Best Online Software Engineering Master's Degrees

Oct 20, 2021

What Is an Online Master's in Software Engineering Degree?

Although the fields of computer science and software engineering are similar, software engineering focuses more on the specific skills needed in the designing, implementing, and testing of software systems, whereas computer science examines different theories and practices across the field. An online master's degree program in software engineering provides students with a convenient way to further develop their programming, design, and problem-solving skills to produce high quality software programs. These programs help prepare students for more advanced leadership positions within the field. Many of these online degree programs are offered as a Master of Science (MS) degree, but online Master of Software Engineering programs or related degrees, such as an MS in Computer Science or MS in Engineering with a concentration in software engineering are available as well. Explore these degree programs in greater detail here.

The Best Online Masters Degree Programs in Software Engineering

School Tuition* Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate Financial Aid % Placement Services Career Services Accepts
1 North Dakota State University $7751 94% 60% 90% No Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
2 Kennesaw State University $7334 75% 46% 92% Yes Yes AP Credits
3 California State University-Fullerton $8358 53% 69% 77% Yes Yes AP Credits
4 East Carolina University $7535 79% 66% 79% Yes Yes AP / ACE Credits
5 West Virginia University $10134 84% 61% 94% Yes Yes AP Credits
6 Texas Tech University $8181 69% 61% 78% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
7 Mercer University $15722 74% 66% 100% Yes Yes AP Credits
8 St. Mary's University $18730 79% 60% 100% Yes Yes AP / NCCRS Credits
9 Drexel University $36021 75% 69% 100% Yes Yes AP Credits
10 Stevens Institute of Technology $37990 40% 85% 99% Yes Yes AP Credits
11 Carnegie Mellon University $45909 15% 90% 58% Yes Yes AP Credits

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*Tuition information is based on published tuition and required fees, per data by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Why Should I Get an Online Software Engineering Master's Degree?

Pursuing any online master's degree usually provides students with a high level of flexibility by allowing them to complete coursework on their own time from any location. Earning a master's degree in software engineering is likely to make students competitive in a growing field and help advance them to higher-level positions within the field. Some of these positions may take on leadership responsibilities. The advanced knowledge and technical skills that these programs provide also qualify students for various types of positions, which can also increase job prospects. This advanced training is also likely to come with a pay raise. For example, although it varies by position and other factors, reported that graduates with a Bachelor of Science (BS/BSc) in Software Engineering made a median annual salary of $81,999, as of February 2021, while those with an MS in Software Engineering made a median annual salary of $106,048 for the same time period.

How Long Does It Take to Earn an Online Master's in Software Engineering?

Online master's degree programs in software engineering are consistent with many traditional master's degree programs that take around 2 years to complete. However, there are some different factors that can help students finish slightly faster or slower than the traditional 2 years. For instance, some programs may be available in full- and part-time formats. Part-time formats can allow students with busy schedules to work at a slower pace and finish in about 3 years. Course load, or how many courses students decide or can afford to take each semester, also plays a role in how long it takes to earn a degree.

Curriculum for Online Master's Degree Programs in Software Engineering

Online master's degree programs in software engineering may vary from requiring 30 to 45 credits of coursework. The structure of these programs vary, with some programs offering cohort formats where students take only core courses in software engineering, while other programs might offer core courses and elective courses. Programs in other areas, such as engineering or computer science, that offer software engineering as a concentration may have core courses, specialization courses in software engineering, and electives. Below we discuss aspects of the curriculum in greater detail.

Software Engineering Foundational Courses

Depending on the program, students in MS or Master of Software Engineering programs can take between 12 and 36 credits of core courses in software engineering. Some programs divide these courses into core courses (foundational) and advanced courses in the field. Generally, these core courses cover major concepts and theories of software engineering, as well as training in specific skill sets, such as software system design. Courses are also usually designed to help further develop students' leadership skills to further prepare them for an advanced position in the field. Some programs conclude with a final culminating experience of some kind, such as an optional thesis, final project, studio, or portfolio. Other core courses for these software engineering programs could include topics in:

  • Software architecture
  • Software design
  • Software project management
  • Database design
  • Software quality
  • Software testing
  • Security

