Campus offers a master of science in digital forensics and cyber investigation. This 36-credit program prepares graduates for careers in investigative leadership and cybersecurity, protecting private companies and government organizations from cyber threats and bringing digital criminals to justice.
The US Department of Homeland Security awarded the UMGC program with a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education. Graduates from this program go on to work as special agents, IT directors, chief information security officers, cryptologic managers, and technical directors.
Master of Science in Crime Scene Investigation, Stevenson University
Stevenson University offers six online master of science degrees in forensic science. The master of science in crime scene investigation prepares its graduates to become forensic evidence collection and analysis experts. Upon completing this program, students can pursue specialized careers in evidence collection, crime scene photographers, forensic artistry, and ballistics or latent printing.
Stevenson University is a member of the FBI National Academy Associates (FBINAA) Academy Alliance, which provides a 20 percent tuition reduction and waives the GRE requirement and application fee when applying to the program.
Master of Science in Media Forensics, University of Colorado Denver
The University of Colorado at Denver offers a hybrid master of science in media forensics (MSMF). Most of the courses are online with five weeks of in-person residencies spread out over the two-year program. These experiential learning visits include time spent in regional crime laboratories and attending scientific conferences focused on applying forensic investigation techniques with audio-visual equipment.
Graduates from this program go on to work in federal, state, and local law enforcement, academic research and teaching, private practice, and corporate research and development.
Master of Science in Emergency Management, John Jay College of Criminal Justice
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice offers an online master of science in emergency services (MSES) degree. Graduates from this program are prepared to lead response teams in prevention and crisis response efforts in the wake of natural disasters, public health crises, terrorist attacks, and destructive human-created disasters. This 36-credit program divides its curriculum into three parts: required courses in emergency management, management and analytics, and electives.
Students can choose from two tracks to complete their degrees: the thesis track for students with a 3.5 GPA or higher or the comprehensive examination track that assessments essential knowledge of emergency management. Admission to this program is competitive and students with previous work experience in emergency management are given preference over those without no professional experience in the field.
Master of Science in Digital Forensic Science, Champlain College Online
Champlain College Online offers a fully online master of science in digital forensic science (MSDFS).
The college is nationally recognized as a leader in cybersecurity and computer forensics education and was designated in 2006 as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education by the US Department of Homeland Security. The program curriculum focuses on 34 scripting languages and cloud- and software-based applications and leadership and communication skills tailored to the field of digital forensics. Graduates from this program pursue careers in computer and information research science and information security analysis.
In addition to the above programs, there’s a wealth of distance-based master’s programs in various forensics subfields. To explore the options, please check out the main online forensics programs page.
The admissions requirements to online master’s degree programs in forensic science are similar to their on-campus counterparts. Admissions offices typically ask for:
Please note that specific tracks within forensic science (e.g., biochemistry) may have additional course prerequisites. Additionally, some programs may require test scores, a candidate interview, a resume, or letters of recommendation.
Finally, before applying to any online master’s program in forensic science, aspiring students are encouraged to verify two things: the program’s accreditation and state authorization statuses.
Accreditation is essentially a process of programmatic or institutional approval where an established entity evaluates the quality of facilities, curriculum, or faculty; the administration of finances; and student outcomes, among other measures of merit.
As previously mentioned, the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is the gold standard in evaluating forensic science programs. However, in addition to programmatic accreditation, forensic science schools can also have institutional accreditation, bestowed by an organization approved by the U.S. Department of Education’s Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
There are six CHEA-approved accreditation agencies that approve institutions in different regions of the country:
The other factor to consider is “state authorization” status. Due to differing laws governing the provision of distance-based education, online forensic science schools may not be able to enroll students from certain states. This information is typically available on a program’s website (e.g., University of Florida) or can be retrieved from program coordinators.
University of Florida
Dr. Ian Tebbett earned his PhD in forensic toxicology and has taught at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland, as well as the University of Illinois in Chicago. His research interests include how to teach forensic science most effectively; how drugs traverse the blood-brain barrier and metabolize; and varied methods for toxicological analysis (e.g., FTIR, column switching techniques, etc).
In addition to his academic responsibilities, he has served as a consultant for various national and international law enforcement agencies, offering expert testimony at trials in Florida, Illinois, and Europe.
Florida International University
Dr. Jeffrey Wells is an associate professor of biological science at Florida International University. He earned his PhD from the University of Illinois and focuses on developing new genotyping methods and statistical analyses related to forensic biology and insect evolution. His current research areas include novel protocols for human identity and paternity testing; population genetics of forensically essential insects; and biosystematics of fly superfamilies and applications of carrion-feeding insects.
University of Florida
Dr. Donna Wielbo worked in the British Home Office Forensic Science Service before earning her PhD at the University of Illinois. She works within UF’s Department of Medicinal Chemistry at the College of Pharmacy, serving as the program coordinator of all forensics programs and an academic advisor in forensic science. Her research interests include hypertension and molecular biology. She has conducted genomics research with the Curagen Corporation, later joining the National Forensic Science Technology Center, assisting with training and education.
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).