Best Online Master’s in Software Engineering Programs

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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 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

Carnegie Mellon University

 1/588.3%Pittsburgh, PA


Carnegie Mellon is a leader in software engineering education, and the school’s online program is now in its 20th year. CMU offers three online software engineering degrees through their graduate school: a master of software engineering (MSE), a master of science in information technology with a concentration in software engineering (MSIT-SE) and a master of software engineering management (MSIT-SEM). The school also has certificates in Software Engineering, and “Systems and Software Engineering” which is offered jointly with Cornell.

Spanning 16 months, the MSE distance education program consists of three traditional semesters and one intensive summer session, with a focus on studio courses. Distance learners take a variety of classes, including architectures for software systems and managing software development. Students must complete six core courses, three studio courses, and 45 elective credits to graduate. All courses and lectures are streamed from a server, or provided via podcast.

At a distance most students can complete the degree within 3 years by taking 1 or 2 classes a semester. The program runs all year long for the 3 semesters, fall, spring and summer. The MSIT-SE degree caters to early-career professionals. In lieu of an online assignment, the MSIT-SE program allows students to complete their capstone assignment in a practical setting in the field.

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Southern Methodist University

 5/577.02%Dallas, TX


Graduates of SMU’s Master of Science Software Engineering (MSSE) program prepares students for a variety of careers. The curriculum introduces students to the technology behind software systems while also covering managerial issues in the field, such as directing programming teams, scheduling, budgeting, and technical knowledge. Designed to prepare students for the profession, the master’s program requires 30 hours of coursework, including four core classes, three advanced electives, and three graduate-level electives. Core classes cover software testing, quality assurance, software architecture and design, and more.

Applicants to this online software engineering degree program must have a 3.0 GPA or better and a bachelor’s degree in quantitative sciences, mathematics, computer science, or engineering. Additionally, prospective students must have taken at least one year of college-level calculus and one year of software development. Non-native speakers should also have satisfactory TOEFL scores.

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East Carolina University

 2/558.63%Greenville, NC


Debuting in 2008, ECU’s MSSE program is the first of its kind in North Carolina. The curriculum allows students to pursue three concentrations as they complete their degree: software design and development, software project management, and quality assurance and software testing. Students of the online software engineering degree program learn object-oriented design, multiple programming languages, software system architecture, and software project management tools. Distance learners must complete 30 credits to graduate, including two core classes, a thesis or project, four classes in their concentration, and two or three electives.

Applicants should have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, engineering, information systems, or a related discipline. Students with limited technical abilities can be admitted on a case-by-case basis.

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California State University – Fullerton

 2/555.72%Fullerton, CA


Cal State-Fullerton’s Master of Science in Software Engineering (MSE) degree helps students build their technical skills as they prepare for a career in software engineering or management. Cal State-Fullerton has eight overarching learning goals for their students. These include applying software processes to practical situations, developing critical thinking and problem solving skills, and learning to collaborate effectively on group projects. The program spans 22 months.

Qualifying domestic and international students are considered for admission to the online software engineering degree program each fall. Students take two courses per semester, totaling 10 courses or 30 units of instruction. They must also complete a large-scale software project to graduate.

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Mercer University

 5/562.6%Macon, GA


Mercer offers two Master of Science programs in the field for distance learners, in software engineering (MSE) and software systems (MS). Each program teaches students to define, analyze, and solve software problems. In both, students must complete 30 semester hours of coursework, or 24 hours of coursework plus six hours of research for an optional thesis.

The MSE and MS programs allow students to learn several different software engineering skills. As part of the curriculum, they’ll conduct a software development or maintenance project through its entire lifecycle, develop designs using Refactoring, and create innovative designs using Design Patterns. Students will become proficient in Java, C++, or C#, and courses will cover software architecture, enterprise architecture, software testing, and software security.

Software engineering online program applicants must have a 3.0 GPA or better, and must have studied engineering, computer science, or a related field as an undergraduate. They should submit their official GRE test scores, two sets of official transcripts, and two or three letters of recommendation. International students must submit TOEFL scores and meet other related requirements.

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North Dakota State University

 2/556.08%Fargo, ND

NDSU’s software engineering online program caters to working professionals and traditional undergrads alike. In class, students learn how to develop, maintain, and manage software. Innovative courses include:

  • Software Complexity Metrics
  • Introduction to Database Systems
  • Survey of Artificial Intelligence
  • Software Project Planning

To earn a degree, students must complete 12 core courses, totaling 36 credit hours, with a “B” grade or better in each offering. Working professionals may receive credit for their experience, and students may satisfy requirements for any class by passing a comprehensive test of the material at the beginning of term. Students can take up to four courses per semester. A 10-credit online software engineering graduate certificate is also available.

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Drexel University

 5/567.36%Philadelphia, PA

Drexel offers a multidisciplinary Master of Science in software engineering. The university’s focuses on computer science, engineering, and information science and technology are at the forefront of this program, which can be completed online or residentially. The curriculum emphasizes system values, such as human-computer interface and front-end user requirements analysis, to prepare students for senior managerial and executive positions in the field.

Distance learners are required to take six core courses covering essential topics, including software design and the fundamentals of computer hardware. Students can then choose from three different specialization tracks: information science and technology, computer science, and engineering.

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Texas Tech University

 2/559.08%Lubbock, TX

Texas Tech’s MSSE degree is a flexible online program for part-time and full-time students, and it does not have a per semester enrollment requirement. This is convenient for many online software engineering degree students, particularly working professionals who cannot easily adhere to a linearly structured schedule. Students must complete 12 courses, accounting for 36 credit hours. Core courses include software project management and software verification and validation.

Applicants should have a bachelor’s degree in computer science, computer engineering, or a related field. They should also include three letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose as part of their application.

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West Virginia University

 2/557.25%Morgantown, WV

West Virginia’s MSSE program allows students to graduate after just two years of full-time study. Courses are taught synchronously one evening each week; students may also watch lectures asynchronously.

Students can also earn a 15-credit online software engineering graduate certificate while adhering to the same schedule as students in the master’s program. The certificate provides advanced level software engineering training for computer and information technology professionals.

All students pay in-state tuition regardless of residency.

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University of Michigan – Dearborn

 3/550.06%Dearborn, MI

Michigan-Dearborn’s online master’s degree in software engineering is a 30-credit program. The curriculum features five core courses, three application courses, one technical elective, and a final project to be completed under the supervision of a faculty adviser. Students can also opt to take five core courses, three application courses, and to write a thesis on a relevant research topic of their choice.

Application courses come in one of six specializations. These include web engineering, game engineering, data engineering and analytics, information and knowledge engineering, mobile and cloud computing, and embedded systems. Each course offers a number of opportunities for students to design and implement embedded and large software systems.

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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.
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An Overview of Financial Aid

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