Best Online Master’s in Software Engineering Programs

Software engineers design and build the computing programs, systems, and networks that power our world. These professionals contribute to every step of the software development process, from consumer research and initial diagramming to monitoring and evaluating finished products. Software engineering also incorporates elements of other fields, including computer programming, market analysis, and finance.

A bachelor’s degree is considered the educational minimum for most entry-level software engineering jobs, and students who earn a master’s in this field are well-positioned for a range of job opportunities. Today, many students are choosing to earn their software engineering master’s online, rather than in a traditional classroom format. Online programs allow students to complete their coursework on a flexible schedule and to fulfill the requirements of a master’s degree from home. This option is particularly conducive for students who must balance their coursework with other commitments, such as childcare or a full-time job.

Read on to learn more about what you can do with a master’s degree in software engineering and what kind of career opportunities you can look forward to upon graduation.

WILL AN ONLINE MASTER’S IN SOFTWARE ENGINEERING PROGRAM PROVIDE ME WITH THE SKILLS I NEED TO ADVANCE MY CAREER?

The best online master’s degree programs in software engineering will prepare students for advanced roles in this cutting-edge industry. The curriculum is designed to help you build on the foundational knowledge and skills you learned as an undergraduate while also introducing you to more advanced concepts and theories related to computer programming and software development. These programs often allow students to follow specialized learning tracks in software architecture, web design, project management, and more.

WILL AN ONLINE MASTER’S IN SOFTWARE ENGINEERING WORK WITH MY SCHEDULE?

Online master’s degrees in software engineering programs are designed to offer a flexible alternative to traditional brick-and-mortar programs. Most schools offer classes in an asynchronous format, allowing distance learners to study course materials, submit assignments, and take exams at their convenience right from home.

WHAT JOBS CAN I GET WITH MY MASTER’S IN SOFTWARE ENGINEERING?

Students who obtain a master’s in software engineering will be qualified for most entry-level jobs in the industry, as well as some managerial positions normally reserved for candidates with a graduate degree. Many go on to careers as software developers, network architects, web designers, and other behind-the-scenes roles related to programming and engineering. Others find jobs in network security, administration, or scientific research.

WHAT ARE THE BEST ONLINE MASTER’S IN SOFTWARE ENGINEERING PROGRAMS?

Choosing a program is a very personal decision, and only you can properly evaluate whether a target school’s strengths match your educational needs. The following ranked list of schools should serve as a helpful starting point in your search for the best online master’s in software engineering programs in the United States. Our ranking is based on the courses schools offer, available specializations, student outcomes, career support services, and other criteria used to determine academic excellence. If you are considering an online master’s in software engineering, be sure to contact admissions specialists at different colleges and universities to learn more about their specific master’s degree requirements and offerings.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1Harvard University88.083/597%Cambridge, MA

The software engineering online master's program offered through Harvard's Extension School allows students to learn how to use and adapt to ever-changing tools and technologies. The program gives students a cohesive understanding of current databases, communication protocols, digital frameworks, and cloud computing, while preparing them for future developments in technology. Required courses focus on theoretical foundations, data communications, systems programming, and software design.

Students in this online masters engineering program have the option of pursuing a thesis track, in which they work directly with a thesis director to conduct research on a subject of the student's choosing. There is also a capstone track, in which students work in teams to create an architectural model and project plan, following through with an original system of their own. As part of this program, students may choose to pursue a relevant graduate certificate in data science, web technologies, or cybersecurity -- giving them the opportunity to receive a second graduate credential.

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2Carnegie Mellon University72.541/587%Pittsburgh, PA

Available from the prestigious Carnegie Mellon University, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, this online software engineering master's degree program gives students the tools and resources needed to tackle real-world challenges. Coursework focuses on practical experiences, project-based learning, and team-oriented approaches to solving problems.

Distance students can pursue either a master of software engineering (MSE); a master of science in information technology with a concentration in software engineering (MSIT-ESE); or an MSIT with a concentration in software engineering management (MSIT-SEM). Students can complete the MSE in 16 months of full-time study, the MSIT-ESE in 12 months of full-time study, and the MSIT-SEM in three years of part-time study. The software engineering online master's programs through Carnegie Mellon emphasize technical and managerial leadership -- making them an ideal option for professionals looking to take the next step in their technology-focused careers. Instructors remain in constant communication with students and are available to answer questions and provide guidance whenever needed. Students looking to supplement their degree can also earn a certificate in software engineering completely online.

