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.

What are the best software engineering programs of 2020? Here are our top 10:

Rank School Location
1 Harvard University Cambridge, MA
2 University of Southern California Los Angeles, CA
3 California State University, Fullerton Fullerton, CA
4 Stevens Institute of Technology Hoboken, NJ
5 Brandeis University Waltham, MA
6 University of Houston-Clear Lake Houston, TX
7 Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago, IL
8 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA
9 University of West Florida Pensacola, FL
10 East Carolina University Greenville, NC

2020 Best Accredited Online Master's in Software Engineering Programs

Rank School Location Cost Graduation Rate Description Toggle

Harvard University

Cambridge, MA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 98%

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.


University of Southern California

Los Angeles, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 92%

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.


California State University, Fullerton

Fullerton, CA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 68%

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.


Stevens Institute of Technology

Hoboken, NJ Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 87%

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.


Brandeis University

Waltham, MA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 88%

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.


University of Houston-Clear Lake

Houston, TX Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 54%

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.


Illinois Institute of Technology

Chicago, IL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 72%

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.


Drexel University

Philadelphia, PA Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 74%

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.


University of West Florida

Pensacola, FL Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 43%

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.


East Carolina University

Greenville, NC Cost: $$$$$ Graduation Rate: 65%

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.

Choosing a Program


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.

What Else can I Expect from an Online Master's in Software Engineering Program?

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.

Accreditation for Online Master's in Software Engineering Degrees

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.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Software Engineering Graduates


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.

Financing Your Online Master's in Software Engineering Program

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.