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. 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 Location Description
1 Harvard University 88.08 3/5 Cambridge, MA

Harvard's master's of liberal arts in software engineering degree is designed for students with a background in programming and discrete mathematics. This online software engineering master's program offers the options of a thesis track, which requires nine courses and an independent thesis, or a capstone track, which requires 11 courses and a team capstone project. Students are required to take at least one class on the Harvard campus; on-campus term lengths range from three weeks to a full semester.

For those interested in focusing their degree, students can take electives to earn a graduate certificate in data science, web technologies, or cybersecurity. Applications are accepted in the fall, spring, and summer terms. To apply, prospective students must complete three admission courses with a grade of B or higher and pass an online test of critical reading and writing skills. To graduate, students must maintain a 3.0 GPA and complete their degree requirements within five years.

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2 Carnegie Mellon University 72.54 4/5 Pittsburgh, PA

Located in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon offers a master's of software engineering degree. This online master's degree in software engineering can be completed as a full-time student in 16 months, or as a part-time student on a flexible, multi-year plan. For full-time students, the program begins in the fall semester and concludes the following year in December, for a total of three semesters and one intensive summer session. The degree is designed for practicing software developers who have at least two years of professional experience.

Students work in teams on real-world projects for industry clients like Google, Intel, and General Motors. For those interested in pursuing more in-depth study in a particular area, students can design a maximum of two independent study courses, which fulfill a portion of the elective requirements. Students also complete units in core, project, and communication courses. At this time, residents of Alabama, Arkansas, and Minnesota are not eligible for enrollment in this online program.

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3 Stevens Institute of Technology 66.53 4/5 Hoboken, NJ

SIT's master’s in software engineering, delivered through its School of Systems and Enterprises (SSE), offers two tracks: an advanced program for students with computer technology knowledge, or a bridge program for students with little computing background. The advanced program requires students to complete eight courses and two electives, while the bridge program requires students to complete 10 courses, a summer bridge program, a recommended second summer internship, and a part-time option for the final two courses. Liberal arts graduates with a strong academic record who apply for this program are eligible for the $5,000 per semester scholarship grant SIT provides through its partnership with the National Science Foundation.

The program's curriculum, delivered through the Canvas Learning Management System (LMS), focuses on real-world problems and is taught by faculty with substantial industry experience. Top hiring firms for this master's in software engineering online degree include AT&T, Cisco, Lockheed Martin, and Verizon. Applicants to full-time graduate programs in SIT's SSE are required to submit minimum GRE scores. Students have six years to complete their degree.

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4 University of Houston-Clear Lake 60.22 3/5 Houston, TX

UHCL's master's of science in software engineering program was one of the first software engineering programs founded in the U.S., and the university has been awarding degrees in the subject for over 20 years. In this master's in software engineering, students must fulfill the same program requirements and pay the same tuition whether they complete the program on campus or online through the Blackboard LMS. Online student resources include academic advising, career services, counseling, as well as student success centers.

The degree requires students to complete 36 credits; online software engineering master's students are required to complete a three-credit capstone project along with 15 credits of core requirements and 18 elective credits. Once accepted to the program, students must file a candidate plan of enrollment in the first semester that indicates the courses they plan to take. Students from the District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, and Wisconsin are not currently eligible to take online programs at UHCL.

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5 California State University-Fullerton 59.63 2/5 Fullerton, CA

Designed for software industry professionals, CSU-Fullerton's online master's of science in software engineering is a cohort-based program that students generally finish in 22 months of year-round classes, taking two courses each semester. The program requires students to complete a total of 10 courses, or 30 credits, including a capstone project. Additional requirements include an orientation seminar and a midpoint symposium; students who cannot attend these events in person can participate online. Courses are delivered through TITANium, which is a Moodle platform.

This software engineering online master's program admits new students only in the fall. Applicants with a bachelor’s degree in computer science should have a minimum GPA of 2.5. Prospective students with one year of experience working in the industry may be considered even without a bachelor’s in the field, though they should have an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0. Support for distance learners includes learning tools and presentations on a variety of topics such as time management and communication skills.

