Best Online Master’s in Software Engineering Programs

Software engineers work with computers, they write the code, design the algorithms, and make sure that programs meet the requirements of businesses and society. Software is used for finance, healthcare, gaming, entertainment, and more. Software engineers are important because many people need someone who can develop, maintain, and fix applications. As technology improves and becomes more sophisticated, the demand for software engineers is going to grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that jobs for software developers will grow by almost 20% from 2014-2024. This will provide many opportunities for graduates with a master’s in software engineering.

Badge (Online) with 2-Line TitleMaster'sin Software Engineering2017
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Most online master’s in software engineering programs are designed for people with an undergraduate degree in computer science, engineering, information technology, or a related field. Some will admit students without a computer degree if they have a programming background. Work experience in the field can help with that, but it’s not usually necessary.


To find the right program, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions. Would you rather attend a tech school, a large public university, or a small liberal arts college? Do you desire a big class and a lot of personal interaction? Would you prefer a part-time program or one that requires a full-time commitment? Do you intend to work while you earn your degree? Your answer to these questions will help determine what you need most out of a program.


One of the advantages of earning a master’s in software engineering online is that it allows you to continue working full time. Many programs are asynchronous, allowing you to complete work on your own schedule. Most programs require you to log on a few times a week. A synchronous program requires you to log on at specific times, and this is commonly done in the evening to provide flexibility.

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Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description
1 Harvard University 88.08 97% 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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2 Carnegie Mellon University 72.54 87% 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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3 Stevens Institute of Technology 68.67 78% 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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4 University of Houston-Clear Lake 60.22 40% 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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5 California State University-Fullerton 59.63 51% 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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6 East Carolina University 52.36 58% 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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7 Drexel University 49.51 65% 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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8 Texas Tech University 49.16 62% 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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9 North Dakota State University-Main Campus 46.07 53% 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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10 Mercer University 45.82 63% 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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Online master’s in software engineering programs are offered in full-time and part-time formats. Some programs focus on a particular area, including software architecture, game systems, entrepreneurship, and health care. Others might combine a master’s in software engineering with an MBA. Students can also find broad programs that cover many aspects of the field.


While programs differ, most have similar curriculums. Whether or not a student has chosen a specialization can affect the curriculum, but the courses listed below are common among many programs.

  • Software Development in C++: C++ is one of the most common programming languages used, and the more fluent programmers are the more effective they’ll be using it to design new applications. This course examines how C++ is used to create the building blocks of software.
  • Web Development: This class explores the use of programming in web design and development. It looks at the way we use the internet and how writing code can shape its future.
  • Software Architecture: Students learn how programs are put together and when to use what type of programming. Software architecture teaches students how to select and use appropriate software design patterns.
  • Web Security and Privacy: This class teaches the latest techniques in cybersecurity. Students learn how to effectively defend themselves and companies from attacks.


The time it takes to earn an online master’s in software engineering differs between programs. Most online master’s in software engineering programs require 36-38 credits, which take about two years for full-time students to earn; part-time students will take about three to four years. Some programs are offered in an accelerated, six or eight-week term, format. Others are asynchronous and individually paced, meaning that students move at their own speed. Cohort-based programs group students into teams that progress through the program at the same pace. Other factors that affect the length of a program are concentrations, double majors, and extra certifications. Course availability is also an issue; some small schools might only offer required courses once a year.

Make sure the program you enroll in accredited by a legitimate credentialing agency. Accreditation ensures that the online master’s in software engineering program meets certain standards and is widely accepted. There are many accrediting organizations at the national and regional levels.

Most of the nation’s better schools are regionally accredited by organizations like the New England Association of Colleges and Schools or the Southern Commission on Colleges and Schools. National organizations, like the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, tend to accredit programs and schools of a certain type, such as vocational or technical schools. It’s common for agencies to accredit specific disciplines as well. The best software master’s programs online are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).

The Department of Education (DOE) provides oversight on accreditation, reviewing and renewing accrediting agencies and providing students with a database of information. The DOE is assisted in this role by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which is a national advocacy organization that represents 3,000 member colleges and universities. The council serves as an accrediting watchdog. CHEA does research, studies issues affecting accreditation, and makes recommendations to the DOE to ensure that accrediting standards are upheld.

A list of accredited schools is available through the DOE and the CHEA.


Software engineers are in demand in fields beyond technology. Graduates are prepared for work in the government, air and space, biomedicine, communications, high finance, mobile computing, and film and TV. Software engineers graduate with project management, critical-thinking, and problem-solving skills, in addition to their programming expertise. This skillset enables some students to start their own business.

1. Software Developer: Software developers write and maintain the applications that are used every day in business and popular culture. Some work for massive conglomerates and Fortune 500 companies.
2. Computer Programmer: Computer programmers make sure applications work with the computers they were designed for. They spend a lot of their time writing code and engineering systems.
3. Computer and Information Research Scientists: Computer and information research scientists find solutions to problems in technology and innovate and create new uses for software and computing.
4. Biomedical Engineer: Biomedical engineers work with technology in a healthcare setting, designing the future of medicine. This career demands innovation. Many graduates help design artificial organs and maintain biomedical equipment.
5. Game Engineer: Workers will spend much of their time developing code bases for video games and development tools. They work in the video game industry with artists and story developers to create the next big game systems.

Median Salary and Growth Rate by Career

Position Median Annual Salary Projected Job Growth (2014-24)
Software Developer $102,280 17%
Computer Programmer $79,840 -8%
Computer and Information Research Scientist $111,840 11%
Biomedical Engineer $85,620 23%
Game Engineer $85,000 N/A

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Licensure and Certification

A master’s degree in software engineering is usually enough for most employers, but certification can lead to higher earnings and more opportunities. Adding a certificate in cybersecurity from (ISC)2 or a software developer master certification from the IEEE Computer Society would enhance the profile of any engineer.

  • Software Developer Master Certification: Sponsored by the IEEE Computer Society, this certificate is proof of the highest level of achievement in software engineering. It requires graduates to pass a 180 minute exam and two three-hour applied coding exams.
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP): The CISSP is becoming the industry standard for cybersecurity certification. The exam tests competency in eight fields, including secure software development.
  • Proprietary Certification: Many of the large tech companies, like Microsoft and Amazon, have certification programs for their own software. Microsoft Technology Associate Developer certification includes software development with mobile applications and gaming.


A 2015 study by Georgetown University has shown that starting salaries for programmers with a master’s degree can be as much as $17,000 higher than those with an undergraduate degree. At that rate, a master’s can pay for itself in no time. Many employers are actively seeking software engineers with graduate diplomas. Graduates have many career opportunities, as software engineers are needed in most industries.


Joining one of the major computer science professional organizations has many benefits, including continuing education, credentialing, networking, and career services. Many organizations host conferences where you can meet and share information with other software engineers, providing many opportunities to grow your knowledge.

Paying for an online master’s in software engineering can be a challenge, but one of the bonuses of a web-based education is that it’s often slightly less expensive than its brick-and-mortar alternative. Students can sometimes earn their degrees faster online and often benefit from in-state tuition, even when they live out of state. The same financial aid, scholarship, and work-study programs that on-campus students enjoy are available to distance learners. By completing the FAFSA form, students will learn about what’s available to them through federal aid and how to obtain the funds. Students in the field of computer science can also find help from many tech companies. Google, Apple, and Xerox offer scholarships to female and minority students.


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 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.


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.


Students who pursue online degrees will be eligible for scholarships, grants and other financial aid that is unavailable to their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Learn more about these financial opportunities for web-based learners.

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