What Is a Computer Forensics Degree?
Degrees in computer forensics prepare students for in-demand and lucrative computer science and IT careers. Computer forensics professionals solve crimes by gathering evidence from computers. Computer forensics programs train students in a variety of programming languages, operating systems, software applications, and encryption techniques.
Schools offer computer forensics degrees at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Most forensics examiner jobs require at least a bachelor's degree in computer forensics or a related field. Other names for computer forensics degrees might include digital forensics, cybersecurity, and information security and assurance. Degrees in computer forensics focus on specialized techniques for solving computer crimes, while computer science degrees provide a broader, more generalized education in computing.
Potential careers for computer forensics graduates include information security analyst, computer information researcher, computer programmer, and information technology architect. These professionals enjoy strong job prospects. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 32% job growth rate for information security analysts from 2018-2028.
This guide provides important information for anyone considering a degree in computer forensics, including types of available degrees, common courses, and potential careers and salaries for graduates.
Why Get a Degree in Computer Forensics?
Computer forensics degrees open doors to well-paying, in-demand careers. The BLS reports that computer and information technology professionals earned a median annual wage of $88,240 as of May 2019, much higher than the median wage for all occupations ($39,810). Computer forensics graduates can apply for general IT jobs, like computer programmer or software designer, or more specialized position, like information security analyst.
- High Earning Potential: Graduates of computer forensics programs qualify for a variety of well-paying computer and information technology jobs, often making well above the national average.
- Qualify for a Variety of In-Demand Jobs: As cyberattacks and other digital crimes grow in numbers, the demand for skilled computer forensics professions grows as well, presenting many career opportunities for graduates with a computer forensics degree.
- Make a Difference: Computer forensics degree programs give students the skills they need to effectively gather and analyze digital evidence, which can help solve crimes and get justice for victims.
- A Growing Field: The information technology and computer science field is growing overall, with an increasing emphasis on cybersecurity issues.
- Technical Skills: Graduates with degrees in computer forensics possess practical, career-relevant skills in computer programming languages, computer networking, and operating systems.
When Is a Computer Forensics Focus Better Than a General Computer Science Degree?
Personal interests, career goals, and salary aspirations may influence learners to pursue computer forensics degrees over general computer science degrees. Students focused on computer forensics may pursue specialized computer forensics careers, which require advanced technical skills related to gathering and analyzing computer data.
Computer forensics jobs often offer higher pay than positions open to general computer science program graduates. Computer forensics degrees may prove particularly useful to students who already hold bachelor's degrees in general computer science and aim to pursue master's or doctoral degrees in specialized areas.
When Might a General Computer Science Degree Be Better Than Computer Forensics?
Students seeking a broad education in computing and information technology may pursue general computer science degrees rather than specialized degrees focused on computer forensics. Undergraduate students may not have chosen their specialties yet, or they may want to keep their options open for graduate study by choosing more general undergraduate degrees. Graduate students can pursue general computer science degrees to maximize the job opportunities for which they qualify.
What About Other Computer Science Specializations?
Students can pursue many other computer science specializations aside from computer forensics. Other possible specializations within computer science include computer and network security, human-computer interaction, software engineering, and computer programming.
Depending on students' chosen specializations, graduates may pursue jobs such as software engineer, computer programmer, data scientist, and network architect. The following links provide information on common computer science concentrations.
Types of Computer Forensics Degrees
Students can pursue computer forensics degree programs at the associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. Keep reading for detailed descriptions the different types of computer forensics degrees and potential career paths for graduates.
Associate Degree in Computer Forensics
An associate degree in computer forensics typically takes about two years for full-time students to complete, requiring around 60 semester credits. Part-time students often take longer to finish, while those in fast-track online programs may graduate in less than two years.
Associate degrees often suit recent high school graduates, professionals pursuing career changes, and working professionals who lack college degrees and want to improve their salary potential. Many individuals pursuing associate degrees in computer forensics plan to continue their education at four-year institutions to earn their bachelor's.
