Best Online Master’s in Software Engineering Programs

Software engineers create blueprints for the computing programs, systems and networks that power our tech-centric world. These professionals play a role in every step of the software development process, from consumer research and initial diagramming to monitoring and evaluating finished products. The role also incorporates elements of other fields, such as computer programming, market analysis and finance.

A master’s in software engineering can prepare you for a leadership role in the cutting-edge tech industry.

A high-quality online master’s degree program in software engineering will prepare students for more advanced roles in this cutting-edge industry by building on the foundational knowledge and skills of undergraduate studies. These programs often allow students to follow specialized learning tracks in areas like software architecture, web design and project management. Online programs allow students to complete their coursework on a flexible timetable and fulfill the requirements of a master’s degree from the comfort of their home computer.

Below, we’ve listed the best online master’s programs in software engineering across the country. Each of these schools is ranked on the merits of its academic strengths, positive student outcomes, learning goals, course offerings and online classroom experience. If you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in software engineering and want to take your education and career to the next level, be sure to take a look at these top-ranked schools.

2016 Online Education Trends Report: Learn how online programs are changing the face of higher education.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description

Harvard University

88.083/597%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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Carnegie Mellon University

72.541/587%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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Stevens Institute of Technology

68.674/578%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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University of Houston-Clear Lake

60.223/540%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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California State University – Fullerton

59.632/551%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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East Carolina University

52.363/558%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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Drexel University

49.515/565%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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Texas Tech University

49.163/562%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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North Dakota State University

46.073/556.08%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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Mercer University

45.824/563%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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Students who graduate from an online, master’s-level software engineering program typically earn more money and find more advancement opportunities than their bachelor’s-holding counterparts. They often enter leadership roles on software development teams, and some eventually go on to accept executive positions. Common professional titles for these graduates include the following roles:

Computer Network Architect – According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, these software engineering professionals specialize in data communication networks of all sizes, from office-based connections to cloud-based platforms. They also work to maintain existing networks through upgrading and quality assurance.

Network and Computer Systems Administrators – These administrators work in conjunction with computer network architects. They install upgrades, analyze user data and bolster security measures in order to optimize and maintain a fully-functioning system.

Database Administrators – Like network/computer systems administrators, database administrators (or DBAs) maintain organized databases of a company’s financial history, shipping records and other sensitive information essential to day-to-day operations. In addition to the private sector, DBAs often work for nonprofit organizations or government agencies at the municipal, state or federal levels.

Information Security Analysts – These specialists work to protect networks and computing systems from data breaches, hacking and other security threats. They also assess damages when computing systems are compromised develop standards to ensure similar issues do not arise in the future.

The following table shows the median annual salaries for each of the four positions listed above, as well as projected growth rates for that career path over the next eight years:

PositionMedian Annual SalaryProjected Growth Rate
Computer Network Architect$98,4309%
Network and Computer Systems Administrators$75,7908%
Database Administrator$80,28011%
Information Security Analyst$88,89018%

Software Engineering Organizations

Below is a list of professional and student organizations that will be useful for software engineering students and recent grads.

IEEE Computer Society – With 60,000 active members, the Computer Society is the largest branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). CS members gain access to workshops and conferences, career counseling and continuing education opportunities.

Association for Computing Machinery – The ACM seeks to bridge the gap between academic research, education and development in the field of technology engineering. With more than 100,000 members, this is the largest computing society in the world.

National Society of Professional Engineers – The NSPE was founded in 1934, and has since established more than 500 local chapters nationwide. The organization strives to bridge the gap between all engineering disciplines to create an inclusive setting for professionals with different skills and career backgrounds.

HSA Foundation – This foundation promotes the concept of heterogeneous system architecture, or a standardized electronic format that all businesses and organizations can utilize. Members receive discounted software programs and applications, as well as invites to conferences and other industry networking events.

National Society of Black Engineers – The NSBE is dedicated to providing educational and professional opportunities for African-Americans in all areas of engineering, especially the rapidly growing field of software engineering. Member benefits for current students include scholarships and grant opportunities, career counseling and invitations to computing conferences and competitions.

Despite the relative affordability of online programs, the need for financial aid is still a reality for most students. But rest assured, loans aren’t your only option. Explore our collection of financial aid resources or dig into one of the following guides to read more about financing your education.
Scholarships for Computer Science Majors

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