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Today’s Best Software Engineering Master’s Degree Online

Author: Shannon Daigle

Editor: Kristin Marino

Whether you want to dive deep into coding as a software developer or oversee projects as an architecture and engineering manager, an online masters in software engineering can help you stand out from the crowd in an in-demand job market.

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A person sits in a dimly lit room, facing multiple computer monitors displaying graphs, charts, and data. The setup suggests a professional environment, possibly a trading desk or a data analysis workspace. The person appears to be focused on the screens.

As the field of software engineering continues to grow, experienced leaders who can pilot projects and guide teams will be in demand. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the number of jobs for software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers is expected to grow by 25% from 2022 to 2032. This rising demand — along with a median annual salary of $130,160 (as reported by the BLS) — makes now an excellent time to invest in your computer science graduate education.

Earning a software engineering master’s degree online can place you at the head of the pack. Our guide to online masters in software engineering will cover everything you need to know, from the best programs to admissions requirements to the top jobs you can get after graduation.

Diving Into Three Online Software Engineering Programs

With so many schools offering a software engineering master’s degree online, knowing which one to choose can be challenging. To help you get started in your search, we’ve chosen three outstanding schools where you can earn an online masters in software engineering. Each school offers online students a flexible, affordable, and comprehensive online degree in the field. We’ve included details on what you can expect to learn and pay at these top schools.

Eastern Carolina University

Students looking to advance their careers with an online masters in software engineering should consider Eastern Carolina University’s Master of Science in Software Engineering. This master’s program provides a traditional path of study for students with a background in the field and a nontraditional option for students who are new to the field.

Nontraditional students will take two preparatory courses, one in programming and data structures and one in discrete structures and algorithmic functions. All students take the same three core courses to build a strong foundation in software engineering, project management, and testing.

For the remaining degree credits, students can choose from electives in the software engineering and computer science departments. At the end of the program, students can choose between a traditional thesis and a final project.

Program Highlights

  • Credits:30-38
  • Length: Varies
  • Mode: Fully online
  • Resident Cost/Credit: $289.55
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC

Grand Canyon University

The online masters in software engineering at Grand Canyon University offers a comprehensive curriculum. Students in the program take courses that cover the fundamentals of software architecture, design methodologies, software testing, and project management. As a result, they build essential job-ready skills in modern software techniques, financial and legal issues, technical concepts, security, software design, and project management.

Students can choose to specialize in a specific area of study, like data analytics, mobile application development, or artificial intelligence. Classes are available entirely online for student convenience, and most take place in an accelerated, eight-week format.

Students considering this program should have a strong background in programming, math, and algorithmic skills.

Program Highlights

  • Credits: 38
  • Length: Flexible
  • Mode: Fully online
  • Cost/Credit: $575
  • Accreditation: HLC

West Virginia University

At West Virginia University, students seeking an online masters in software engineering can earn a degree in just two years. This 30-credit program provides graduates with essential design, development, and management skills they’ll need to advance in in-demand careers in the field.

Students begin their time in the program by completing five core program courses and choosing five electives that suit their interests and career goals. For maximum convenience, the classes in this 100%-online program are available both synchronously and asynchronously.

Graduates of the program can expect careers in diverse industries as software developers, quality assurance analysts and testers, computer systems engineers and architects, and more.

Program Highlights

  • Credits: 30
  • Length: 24 months
  • Mode: Fully online
  • Cost/Credit: $715
  • Accreditation: HLC

What Classes Will I Take in an Online Software Engineering Master’s Program?

Each school has formulated a unique curriculum for online masters in software engineering students. Most schools require students to take a common core of courses in software engineering techniques and project management before moving on to electives, where they can specialize in specific skill areas. Below, we’ve listed three common core courses.

Software Testing

A crucial part of being a software engineer is ensuring you’ve produced a high-quality product that runs effectively and efficiently. In this class, you’ll gain comprehensive knowledge and skills in software testing methodologies. You’ll learn how to plan and implement requirements-based and code-based software testing. You’ll also cover validation and verification techniques and tools, creating functional test cases, and performing data flow analysis.

Software Project Management

Many software engineering master’s degree online programs include at least one course in project management. These courses cover the process of creating, constructing, and analyzing project plans for developing various types of software products. You’ll learn about project management methodologies and techniques, the process of software development, and how to plan for all stages of the process. You’ll also learn skills for handling essential aspects of software development, like risk management, quality management, and cost control.