Comparing Different Computer Forensics Associate Degrees
Students can pursue a variety of associate degrees related to computer forensics, several of which we outline in the following table.
|Degree Type||Description||Potential Career Path|
|AS in Cybersecurity||Associate degrees in cybersecurity prepare students for entry-level positions in the field or to continue their education in four-year programs. These programs typically cover the technical aspects of cybersecurity systems, software, hardware, and networks. Cybersecurity associate degree programs incorporate a broader view of computing and security than computer forensics associate degree programs.||Cybersecurity associate, information security analyst|
|AS in Computer Information Systems||Associate degrees in computer information systems provide a broad introduction to computing and computer science. Programs rarely focus on security issues or gathering evidence. Instead, students learn broadly applicable computing skills, like programming, web development, and computer networking.||Computer support specialist, web developer, programmer|
|AAS in Computer Forensics||Associate degrees in computer forensics introduce learners to the field, exploring computer programming languages, networking technologies, and principles of criminal justice. Students learn to gather and analyze evidence on computers to solve cyber crimes. These programs focus on detecting evidence following crime or data breaches.||Computer support specialist, information security analyst|
|AAS in Digital Forensics||Digital forensics associate degrees may closely resemble associate degrees in computer forensics. In some cases, however, digital forensics programs focus on non-computer digital devices (like smartphones, for example) more than computer forensics programs do.||Computer support specialist, information security analyst|
Typical admission requirements for associate degree in computer forensics programs include a high school diploma or GED certificate. Some programs may require ACT or SAT scores and minimum GPAs. Applicants usually need to submit high school transcripts and pay an application fee.
Bachelor's Degree in Computer Forensics
Bachelor's degrees in computer forensics train students in computer programming languages, applications, and operating systems. Typical bachelor's programs take four years for full-time learners to complete, requiring about 120 semester credits. Many bachelor's in computer forensics programs include practicums and/or internships, providing hands-on, real-world experience.
Bachelor's degrees in computer forensics may appeal to recent high school graduates seeking careers in the field, associate graduates aiming to finish their bachelor's, or professionals in other fields who want to make career changes. Professionals already in the computer forensics field may earn bachelor's degrees to increase their career opportunities and salary potential.
Comparing Different Computer Forensics Bachelor's Degrees
A bachelor's degree in computer forensics may go by other names, depending on the program and school. Cybersecurity, cyber forensics, and information security programs often cover similar topics. The table below describes these degrees and explains how they may differ from each other.
|Degree Type||Description||Potential Career Path|
|BS in Computer Forensics||A bachelor's degree in computer forensics prepares students for computer investigator and related careers. These professionals help solve and respond to digital crimes and data breaches. Students gain experience using a variety of computer programming languages, operating systems, and software.||Computer forensics analyst, information security analyst, computer crime investigator|
|BS in Cyber Forensics and Information Security||Bachelor's degrees in cyber forensics and information security cover computer investigations, emphasizing prevention and information security. Students learn to investigate, analyze, and prevent data breaches.||Information security analyst, security architect, IT security consultant|
|BS in Cybersecurity||Bachelor's degrees in cybersecurity provide a broader education than computer forensics degrees. Students learn to secure information and prevent hackers from launching cyber attacks. They explore topics like network security, cyber law, and risk management.||Information security analyst, IT security consultant, security systems administrator|
Pairing Internships With Your Bachelor's
Many schools offer or require internships for students pursuing bachelor's degrees in computer forensics. Learners can typically receive academic credit in exchange for completing unpaid internships in the field. Internships can prove especially helpful to students without previous professional experience in computer forensics.
Even students who don't need internships to graduate should consider the benefits of gaining hands-on field experience. Internships allow students to make professional connections, which can lead to job offers. Internships can also help students figure out which types of jobs they want to pursue after graduation.
