Master’s Degree in Forensic Science

A Master’s in forensic science can be completed in a number of exciting fields that allow students to opt for different specialist careers. This advanced level degree exposes students to a number of different subject areas in physics, chemistry and biology along with a focus on criminal justice to give a complete and comprehensive understanding of this vast field. Students enrolled in these programs can go for concentrations such as forensic anthropology, forensic odontology, forensic entomology, toxicology, forensic pathology or forensic engineering among other options.

If you are interested in learning more about this degree, the following guide would be of great use to you. It provides a comprehensive look at a Master’s degree in Forensic science, the careers it can lead to and the kind of curriculum students can expect to complete.

What is a Master’s Degree in Forensic Science?

A Master’s degree in forensic science is a 2-year long program that exposes students to advanced level subjects in the fields of biology, chemistry and physics with an emphasis on law enforcement, criminal investigation and civil cases. This degree is designed to prepare students for career advancement or advanced certifications.

Curriculum of a Master’s Degree in Forensic Science

The curriculum of a Master’s Degree in Forensic Science typically builds on basic level material covered in a bachelor of science or a bachelor in forensic science program. Students are given the opportunity to dig deeper into advanced scientific topics in the fields of forensic biology and forensic chemistry. Some courses also explore the legal and ethical side in forensic science.

Typical courses students can expect to cover in a Master’s degree in forensic science include drug analysis, toxicology, environmental forensics, biological evidence, forensic DNA analysis, forensic anthropology and forensic medicine, among others. Students enrolled in a master’s degree will also be able to benefit from practical lessons and lab work, which will help them gain valuable skills such as analytical thinking, critical thinking and scientific writing.
Graduates may also practice in crime and medical diagnostic labs, prosecution attorney offices, hospitals, offices of medical examiners, clinical chemistry labs and law enforcement agencies.

Concentration Options with a Master’s Degree in Forensic Science

When enrolling in a Master of Forensic Science degree, students would have the option of going for a general forensic science degree or select a concentration to specialize in. Though the exact program details may differ by college, common concentration options available in most colleges would include Forensic Biology, Forensic Chemistry, Forensic Physical Analysis, Toxicology, Environmental Forensics and Criminal Justice.

What to Expect from a Master’s Degree in Forensic Science?

A Master’s degree in forensic science would take almost 2 years to complete, which roughly equates to 30 to 40 credits. Students enrolled in this program can expect to gain skills in critical and analytical thinking, along with a solid understanding of math, science and criminal law and ethics. Most forensic science programs would involve intensive laboratory experiences, along with equipping students with skills in evidence-based practice and research. Students in a master’s in forensic science degree may also be required to complete an internship or practicum. Numerous colleges provide internship placement options for students. In some cases, students end up joining forensic science professional organizations while in school for peer to peer networking and fellowship opportunities.

Most forensic science Master’s programs culminate in a capstone project. These projects would require original research under the supervision of a faculty member. The capstone project would require students to complete a written and/or oral thesis and present it to a body of qualified individuals.

How Long Does it Take to Complete a Master’s Degree in Forensic Science?

A Master’s degree in forensic science would typically take 2 years to complete with a full-time study format. Some colleges may offer an accelerated study program that would allow students to complete their degrees in less than 2 years. The number of credit hours students must complete in order to be eligible for graduation would be between 30-40, and would vary from college to college. Some online or part time programs may offer varying timelines, as per the needs of individual students.

Licensure and Certification Requirements for Forensic Science

In most cases, there is no legal requirement for forensic scientists to be certified or licensed. However, candidates who decide to pursue certifications in their individual specializations might enjoy much better employment opportunities. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) accredits certifications in areas such as forensic toxicology, document examination and criminalistics.

Prerequisites for forensic science certifications tend to vary, but most often, students would be required to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, along with proof of professional experience and letters of recommendation. Students opting for any certification would have to clear an exam to become officially certified.
For Master’s students, the certification option can certainly further enhance their employment opportunities. Licensure will be required for positions such as a forensic psychologist, where students would be required to become fully qualified clinical psychologists with a license to practice.

Careers with a Master’s Degree in Forensic Science

There are several career paths that students can opt for after completing a master’s degree in forensic science, depending on their specialization and areas of interest. Entry level positions in forensic science typically require a bachelor’s degree only, however, law enforcement agencies would most often require applicants to have at least a master’s in forensic science for advanced level careers.

Graduates of a master’s program in forensic science can go for careers such as detective, forensic scientist, analytical chemist, toxicologist, biomedical scientist, crime scene investigator etc. In addition to these, there are several careers where a master’s degree in forensic science would be applied indirectly. These include careers such as police officers, science writers, higher education teachers, higher education lecturers, secondary school teachers etc. Please note that many employers would accept applications from students with a simple master’s degree in a science subject. Therefore, do not restrict your options to the jobs listed above.

How much can I Earn with a Master’s Degree in Forensic Science?

After completing a Master’s degree in forensic science, students can go for a number of careers in the field of forensics and related sciences. The salary and job outlook for any particular career in this field would vary according to the specifications of the job, experience level, education criteria and seniority level. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for forensic science technicians is 16%, which is much higher than the average growth for all occupations in the time period from 2020 to 2030. The annual median salary of this occupation was $60,590 per year in 2020, while the number of jobs was 17,200 in 2020. Similar occupations included Biological Technicians, who made an annual mean income of $46,340, Chemical Technicians, who made an annual mean income of $49,820 and Chemists and Materials Scientists, who made an annual mean income of $80,680.

It must be noted, however, that all of the above mentioned occupations require either an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree. In order to become a forensic science technician, students will be required to have at least a 4-year long bachelor’s degree in forensic science or a related subject. Having a master’s degree can lead to career advancement in this field, and can open up a number of opportunities in law enforcement and criminalistics.

Admission Requirements for a Master’s in Forensic Science?

The admission requirements for a master’s in forensic science would vary from university to university. However, most programs would have a common set of requirements such as a bachelor’s degree in a related field and a minimum GPA requirement. The minimum GPA requirement for most master’s level programs in forensic science is 3.0 in major coursework. Many universities would require GRE scores, though this requirement is subject to variation from program to program. Students are also advised to consider getting some work experience before applying to a master’s level program in forensic science.

Job Outlook for a Master’s in Forensic Science

Once students complete a master’s program in forensic science, they can go for a number of jobs, with potentially bright prospects. Majority of the demand created in this field will be a result of the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force to retire.

Top employers of forensic science professionals are expected to be government officials, both at the state and local levels. In addition to that, with the advancement in science and technology, the availability of reliable, useful and objective forensic information will increase. As a result of this, more forensic experts and professionals will be required by law enforcement agencies and courts to decipher technical information and help criminal cases come to a close.
California was the highest employer of forensic science technicians, with an employment of 2,270, followed by Florida, Texas, New York and Arizona. The top paying state for this field was also California, with an annual mean wage of $88,090 in 2020.