Software Design and Architecture

In this course, you’ll learn more about designing and creating effective software. Classes cover best practices in the requirements, analysis, and design of large software systems. You’ll also learn about different architecture design styles and how to apply them to the software you create. Coursework also covers the documentation and evaluation of software architecture and comparing different design methods. Usually, you will be assigned case studies and projects to gain practical experience.

What are Some Specializations in Software Engineering?

Though a general software engineering master’s degree online will take you far, you can also choose a specialization in a particular area of study. This will help you gain advanced knowledge and skills in a particular area of interest, which can give you a head start on your dream career.

Artificial Intelligence

Many schools, including the University of Texas Austin, offer a specialization in artificial intelligence. Specialized coursework in this area covers what you’ll need to become a leader in AI development and innovation in various industries. You’ll dive deep into AI algorithms, uses, and ethical concerns, placing you at the forefront of this developing field. Artificial intelligence specialists often work in medicine, finance, and project management.

Cybersecurity

The best cybersecurity programs combine the foundations of computer engineering principles with additional skills to keep data secure. In this specialization, you’ll learn how to protect computer systems, networks, programs, and data from attacks, unauthorized access, breaches, and theft. You’ll also learn about the latest methods and technology for protecting digital information from hackers and cybercriminals. Brandeis University offers an online master of software engineering with a focus on cybersecurity, which is a blend of computer engineering principles with additional classes to specialize in cybersecurity.

Machine Learning

Machine learning programs hone in on certain aspects of artificial intelligence, like the advanced algorithms and computational methods that drive AI and machine learning technology. With a machine learning focus, you can expect to learn about neural networks, natural language processing, computer vision, deep learning, and robotics. In addition to the technology and programming required for the field, you’ll explore ethical issues and societal impacts of these technologies. George Washington University is one school offering a focus on machine learning.

How Much Does an Online Software Engineering Master’s Cost?

One of the most crucial factors to consider when getting any master’s degree is what you’ll pay to earn it. To help you understand the costs, we’ve put together the table below. Keep in mind that tuition rates are just a starting point, and you may be able to line up financial aid to offset the cost.

School Program No. of Credits Est. Tuition
Drexel University MS in Software Engineering

45

$62,820

Penn State World Campus Master of Software Engineering

36

$36,972

The University of Houston Clear Lake MS in Software Engineering

30-36

$14,210 – $30,230

Tuition and Financial Aid for Software Engineering Students

Financial aid and resources for computer science and engineering students can take many forms. For example, many national organizations and schools award scholarships and fellowships. Graduate students may also be eligible for work study or tuition assistance from their current employers.

What Can You Do with a Software Engineering Masters?

With so many online master’s programs available, from computer science to information technology, you might be wondering what you can do with a software engineering master’s. An advanced degree will qualify you for leadership roles in software and tech and help you stand out from the crowd for developer jobs. You could even work as a teacher at the secondary or postsecondary level. Let’s look at some of the fastest-growing and highest-paying jobs for graduates of online masters in software engineering programs.

Architectural and Engineering Managers

Architectural and engineering managers are responsible for planning, directing, and coordinating activities or research and development in their respective fields. They fulfill senior-level roles within their organization, overseeing the coordination and implementation of project activities. They might review and approve project designs, consult with clients, prepare budgets, or present proposals. This is an ideal career for those with an advanced degree, as the majority of employers prefer candidates with a master’s.

Architectural and Engineering Managers: Career Outlook

Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile Projected Growth
(2022-32)
Top Industry
$165,370 $233,590 4% Professional, Scientific, and
Technical Services; Manufacturing

Median Annual Pay
$165,370
90th Percentile
$233,590
Projected Growth (2022-32)
4%
Top Industry
Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services; Manufacturing

Source: O*Net OnLine, 2023

Software Developers

Software developers make up a large share of the growing job market for graduates of online software engineering master’s programs. They’re responsible for researching, designing, and developing computer and network software and specialized programs. They need strong analysis, coding, and problem-solving skills. Software developers may also work alongside computer hardware engineers to integrate hardware and software systems and develop performance requirements. Additionally, software developers often maintain data systems individually or as part of a team.

Software Developers: Career Outlook

Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile Projected Growth
(2022-32)
Top Industry
$130,160 $208,620 25% Professional, Scientific, and
Technical Services; Information

Median Annual Pay
$130,160
90th Percentile
$208,620
Projected Growth (2022-32)
25%
Top Industry
Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services; Information

Source: O*Net OnLine, 2023

Aerospace Engineers

Aerospace engineers are responsible for designing, constructing, and testing aircraft, missiles, and spacecraft. In this position, engineers may conduct research or recommend improvements to equipment testing and techniques. Those with a software engineering master’s degree may formulate mathematical or computer analysis models that help develop, evaluate, or modify designs. They might also be responsible for resolving technical problems with aircraft or aerospace vehicles. Aerospace engineers typically work with significant aerospace manufacturing companies or the government.

