Best Online Master’s in Software Engineering Programs

Learn what you can do with an online master's in software engineering and where this degree can take you.

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Published on March 15, 2022 · Updated on July 6, 2022

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Earning a master's in software engineering provides graduates with the skills, knowledge, and credentials needed to compete for high-level managerial roles. Program costs vary based on where a student attends, with public schools charging an average of $9,000 during the 2021-22 academic year and private colleges charging an average of $29,670.

Most students complete a master's in software engineering within two years. Some may graduate in as little as 15 months. Part-time learners might need up to three years.

Growth projections are strong for software engineering professionals. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects jobs for software developers to grow by 22% from 2020-2030. These professionals also earn above-average wages, with the median annual salary being $110,140.

When looking at top online schools and deciding whether to go to graduate school, students tend to have many questions. Read on to get answers about common courses, available jobs, and the admission process.

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Software Engineering Program?

Those considering online master's degrees in software engineering usually have some relevant experience. Candidates for this degree typically enjoy creative problem-solving, designing with innovation in mind, keeping up with the latest tech trends, and working in team environments.

In addition to generalist coursework, many schools now offer a variety of concentrations to help students build knowledge in specific discipline areas. Concentration offerings vary among schools, but common ones include:

Most programs entail 30-40 credits and require two years of full-time study or three years of part-time study. Some accelerated degrees allow learners to graduate in as little as 15 months.

When preparing for graduate school, learners should make sure they understand their prospective degree's requirements. Those who majored in a different subject for their bachelor's may have to participate in an internship to gain relevant hands-on experience. Programs for students interested in research or academia commonly mandate a thesis as well.

Still Looking for the Right Fit? Discover Similar Programs.

Popular Online Software Engineering Programs

Learn about start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.

What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Software Engineering Program?

Software Systems Engineering

Taken in the first semester, this course provides an introduction to software design and development. The class emphasizes design methodologies, implementation approaches, and modeling techniques.

Software Engineering Processes

This course examines emerging processes within software engineering. Covered topics may include the software development life cycle, service-oriented architectures, database access technologies, planned and agile development processes, and mobile-based event programming.

Software Quality Assurance and Testing

Designed for use in the validation process, this course looks at the criteria and methods for software unit testing and integration, function and system performance measurements, and common modes of reliability evaluation.

Software Security Technologies

This course serves software engineers who build apps that require data sensitivity and protection. The class explores the tools and methods available for developing secure, centralized technologies able to withstand cyber attacks.

Cost Estimation and Measurement

This course looks at the metrics needed to help developers and managers create scope-of-work guidelines, account for potential risks and setbacks, and develop estimates and budgets that work with client needs.

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What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Software Engineering Program?

Graduate admission guides vary substantially among programs. Still, most online and on-campus admissions departments look for similar signals from applicants. They seek candidates who possess STEM-related bachelor's degrees. Competitive programs may also ask for programming examples or for candidates to participate in an interview.

Application

College application systems typically accept both online and mailed applications. Most applications for master's in software engineering degrees ask for basic information such as the applicant's full name, mailing address, date of birth, and citizenship status.

Test Scores

Many graduate-level programs have stopped requiring standardized test scores, especially for students with high undergraduate GPAs or significant relevant experience. Still, some expect applicants to provide GRE scores. In this case, learners should leave plenty of time for GRE prep.

Letters of Recommendation

Most master's in software engineering programs ask for 2-3 recommendation letters from individuals who can speak to candidates' preparedness for graduate-level study. Mentors such as professors, supervisors, volunteer overseers, and faith leaders can write letters of recommendation.

Resume and Work Experiences

Work experience requirements can vary among programs. At Carnegie Mellon University, admitted students for the master's in software engineering program showed an average of four years of software engineering experience. When creating a college application resume, students should make sure they understand each program's expectations.

Essays

When writing a graduate school essay, applicants should try to stand out from other candidates by saying something memorable. In addition to highlighting life and professional experiences, applicants should discuss why they want to earn a master's in software engineering, how they plan to use the degree, and why they want to attend this particular program.