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3Stevens Institute of Technology68.674/578%Hoboken, NJ

The Stevens Institute of Technology, located in Hoboken, New Jersey, serves more than 6,600 undergraduate and graduate students across its three schools and one college. The online master's in software engineering program at Stevens prepares students for a wide range of technology careers, including software development, systems architecture, applications engineering, requirements engineering, application development, and project management. The program offers two graduate tracks: an advanced track for students who already have a strong background in computer technology, and a bridge track for those who are fairly new to these concepts.

Among the highlights of this master's in software engineering online program is a curriculum focused on solving real-world problems. Students complete eight required courses, including a capstone project, and two electives chosen from the fields of software engineering, engineering management, or computer science. There are also internships available from high-profile organizations like At&T, Cisco, and Verizon.

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4University of Houston-Clear Lake60.223/540%Houston, TX

UHCL's online masters software engineering program addresses key concepts in existing and emerging computer technologies, including the design, planning, management, and engineering of software. The program strikes an even balance between theory and real-world applications, giving students the education they need for jobs in a wide range of settings.

The degree requires the completion of five core courses and six electives. Coursework covers software construction, project management, software engineering life cycles, and risk management, among other topics. Testing, validation, and verification are additional key components of the program, and students must complete a capstone project before receiving their degrees. The University of Houston-Clear Lake is a respected public institution. Its College of Science and Engineering takes a partnership-oriented approach to maximize the opportunities available to students. The university is also one of just 10 nationwide with a computing program accredited under computer science, computer engineering, and information systems criteria.

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5California State University – Fullerton59.632/551%Fullerton, CA

The CSU Fullerton MS in software engineering provides opportunities for professionals in the field of computer science to advance in their careers. The program receives high marks for its student engagement, faculty credentials, and student services.

This online master's in software engineering program takes a unique approach to student learning, with its eight "strands" of critical thinking and problem solving, research, software process implementation, assessment and appraisal, collaboration, standard comprehension, communication, and legal and ethical issues related to the field. Students in the program work together in teams to complete a large-scale project that takes places in stages, as groups move towards the completion of their degrees. The program comprises 30 units (10 courses) that are complete over a 22-month-long span. Coursework covers the areas of software maintenance, advanced software processes, measurement, modern software management, and software verification and validation, among other topics.

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6East Carolina University52.363/558%Greenville, NC

Known throughout the industry as a top-tier online master's degree software engineering program, ECU offers students the opportunity to design, create, test, and maintain software systems through an approach that combines theory with practical applications. Subjects covered include object-oriented design, project management, systems architecture, and programming languages. Students may also choose from concentrations in software testing, software design and development, and software project management and quality assurance.

East Carolina's MS in software engineering program is also known for its flexibility, making it an ideal choice for working professionals. The online distance education option retains the collaborative approach found in its more traditional program, allowing students to benefit from a broad range of real-world experiences. The university's Department of Computer Science is dedicated to its students-first approach, with a focus on collaboration, innovation, accountability, and strategic thinking. Its faculty and staff work to ensure students are able to maximize the career opportunities available to them in the rapidly changing world of technology.

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7Drexel University49.515/565%Philadelphia, PA

Built for students looking for the flexibility of a software engineering master's program online, Drexel leverages partnerships with various leading businesses and organizations to offer a wide range of higher education opportunities. The program's multidisciplinary curriculum features the use of the latest tools and technologies, and its focus is on giving students the education and training they need to secure key positions within business, industrial, governmental, and academic settings.

Students pursuing an online MS in software engineering can choose to concentrate in either computer science or information systems technology. Core curriculum covers coursework in computer science, electrical and computer engineering, and information sciences. Students also complete 27 credits of coursework focusing on their selected track, including electives. Each program is split into four 10-week quarters per year, meaning students can enroll in more courses within a shorter period of time. Because the program is so flexible, it works well for mid-career professionals who need to complete coursework based on their own schedules.

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8Texas Tech University49.163/562%Lubbock, TX

The MS in software engineering online program at Texas Tech offers students a comprehensive educational experience on the development and maintenance of software systems and technology, using modern engineering processes.