Aerospace Engineers: Career Outlook

Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile Projected Growth (2022-32) Top Industry
$130,720 $188,910 6% Manufacturing; Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services

Median Annual Pay
$130,720
90th Percentile
$188,910
Projected Growth (2022-32)
6%
Top Industry
Manufacturing; Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services

Source: O*Net OnLine, 2023

Computer Systems Analysts

Computer systems analysts are top-notch problem solvers who analyze business, engineering, and science data processing problems and devise creative and effective solutions. Some of these problems might be complex application problems, system administration obstacles, or network concerns. Computer systems analysts work to improve and evaluate computer systems and their capabilities and troubleshoot any problems that may arise. They might also use their skills to analyze and solve business problems related to production, inventory, and cost analysis.

Computer Systems Analysts: Career Outlook

Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile Projected Growth
(2022-32)
Top Industry
$103,800 $165,700 10% Professional, Scientific, and
Technical Services; Finance and Insurance

Median Annual Pay
$103,800
90th Percentile
$165,700
Projected Growth (2022-32)
10%
Top Industry
Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services; Finance and Insurance

Source: O*Net OnLine, 2023

Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers

Software quality assurance analysts and testers design and implement software tests to ensure software is working properly and identify problems with the software. They also evaluate software usability and functionality, identifying potential user problems. Software quality assurance analysts and testers create test plans, scenarios, and standard operating procedures for performing the test. They evaluate the results and document issues and may provide feedback or recommend solutions to software or web developers.

Software Quality Assurance Analysts and Testers: Career Outlook

Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile Projected Growth
(2022-32)
Top Industry
$101,800 $159,740 25% Professional, Scientific, and
Technical Services; Information

Median Annual Pay
$101,800
90th Percentile
$159,740
Projected Growth (2022-32)
25%
Top Industry
Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services; Information

Source: O*Net OnLine, 2023

Software Engineering Master’s Degree FAQs

What are the admissions requirements for an online master’s in software engineering?

Getting into grad school for software engineering may look different at each school. It also often depends on whether the student has a strong background in software engineering before applying to a master’s program. Always check with the individual school to verify that you qualify for the individual program and fulfill any prerequisite requirements. In general, you’ll need to provide the following:

  • Proof of an ABET-accredited bachelor’s degree in software engineering or a related field or equivalent professional experience.
  • Prerequisite coursework in calculus, statistics, computer architecture, and operating systems.
  • Strong math and coding skills.
  • Official academic transcripts.
  • GRE scores.
  • Letters of recommendation.
  • Personal statement.
  • Completed application and associated fees.

How long does it take to earn an online master’s degree in software engineering?

Most programs take two to four years to complete. A full-time course load will get you to graduation day quicker, while part-time study means you’ll be in school longer. Additionally, students without previous education or experience in software engineering can expect to spend extra time earning a degree. That’s because they’ll need to fulfill math and computer engineering prerequisites before diving into core program coursework. In total, expect to earn 30-48 credits to graduate with your online masters in software engineering.

Is there a benefit to earning a master’s degree in software engineering online instead of in person?

Earning your master’s in software engineering online has many advantages. Overall, earning an online degree is more cost-effective than attending school in person. Plus, you can consider outstanding schools you might not have been able to travel to for on-campus study. For future software engineers, earning a degree online also gives you the advantage of gaining experience working with remote teams, which is common for many jobs in the field.

Do I need to learn coding or computer programming to study software engineering?

Coding is a core competency that software engineers use daily and a requirement for enrolling in a software engineering master’s program. If you’re not already able to write code, you’ll need to learn through official courses or on-the-job learning. Some common computer coding languages that software engineers might need to know are C#, C++, Javascript, and Python.

Will I be accepted into a software engineering master’s program without a computer science (CS) or related undergrad?

This varies by school and program. Programs for students without a bachelor’s in the field, like the one offered by West Virginia University, admit professionals from other fields as long as they complete prerequisite courses. Other programs will accept proof of work experience as sufficient background in the field. Regardless of admission requirements, all software engineering master’s programs will expect you to have a working knowledge of advanced math and code, so be prepared to take additional courses in those areas as needed.