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6 East Carolina University 52.36 3/5 Greenville, NC

Located in Greenville, North Carolina, ECU offers a master's of science in software engineering (MSSE) degree both online and on campus. The program provides a shared experience between online and on-campus students, incorporating the strengths of both populations. Students choose from three concentrations: software design and development, software project management and quality assurance, or software testing. Concentration courses comprise 12 of the 30 credits students must complete to earn their degree.

MSSE applications are considered for fall, spring, or summer terms. While minimum GRE or MAT scores are required of most applicants, those with over 10 years of experience in the field may have this requirement waived. Online courses are generally taught using an LMS like Blackboard or Centra. Student resources include a career center, online library, and an online writing lab. Elective options in this master's in software engineering online include courses such as developing e-commerce systems and artificial intelligence.

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7 Texas Tech University 49.87 3/5 Lubbock, TX

TTU's online master's of science in software engineering allows students to begin the program at any time during the year and does not require students to take a certain number of courses each term. In addition to three letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose, applicants are required to submit GRE scores. Students who do not have a bachelor’s degree in computer science or its equivalent may be required to take additional courses.

TTU online courses are asynchronous and use the Blackboard LMS. For any technical issues, students have access to a 24/7 phone and online chat help desk. The master's in software engineering online program does not require a thesis, but students must complete 12 courses, or 36 credits, and pass a written exam in order to graduate. With only three core courses, students choose nine electives from a variety of software engineering and computer science courses.

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8 North Dakota State University-Main Campus 48.21 3/5 Fargo, ND

NDSU's main campus is located in Fargo, but students in the online master's of software engineering are never required to visit the campus; however, they are invited to participate in commencement ceremonies. To graduate, students must complete 36 credits and earn either an A or B in all courses. Students can finish their software engineering online master's degree in either one, two, or five years. If students start a course and feel they already know the material, they can take an exam in the first four weeks of the semester to fulfill the course requirements.

Educational resources for online students include the school's Advising Resource Center, which responds to student inquiries within 24 hours (Monday through Friday), and the NDSU library. The library’s online services include databases, live chat with the reference desk, and subject librarians for many areas, including the field of systems and emerging technologies.

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9 Drexel University 48.08 5/5 Philadelphia, PA

Drexel has delivered online programs since 1996 and provides online students access to the university's library, writing center, career center, and 24/7 tech support. The school's master's of science in software engineering has two track options: computer science or information science and technology. Each track requires 45 quarter credits, which is equivalent to 30 semester credits. Drexel's academic year is divided into four 10-week quarters, allowing students to take more courses in a shorter amount of time. Of the required quarter credits in this program, 18 are in core courses and 27 credits are focused in the specific tracks.

Applicants to this online software engineering master's are required to have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 for the last two years of undergraduate work. If applicants have less than a 3.0 GPA overall, they will need to submit scores from the General Aptitude Test of the GRE. Students from Wisconsin are not currently eligible to enroll in this online program.

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10 Mercer University 47.25 4/5 Macon, GA

Taught by the same faculty that instructs students in the traditional classrooms at Mercer, students in the school's online master's of science in software engineering focus on techniques for defining, analyzing, and solving complex problems. Applicants to the program are expected to have an undergraduate degree in engineering and the ability to perform multimodule programming in a modern high-order language. Students who submit all application materials by the priority application deadline receive an admission decision within two weeks.

Located in Macon, Georgia, Mercer's School of Engineering celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2010 and enrolls approximately 700 students annually. A few of the top 20 companies that hire Mercer engineering graduates include Lucent Technologies, Boeing, and Gulfstream Aerospace. This online master's in software engineering degree is 100% online and classes are asynchronous. To graduate, students must complete 30 credits and can choose to complete a thesis, which requires both a research project and a written component.

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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