It seems impossible to turn on the television today without finding at least one program that has something to do with forensic science. Television shows and popular media, from “Dexter” to “Bones” and “CSI” to “Criminal Minds” all feature forensic specialists, and those portrayals are a part of what is bringing so much popularity to the field.
While the forensic science field is portrayed much differently on screen versus in real life, this interdisciplinary profession provides a unique blend of investigative and analytical work for those who enjoy working in outdoor and laboratory environments.
People with an affinity for science and the criminal justice system are well-suited applicants for forensic science programs. For those who are already in the field and have a bachelor’s degree in science, a master of science (MS) degree in forensic science offers more possibilities for employment and deeper investigation into the profession.
Anyone interested in specializing in one of the subfields of forensic science such as DNA analysis or toxicology or pursuing future leadership opportunities has much to gain from enrolling in a master’s degree program in forensic science.
Aspiring forensic scientists can be pleased to know that the projected career growth is trending positively. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2020) predicts a 14 percent rate of growth for forensic science technicians, a rate that is much faster than the national average for all occupations (BLS May 2019). An estimated 2,400 forensic science technician jobs will be created nationally between 2019 and 2029 and the median annual salary is $59,150 (BLS May 2019).
It is worth noting that salaries for master’s degree holders may be higher depending on several factors such as position responsibilities, employer, years of experience, and cost-of-living of a particular area. Read on to learn more about master’s degree forensic science degrees.
Students who are pursuing a career in forensic science will want to make sure to have some basic courses in chemistry and biology. Math and English can be quite helpful as well, and they are going to be part of the required core courses while earning a bachelor’s degree at most schools. Those who are undergraduates will generally have about 36 hours of general education requirements and an additional 34 credit of courses in statistics, organic chemistry, and advanced biology.
Specializations may be offered with an MS in forensic science programs, such as biochemistry or DNA serology. Conversely, a forensic science specialty may be part of a broader MS program, such as at the University of Florida where the MS in forensic science is offered as part of the pharmaceutical sciences program. Ultimately, students should look for a program that has learning outcomes that align with their ultimate career goals, whether that is working in a lab, continuing a career in law enforcement, or pursuing further education in the form of a PhD.
Those who go further in their career, and who are looking for a doctorate in the field, will find that their studies will provide them with a deeper understanding of the criminology aspects of the job, as well as how science and the law intersect.
It is possible to find a number of specialties in the field of forensic science, which will then require specialized training. Some of the options include toxicology, blood spatter, trace evidence analysis, and firearm analysis.
Students will find a number of different hybrid (blended campus-based and distance learning) and online options for earning an MS in forensic science.
Florida International University (FIU), which has a campus in Miami, offers an online professional science master’s degree program in forensic science. This 16-month degree program combines both forensic science and business management courses. It is designed for working forensics professionals who want to further their careers, as well as those interested in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics).
The curriculum consists of 32 credits of courses: 23 credits in technical forensic science content and nine credits of business courses taught by the FIU College of Business Administration. Although GRE scores are not required for admission, students applying to this program must have a 3.0 GPA in addition to a letter of intent, official transcripts, and two letters of recommendation.
Alliant International University, which has campuses across California, including locations in San Francisco and Los Angeles, provides a hybrid program that offers an MS in applied criminology as part of its California School of Forensic Studies. The MS program allows students to choose from three concentrations: criminal behavior, conflict resolution and crisis management, or victimology. This type of master’s program can be ideal for someone who wants to pursue a forensics-related career but does not have a background or interest in lab work.
Students who choose to pursue an MS in forensic science online will find that the courses will still provide them with the knowledge they seek when wanting to advance in their career, and should not differ significantly in focus from campus-based learning.
The University of Florida offers a fully online master’s degree and graduate certificate program in forensic science. Students in the degree program can choose from four specialization tracks: forensic science, forensic DNA & serology, forensic toxicology, and forensic drug chemistry.
Classes are taught asynchronously and while most students complete the program within two to three years, students have up to seven years to finish their degree program. Coursework varies depending on the specialization track, but all programs include a strong foundation in forensic science, data analysis, and laboratory quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC).
St. Leo University offers a master of science in criminal justice with two timeline options: a traditional two-year or an accelerated timeline. In this program, students learn about ethical standards in the administration of justice, human resource management, personnel law, policymaking, and the infrastructure of computerized databases. Specialized classes in forensic science are available for aspiring forensic scientists.
