How Long Does it Take to get a Degree in Forensic Science

How long does it take to get a Forensic Science degree? A great question! The answer depends on which degree level one is seeking to accomplish. Is it an Associate’s, a Bachelor’s, a Master’s, a PhD, or perhaps an MD in Forensic Sciences or similar disciplines? Are you taking this specialized degree program at a traditional campus or is the Forensic degree from an online college or university?

Here’s the answer based on an average of the expected completion time frame:

Associates Degree in Forensic Science

  • Traditional
    • 1 and 1/2 years with a maxed-out class load – super-full-time: at or above 16 credits
    • 2 years is the norm – usually full time: 12 credits or more
    • 2 and 1/2 years, or more – usually part time: below 12 credits
  • Online
    • 1 to 2 years depending on the school – usually you can’t manipulate the program to go faster or slower – but, there are exceptions to this rule

Bachelors Degree in Forensic Science

  • Traditional
    • 3 and 1/2 to 4 years with a maxed-out class load – super-full-time: at or above 16 credits
    • 4  to 4 and 1/2 years is the norm – usually full time: 12 credits or more
    • 5 and 1/2  years, or more – usually part time: below 12 credits
  • Online
    • 2 and 1/2 to 4 years depending on the school – usually you can’t manipulate the program to go faster or slower – but, there are exceptions to this general rule

Masters Degree in Forensic Science

  • Traditional
    • 1 and 1/2 to 2 and 1/2 years with a maxed-out class load – super-full-time: this may depend on the school, prior permission may be required
    • 2 to 3 and 1/2 years is the norm – usually full time: may depend on the school
    • 4 to 5 years , or more – usually part time: this may depend on the school, prior permission may be required
  • Online
    • 1 and 1/2 to 3 years depending on the school – usually you can’t manipulate the program to go faster or slower – but, there are exceptions to this rule

PhD / Doctorate Degree in Forensic Science

  • Traditional
    • 2 and 1/2 to 3 and 1/2 – with a Masters degree in certain desirable science based programs and/or Forensic Science degree: prior permission to take on higher class load may be required, usually having an advanced degree (ie. MS in Forensic Science) expedites the fast track – not all schools work this way, so it’s always wise to make sure before you start.
    • 4 to 6 years is the norm – usually full time: the length of the degree may depend on the school
    • 6 to 7 years, or more – usually part time or a class at a time: colleges and universities often cap their PhD program at 5-6 year mark, prior permission may be required
  • Online
    • 2 and 1/2 to 4 years depending on the school – usually you won’t be able to manipulate the program to go faster or slower – but, there are may be exceptions

Just remember that a Forensic Science degree is not a “walk in the park” – it is a science based degree for which not everyone is “cut out” for. This degree track will require more initiative than others, but the rewards are vast and if you like to solve crimes through the use of brains, rather than brawn, this is a great route to go. I hope this helps you. Good luck!

Article written by Radek Gadek

Radek holds a Master’s degree in Criminal Justice from Boston University. He is currently doing consulting work and runs this blog to provide relevant information on criminal justice degrees, colleges and related careers.

21 comments… add one
  • Ryan Kennedy

    Hi, I am currently a freshmen at a state college majoring in Criminal Justice. I have 2 questions. First off, I know mostly everything on television dealing with crime scene investigation is fake. However, is there any job where I would visit crime scenes and collect evidence like a crime scene investigator but not have to run science experiments? My criminal justice major doesn’t deal much with science classes but I would like to be something like a crime scene investigator, even though I don’t have a huge science background. I am also trying to make as much money as possible. I have thought about law school, but besides a lawyer what job or path should I take that involves the highest salary somewhat dealing with the criminal justice field? Sorry this was so long and wordy, thanks.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      You’re right, most tv shows have a huge Hollywood flare, but there are a few good ones that you should see.
      1. Crime 360 on A&E
      2. Forensic Files on TruTV
      3. 48 Hours on A&E
      All three deal with forensic science and crime scene investigation.

      As a crime scene investigator you don’t have to perform very complex science experiments – that’s what the crime labs are for. However, you will have to perform calculations and data collection, amongst small scale experiments, that are based on physics, chemistry, and mathematics; plus other sciences. There’s no other way to do that. WHY? As a crime scene investigator you’ll be responsible for collecting data in the crime scene. This data can be blood, bullets and their trajectory (pattern of flight), and fingerprints (out of many more). This is why a crime scene investigator has to have a little more brains than brawn. Preserving the integrity of the crime scene and evidence is no small task and one little mistake can mean the difference between a finalized murder case against the suspect or no case at all.

      Crime Scene Investigators are not rewarded in gold. The salary is often lower than that of a law enforcement officer depending on geographical location. A CSI with superb forensic science knowledge and the education to back it can be handsomely rewarded through consulting jobs.