Official Transcripts

Official transcripts serve several purposes. They signal to admission officers whether a candidate meets undergraduate prerequisite requirements. Transcripts also help admission officers verify a candidate's GPA. For transfer students, transcripts can show which credits may transfer over to the new program.

What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Software Engineering Degree?

Career Outlook

An online master's in software engineering can lead to six-figure salaries and job security. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers to grow by a faster-than-average 22% from 2020-2030. This growth will create nearly 410,000 new positions by the end of the decade.

Graduates can also earn above-average salaries. For example, software developers earned a median annual salary of $110,140 as of May 2020.

This degree appeals to students seeking flexibility and variety. Software engineers work in a variety of industries, so graduates have many options when it comes to where they work.

See where a master's in software engineering degree can take you. Learn more about software engineering careers.

Career Paths

Software Developers, Quality Assurance Analysts, and Testers

Also known as software engineers, software developers create desktop and mobile applications used by millions of companies and individuals alike.These professionals design software around user and client needs. They may also test beta versions to make adjustments and provide updates to keep apps responsive and usable.

Quality assurance analysts and testers focus more on testing, troubleshooting, and problem-solving. These professionals specialize in the software development lifecycle phase of testing.

Median Annual Salary: $110,140

Computer and Information Research Scientists

Computer and information research scientists look for ways to use new and existing technologies to meet their clients' needs. These professionals examine problems facing companies or individuals and devise solutions. They also work to develop new programming languages and software systems.

Median Annual Salary: $126,830

Computer and Information Systems Manager

Requiring approximately five years of related experience, computer and information systems managers oversee their companies' IT systems. These professionals oversee other IT staff, manage security protocols, and ensure their companies meet all state and federal regulatory requirements and laws.

Median Annual Salary: $151,150

Computer Network Architects

These professionals build both local area and wide area networks, along with intranets. Whether working in house or in consulting roles, computer network architects design the layouts for data communication networks, install the required hardware and software, and teach users to navigate the new systems.

Median Annual Salary: $116,780

Computer Systems Analysts

Also known as systems architects, these solution-oriented professionals identify ways to improve existing systems and networks. They stay up to date on emerging technologies and make recommendations of improvements for functionality, security, and usability. They also conduct regular testing to ensure new hardware and software work efficiently.

Median Annual Salary: $93,730

Software Engineering Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

Doctorates in software engineering are less common and typically not required for research and/or academic positions. Both colleges and professional associations offer a variety of postgraduate certificates. These certificates help software engineers keep their knowledge up to date and learn about niche areas of the discipline.

Boston University provides an array of graduate certificates. Coursera offers a MasterTrack software engineering certificate from Arizona State University.

How Do I Choose an Online Master's in Software Engineering Program?

Cost

Cost is a significant deciding factor for a master's in software engineering. Students should make sure they understand the true program cost of any potential program. They should also compare the cost of online programs to on-campus programs.

Program Format

Online master's in software engineering programs commonly offer both part-time and full-time options. Some also offer accelerated pathways for motivated learners. Prospective students should also consider whether synchronous or asynchronous formats work best with their learning styles.

Location

Online master's in software engineering programs commonly offer both part-time and full-time options. Some also offer accelerated pathways for motivated learners. Prospective students should also consider whether synchronous or asynchronous formats work best with their learning styles.

Accreditation

In addition to understanding online college accreditation, students should look for a master's in software engineering with programmatic accreditation. ABET accredits software engineering programs.

Student Support

Student services offerings can make a huge difference in a learner's experience. Top-tier programs often offer college mentorship opportunities and help students find great internships. Distance learners should make sure to ask about support services for online learners.

Best Accredited Online Master's in Software Engineering Program

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Best Online Master's in Software Engineering Programs

  1. Harvard University
    Location

    Cambridge, MA

    Tuition

    $17590

    Harvard's master's in software engineering program allows online learners from all over the world to learn in-demand skills. The 48-credit curriculum includes coursework in theoretical foundations, cloud computing, and software design. Students choose between thesis and non-thesis tracks.

    Degree-seekers can prepare for a new career or pursue professional advancement by earning a certificate in backend web development, cybersecurity, or data science. Harvard supports distance learners by offering free workshops, advising, and interviewing guides.

