5 Best Master’s Programs in Computer Forensics
| ComputerScience.org Staff Modified on June 21, 2022
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A master's degree in computer forensics prepares students for careers solving cybercrimes and improving information security. These programs explore topics like ethical hacking, vulnerability assessments, and penetration testing.
Computer forensics master's graduates often earn high salaries. For example, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that information security analysts earn a median annual salary of $99,730.
This guide ranks the best computer forensics master's programs. We also explain what to expect from computer forensics master's programs, how to find the right school, and job opportunities and salary expectations for graduates.
What Is Computer Forensics?
The field of computer forensics combines computer science, criminal justice, and forensic science to investigate cybercrimes. Master's in computer forensics students learn to assess, respond to, and prevent cybersecurity threats.
The best computer forensics master's programs prepare students for jobs like information security analyst, computer and information research scientist, computer systems analyst, and computer and information systems manager.
These professionals enjoy strong job prospects. As of 2019, 131,000 information security analysts worked in the United States. The BLS projects a 31% job growth rate for information security analysts from 2019-2029, which is much faster than the average projected growth rate for all occupations.
As organizations of all kinds store large amounts of sensitive information online, there is strong demand for experienced computer forensics professionals to ensure that information's security.
Why Get a Computer Forensics Master's?
Earning a master's in computer forensics develops new skills and helps graduates qualify for specialized careers. Prospective students may wonder if enrolling in a coding bootcamp could deliver the same results. Coding bootcamps cover some of the same topics as master's programs, but participants do not get the same amount of time to develop their skills. Below, we explain some benefits of earning a master's in computer forensics.
- Gain New Skills: Computer forensics master's programs develop many skills, including analytical, problem-solving, communication, and teamwork skills.
- Qualify for Specialized Jobs: A master's degree in computer forensics helps graduates qualify for specialized jobs in computers and IT. Potential careers include information security analyst, computer and information research scientist, and computer and information systems manager.
- Earn High Salaries: PayScale reports that graduates with a master's in computer forensics earn an average annual salary of $87,920. Meanwhile, computer and information research scientists make a median salary of $122,840 per year.
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What To Expect From Master's in Computer Forensics Programs
The best computer forensics master's programs teach students how to protect valuable data from cyberattacks. Graduates can pursue specialized computer and IT jobs, including information security analyst, computer and information research scientist, and security consultant.
A typical master's degree in computer forensics comprises around 30 credits and takes about two years of full-time study to complete. Cost varies by program, but attending a public university usually offers greater savings than earning a master's degree from a private institution.
Common courses for master's in computer forensics programs include foundations of computing and security, incident response technologies, introduction to digital crime, and malware and software vulnerability analysis.
Admission requirements for master's in computer forensics programs vary by school. Most schools require a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field, but some accept applicants with a different undergraduate background. Prospective students who do not hold a computer science-related degree may need to complete prerequisite courses before beginning the program.
Other potential admission requirements include letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, GMAT/GRE scores, and a resume. Professional experience in IT may increase applicants' chances of acceptance. Some programs also require an admissions interview.
Many computer forensics master's degrees exist as concentrations within a general computer science program. The computer forensics field also offers several different types of master's degrees. Below, we describe potential master's degrees for those seeking computer forensics careers.
An MS in computer forensics focuses on the theory and practice of computer forensics, covering topics like online network analysis, online data security protocols, risk mitigation, and security policies.
An MBA in computer forensics develops general business skills along with specialized computer forensics skills.
An MEng in computer forensics prepares students to work as security engineers. These programs typically require a bachelor's degree in engineering and focus on cybersecurity and threat mitigation.
Comparing Computer Forensics and General Computer Science Degrees
Computer forensics programs cover topics in computer science, criminal justice, and forensic science. Students develop practical skills for preventing and responding to cybercrimes. Computer science programs offer a broader overview of computing.
Both degrees offer benefits. Students should consider their career goals and previous academic and professional experience before committing to a program. The table below explores the differences between computer forensics and general computer science master's programs.
|Master's in Computer Forensics||Master's in Computer Science|
|Focus||Digital forensic science tools, criminal justice, theory of computer science, cybersecurity||Computing theory, computer programming languages, advanced algorithms, software development|
|Types of Classes||Foundations of computing and security, introduction to digital crime, incident response technologies, malware and software vulnerability analysis||Applied machine learning, programming languages, advanced computer systems, cryptography|
|Program Length||Two years full time||Two years full time|
|Potential Careers||Information security analyst, computer and information research scientist, security consultant||Computer and information research scientist, computer and information systems manager, computer network architect|
|Admission Requirements||Bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field, minimum 3.0 GPA, GRE/GMAT scores||Bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field, minimum 3.0 GPA, GRE/GMAT scores|
Popular Computer Forensics Courses
Courses in computer forensics master's programs vary by school. Most programs require core, elective, and project/capstone courses. The following list outlines courses commonly found in master's in computer science programs.
Students in this course learn to use digital forensic software, including Autopsy, FTK Imager, OSForensics, and ProDiscover Basic. Many computer forensics jobs require experience with these software programs.
Learners in this class explore topics like software and hardware risks, network analysis, routing protocols, and online data protocols.
This class covers techniques for preserving and analyzing data on mobile devices. Learners gain hands-on experience with tools like EnCase, Andriller, Magnet Forensics Axiom, and DB Browser.
This course explores legal issues related to digital forensics practice. Topics include encryption versus privacy, the challenges of digital evidence, the right to be forgotten, and data nationalism.