      Law school is a great option, but it will require a little soul searching – “Is that really what I want to do?” Not all lawyers make a lot.

      To help you out with the last question – highest paying position in criminal justice field – see the careers section of the site and click on the appropriate career option (top navigation menu).

    • tanisha

      Yes I am a worker currently enrolled in forensic science I work for a great company who does hands on with Freshmans at school. I have a Masters Degree in my work of arts the business is good money pays well. If you feel as if you want to be a lawyer you can always work with different cases and people just as well as we do, our work does more with science but a lawyer would be just fine if you like that more.
      ~ Do what makes you happy~

  • Ryan Kennedy

    Thank you for the quick and very helpful response to the last question. One more thing, if I were to transfer to a different college to start my sophomore year and major in sociology would I still be able to qualify for jobs further down the road such as a detective, crime scene investigator, or homicide detective? I live in Massachusetts and UMass Amherst is my most desirable school but doesn’t offer criminal justice, so sociology is the next closest thing.

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Most law enforcement professions need a general educational goal. Whether it is 60 credit hours or a Bachelor’s degree the requirement for the area of study can be virtually anything as long as you go to a properly accredited college or university. So no worries there. However, there may be certain courses that you may need, and perhaps certificates, that are pertinent to a CSI. Many CSIs don’t have all the credentials when they start and acquire them on the job. This is entirely dependent on the organization you would work with.

      University of Massachusetts – Amherst is a great option for transfer, however be warned that sociology is a broader field than criminal justice and you may not have the opportunity to explore criminal justice matters in-depth. Ask a representative of the school about what the program entails.

      There are also Forensic Science programs out there that are either a part of a criminal justice curriculum or are the bulk of your studies. Something worth to look at, especially that a Bachelor’s degree in _____________ will help you obtain a job as a police officer, which leads to a detective career (most detective candidates must take the detective exam), or a crime scene investigator (with added courses wherever applicable).

  • justin

    in forensic science do u analyze collected data from csi people i mean what do you do????

    • Radek M. Gadek

      Check out the career section of the site in the top navigation menu. It has quite a few forensic science careers listed with detailed information on job specific duties, and more…

  • dr pratik

    i m experienced of forensic medicine as medical teacher since 1989.
    i have been immigrated to USA.
    kindly guide me a carrier and requirement for the same in usa.

  • Chris Lusardi

    Hi.. I am 14 and a freshman in high school. I love the tv shows ” CSI ” or ” Criminal Minds “. And i want to become a Forensic Scientist. However, i want to know the salary for a scientist. Also a background. Like is it like Criminal minds where they go to the crime scenes take pictures of evidence and analyze it at the lab? Or what? Next i need to know an estimated amount of school after high school. Also me and my girlfriend both want to become forensic scientists. Could we open like a business? Or something like that? Email me at [ removed for privacy reasons ]. Thanks man, appreciate it! (:

  • Paulina

    Dear Radek,
    My name is Paulina and I graduated with my BA in Criminal Justice from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, FL. The school was local for me and the tuition was less expensive than UF and UCF so the choice was obvious. However, there really isn’t a very strong group of career counselors or anyone at FAU who can point you in the right direction once you are done with your BA in CJ, so I’ve been trying to figure it out on my own. But now I have been done with school for over a year and still have not been able to get a job in the CJ field.

    Unfortunately, while I was in school, I had to work full time to pay for tuition so I couldn’t do any CJ internships or volunteer work because everything available was only during M-F 9-5, and virtually no volunteer opportunities on weekends or evenings when I was not working. I’ve been applying to city jobs in CJ field and getting no responses, even though the only qualifications required for these positions are a degree in Criminal Justice, I think there is nothing that sets me apart from the other candidates.

    I’ve been thinking about doing a master’s degree online in CJ to try to get more education and differentiate myself from other job applicants, since I cannot do an internship or volunteer work. I’m not sure if a masters in Criminal Justice will be beneficial to me because I am not interested in Law school, I am more so interested in forensics or investigative computer work.

    I heard of a school called Henley Putnam which has more unique programs but I’m not sure if a degree from that school looks good to potential employers? I am also not able to relocate so I am limited to job opportunities in South Florida and online masters degree programs. Do you have any suggestions on what online masters program you could recommend as well as any career suggestions? I greatly appreciate any help! Thank you!

    • Radek M. Gadek

      In certain municipalities, counties, and states the hunt for a career is exactly that: a hunt; many times a treacherous one. I would recommend applying to regional agencies and other municipalities. Have you considered the Federal Govt.; you may be placed near by within certain agencies?

      Despite my recommendations, it may be hard for ANYONE to find ANY work with or without an advanced degree (Master’s, PhD, or JD). The economy hasn’t relinquished its grasp on local economies, and quite frankly, people are not letting go of their careers or retiring as much as to avoid being in a financial bind.