    The admissions process for this program requires prospective students to pass two introductory courses with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Applicants must also take a critical reading and writing skills test.

  2. University of Southern California
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $36161

    USC's master's in software engineering program features a 32-credit curriculum with courses in analysis of algorithms, software architecture, and web technologies. Students can personalize the curriculum through electives. The program concludes with a research colloquium and a directed research project.

    Over 70% of USC's engineering alumni start a job soon after graduation. Students can research lucrative job openings, access informational videos, and receive cover letter critiques through USC's career center.

    This program admits new students in the spring, summer, and fall semesters. Admission requirements include a bachelor's in computer science and GRE scores. All students pay the same tuition and fees. Low-income applicants may qualify for institutional grants.

  3. California State University, Fullerton
    Location

    Fullerton, CA

    Tuition

    $8274

    Professionals who already work in the computer science field may be interested in earning CSUF's online master's degree in software engineering to increase their earning potential. Students analyze software standards, advanced software processes, and ethical and legal issues. Full-time learners can graduate in 22 months.

    CSUF's College of Engineering and Computer Science oversees its own career center, which offers advising appointments and internship opportunities.

    CSUF admits new software engineering students in the fall. Prospective students who do not hold a bachelor's in computer science but have relevant work experience may apply. California residents receive a significant tuition discount.

  4. Stevens Institute of Technology
    Location

    Hoboken, NJ

    Tuition

    $39862

    Stevens oversees an online master's in software engineering program that prepares learners to work as software developers, testing engineers, and requirements engineers. The curriculum stresses agile methods for software development, software architecture, and cost estimation and measurement. Additional requirements include a software engineering studio course, which serves as a capstone.

    The vast majority of program alumni experience a positive career outcome and earn an above-average starting salary within six months of graduating. Students can prepare for life after graduation by accessing virtual career resources, including one-on-one counseling sessions hosted through Zoom.

    Admission requirements include two recommendation letters, undergraduate transcripts, and GRE scores. All software engineering students pay the same semester-based tuition rate. Financial aid options include federal grants, an employer reimbursement program, and a monthly payment plan.

  5. Brandeis University
    Location

    Waltham, MA

    Tuition

    $39735

    Part-time students can enroll in Brandeis' master's in software engineering program. The 30-credit curriculum features core courses in object-orientated design with UML, software engineering studio, and expert software development in Java. Students personalize 40% of their credits by selecting electives.

    Recent software engineering graduates have gone on to work at companies like Bose Corporation, Phillips, and General Dynamics. Students can find potential employers by taking advantage of the school's alumni network, Handshake software, and virtual counseling appointments.

    Prospective students should have relevant work experience or an undergraduate degree in computer science or a related field. Brandeis does not charge out-of-state tuition rates. Financial aid opportunities include federal and private loans and employer reimbursement.

  6. University of Houston-Clear Lake
    Location

    Houston, TX

    Tuition

    $10664

    UHCL's online master's in software engineering program awards an MS and features four concentrations: gaming, robotics software, software project management, and software development. Core courses include software architecture, reuse and reengineering, and

    requirements engineering. Full-time learners who take three courses per semester can graduate in 15 months.

    UHCL's resources for students and alumni include career counseling, mock interviews, and virtual networking events. Learners can also access Jobs4Hawks — UHCL's private job board.

    Applicants with a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA do not need to submit GRE scores. Additional requirements include prerequisite courses in C++ and Java. UHCL admits students without professional experience. Texas residents receive a significant tuition discount.

  7. Illinois Institute of Technology
    Location

    Chicago, IL

    Tuition

    $25814

    Students at IIT can specialize in software engineering while earning an online master of computer science degree. After completing the core curriculum, students select four electives from seven options, including the science of programming, software metrics, and software testing and analysis.

    More than 85% of IIT alumni find a job or enter a graduate program within six months of earning a degree. Career advisors help students and alumni achieve positive career outcomes by providing them with internship opportunities and an informational blog.