Software Engineering Specialist and Elective Courses

Students may take between 6 and 18 credits of elective coursework, depending on the program. Some programs divide electives by major electives and general electives. There are also some unique programs that allow students to take independent study courses or earn a computer science certificate through elective courses. Elective courses often vary greatly based on the program, but students may be able to choose courses from general areas, such as software engineering, computer engineering, or computer science, or from a given list of courses in areas such as:

  • Computer security
  • Advanced databases
  • Security engineering
  • Agile software development
  • Software engineering economics
  • Web services

Licensure and Certification in Software Engineering

Software engineers do not typically require a license to practice and software engineering is not usually included in the Professional Engineer (PE) licensing exam. However, it is important for these professionals, as well as those in other related positions, such as computer programmers, to have knowledge in one or more scripting languages. Therefore, some software engineers can pursue professional certification in a specific programming language or specific software products that they use on a daily basis. For example, Java certification can be pursued by taking training courses and passing an exam offered by Oracle. Students seeking certification can choose from many different certifications in various versions of Java. Those who already have Java certification also have various options for upgrading their certification and staying up to date on current trends in the field.

Admissions Requirements for Online Software Engineering Master's Programs

The admissions requirements and overall process often differ between schools. In general, applicants need to hold a bachelor's degree, but some programs prefer or require that students hold a degree in software engineering or a related field. It is fairly common for these online degree programs to require students to meet a minimum GPA requirement, usually around a 3.0. Applications are likely able to be completed online and students commonly need to include their official transcripts with the application. Some programs could require students to include test scores from the GRE, but some schools may only make these scores optional or waive them if students meet certain requirements, such as a GPA higher than a 3.0. Other application materials for software engineering programs may include references, a resume, and an essay or statement of intent.

Choosing an Online Software Engineering Master's Program

Students wishing to enroll in a software engineering program online should first decide what type of master's degree to pursue. Students wanting a broader education in engineering or computer science could decide to pursue an MS in their desired field with a concentration in software engineering, while those wanting to focus primarily in software engineering may choose an MS specifically in software engineering. Students should then begin to consider the format of various programs. Some students may need part-time formats vs. full-time formats or some students may be interested in being part of a cohort. Students with specific career goals or interests could also want to examine the format of the curriculum and whether they can take core courses or electives in desired subject areas. Programs that include a culminating experience may also be preferred by some students so that they can apply the new skills they have learned. Most students will also need to consider the cost of a program to determine if it falls within their budget.

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

Graduates with their master's degree in software engineering have a variety of job options available to them within software engineering and other related areas. There are several different areas of engineering that utilize some of the same skills as software engineers, but these areas often perform different job duties than the job duties of software engineers. For example, DevOps engineers and software engineers can use some of the same skills, but the latter will have broader responsibilities. Students can also choose to become a computer software engineer, software architect, or even take on leadership roles, such as becoming a software development manager. Other specific job titles for graduates may include:

  • Software developer
  • Applications developer
  • Systems software developer
  • Computer programmer
  • Computer systems analyst
  • Electronics engineering technician

Job Outlook for a Master's in Software Engineering

In general, the need for professionals with technical information technology skills is growing, but the job outlook for specific positions vary. For instance, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that the job outlook for software developers and software quality assurance analysts and testers was 22% from 2019 to 2029, which is much faster than the national average. However, the BLS also stated that computer programmers will have a 9% decline in positions over the same time period. These differences may be due to the location of positions, as many computer programmers are employed overseas for lower wages. Typically, those with a master's degree in software engineering are prepared to take on more advanced, technical, and leadership-based positions, which can greatly increase the flexibility of their job prospects.

How to Become a Software Developer

Software developers typically need to have at least a bachelor's degree, but some employers prefer those with a master's degree. Students could hold a degree in software engineering, computer science, or other closely related areas. Usually experience in computer programming, writing code, and using various computer languages is necessary as well. Some of these developers may gain professional certification in various languages or gain experience through courses and additional learning opportunities, such as internships. Software developers who wish to oversee the software development process may go on to become computer and information systems managers.