      There will be many people who have same qualifications as you. Internships, volunteer work, and prior experience do make you stand out more. But, you did say that you are interested in Forensics and Computer Investigations; perhaps taking a Master’s in Forensic Science or Computer Forensics. BTW a Law degree and a Master’s in Criminal Justice degree are two different things, so if you do like CJ, then you don’t have to worry about the LSAT and other law school application stuff.

      Paulina, and the rest of the readers, make sure your school is — no matter the academic level — regionally accredited. I can’t stress the importance of that. As of this reply, Henley Putnam is not regionally accredited, and despite the school’s great TRY at comparing Distance Education Training Council (DETC) accreditation to regional accreditation, it doesn’t fool me. Look elsewhere if you can.

      As for online master’s programs in CJ, please visit Top Criminal Justice Schools in America article and Best Criminal Justice Schools page… Many of the schools listed do offer online degrees; some may even have forensics driven programs.

  • Annette


    I recently relocated to North Carolina with my husband for his career after I completed an Associates Degree in Criminal Justice Administration and a Bachelors of Science in Criminal Justice Forensic Science. Both from Regionally accredited Schools with a decent GPA. I have what I would consider to be desirable work history, although sometimes brief in between classes, with several years of management experience working with technology and human resources, but I have been turned down for every single position I have applied for here.

    I have No Criminal History
    I have Excellent References
    I have a current SF86 Federal Background check
    I have passed several polygraphs for positions I was applying for
    And as I have been told in the past I interview very well…

    I make it past most prelim steps in hiring processes and have spent a lot of money to pay for my own background checks, physicals, and testing.

    I guess I was under the impression that with my education, work history, and the fact that I am a female (Affirmative action and EEO requirements would give me a better opportunity in a male dominated work environment), I wouldn’t have any problem finding a job….

    Ive been told that if I pay more money and take a BLET course I can get a job as a patrol officer (average annual here is about $32) but that is just less than half of what I had projected to be making back home once I finished my education and it wont put me in Forensics.

    I’m desperate for guidance….
    Any thoughts?

  • Roberto

    Do forensic scientists get a decent amount of vacation time?

  • Constance

    Great article! It answered a lot of questions but I have a few im not sure about. I recently switched my major from bio to.chemistry because I decided forensics is what I always should And wanted to do. I have a great science mind and can picture my self in the lab but I also have a very fearless and reckless personality that makes me want to be active in CSI. Holdin a gun.and actually goin after the criminals and bringing them in custody. I was told that ev en if I went for forensics and worked in the lab I could do that also and bc their aren’t to many African American females in the field, i should make it happen. Is it tru I involved in both or does that mean double majoring:/ this my junior yr in college BTW.

  • Matthew Johnson

    I’m a junior in high school and I’m really considering pursuing a career as a criminalist (forensics). But I hear contradicting reports all the time. I hear that there is a big demand for forensic scientists, and then I hear that it is a very hard field to get into. I have a 3.9 GPA and I love biology and chemistry, but I don’t want to work and work for an MD, and then not be able to find a job anywhere. I’m really worried about this and I want to make the right choice for a career. Can you help me?

  • varsha

    hello …i have done my masters in chemistry this year ..and now i m planning my career in forensic science .So which course should i prefer and what will be the duration of the course …please suggest me some college or institute in India which can provide me a better course as mentioned above .please help me to make a correct decision

  • Rose

    Hi. I’m in 8th grade and I was wondering if there a certain kinds of criminal forensics jobs or not. I was also wondering what the easiest but still good degree is to get (like a masters or bachelors) and I was wondering if MIT would be a good school to go to for a forensics degree. Reply as soon as you can anyone!

  • zerozerosevendimondmastereleven

    Hi,I would just like to ask three questions about forensic science:
    1)will you or do you put your life in danger if you become a forelnsic scientists?
    2)how many distinctions do you approximately need?
    3)and is it easy to find good jobs?
    Thank you so much…

  • Randall Smith

    I’m a junior in high school and i want to start a forensics career in the Navy, what is all the major information that I need to know to start?

  • Liliann

    Dear Radek,

    Thank you for everything that is written here. This is excellent!
    Question, I graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice with a Bachelor’s in Criminology, hoping that I will get a job in any government agency/Police Department. Despite having the degree, I still cannot find any position. I would love to start working as a Forensic Technician first and then advance. I regret not doing my Bachelor’s in Forensics or similar field as I understand now that it is vital. I am thinking of pursuing my Master’s in Forensic Science to become a criminalist. Do you think I should do that? Do you have any recommendations?
    Thank you very much.

    • Radek Gadek

      I would continue looking while you’re contemplating a master’s degree in Forensic Science. If you’re up for a move, I recommend looking outside your area; where there can be more potential to get hired. Nowadays, it is important to have a relevant degree to go along with the profession you’re seeking.

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