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Students pursuing computer forensics degrees learn to mine computer hardware and networks to track down the source of cyberattacks. Some degree-seekers collect and compile reports on digital evidence for criminal investigations. These highly sought-after skills can lead to jobs in government, corporate, and legal environments, as employers across industries seek to protect their digital assets.
In this rapidly evolving field, a bachelor's in computer forensics provides foundational knowledge and helps professionals to keep up with technology advancements. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment for information security analysts to grow by 31% from 2019-2029, rapidly outpacing the average projected growth rate for all occupations.
A bachelor's in computer forensics provides foundational knowledge and helps professionals to keep up with technology advancements.
Readers can consult this guide for the best computer forensics programs. We also provide general information about computer forensics programs, including common degree expectations and career paths.
What Is Computer Forensics?
In 1984, the FBI mobilized the first Computer Analysis and Response Team, known as CART. In response to a growing understanding that digital audio, video, and cell phone data could illuminate criminal investigations, the team focused on acquiring digital evidence and preserving the data for use in courts where necessary.
Computer forensics degrees commonly focus on criminal investigations, particularly in white-collar crime. They also prepare students to assess and respond to cyberattacks. Computer forensics degree-holders qualify for jobs as computer forensic investigators, security analysts, detectives, IT managers, and chief information security officers.
Employers in corporate, government, and military sectors rely on computer forensics experts to collect evidence, detect criminal activity, and protect sensitive data from cyberattacks.
Most of these positions require each candidate to possess a bachelor's degree. Furthermore, the skills they learn can prepare them to understand changes in technology over time.
Employers in corporate, government, and military sectors rely on computer forensics experts to collect evidence, detect criminal activity, and protect sensitive data from cyberattacks. Successful computer forensics professionals often demonstrate excellent analytical skills, as they must sift through significant amounts of data and assess what they find. They also need to demonstrate strong attention to detail and problem-solving skills.
Why Get a Computer Forensics Degree?
A bachelor's in computer forensics provides students with the depth of knowledge needed to pursue career opportunities in the field. Coding bootcamps also offer great foundational skills, but a computer forensics degree builds a more thorough understanding of the sector.
This bachelor's degree digs into legal aspects of the field, with courses specifically addressing cybercrime. Benefits of obtaining a bachelor's in computer forensics include:
- Moving beyond coding alone, a bachelor's in computer forensics provides a foundation in the law. Students learn procedures for digital evidence processing, plus methods that allow white-collar criminals to use technology for embezzlement and fraud.
- Computer forensics graduates can pursue jobs that involve preventing, responding to, and investigating cyberattacks. With their data-parsing knowledge, they can also collect and analyze evidence for law enforcement agencies.
- BLS projections indicate that employment across computer and information technology positions will grow by a faster-than-average 11% from 2019-2029. Many of these occupations require a bachelor's degree.
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What To Expect From Bachelor's in Computer Forensics Programs
The core focus of a computer forensics degree depends on whether the program emphasizes law enforcement or data security. Some programs focus on criminal law, procedure, and evidence gathering, while others center around data protection and methods for preventing cyberattacks. Prospective students should consider their career goals as they research potential schools.
A typical bachelor's in computer forensics requires 120 credits for graduation. Major credit hours vary, ranging from about 35-65 credits of specific course requirements. Some programs place a higher emphasis on electives, with others employing a more rigid curriculum. Students can expect to complete the full bachelor's degree in about four years. Online delivery for computer forensics degrees typically offers flexible timelines for working professionals.
Computer forensics may appear as a full degree or as a concentration attached to another technology-related major. Depending on the program's focus, students may encounter programming languages, global networking, ethics, criminal law, and/or mobile forensics.
Admission requirements vary among computer forensics programs. Prospective students can expect to submit high school and undergraduate transcripts. Some schools require applicants to hold GPAs in the 2.0-2.5 range, while others set no minimum.
Other materials typically include an online application, resume, and essay or personal statement. Some schools also require ACT or SAT scores, though many do not. Some computer forensics programs require enrollees to enter with some undergraduate coursework, such as an associate degree or certificate.