Per the BLS, software developers and software quality assurance analysts and testers made a median annual salary of $107,510, as of 2019. Software developers include different types of developers, such as applications software developers and systems software developers. In general, software developers create the applications or systems that make computer programs work properly. This requires them to understand the specific need for software and then design, test, and implement the software that meets those needs. They usually need to perform regular maintenance and upgrades on software and systems to help ensure everything is running smoothly.

How to Become a Computer Programmer

Computer programmers commonly have at least a bachelor's degree, but some could only have an associate's degree. These programmers usually have a degree in computer science or a related field and commonly need to have experience in a specific programming language. They may gain experience through internships or a school program that allows them to write, test, and fix codes. Typically, computer programmers need to pursue continuing education opportunities to stay updated on new programming languages or upgrades. Some of these professionals may pursue professional certification in a given language or product that they use on a regular basis in their position.

According to the BLS, the median annual salary for computer programmers was $86,550, as of 2019. Computer programmers are responsible for creating, testing, and adjusting the code used to make software programs or computer applications work correctly. They usually work closely with software engineers and developers to write the instructions that the computer uses to function. They also upgrade programs and systems as needed and utilize code libraries.

Software Engineering Professional Organizations

There is no shortage of professional organizations available in the broad fields of computer science and information technology, including those more closely related to software engineering. Students and new professionals in these fields may decide to join in order to network with other professionals and utilize groups' vast resources for professional development and education. As fields with technology change quickly, it is important for professionals to stay as updated as possible with current trends, technologies, and methods used in the field. Professional organizations help with this as they provide news, training courses, and more. A couple examples of available professional organizations related to software engineering include:

  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers- The IEEE includes the Technical Committee on Software Engineering (TCSE) that aims to advocate for the field of software engineering within the IEEE and Computer Society. The TCSE supports workshops, training, conferences, and other activities that promote software engineering. The IEEE offers membership, certificate programs, access to publications, and conferences for professionals.
  • Association for Computing Machinery- The ACM also provides membership and chapters for professionals involved in various areas of computing. The group offers educational opportunities, publications, conferences, awards, and works for the inclusion of all communities within the field of computing.

Common Undergraduate Degrees for Software Engineering

Depending on the program, online master's programs in software engineering may require or prefer that students hold a bachelor's degree in one of the following areas:

  • Software engineering
  • Computer engineering
  • Computer science
  • Information science
  • Electrical engineering
  • Mathematics
  • Physics

Students usually need to have a degree in one of these areas in order to demonstrate competency and a background in areas such as calculus, algebra, programming, and data structures. Students who do not meet these requirements or hold a degree in a related field may be required to take additional prerequisite courses.

Post-Graduate Options After Completing a Master's in Software Engineering

Students wishing to continue their studies in software engineering at the doctoral level can find Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs in areas such as computer science and software engineering. However, students wishing to continue their studies online may have to choose between closely related programs, such as an online PhD in Systems Engineering or an online Doctorate of Software Development. In general, doctoral programs in these fields help prepare students for advanced research, as well as leadership-based positions. Some graduates could go on to teach the next generation of students at the collegiate level.

Financial Aid, Scholarships and Grants for Online Master's in Software Engineering Programs

Once students start adding up the cost of tuition, fees, books, materials, and other costs, earning a master's degree can be expensive. To help offset the cost of earning a degree, students can apply for various forms of financial aid. Both undergraduate and graduate students should first apply with the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if they qualify for any state or federal loans or grants. Then, students can investigate tuition discounts, grants, or scholarships that may be available from their schools of interest or outside organizations.

Specifically, for those wishing to pursue a master's degree in software engineering, there are several different types of scholarships available. Some of these awards are available from technology, or engineering-related organizations, that are geared towards a specific population. For instance, the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE) offers the ScholarSHPE program that provides multiple scholarships for high school seniors, undergraduates, and graduate students wishing to earn a master's or doctoral program in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field. Applicants must be a SHPE member and meet a minimum GPA requirement. Other outside organizations may offer more general scholarships, such as the Google Lime Scholarship. This award is open to undergraduate or graduate students pursuing a degree in computer science, computer engineering, or related fields, such as software engineering. Winners in the U.S. can receive up to $10,000 towards tuition.

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