Best Master's in Software Engineering Programs

Oct 20, 2021

What Is a Master's in Software Engineering Degree?

A Master's in Software Engineering will prepare students for the development of complex software applications. Students will learn about their design and implementation, gaining a strong grasp of database management and communication protocols in the process. As an ever-evolving field, software engineering will introduce students to the latest technology, such as cloud computing and web frameworks. Students will learn to adapt to current and future trends in software development, learning to harness their power into useful applications. There is practically no industry that does not rely on software solutions in every step, and a master's in software engineering can help a professional innovate. Many career options are available for graduates with this degree.

Common Undergraduate Degrees for Software Engineering

To be eligible for admission into a graduate software engineering program, some colleges expect students to have earned certain bachelor's degrees. Since graduate courses require strong foundations in a multitude of subjects, students with incompatible bachelor's degrees may not be offered admission. By far, a B.S. in Computer Sciences is the most common undergraduate degree accepted by universities, though there are still differences between computer science and software engineering. Some universities may expand their admissions to include electrical engineering, mathematics, and information technologies degrees. Most graduate programs expect students to have a strong grasp of object-oriented programming and data management, and some will accept students who have taken only individual courses in these subjects.

Admissions Requirements for Software Engineering Master's Programs

To gain admission into a software engineering master's program, you must first provide a transcript of records from all undergraduate and post-baccalaureate programs you've completed. Each university may expect different grade point averages, so be sure to review their requirements beforehand. Additionally, some universities will require students to have passed certain courses during their undergraduate studies, such as programming, algorithms, data management, etc.

Some institutions use the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) as a tool to assess a potential candidate's preparedness. Most will not ask for a student's test scores if they apply to study for a master's program within the same university as their bachelor's degree.

Additional application material you may be expected to provide include:

  • Resume or CV
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement/essay
  • English language proficiency (for international students)

Why Should I Get a Software Engineering Master's Degree?

Software engineering and the entire technology sector as a whole are experiencing an unprecedented boom and one that is unlikely to fade anytime soon. There isn't an industry in the current, globalized market that is not entirely reliant on software solutions. Supply chains, manufacturing, services, marketing, and many more facets of the world's economic output incorporates software development. As a matter of fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of software engineers will grow at a staggering annual rate of 22% from 2019 to 2029. This far surpasses the average for all professions as a whole, currently placed at 4%. As a response, enrollment in college programs in this area has also rapidly increased, creating a highly competitive job market. A Master's in Software Engineering can help distinguish job seekers among the crowd, preparing them to innovate further and aim for higher-paying jobs.

How to Choose a Master's in Software Engineering Program

Many individuals studying for a master's degree in software engineering are looking to combine work and study. This may compel students to choose programs that can offer flexibility while maintaining high standards. Given its very nature, software engineering lends itself particularly well to online courses. Students may be drawn to master's programs that offer, if not all, at least most of the coursework as distance learning. Accelerated learning programs are also available at some universities.

Another important factor when choosing a specific program is what graduating options they offer. Some programs require students to research, write, and defend a final thesis, which may be too time-consuming for some working professionals. Others offer additional options such as capstone courses or certification programs.

Software Engineering Master's Degree Courses

The curriculum of most software engineering graduate programs consists of a combination of foundational courses and elective courses students can choose. Foundational courses will often cover such topics as algorithms, programming, mathematical models, databases, etc. To choose elective courses and learning tracks, students may work with graduate advisors. As they prepare to finish their degree, students may also choose between writing a thesis, capstone courses, or final certification courses. Be sure to check with your university of choice about what options are available to you beforehand.

Software Engineering Foundational Courses

Though concentrations and specific learning tracks are common to many software engineering master's programs, most will require that all students take part in some of the following foundational courses. Check with your university if earned undergraduate credits can be transferred to your graduate program.

  • Analysis of Algorithms: Courses such as this one explore the fundamentals of algorithms, covering topics like recursion, dynamic programming, sorting, and searching algorithms. Through practical examples and exercises, students learn how to implement efficient algorithmic solutions.
  • Mathematical Modeling: Coding languages and programming, in general, are entirely reliant on mathematical models for their proper functioning. They allow for informed decision-making, based on quantitative parameters that help predict outcomes and map behaviors.
  • Operating Systems: Students learn about the underlying framework supporting today's most widely used operating systems. Students learn about how best to design for each one, including OS processes, threads, and memory management.
  • Database Programming: Courses that focus on database programming do so by implementing a particular coding language (C++, C, or Java) for the efficient management of database servers. Students learn about the best practices for commercial application of such systems.

Software Engineering Specialist & Elective Courses

These vary by university, but can include options such as:

  • User Experience Engineering: As the point of contact between software and user, UX design serves an important role. Students learn about how best to tailor coding, processes, and pipelines for usability. Students come to understand how best to design the bilateral flow of information.
  • Big Data Analytics: As a powerful tool to be harnessed by today's tech companies, Big Data can be used to glean valuable information about user habits and trends. Students learn about the algorithms through which raw data can be put through to yield useful information.
  • Internet of Things: Many industries are adopting the IoT as a way to improve the user experience. Courses on this subject expand upon the challenges of implementing interactivity and connectivity solutions to more products.
  • Network Security: Students learn about the threats networks face that could compromise the security of the information they house, and how best to defend against those threats.

Licensure & Certification in Software Engineering

In order to practice as a software engineer, you do not need a license. At the moment, there isn't a licensing body that issues one specifically catered to software engineers. There are, however, many ways to advance your career and stand out from other job seekers in the market. A good option is through certification. Many universities offer certification courses as an alternative to thesis or research projects. The following are some examples.