This online master's in software engineering program, which allows students to complete all coursework digitally, includes 36 credit hours. The program can be completed in part-time or full-time options. Curriculum covers coursework in software modeling and architecture, real time and sharing systems, systems theories, and more. To qualify for admission, individuals must have a bachelor's degree in computer science, computer engineering, or an equivalent area of study. The MS in software engineering is part of the Edward E. Whitacre College of Engineering, which has prioritized the delivery of high-quality, accredited educational experiences through virtual classrooms. The college has been recognized as an exceptional resource for employers looking to enhance the skills and education of their workforces.

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9North Dakota State University46.073/556.08%Fargo, ND

NDSU's online software engineering master's degree offers a cohesive academic program that focuses on the tools, techniques, and methodologies required to manage the software life cycle from start to finish. This includes in-depth learning experiences on key concepts like design, development, testing, maintenance, and project execution and management.

The online degree program, which students may complete in one, two, or five years, is perfect for working professionals aiming to move forward in their technology-driven careers. In fact, current software developers and engineers may even have the opportunity to use their work-based projects toward academic credit, allowing them to complete their degree requirements more quickly. Coursework within this dynamic software engineering online master's program covers a wide range of subject areas, including software design, software complexity metrics, database systems, artificial intelligence, and software construction. Students take a total of 36 credits to qualify for graduation from the program.

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10Mercer University45.824/563%Macon, GA

Covering a range of topics geared toward solving complex technology problems, the master of software engineering at Mercer gives students the opportunity to work on a real-world project from start to finish. This includes the processes of requirements analysis, design, programming, testing, and project management.

Through this master's in software engineering online program, students use methodologies like refactoring to develop high-quality, lower-level software designs -- later moving on to more high-level designs using complex design patterns. Software architecture, testing, and security are additional components of program. Mercer University is a respected faith-based institution of higher learning, with its main campus located in Macon, Georgia. The university is committed to providing its students with full academic freedom and a welcoming environment for learning.

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Timeline
2 to 3 years
Program Costs (when available)
$25,000 to $40,000 for full tuition
Concentrations
Software Architecture, Software Design and Development, Software Quality Assurance, Computer Programming, Network Architecture, Web Design, Project Management
Accreditation
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET)

Master’s vs Bachelor’s in Software Engineering

Software engineers with a master’s degree are somewhat rare, as most professionals in the field only have a bachelor’s. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 54% of web developers have a bachelor’s degree, and only 16% have a master’s. A similar ratio can be found in the computer network administration industry, at 39% and 11% respectively.

Due to their relative scarcity in the software engineering industry, job candidates with a master’s degree stand out from the crowd. As a field, computer technology positions have some of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, as the following table demonstrates.

Profession Unemployment Rate (2016)
All Professions (National Average) 4.9%
Information Security Analyst 1.4%
Information Technology Manager 1.8%
Computer Systems Administrator 2.0%
Database Administrator 2.0%
Computer Programmer 2.5%
Software Developer 2.5%
Computer Systems Analyst 2.6%
Computer Support Specialist 3.3%
Web Developer 3.4%

Source: ‘Best Technology Jobs’ by U.S. News & World Report

Of the nine professions listed in the table, the average unemployment rate is 2.39% ― less than half of the national average for all professions. These figures represent employees at all attainment levels, and master’s-holders can expect even more favorable job placement rates.

Earning a Living

In addition to lower unemployment rates, software engineers with a master’s degree also have higher earning potential than their colleagues with just a bachelor’s. According to the 2015-16 PayScale College Salary Report, the average employee with a bachelor’s degree in software engineering will make $64,700 at the entry-level mark and $98,100 after 10 years in the field. Comparatively, the average master’s degree-holder in software engineering will earn $83,100 at the start of their career and $119,000 after 10 years.

However, the salary for software engineering master’s recipients will vary depending on the specific position in question. Using PayScale data, the next table illustrates salary expectations at four career benchmarks for different occupations related to software engineering.

Profession Median Annual Salary for Entry-Level Employees (0-5 years) Median Annual Salary for Mid-Career Employees (5-10 years) Median Annual Salary for Experienced Employees (10-20 years) Median Annual Salary for Late-Career Employees (20+ years)
Software Developer $62,448 $76,168 $86,399 $90,105
Software Engineer $72,790 $84,821 $97,695 $103,558
Web Developer $51,067 $61,591 $69,435 $78,925
Network Architect $86,246 $100,535 $117,227 $120,178

Source: PayScale

The average rate of career salary growth is 45.1% for the four professions listed in the table above. Web development positions have the highest growth rate at 54.6%, despite the lowest average salary at all four benchmarks. Alternatively, network architects boast the highest earnings at all four benchmarks, but their 39.3% career salary growth is the lowest among the listed occupations.

