If you enjoy using cutting-edge technology to work through complex problems, or if you are interested in criminal investigation and cybercrime, a master's degree in computer forensics would be a great fit. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 27% increase in forensics positions by 2024, a growth rate well exceeding the national average.
Online computer forensics master's programs teach students to be effective investigators. Students learn methods to safeguard important information from cyberattacks and skills to aid criminal investigations at the local, state, and federal levels. Graduates with a master's degree in computer forensics often specialize within the field and are competitive applicants for upper-level positions.
What Are The Best Online Master's in Computer Forensics Programs?
|Washington, DC||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 79%||
American University serves a student body of over 12,000 with undergraduate, master's, doctoral, and professional programs. Affiliated with the United Methodist Church, AU admits students from all religious backgrounds. AU's online master of science in counterterrorism and homeland security reflects the university mission of public service, leadership, and global reach. The curriculum emphasizes law and criminology in the national and international arena and data-driven approaches to real-world security issues.
Students who complete this 36-credit master's program gain an interdisciplinary understanding of security and law enforcement, terrorism and counter-terrorism, and theories of political violence. The degree equips graduates for employment at all levels of government and in law enforcement agencies and intelligence communities.
In addition to the 12 online required courses, the program asks students to complete a brief residency requirement in Washington, D.C., to examine the formation and execution of national security policies with a primary focus on terrorism and insurgency. AU encourages all master's students in this program to participate in a non-credit internship, either in Washington, D.C., or near their geographic location. Students often find placements through the U.S. Government Pathways program and the Presidential Management Fellows program, a federal-government sponsored two-year leadership program.
Distance learners can take advantage of many support services, beginning with an orientation to online learning and the AU learning management system. Other resources include the assistance of student services coordinators and financial aid advisers, and access to a 24/7 technology help desk.
University of Central Florida
|Orlando, FL||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 70%||
With an enrollment of over 68,000, the University of Central Florida has grown into one of the largest institutions of higher education in the United States. UCF offers more than 220 degree programs, including an innovative master of science in digital forensics. This fully online computer forensics master's degree represents a collaborative effort by various UCF departments and the U.S. Department of Justice National Center for Forensic Science.
The program attracts full-time students entering the digital forensic field and working professionals seeking career advancement while attending classes part time. The MS degree leads to career paths in digital forensics examination, forensic tool development, tool verification and validation, and security and forensics administration. Upon completion of their master's degree, some graduates move into specialized research positions in digital technology and cybercrime while others pursue advanced studies in a doctoral program or law school.
The curriculum examines seizure and examination of computer systems, forensic science, and the practice of digital forensics. Distance learners must also complete electives in computing, criminal justice and electronic discovery, and forensic science and legal studies. Students may fulfill their remaining credits through a thesis or two additional electives. The College of Engineering and Computer Science strongly encourages prospective students to request a pre-screening of their qualifications prior to submitting their application.
University of Maryland - University College
|Adelphi, MD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 9%||
One of the largest distance learning institutions in the world, University of Maryland-University College delivers online undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs to over 90,000 students. UMUC's master of science in digital forensics and cyber investigation provides graduates with the problem-solving skills needed by government, law enforcement, and industry to combat cyberattacks and breaches, and to evaluate evidence of digital crime.
This 36-credit curriculum highlights real-world digital forensic investigations, emphasizing the analysis of complex data scenarios, the examination of digital media for evidentiary artifacts, and digital forensic examination report writing. Coursework also prepares students for several industry certifications including the Access Data Certified Examiner (ACE) credential.
UMUC offers generous support for distance learners, providing online registration and payment services, academic and career advising, and financial aid counseling. Online learners may access free customized electronic texts, library resources, and interactive exercises. UMUC admits students throughout the year, allowing them to begin their studies at multiple start dates. All online learners, regardless of their residence status, pay the same tuition rate, and federal employees receive a 25% discount on out-of-state tuition.
UMUC has received recognition from the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance and Cyber Defense Education. The Defense Cyber Crime Center Academic Cyber Curriculum Alliance has designated the program a National Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence.
|Owings Mills, MD||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 54%||
A private, Catholic-sponsored institution located in Baltimore County, Maryland, Stevenson University offers online bachelor's, master's, and certificate programs for working adults. Its online master of science in cyber forensics provides advanced training and a career-enhancing credential for experienced information technology professionals already working in IT fields.