The St. Leo University criminal justice program has been established for more than 30 years and consistently ranks as a military-friendly institution by G. I. Jobs and Military Advanced Education magazines. Graduates from this Catholic institution are well-prepared for careers in law enforcement and forensic science.
The Oklahoma State University School of Forensic Sciences in Tulsa offers five masters-level certificates and degrees in forensic science, one of which can be completed online. The master of science in forensic investigative sciences degree is one of the most flexible degree options in that the majority of the coursework is elective meaning students can choose from a wide range of courses including forensic pathology, forensic toxicology, and forensic victimology. The first and second year of this 39-credit program can be completed entirely online or on-campus and students have up to seven years to complete their studies.
Students can begin taking courses in the fall or spring semester. Students with bachelor’s degrees in science fields such as biology, human anatomy, physiology, or human anthropology are encouraged to apply.
National University in San Diego offers a fully online master’s of forensic sciences (MFS) degree with two specialization tracks. The criminalistics track features courses in trace evidence, advanced forensic toxicology, advanced forensic serology and DNA, and forensic anthropology. The investigation track emphasizes advanced forensic investigative techniques that provide a comprehensive understanding of all forensic science fields. Students in this 54-credit program learn the essentials of death investigation techniques ranging from diseases to trauma, how to interact with medico-legal death investigators, evidence preservation techniques, forensic photography, crime scene analysis, and legal and ethical issues.
Of course, for some students earning a degree in a physical classroom is the best choice. A traditional MS program can offer a sense of camaraderie with other students as well as give those students hands-on experience in the lab or other experiential locations.
The John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City offers a master of science degree in forensic science (MS-FOS) and is one of the roughly fifty university programs accredited by the Forensic Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).
The program was established in 1968 and maintains its highly-respected and storied institution in the field of criminal justice with classes taught by internationally-recognized faculty in the forensic science field. With a curriculum that combines hands-on laboratory coursework and current legal issues and trends in forensic science, students in this program are required to solve problems using analytical methods and instrumental analysis. Students may choose from three specializations: criminalistics, forensic toxicology, or molecular biology. They must also complete a thesis prior to graduation.
Syracuse University in Syracuse, New York offers four MS degree programs in forensic science: an MS in forensic science, an MS in biomedical forensic science, an MS in medicolegal death investigation, a JD/MS dual degree in forensic science, and two advanced certificates in firearm and tool mark examination and medicolegal death investigation.
Students in this MS program have access to world-class training facilities such as LGS Bell Labs Innovations, Brookhaven National Laboratory, the New York State Police Crime Laboratory System, and the Wallie Howard Jr. Center for Forensic Sciences. Graduates from this program can go on to pursue careers in crime and forensic laboratories and federal agencies such as the FBI.
Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia offers a two-year FEPAC-accredited master’s degree in forensic science. This program can be completed in five semesters and students can choose between a thesis or a non-thesis terminal degree project.
Four separate areas of emphasis in forensic science are offered and students can choose to study one or all four areas: DNA analysis, forensic chemistry, digital forensics, and crime scene investigation. Notably, Marshall University features an on-campus laboratory accredited by ANAB (ANSI National Accreditation Board), which offers a variety of forensic investigation services including DNA analysis for property crime, sexual assault, and other types of forensic evidence.
Towson University offers an MS in forensic science program. This FEPAC-accredited program emphasizes courses in chemistry, biology, and mathematics as well as laboratory training. It also teaches students molecular biology-based approaches, including DNA analysis, crime scene investigation, and physical evidence analysis.
Students in this program learn in small classes and are expected to apply their scientific knowledge with hands-on laboratory experience as well as quality assurance and ethics. Graduates from this program are prepared for employment in forensic science, business, industry, and government-related fields.
Accreditation is something that all students should consider when choosing to pursue a master’s in forensic science degree from any school. Accreditation means that the school has been evaluated by a recognized body for its curriculum faculty, facilities, and learning outcomes. Both programmatic and institutional accreditation are worth considering.
The main accrediting body for forensic science programs is FEPAC, which is a division of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). While FEPAC accreditation can be indicative of a quality program, it is important to note that FEPAC accredits very few programs overall, so there are many worthwhile MS in forensic science programs that do not have the distinction of FEPAC accreditation.
In addition to programmatic accreditation, a college or university should have institutional accreditation that indicates the quality of the school as a whole. The accrediting bodies for this type of accreditation are organized by region and include organizations such as the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE) and the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC).
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).