Degree-seekers can use Common App to keep track of admission materials and streamline the application process. This tool allows students to apply to multiple schools through a central system and provides information on financial aid, applying for the first time, and writing essays.
When researching possible computer forensics programs, prospective students may encounter many degree titles. Degree-seekers should take care to choose a program that aligns with their career goals. Variations in computer forensics degree options can include:
BS in Computer Forensics
Information Systems, Technology Studies, or Information Security with a Concentration in Computer Forensics
Comparing Computer Forensics to General Computer Science Degrees
Technology-minded candidates can choose from many programs to suit their interests and career paths. Prospective enrollees should research the similarities and differences between computer science degrees and bachelor's degrees in computer forensics.
A computer science degree typically focuses on the technical side of digital learning, preparing students to program applications and oversee intricate computer networks. While computer forensics programs may cover some aspects of programming, they focus more heavily on data analytics and criminal investigation techniques.
The following information compares and contrasts requirements and outcomes of computer science and computer forensics programs.
|Bachelor's in Computer Forensics||Bachelor's in Computer Science|
|Career Paths||Forensic computer analyst, information security analyst, computer and information systems manager, chief technology officer||Software developer, network and computer systems administrator, computer network architect, computer programmer, information security analyst|
|Types of Classes||Criminal investigations, white-collar crime, network fundamentals, programming, information security||Software development methods, discrete mathematics, computer architecture, theory of computation|
|Standardized Test Requirements||SAT or ACT often not required||SAT or ACT often optional|
|Learning Outcomes||Working within IT systems to pull data related to cyberattacks and other criminal activity||Creating IT systems; in-depth understanding of information processes|
Popular Computer Forensics Courses
Curricula for bachelor's in computer forensics degrees differ by school and depend largely on program focus. Programs that operate as concentrations within technology degrees may require different courses than those focusing solely on computer forensics.
Degree-seekers can expect to encounter a suite of common courses among different institutions. Many programs allow customization through electives, and some provide practical experience through capstones and other project-based learning. Common required courses include:
This course covers a comprehensive overview of Windows, Apple, and Linux operating systems. Students learn the structure and functionality of each system, along with methods for running multiple virtual machines through a single operating system.
Coursework explores the tools students need to know when searching for digital evidence, including commonly used software, methods, and examination techniques. The course may also cover the history of computer forensic investigation, typical filing structures, and available applications under various operating systems.
Computer forensics students can expect to study foundational topics in cybersecurity, including an in-depth look at malware functionality. The course teaches learners to identify malicious attacks and prevent them from reoccurring.
Criminal law courses cover the principles of law and public policy, also tackling matters of jurisdiction and the criminal mindset. This course may also explore theories, causes, and potential big-picture solutions to crime. Learners commonly encounter this course in full computer forensics programs, rather than those focusing solely on the technical side.
A study of ethics involves approaching professional problems through common schools of thought, such as virtue ethics, deontology, or utilitarianism. A course designed specifically for computer forensics students may focus on ethics in database management, information protection, and criminal justice.
How Much Will a Bachelor's in Computer Forensics Cost?
Tuition for a bachelor's in computer forensics varies among programs as well. Students generally encounter tuition rates of around $38,000-$60,000. Schools may charge tuition by credit, course, semester, or year.
Location also affects the cost of a computer forensics degree. Learners who study in their home states may pay less, particularly if they attend public universities. Private institutions may not charge separate fees based on where students live, but their tuition rates generally run higher.
With many options available for studying computer forensics online, degree-seekers may opt for distance learning, which often carries a lower cost per credit.
With many options available for studying computer forensics online, degree-seekers may opt for distance learning, which often carries a lower cost per credit. Some schools allow online learners to pay in-state or otherwise reduced rates.
Students can fund their educational goals through scholarships, fellowships, grants, and loans. The following link provides an in-depth look at financing options for computer forensics degrees.
Jobs for Bachelor's in Computer Forensics Graduates
Computer forensics graduates can pursue careers along several potential paths. Law enforcement and government agencies need computer forensics evidence to help mine and analyze digital evidence. Organizations in nearly every sector also need security experts to help protect their operations and data from malicious attacks.
