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 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 established methods, becoming a forensic scientist can prove a rewarding career. According to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS 2017), 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 exonerate alleged criminals, among other duties. These professionals must be methodical, accurate, detail-oriented, and knowledgeable since evidence is often sensitive.
In order 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 a 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 as well. 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).
ForensicsColleges.com systematically gathered data about more than 200 online forensics programs at the bachelor’s, master’s, PhD, and certificate level in varied subfields during 2016 and 2017. 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, the following programs were discovered in a systematic search in 2017-2018 documenting 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 a number of online M.S. 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 areas such as criminalistics, environmental forensics, forensic medicine, forensic anthropology, forensic DNA analysis, drug analysis, and toxicology, among others. 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 M.S. program in pharmacy with a concentration in forensic sciences. Additionally, students are required to 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. These programs cost $575 per credit hour.
Master of Forensic Sciences, National University
The distance-based M.F.S. program is a professional agree ideal for those who wish to work with police departments, attorneys, lab personnel, criminal investigators, and others. 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 he or she is enrolled, please reach out to program coordinators for a cost estimate.
Master of Science in Forensic Sciences, Oklahoma State University
This online M.S.F.S. program is offered in thesis (hybrid) and non-thesis (online) tracks. 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). Please contact a program representative for a tuition estimate.
Master of Science in Forensic Science (Hybrid), Stevenson University
(Owings Mills, MD)
This hybrid (i.e., online and on-campus) M.S. 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. There are three distinct tracks which 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. This program costs $670 per credit hour.
Master of Science in Forensic Science (Hybrid), University of Central Florida
This M.S.F.S. 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, among others. This program is offered in three tracks: forensic analysis (thesis), biochemistry (thesis), forensic professional (non-thesis). These programs cost $327.32 per credit hour for in-state students and $1,151.72 for those living out of state.
Master of Science in Criminal Justice with a Forensic Science Concentration, Saint Leo University
(Saint Leo, FL)
This online M.S. 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. It costs $555 per credit hour.
Professional Science Master of Forensic Science (Hybrid), Florida International University
The hybrid P.S.M.F.S. 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. This 32-credit program costs $21,000 total.
Master of Forensic Sciences Graduate Certificate, George Washington University
GWU’s online M.F.S. certificate provides four concentrations: forensic chemistry, forensic toxicology, forensic molecular biology, and friction ridge analysis. It costs $1,655 per credit hour. Please note that the school also offers on-campus M.S. degrees in CSI and high tech crime investigations.
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, prior to 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.
The aforementioned Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is the gold standard in evaluating forensic science programs, although as of May 2017, there were limited online programs with FEPAC accreditation. In addition to programmatic accreditation, however, forensic science schools can also have institutional accreditation, typically 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 which 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., UF) or can be retrieved from program coordinators.
Associate Professor and Program Coordinator, University of Florida
Dr. Wielbo worked in the British Home Office Forensic Science Service prior to 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, as well as an academic advisor in forensic science. Her research interests include hypertension and molecular biology, and she has conducted genomics research with the Curagen Corporation, later joining the National Forensic Science Technology Center, assisting with training and education.
Professor and Director of Online M.S. in Forensic Science Program, University of Florida
Dr. Tebbett earned his PhD in forensic toxicology and has taught at the University of Strathclyde, Scotland and well as the University of Illinois in Chicago. His research interests include how to most effectively teach forensic science; 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.