Most bachelor's in computer forensics programs accept applicants who receive general university admission. Students do not typically need to meet separate admission requirements to declare an undergraduate major in computer forensics. General admission requirements usually include a high school diploma or GED certificate, transcripts, and ACT/SAT scores.
Other requirements may include a minimum GPA, letters of recommendation, and application essays. Some programs require learners to complete prerequisite classes before officially gaining admission into the program. Students can apply to many colleges at once by filling out a Common App application.
Master's Degree in Computer Forensics
Master's degrees in computer forensics allow students to build on foundational skills from undergraduate study. These programs develop learners' knowledge in specific areas of expertise, sharpening their computer forensics understanding and practical skills at an advanced level. Students in typical master's in computer forensics programs learn to analyze complex data scenarios, write detailed reports, and examine digital media for evidence.
Most computer forensics master's programs take two years for full-time students to finish and require 30-36 semester credits. The table below compares different types of computer forensics master's degrees.
Comparing Different Computer Forensics Master's Degrees
|Degree Type||Description||Potential Career Path|
|MS in Digital Forensics||An MS in digital forensics explores topics like cybersecurity, digital forensics practices and technologies, and digital forensics analysis. Learners gain skills in writing professional reports, presenting results, and conducting hands-on forensics searches.||Information security analyst, information systems security analyst, computer forensics investigator|
|MS in Cybersecurity and Information Assurance||A master's degree in cybersecurity and information assurance teaches students how to protect an organization's data, focusing less on solving crimes that have already happened. Learners gain skills in areas like ethical hacking, information security and assurance, and secure network design.||Information security analyst, cybersecurity specialist, cybersecurity consultant|
|MACJ in Digital Forensics||A master of arts in criminal justice in digital forensics provides a foundation in criminal justice, plus a concentration in digital forensics. The curriculum usually focuses on the study of crime and criminal behavior more than a computer forensics program does.||Information security analyst, security consultant, computer forensics investigator|
The Master's Practicum and Thesis
Many master's in computer forensics programs require learners to complete practicums, capstones, and/or thesis projects before graduating. A practicum/capstone typically requires 3-6 credits and allows students to synthesize their program knowledge and skills in one final experience. The practicum/capstone often includes professional experience or the execution of professional practice skills, requiring learners to explore current issues or problems in the field.
A master's thesis in computer forensics requires students to research, write, and present on questions or problems in computer forensics. A master's thesis may require 3-9 credits. Some computer forensics master's programs incorporate industry certifications into coursework. They might also offer preparation for certification, like the EnCase certified examiner, AccessData certified examiner, and EC-Council certified incident handler credentials.
Typical admission requirements for master's degrees in computer forensics programs include bachelor's degrees in computer science- or information technology-related fields. Many programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA, plus letters of recommendation, essays and/or writing samples, resumes, and statements of goals. Some programs may call for relevant professional experience or GRE scores. Students without strong backgrounds in computer science may need to complete prerequisites or foundational courses before enrolling.
Ph.D. in Computer Forensics
A Ph.D. in computer forensics develops expertise in a specialized area of computer forensics. Time to completion varies, but doctoral candidates often take 3-5 years to graduate. Researching, writing, and defending a doctoral dissertation takes significant time and effort. Graduates of computer forensics Ph.D. programs typically seek employment in academia as researchers or teachers.
Individuals with significant knowledge of computer science and computer forensics typically pursue a Ph.D. in computer forensics. Many applicants hold a master's degree in computer science or a related area, but Ph.D. programs require a bachelor's degree at minimum to qualify for admission. A Ph.D. in computer forensics typically appeals to those who seek very high-level research or teaching positions.
Popular Computer Forensics Classes
Computer forensics degree programs cover topics like digital forensic investigation techniques, criminal investigations, and operating systems forensics. Many programs require capstone or thesis projects, depending on degree level. Ph.D. students must research, write, and defend dissertations. Courses vary by program, but the following list outlines several common courses found in computer forensics programs.