Students can bolster their computer forensics knowledge by pursuing highly rated industry certifications such as AccessData certified examiner or certified forensic computer examiner. The following list includes in-depth information regarding several computer forensics careers, including salary potential and job outlook.
Information Security Analyst
Highly employed in industries like computer design and related services, management of companies and enterprises, credit intermediation, and insurance, information security analysts protect their company's networks from malicious attacks. They remain apprised of emerging technologies, scan systems for weak spots, and develop protocols for responding to breaches.
Forensic Computer Analyst
Often working with law enforcement or government agencies, forensic computer analysts dig into electronic data to find criminal evidence, particularly in cases of various kinds of electronic fraud. They study user patterns, retrieve deleted data, and handle sensitive documents, videos, and pictures.
- Required Education: Bachelor's degree
- Average Annual Salary: $74,390
IT Security Manager
These professionals work directly with employees and systems to keep their employer's computer systems safe from cyberattacks. They collaborate with top executives to set response protocols and purchase relevant tools or software. IT security managers may also educate employees across the company on how to avoid security breaches on individual machines.
Chief Information Officer
A CIO oversees all computer-related activities for their organization. They work with security managers and other professionals to review the organization's goals and decide which systems to use. With a strong background in computer forensics, CIOs can develop security programs to detect and respond to cyberattacks.
Choosing the Right Computer Forensics Program
School rankings can provide an excellent starting point for researching the best computer forensics programs, but prospective students should also consider what they personally value in a degree, such as career preparation, location, and university resources.
Accreditation is a crucial factor for any degree, and students should ensure each prospective school's status. Regional and national accreditation apply to an entire institution, holding the school to a set of minimum standards. Generally, employers and other institutions regard regional accreditation as the more rigorous measurement.
Depending on their career aspirations, computer forensics enrollees may also look for programmatic assessment from the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security.
Location should also factor into a student's search for a computer forensics program. Many programs operate online, but location can still affect the cost of a program. Students living in the same state may pay lower tuition rates.
Prospective online students should inquire about university resources. Some candidates may prioritize access to career services and alumni networks, library resources, tutoring, and technical support over other considerations. Students may also explore whether the school offers extracurricular opportunities, such as clubs or student chapters of professional associations.
Should You Get Your Computer Forensics Degree Online?
Online education provides unparalleled flexibility for students, allowing them to choose the right program structure, timeline, and delivery style for their needs. Regardless of tier location, more students than ever can pursue degrees to meet their career goals with added flexibility. As more schools rise to meet the demand for online degrees, employers also recognize the value of distance learning.
Computer forensics requires no in-person internships or field experience for entry into the profession, so online learning works particularly well. Degree-seekers who need to maintain employment or handle personal obligations can pursue degrees without uprooting their lives.
When considering an online bachelor's in computer forensics, students must understand that they need to pay the same level of attention to their studies as they would in an on-campus program. Self-motivation and time management skills are crucial in online learning. Some degree-seekers may long for busy campus environments, while others excel when studying at home.
The 5 Best Bachelor's in Computer Forensics Schools
This comprehensive ranking highlights the top computer forensics degrees. The five schools on this year's list earned outstanding scores for their academic quality, affordability, accessibility, and reputation.
Each school on our list holds regional accreditation, and select programs have also earned endorsements from specialized programmatic agencies.
Candidates should only consider schools with valid accreditation to ensure their degrees meet rigorous standards of academic quality.
FAQ's About Computer Forensics Bachelor's
What kind of degree do you need for computer forensics?
Computer forensics professionals typically need bachelor's degrees in information systems or cybersecurity, depending on their goals. They can concentrate on computer forensics or choose degrees that center on the subject.
What is a computer forensics certificate?
A computer forensics certificate demonstrates the professional's skills in a particular area of the field through an industry credential. Common examples include certified forensic computer examiner and computer hacking forensic investigator.
Is computer forensics a good degree?
Yes. A computer forensics degree equips learners to uncover evidence of digital crime. Depending on the degree focus, students can pursue professional pathways of preventing and responding to cyberattacks.
Is computer forensics in demand?
Yes. Whether pursuing a career in law enforcement or information security, computer forensics professionals can find ample applications for their skills. Employers across sectors need to combat growing threats from all kinds of cybercrime.
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