    Applicants do not need a computer science bachelor's degree or professional experience. Admission requirements include a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA, two recommendation letters, and a personal statement. All students pay the same per-credit tuition rate, regardless of residency.

  8. Drexel University
    Location

    Philadelphia, PA

    Tuition

    $36727

    Drexel's online MS in software engineering program follows a quarter system and features 10-week courses. The curriculum includes core and breadth courses, with classes like network security, human-computer interaction, and information visualization. The 45-credit degree does not require a thesis or capstone.

    At Drexel's career development center, current students and alumni can receive career counseling and explore postgraduate opportunities. These resources help nearly 90% of Drexel alumni find employment within 12 months of graduating.

    Applicants without a bachelor's degree in computer science can apply. Application materials include GRE scores, a 500-word personal essay, and one recommendation letter. Active-duty military members receive an automatic 40% tuition discount. Online software engineering students may also qualify for institutional financial aid.

  9. University of West Florida
    Location

    Pensacola, FL

    Tuition

    $9091

    UWF's master's in software engineering program features an entirely online curriculum with coursework in advanced algorithms, parallel and distributed programming, and continuous software engineering. Students customize their degree by selecting two electives from multiple options. The program concludes with a thesis or an advanced project.

    Approximately 25% of UWF students accept a job offer before graduation day. UWF provides students with job search strategies, internship opportunities, and resume guides.

    Admission requirements include a minimum 3.0 undergraduate GPA and GRE scores. UWF prefers applicants with work experience. The university admits some applicants without a computer science background, although these individuals must complete three additional courses. Students with financial need can apply for a UWF Graduate Grant.

  10. East Carolina University
    Location

    Greenville, NC

    Tuition

    $13746

    Prospective students who want a software engineering education that stresses computer science fundamentals may be interested in ECU's online master's degree in software engineering. The 30-credit curriculum includes core coursework in software engineering foundations, software project management, and the foundations of software testing. Students without a relevant bachelor's degree must complete eight additional credits.

    ECU offers online workshops that cover transitioning from college to a career. Students can also read guides that provide advice regarding resumes, networking, and interviewing.

    Applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and submit GRE scores. North Carolina residents receive a tuition discount. Incoming students can speak with an advisor to explore institutional and private financial aid opportunities.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Software Engineering Programs

Is a master's in software engineering worth it?

Yes, for many students. Learners should first decide whether an online degree meets their needs. They must then consider earning potential. According to Payscale, software engineers with bachelor's degrees earned an average salary of $84,000 as of March 2022. Those with master's degrees earned $111,000 on average.A master's in software engineering also allows graduates to move up the career ladder and take on more senior-level management positions.

What can I do with a master's in software engineering?

A master's in software engineering makes sense for students who want a versatile, transferable degree. Because so many individuals, companies, and even governmental agencies rely on software, professional options abound.

Some graduates work in house as software developers. Others pursue freelance or consulting roles, which allow them to build their portfolios and work with a variety of clients. Graduates can decide what type of software they want to engineer. Some may focus on those that help paralegals, for example, while others may want to design games.

Are software engineering graduates in demand?

In short, yes. The BLS projects jobs for software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers to grow by 22% from 2020-2030. In addition to the more than 1.8 million existing roles, the BLS forecasts that an additional 410,000 jobs will add to the workforce.

How much money can I make with a master's in software engineering?

A master's in software engineering can easily lead to above-average earning potential. As of May 2020, software developers earned a median annual salary of $110,140. Those in the top 10% of earners earned more than $170,100.Software engineers working for software publishers typically earned the highest wages at $124,050. Those in manufacturing and management of companies and enterprises earned $119,280 and $109,840, respectively. Meanwhile, those working for insurance carriers and in related activities netted the lowest median salary at $102,380.

What are the highest paying jobs with a master's in software engineering?

After gaining a few years of experience, some software developers want to take on more responsibilities and earn higher salaries. Computer and information research scientists earn a median annual salary of $126,830.

Software engineers with at least five years of professional experience may pursue work as computer and information systems managers. These senior-level professionals earned a median annual salary of $151,150 as of May 2020. The top 10% of earners made more than $208,000.

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