Career Opportunities

Students who graduate with an online master’s in software engineering will qualify for dozens of jobs at public and private institutions. Your eligibility for a specific position will depend on factors like your degree specialization and your experience. Four of the most common career pathways for master’s in software engineering recipients are covered below.

Software Developers: Software developers create computer programs, information systems, applications, and games. They often work on teams, and produce programs designed to meet customer needs. These employees work on every stage of a project’s development, from initial market research and modeling to beta-testing and post-project evaluation.

Computer Network Architects: Network architects design and develop data communication systems. Some specialize in small networks (also known as local area networks, or LANs), while others create large-scale networks designed to accommodate many different users (known as wide area networks, or WANs). They also design supplemental network components, such as security programs, and continually perform hardware and software upgrades to ensure their networks are up-to-date.

Computer and Information Research Scientists: These scientists work behind the scenes to explore new, innovative forms of computing technology. Many specialize in niche areas of computing and IT, such as programming languages, software tools, and information security. Like research scientists in other fields, these professionals often publish their findings in academic journals and give presentations at networking events.

Web Developers: Web designers design, develop, and evaluate websites and internet-based programs, such as apps and plugins. They may also oversee various metrics for websites, such as traffic, performance, and written content. Back-end developers primarily specialize in programming code and other technical factors, while front-end developers control the layout and integration of graphics, multimedia, and other add-ons.

Occupation Median Annual Salary Projected Industry Growth (2014-24)
Software Developers $100,690 17% (186,600 jobs)
Computer Network Architects $100,240 9% (12,700 jobs)
Computer and Information Research Scientists $110,620 11% (2,700 jobs)
Web Developers $64,970 27% (39,500 jobs)

Professional Organizations

Making professional contacts and learning about different approaches to software engineering is important to your success in the field. Professional organizations offer a great entry point for students who want to learn more about their chosen career path. Below, you’ll find three of the country’s most prominent organizations established for professional software engineers. These organizations host networking events, provide online trainings, maintain active job boards, and offer other services for career-ready college graduates.

  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers: Founded in 1884 when electricity was still in its infancy, the IEEE has nearly 400,000 members in more than 160 countries. The institute is open to students, established professionals, and retirees. Member benefits include discounts on continuing education courses, a complimentary subscription to the IEEE’s flagship Spectrum magazine, and information about networking opportunities.
  • Association of Software Professionals: The ASP is a trade organization dedicated to software developers and engineers who design programs, apps, and networks. The website features an extensive calendar of upcoming conferences and events, as well as full issues of the ASPects monthly newsletter.
  • International Association of Engineers: A professional organization “for the engineers and the scholars in the software engineering discipline,” IAENG offers free membership for students and professionals. This nonprofit also operates 16 ‘societies’ dedicated to niche areas of software engineering, such as bioinformatics, data mining, operations research, and wireless networks. Members and non-members are also invited to submit entries for Engineering Letters, IAENG’s flagship academic journal.

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, most students still need financial assistance. Students should complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) form to learn more about loans, grants, and other opportunities offered through the U.S. government. Additionally, private grants and scholarships are widely available through nonprofit organizations, companies, and other sources. Check out our collection of resources below to learn more about financial aid options.

AN OVERVIEW OF FINANCIAL AID

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.

UNDERSTANDING THE FAFSA

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 COLLEGE STUDENTS

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.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR WOMEN

Online programs can provide an affordable and flexible option for women trying to balance the demands of work, family, and earning their degree. We’ve curated a list of valuable scholarships specifically for women.

SCHOLARSHIPS FOR SINGLE PARENTS

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.

FINANCIAL AID FOR VETERANS AND ACTIVE MILITARY

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 Programs in Software Engineering of 2016
Rank School Location
1 Carnegiae Mellon University Pittsburgh, PA
2 Southern Methodist University Dallas, TX
3 East Carolina University Greenville, NC
4 California State University - Fullerton Fullerton, CA
5 Mercer University Macon, GA
6 North Dakota State University Fargo, ND
7 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
8 Texas Tech University Lubbock, TX
9 West Virginia University Morgantown, WV
10 University of Michigan - Dearborn Dearborn, MI