Digital Forensic Investigation Techniques
This class explores tools and techniques for handling digital evidence. Students learn best practices and how to use popular software tools to collect digital evidence. Learners may use programs like X-Ways Forensics, FTK Imager, the Sleuth Kit, and EnCase.
Enrollees receive a broad introduction to the criminal investigation field, including its history, fundamentals, major theories, and current problems. The course provides training in collecting evidence, writing reports, and preparing cases for trial. Students also build skills in investigative techniques for specific types of crimes, like terrorism, violence, and property destruction.
Operating Systems Forensics
Students in this class use programs like X-Ways Forensics, Volatility, and RegRipper while learning how to explore hypothetical cases in depth. Course topics include understanding typical user behavior on the internet, analyzing a memory dump, and creating a timeline of events.
Learners gain experience analyzing mobile devices for digital evidence. They work with files from drones and smartphones, including Android and iOS. They also learn to use programs like FTK Imager, Magnet Internet Evidence Finder, Cellebrite UFED Physical Analyzer, and Autopsy. The class shows students how to decrypt files using AccessData Password Recovery Tool Kit, as well.
This class helps students understand file system forensics. They use programs like the Sleuth Kit and Kali Linux, learning to perform cryptographic hash verification, analyze disk images, and examine fundamental data structures. Students might complete projects including parsing log files to document disk changes or using scalpels to carve files out of disk images.
Computer Forensics Internship
During a forensics internship, students gain hands-on, real-world experience in an organization related to computer forensics. Under the supervision of computer forensics professionals, interns develop technical and interpersonal skills. Specific experiences vary by school, program, and internship site.
Students explore the major theories and practices related to investigating and solving cybercrime. They look at digital evidence, learn to write investigative reports documenting evidence, and create accurate timelines of events. Students use software programs like those used by computer forensics professionals.
This course examines the global problem of malware. Students learn about topics like infection vectors, detection techniques, and static and dynamic analysis. They learn how companies experience infection and how malware evades detection.
Career and Salary Outlook for Computer Forensics Graduates
Computer forensics graduates qualify for a variety of information technology- and computer-related careers. A computer forensics concentration may prove particularly relevant to certain career paths, including information security analyst, computer information researcher, and information technology architect. Other relevant career paths include software engineer and computer programmer.
Computer forensics program graduates often make above-average salaries. For instance, information technology architects make an average of $117,185 per year, according to PayScale. Information security analyst and computer information researcher careers may offer more opportunities and greater compensation for candidates with degrees in computer forensics.
- Information Security Analyst
Information security analysts develop and enact security measures to protect organizations' computer systems and networks. Typical job duties include researching IT security trends, recommending security enhancements to management, and monitoring organizations' systems for security breaches. Concentrating in computer forensics prepares students to respond to and analyze potential cyber attacks.
Annual Median Salary: $99,730
- Computer Information Researcher
Computer information researchers engage in computing and information research, focusing on efficiency and accessibility. A concentration in computer forensics helps students gain the skills necessary for this profession, covering areas like programming, advanced mathematics, and complex problem-solving.
Annual Median Salary: $115,740
- Information Technology Architect
Information technology architects demonstrate skills in systems architecture, IT management, IT security and infrastructure, and cloud computing. Daily tasks may include planning data communication networks, overseeing security technologies, and helping users understand how to use new technologies.
Annual Median Salary: $117,185
- Software Engineer
Software engineers create and help develop software programs. They may spend their days analyzing user needs, coordinating software installation, or discussing design elements. Software engineers must understand programming languages like SQL, Java, and Python. They also need good communication, organization, and teamwork skills.
