Some master's degree programs in forensic science are available entirely online. Forensic science may be offered as the major field of study or as a concentration within a criminal justice program. Some online master's degree programs in this field offer concentrations in areas like toxicology, pharmacology, genetics, serology and forensic analysis. Coursework can vary depending on a student's emphasis area, although program curricula often include classes in applied statistics and laboratory procedures.
While coursework may be offered fully online, programs may require on-site attendance for certain hands-on laboratory courses. For students who want a fully online alternative, a master's degree in criminal justice could be considered, which has less of an emphasis on conducting scientific lab studies, but still allows students to learn about the theory and practice of crime investigation.
Individuals who hold a bachelor's degree in a related area of study, like forensic science, laboratory science, biology or chemistry, typically meet prerequisite education requirements. Applicants also usually need prior experience working in a lab. In addition, before enrolling in an online program, students must be sure that they have access to a computer with a DVD drive and speakers.
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Master's Degree - Forensic Science
Online Master of Science in Forensic Science programs are often directed at students who already have some experience in a laboratory. Some classes may require attendance either on campus or at a local laboratory. Areas of focus include toxicology, forensic pharmacology, death investigation and forensic genetics. Similar subjects of study are criminal justice, criminology and law enforcement.
Program Information and Requirements
Graduate applicants must have a bachelor's degree in the natural sciences, such as chemistry or biology. Applicants may also need to submit letters of recommendation. Students complete a thesis with original research. Off-campus research requires an on-site adviser approved by the school. Although coursework is by distance learning, students may need to visit campus for some exams, presentations or laboratory training.
Students should have consistent access to high-speed Internet. Computers need to be equipped with a DVD drive and speakers. Students should use up-to-date operating systems and Web browsers to ensure compatibility with course delivery systems.
List of Common Forensic Science Courses
Courses on organic structure, molecular biology and biochemistry form a platform for forensic science. Depending on the program and area of focus, students may take classes on toxic substances, drugs and medicine, serology, DNA analysis and blood splatter analysis.
This class explores the collection and study of evidence from crime scenes. Topics include blood spatter analysis and material identification. Students learn about the roles and responsibilities of forensic scientists in investigations as well as the role of physical evidence in the criminal justice system.
This course covers the use of molecular biology to advance criminal investigations. Students conduct polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and short tandem repeat (STR) techniques to test DNA evidence.
Students analyze the materials of a crime scene for physical clues such as paint, fibers and glass particles. This class trains forensic scientists to examine residue of explosions and fires. Students also learn to search for evidence of controlled substances.
Forensic science graduates may be qualified for careers in criminalistics, toxicology, behavioral science and pathology. Many forensic scientists are employed in crime laboratories. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov), forensic science technicians had a mean annual wage of $60,090 in May 2015.
There are several regional and national organizations dedicated to forensic science. These groups hold workshops and seminars where graduates can learn more about the field. Certification is also available from national organizations such as the American Board of Criminalistics. While certification is not required for employment, many employers prefer to hire certified professionals.
Master's degree programs in forensic science train experienced lab scientists to apply their skills to crime scene investigations. In addition to taking advanced courses that cover specific investigational techniques, students must conduct independent research in a particular area of interest, leading to a final thesis before graduation.