  • Web Development
  • Cybersecurity
  • Data Science

There are a handful of programming languages that are widely used within the industry, such as Python, C++, Java, Javascript, etc. Each employer will have their preferences and will look for candidates who are proficient in said language. There is a multitude of certifications available for each of these languages, some of them through university programs and others through online platforms. Tech companies such as Google offer online coding courses as well.

Concentrations Offered for a Master's in Software Engineering

As the industry has begun to diversify, the demand for more and more specialized software engineers has grown. Niches have begun to form, and with them, more defined and distinct areas of expertise. As a response to this shift, many university graduate programs offer learning tracks or concentrations. Depending on the avenue of software engineering that interests you, different courses are made available that can help you delve deeper into one of those avenues. The following are some examples of concentrations universities may offer.

  • Cloud Computing
  • Systems Programming
  • Data Communications
  • App Development for the Web

Post-Graduate Options After Master's in Software Engineering

After completing a master's degree in software engineering, students have the option of enrolling in a doctoral program. As with any Ph.D., one in software engineering will revolve around extensive, independent research. Working with a faculty advisor, doctoral candidates establish highly specialized topics. Students are expected to arrive at new insights through the application of sophisticated topics in software engineering to the practical world. The research output of a Ph.D. is expected to be at the caliber for publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals.

What Can I Do with a Software Engineering Master's Degree?

A master's degree in software engineering can be a pathway to a multitude of career options.

  • Computer Research Scientist: Computer research scientists work on developing new technologies and applications for information technologies. They develop new models and algorithms for implementation across a multitude of industries, setting the pace for the entire technology sector.
  • Cybersecurity Consultant: A cybersecurity consultant is charged with both assessing and protecting against potential risks to an organization's computer systems. They carry out auditing processes to determine vulnerable points where protected information may be leaked. They suggest cybersecurity measures against ever-evolving malware and help implement them across entire networks.
  • Computer Systems Manager: IT managers or Chief Technology Officers head a company's technology and computer-related activities. They implement software and hardware solutions, create both internal and client databases, and manage new projects in their department. They help evaluate the best systems and policies to be used by a company.

Job Outlook for a Master's in Software Engineering

Across a multitude of occupations and sectors, the demand for software engineers is on the rise. Now more than ever before, computer systems permeate every single industry. Additionally, software solutions are being brought to new products, giving rise to the Internet of Things. Appliances and other everyday items are incorporating digital systems for optimization and usability. With more data being collected through smartphones and social media platforms, companies now have a wealth of information that must be protected from cyber-attacks. The growing demand is such that the BLS's outlook for employment of software developers estimates that employment will grow at a staggering 22% annually between 2019 and 2029. California, Texas, and New York boast the highest employment levels, with a multitude of technology hubs establishing headquarters there.

How to Become a Cybersecurity Consultant

Those interested in a position as a cybersecurity consultant usually begin their careers studying a bachelor's degree in computer sciences, mathematics, or information technologies. There they gain the knowledge to assess potential threats to an organization's computer systems and propose solutions for them. While a bachelor's degree may suffice for an entry-level position, working as a consultant for larger institutions and companies requires further training.

A master's degree in software engineering offers students the possibility to further develop their skills and gain a broader perspective of the solutions available to a cybersecurity consultant. Those interested in working with enterprises may also choose to include some business electives while completing their graduate studies. This can help them better understand the inner workings of a corporation.

Upon graduation, a consultant's role as advisor affords them great flexibility. They are not in-house talent and can work with a variety of firms. To gain more credibility, some may choose to become Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), recognized by industry professionals and organizations. A cybersecurity consultant can expect an annual salary of approximately $99,730 according to the BLS's estimates for cybersecurity experts. The BLS additionally expects this position to grow at a rate of 31% between 2019 and 2029, much faster than average for all occupations.

How to Become a Computer Research Analyst

A computer research analyst begins their career by studying for an undergraduate degree in a field related to computer sciences, electrical engineering, or mathematics. Early on, they must develop an affinity for research and experimentation, as their work will consist of applying theoretical concepts into innovative solutions. Having earned their undergraduate degree, they will likely work in the field, but not yet as a research analyst. To be hired as one, most organizations will expect a master's degree in software engineering, as it prepares individuals to lead independent research.

A computer research analyst will most likely work for either a federal government agency or in a company's research and development division. As rapid growth and investment continue to drive demand for more innovation, computer research analyst work at the forefront of scientific development. The BLS states in its job outlook for computer research analysts that it expects the profession to grow at an annual rate of 15% from 2019 to 2029, compared to 4% for all other professions. The BLS additionally places their mean annual income at $122,840.

Master's in Software Engineering Program Financial Aid & Scholarship Resources

Those seeking financial aid to study for a master's degree in software engineering can use the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). By submitting your application and answering the questionnaire, you can find out what financial aid programs apply to you.

The following is a small selection of scholarships available to those interested in a master's degree in software engineering. These are not college-specific, so be sure to look for more options that are offered only for your college of choice.

  • ISC2 Graduate Scholarship: The ISC2 Graduate Scholarship of up to $5,000 is awarded to promising students interested in a master's concerning cybersecurity and similar fields.
  • Ralph W. Shrader Graduate Diversity Scholarship: This scholarship is made available to full-time students (women or minority students) of STEM graduate programs in the US. Read their scholarship eligibility requirements for more information.
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