The 36-credit MS addresses incident response and evidence collection; network penetration testing; cyberwarfare and cyberterrorism; and malware detection, analysis and prevention. Students learn to apply state-of-the-art forensic technology through Stevenson's online virtual lab, performing hands-on analysis based on real-life information theft and cyberattacks.
Distance learners at Stevenson take courses year-round in eight-week sessions. This program delivers all courses entirely online except for a mobile device forensic course, which requires an eight-hour campus residency. All students in the program complete the Mock Intrusion and Response capstone course, wherein they engage in a time-sensitive simulation and perform as forensic consultants hired to investigate a case and uncover forensic evidence.
Admission to Stevenson's online computer forensics master's degree requires a bachelor's in IT or a related field with a minimum 3.0 GPA in all undergraduate courses and at least two years of relevant work experience. Applicants without cybersecurity-related undergraduate training need at least five years of related work experience in information technology, telecommunication systems, system administration, network management, or information assurance.
|Burlington, VT||Cost: $$$$$||Graduation Rate: 60%||
Established in 1878 in Burlington, Vermont, Champlain College offers undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs in over 80 subject areas. Champlain's on-campus and online computer forensics program has earned accolades for its commitment to quality education. In fact, Champlain is the only private college in the U.S. designated as a National Center of Digital Forensics Academic Excellence by the Defense Cyber Crime Center (DC3) Air Force Office of Special Investigations.
Champlain's entirely online master of science in digital forensics covers the process of digital investigations, mobile device analysis, and incident response and network forensics. In addition to applied coursework in forensics principles and practices, the curriculum explores legal issues in forensics along with the operation and management of computer forensics laboratories. Since 2006, the U.S. National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security have recognized this program as a National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education.
Distance learners may complete the 30-33-credit master's in computer forensics online by taking two courses each eight-week session, typically finishing all requirements within two years. Champlain offers new students six start-dates throughout the year. Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree in an IT-related discipline with at least a 2.5 GPA. Champlain may also consider applications from working adults without an IT background on their own merits, evaluating their work experience and career goals.
What Else Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Computer Forensics Program?
Online computer forensics master's degree curricula vary by program. Examine each prospective school's course offerings and faculty to choose the best program to help you reach your academic and professional goals.
Curriculum For an Online Master's Degree in Computer Forensics
Course offerings vary depending on the school's faculty, departmental history, specialties, strengths, and geographic location. These factors are important to consider, as some programs prepare graduates for certain types of work in the field. Below are core courses that are common to most forensics master's programs.
- Digital Crime, Evidence, and Procedure These courses cover basic legal concepts that help students navigate investigatory situations and crime research. Students explore the practical application of laws in the age of digital criminal activity.
- Foundations of Computing and Security This introductory course explores online network analysis, routing protocols, and software and hardware risks. Students examine the complex nature of online data and security protocols.
- Electrical and Computer Engineering This course covers electric circuit theory's function within digital forensics. Students learn about basic electronic components of field equipment and conduct lab experiments.
How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Master's in Computer Forensics?
Full-time students typically complete their online computer forensics master's degree in about two years, although it could take longer to complete the required 35 to 40 credits. Some programs require students to compile research portfolios throughout their studies and to present a final project. Alternatively, a master's thesis or capstone project may be required. Some programs allow students to enroll part-time, in which case additional time is typically necessary to complete all degree requirements.
Some online digital forensics master's programs feature a cohort learning style, while others employ an individually paced structure. In cohort-based programs, small groups of students follow the same schedule and adhere to synchronized deadlines. The cohort style fosters a strong sense of community and often includes interaction and collaboration. Students in individually paced programs complete coursework according to their own timelines, as it fits into their personal schedules.
Accreditation for Online Master's in Computer Forensics Degrees
Schools may be nationally or regionally accredited. National accreditation is often awarded to career-focused vocational or technical institutions. Regionally accredited schools are usually four-year institutions that offer associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees. While regional accreditation is the more prestigious of the two, both accreditations are significant. Accreditation means the institution has met or exceeded applicable educational standards. While there are six regional accrediting agencies in the United States, various third-party agencies accredit programs in the forensic sciences, including the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission. Specialized accreditation helps students identify high-quality online computer forensic master's degree programs.