This culminating course allows students to apply the knowledge and skills acquired throughout the program to a final research project.
How Much Will a Master's Degree in Computer Forensics Cost?
The cost of master's in computer forensics programs varies by factors like school type, enrollment status, and school prestige. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the average graduate tuition for 2018-19 was $19,314 per year.
In-state students at public schools typically pay lower tuition prices than out-of-state public school students. Additionally, private schools often charge higher tuition rates than public schools. Students in online master's in computer forensics programs may save on many of the expenses on-campus students incur, like housing and commuting costs. Plus, many online programs allow all online students to pay in-state tuition rates regardless of residency.
Students can take advantage of financial aid opportunities to help offset the cost of their degree, such as loans, scholarships, and grants.
Jobs for Master's in Computer Forensics Graduates
A master's degree in computer forensics prepares students for in-demand computer and IT careers. Potential occupations for graduates include information security analyst, computer and information research scientist, and computer and information systems manager.
One of the highest-paid opportunities for graduates, computer and information systems managers earn a median annual salary of $146,360. On the lower end, computer systems analysts make a median annual salary of $90,920. Below, we describe potential careers for master's in computer forensics graduates, including typical job duties, required education, and median annual salary.
The BLS projects much faster-than-average job growth for information security analysts from 2019-2029. The occupation requires at least a bachelor's degree, but some employers prefer candidates with a master's degree. These professionals can work in industries such as computer systems design, finance and insurance, management, and information.
Required Education: Bachelor's degree
Job Outlook (2019-29): +31%
Median Annual Salary: $99,730
Computer and information research scientists need a master's degree in computer science or a related field. These professionals develop computing theories, build and test models, create new tools and computer languages, and publish research.
Required Education: Master's degree
Job Outlook (2019-29): +15%
Median Annual Salary: $122,840
Computer and information systems managers need at least a bachelor's degree and significant work experience. Some employers prefer those with a master's degree. Typical duties include planning hardware and software maintenance, overseeing other IT professionals, conducting cost-benefit analyses, and evaluating the computer needs of their organizations.
Required Education: Bachelor's degree
Job Outlook (2019-29): +10%
Median Annual Salary: $146,360
Computer network architects develop data communication networks that help organizations meet their goals. These professionals need strong interpersonal, leadership, analytical, and organizational skills. Some companies require computer network architects to hold certifications in the products they use.
Required Education: Bachelor's degree
Job Outlook (2019-29): +5%
Median Annual Salary: $112,690
Computer systems analysts study organizations' computer systems to find ways to make them run more efficiently. Typical duties include analyzing costs and benefits of computer systems, training end users, testing systems, and implementing new systems.
Required Education: Bachelor's degree
Job Outlook (2019-29): +7%
Median Annual Salary: $90,920
Choosing the Right Computer Forensics Graduate Program
Prospective students can learn a lot from our rankings of the best computer forensics master's programs, but they should consider several other factors before deciding on a school. The following list outlines key considerations students should make before committing to a program.
- Accreditation indicates that a school meets high academic standards. Attending an accredited school expands employment, financial aid, and education opportunities. Programs within a school may also hold accreditation. Some computer forensics master's programs hold programmatic accreditation from the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission.
- The cost of a master's in computer forensics degree varies significantly by school. In-state students at public universities typically pay the lowest tuition rates. Students can take advantage of financial aid opportunities to help offset the cost of their degree.
- Many schools offer local networking opportunities. Therefore, attending a school in the city where students plan to work after graduation can increase their employment opportunities.
- Program Length
- Most computer forensics master's programs take about two years to complete. However, some schools offer accelerated programs that allow students to graduate in less time.
Should You Get Your Degree Online?
Pursuing a master's in computer forensics degree online offers flexibility and accessibility. Many online computer forensics master's programs offer asynchronous instruction, letting learners access course material at their convenience. Additionally, online students can attend top programs around the country without relocating.
A subfield of computer science, computer forensics programs are especially suited to online learning because they familiarize students with working on computers, troubleshooting, and communicating online.
Pursuing a master's in computer forensics degree online offers flexibility and accessibility.
Students should consider their personal learning style, schedule, and priorities to determine whether the online learning experience makes sense for them.
The Top Five Master's in Computer Forensics
A master's in computer forensics prepares students for careers solving crime in a fast-growing field. This guide describes the five best master's programs in computer forensics for 2022.
Each school in our rankings holds regional accreditation, an evaluation process that universities undergo to demonstrate they meet rigorous quality standards. Attending a regionally accredited institution makes it easier for students to receive financial aid, transfer credits to other colleges, and earn professional certifications. The following agencies provide accreditation for the computer forensics master's programs on our list.
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Computer Forensics
What degree do you need for computer forensics?
Most computer forensics careers, such as information security analyst, require a bachelor's degree at minimum. A master's degree helps graduates qualify for leadership roles in the field.
What can I do with a master's degree in computer forensics?
A master's in computer forensics leads to careers like security consultant, information security analyst, computer crime investigator, and computer and information research scientist.
Is computer forensics in demand?
The BLS projects a 31% job growth for information security analysts from 2019-2029, much faster than the average projected growth rate for all occupations.
How much does a computer forensics investigator make?
Earning a master's degree in computer forensics helps graduates qualify for many high-paying careers. For example, information security analysts make a median annual salary of $99,730, while computer and information research scientists earn a median annual salary of $122,840.
Feature Image: Ariel Skelley / DigitalVision / Getty Images
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