Annual Median Salary: $85,690
- Computer Programmer
Annual Median Salary: $63,240
|Entry Level (0-12 Months)||Early Career (1-4 Years)||Midcareer (5-9 Years)||Experienced (10-19 Years)|
|Information Security Analyst||$59,130||$67,100||$81,870||$94,950|
|Computer Information Researcher||$103,390||$105,480||$120,160||$149,460|
|Information Technology Architect||$71,840||$90,930||$106,370||$119,900|
Selecting Your Computer Forensics Program
Choosing the right computer forensics program takes research, thought, and consideration. The ideal school for one person might not work for another. With so many computer forensics degree programs to choose from, narrowing down the options can take time. Possible factors to consider include:
Should You Get Your Computer Forensics Degree Online?
Online education is increasingly prevalent and respected, with distance learners engaged in high-quality study with prestigious instructors and career-relevant, up-to-date curricula. Students who complete degrees online receive diplomas identical to those received by graduates from on-campus programs.
Earning an online computer forensics degree offers many advantages, including flexibility, convenience, and savings. Many distance programs let learners watch lectures and complete coursework at their convenience within set deadlines. Online students may also save money, with many schools offering discounts to distance learners.
Computer forensics particularly suits the online learning experience because students in these programs spend so much time learning about computing and information technology. Many programs focus on acquiring skills through independent practice on personal computers.
Accreditation for Computer Forensics Schools and Programs
Students should only attend computer forensics programs at accredited schools. Accreditation indicates that a school meets high standards with respect to factors like faculty qualifications, student learning outcomes, and academic rigor.
Two types of accreditation exist: national accreditation and regional accreditation. Regional accreditation is generally considered the more prestigious of the two. Attending a regionally accredited school expands employment, education, and financial aid opportunities.
Students can look up accreditation information for any prospective school using the searchable database from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Some computer forensics programs may also hold programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET-accredited programs meet separate quality standards for the computing profession.
Ranking Computer Forensics Programs
Prospective students should consider many factors when choosing a computer forensics program, but our online rankings offer a great place to start.
Frequently Asked Questions
- How long will it take to complete a computer forensics degree?
- The amount of time it takes to complete a computer forensics degree depends on what level of degree you want to earn. An associate degree typically takes two years of full-time study to complete, a bachelor's degree four years, a master's degree two years, and a Ph.D. 3-5 years.
- How much will I make with a degree in computer forensics?
- Salaries vary depending on position, industry, experience, and level of education. Typically, individuals with more advanced degrees make more money. Information security analysts, who need bachelor's degrees at minimum, make a median annual salary of $99,730.
- What kind of jobs can you get with a computer forensics degree?
- Graduates of computer forensics programs may qualify for a variety of information technology and computer careers. Potential jobs include information security analyst, computer information researcher, information technology architect, and software engineer.
Professional Organizations for Computer Forensics
Computer forensics students and professionals can join professional organizations to stay current in the field. These organizations often offer benefits like networking, professional development, and continuing education opportunities.
See the links below to learn about four professional associations for computer forensics professionals.
- International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists A nonprofit group for computer forensics professionals, the IACIS provides certification, training, and membership services. Members include local, state, and federal law enforcement professionals. Benefits include access to professional networks, opportunities to volunteer, and one-on-one peer training for the certification exam.
- International Information System Forensics Association A nonprofit organization, the IISFA promotes the profession of information forensics through advocacy, certification, and education. The group includes a large network of subject matter experts and information forensics experts who volunteer their time. Members can access restricted areas of the website, including a discussion forum moderated by experts.
- Information Systems Security Association The ISSA welcomes cybersecurity professionals from around the world. The association offers publications, educational forums, peer support, and professional growth opportunities. Members get a subscription to the ISSA's journal and can join local chapters, learn best practices, and earn continuing education credits.
- International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners A private, professional organization, the ISFCE offers computer forensics certification to qualifying professionals. It also conducts research, develops new technologies, and sets ethical and forensic standards. Members gain access to an extensive professional network and information resources.
Paying for Your Computer Forensics Degree
Higher education is an expensive investment for most students, making financial aid helpful or necessary. Many types of financial aid exist to support learners, including scholarships, student loans, grants, and work-study opportunities. Learn more about finding scholarships and other types of financial aid through the link below.