The U.S. Department of Education (ED) creates and enforces policies and laws that improve the country's quality of education. While the ED tracks accreditation records and collects data on educational institutions, the department has no control over the accreditation of institutions. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) ensures that accrediting agencies are held to high standards. For more information, visit the ED and CHEA websites.
Employment Outlook for Master's in Computer Forensics Graduates
Professionals with training in computer forensics succeed in a wide variety of fulfilling careers. Graduates of master's programs pursue positions in laboratories and assist crime specialists in the analysis of evidence and data. Others pursue technology-based and securities-based careers with large organizations. Computer forensics professionals have excellent communication skills, are detail-oriented, and possess nuanced problem-solving skills. They must also be sensitive to the graphic and personal scenarios, documents, and evidence they encounter.
- Forensic Science Technicians
These technicians aid in criminal investigations by collecting and analyzing evidence in laboratory settings.
Median Annual Salary
Entry Level: $48,000
Late Career: $69,000
- Computer and Information Research Scientists
These professionals explore and invent new ways to use technology. They work in fields including forensics, business, and medicine. While a PhD is required for some advanced positions, graduates with a master's degree often secure positions in the federal government.
- Computer Systems Analyst
Forensic analysts examine digital information connected to cybercrimes. They protect compromised data, recover files, and handle important evidence. Advanced positions require a master's degree and programming expertise.
Median Annual Salary
Entry Level: $58,000
Late Career: $110,000
- Information Security Analysts
These professionals design and execute security measures to protect computer systems and networks. They monitor networks for security breaches and test networks for weaknesses.
Median Annual Salary
Entry Level: $63,000
Late Career: $91,000
- Computer and information Systems Managers
Often called IT managers, these professionals plan and direct computer-related activity at institutions, laboratories, and businesses. They ensure that all tasks that rely on computer systems are effectively carried out. A master's degree and experience are critical to advancement.
Master's in Computer Forensics Salary
The table below compares the media salaries for four forensics-related careers. All but one of the career paths display steady salary growth over a 20-year career; experience consistently increases the earning potential for forensics professionals.
Median Salary by Experience Level
|Forensic Computer Analyst||$58,000||$89,000||$110,000|
|Information Security Analyst||$63,000||$82,000||$91,000|
|Crime Scene Investigator||$40,000||$55,000||$53,000|
Financing Your Online Master's in Computer Forensics Program
Every student should complete and submit the FAFSA in order to be considered for federal financial aid, including scholarships, grants, work-study programs, and loans. Scholarships are the most desirable type of funding; unlike loans, scholarship funds do not have to be repaid. Work-study programs help students secure part-time work during their studies. Various organizations offer external funding for forensics students, including the Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners and the American Society of Crime Lab Directors. Check with your school's financial aid office or forensics department to locate the best options to fund your education.
Approximately two-thirds of today's college students rely on loans to fund their education, but there are plenty of overlooked financing options you can use to reduce your overall student debt.
Completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) is a crucial first step for any student with financial needs. Our FAFSA guide features a step-by-step rundown on the process and answers to several frequently asked questions.
Financial aid for online learning is equivalent to what you'll find for campus-based learning, but that hasn't always been the case. Learn about the changes that have taken place, as well as the different funding opportunities available to online students.
Online college programs can be a flexible, affordable option for single parents who are interested in earning a degree and securing their family's financial future. We've compiled a list of scholarships, grants, and other financial aid options geared toward single moms and dads.
Millions of dollars in free money is available to U.S. military personnel, but much of it goes unused. Learn more about grants, scholarships, and other financial aid opportunities available to veterans, active-duty service members, and reservists.
- Best Online Master's in Computer Forensics Programs of 2018
Ranking School Location 1 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL 2 Stevenson University Stevenson, MD 3 University of Maryland-University College Adelphi, MD 4 Champlain College Burlington, VT 5 Utica College Utica, NY
- Best Online Master's in Computer Forensics Programs of 2017
Rank School Location 1 University of Central Florida Orlando, FL 2 Stevenson University Stevenson, MD 3 University of Maryland-University College Adelphi, MD 4 Champlain College Burlington, VT 5 Utica College Utica, NY