Online Degrees in Software Engineering

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Next-Gen Software Design Education

Without software, computers are just pricey paperweights. Software engineers design the programs that allow computer hardware to actually do something useful – from making a video game character jump to helping a plane make a safe landing in a storm. Earning a college degree can help technology-minded individuals break into this in-demand profession – and online programs can make the process more convenient and affordable. Keep reading for an in-depth look at online software engineering degrees and the career paths that may follow.  

Software Engineer’s Milestone Map

Those who earn online software engineering degrees have numerous professional paths available to them. Here’s a sample path that a hardworking software engineer could take.

High School

Takes a computer programming class and advanced math classes

Undergrad Degree

Obtains Bachelor of Science in software engineering

College Internship

Takes summer job at tech startup and learns how mobile apps are developed

Entry-Level Job

Writes computer code under the direction of senior software engineer

Graduate Degree

Obtains online master’s degree in software engineering


Becomes lead software engineer and receives CODiE award

Earning a Software Engineering Degree Online

Those who attend an online software engineering program receive the same quality education as a traditional student, yet have the advantages of distance learning flexibility. Most online software engineering programs are 100 percent online with no need to travel to the school’s campus. The programs are often self-paced, allowing students to complete their degree as quickly or slowly as they choose. This not only offers an ideal, personalized learning environment, but allows the student to continue working in their established job while obtaining the degree.

Fittingly, the educational content in software engineering programs is delivered using innovative and advanced software. Distance learning software programs and suites make it possible for students to receive the same lectures and class materials that their on-campus counterparts get while attending class in person. Students can watch class lectures on their own time table, whether it’s live or in the middle of the night, and they can interact with other students and professors via chat rooms, message boards and video conferencing.

Software Engineering Degree Options

Even though there are several degree options available for those seeking an online software engineering degree, the predominant online degree can be found at the graduate level, either as a master’s degree or certificate. Online software engineering degrees can be found at other levels, but they are relatively rare.

  • Certificate
    (1 year)
  • Associate’s
    (2 years)
  • Bachelor’s
    (4 years)
  • Master’s
    (2 years)
  • Doctorate
    (4+ years)

Most online certificates in software engineering are intended for those who are already working in the field and have software engineering work experience. Most certificate curriculums are for students who already have a bachelor’s degree in software engineering (or a related area), but desire additional knowledge of software engineering concepts.

Each school has its own unique certificate program, but typical certificate programs consist of four to six classes totaling about 10 to 18 credits. In order to get an online software engineering certificate, students will need a strong background in computer programming in modern languages such as C++ or Java. Depending on the certificate program, students may also need a bachelor’s degree with a certain number of computer science or software engineering courses.

Students seeking an associate degree in software engineering need to be willing to attend a traditional, on-campus program, as online associate degrees in engineering are extremely rare. However, there are some related online programs available, such as software technology, information technology or computer technology.

Online software engineering bachelor’s degrees are relatively rare. As is true with most other bachelor’s degrees (both online and traditional), students can complete their online degree in four years; accelerated classes might cut that time down a bit. In addition to software engineering coursework, students can expect general education classes as a part of their curriculum.

The vast majority of online software engineering degrees can be found at the master’s level. A master’s degree is ideal for those who already have an undergraduate degree in software engineering, computer science or a similar program. Most master’s students will also have at least several years of experience in the software engineering industry. By getting their master’s degree, these software engineers will obtain specialized computer engineering instruction and therefore be able to take on more in-depth projects, possibly helping to advance their career.

Taking about two years and usually accumulating to 36 credits, the curriculum for an online master’s software engineering degree consists of classes such as advanced software design concepts, advanced operating systems and database software design. There is also usually opportunity for students to take a few electives to gain additional knowledge in subjects of their choice.

The curriculum is designed to allow students to continue working full-time while completing their degree in two years. However, some programs allow for accelerated coursework, which means students can complete their master’s degree in as little as one year. In addition to traditional coursework, a large number of programs also require students to conduct a software engineering project in order to complete their degree.

Online doctoral degrees in software engineering are rare. Of the doctoral level degrees that are available online, they are in areas related to software engineering, such as computer science with a concentration in software development or computer engineering.

Software Engineering Courses You Are Likely to Take

Even though each school has its own curriculum for students and flexibility in their specific course load, there are commonly found courses in the typical online software engineering program.

Database Design

This class will delve into the process of developing relational databases by incorporating user needs and software and hardware limitations.

Human-Computer Communications

The theoretical concepts and techniques of how humans and computers interact are examined in this class. Students will learn fundamental principles for creating and designing the most efficient computer-human interfaces.

Software Systems

The basic principles and theories of major software architectures and design are studied here. Both scientific and mathematical concepts and how they form the basis of software creation and logic are covered.

Artificial Intelligence

In this class, students learn advanced artificial concepts such as problem solving and algorithms and apply them to real world situations such as voice recognition and natural language comprehension.

Internet Security Protocols

The most recent industry standards as they apply to protection of networked information will be covered in this course. Encryption, firewall and other protection protocols will be discussed.

Choosing an Online School for Software Engineering

There are plenty of online software engineering degree programs to choose from, so narrowing down a list of schools to apply to and attend requires some time and effort. Some of the traditional criteria for choosing a school, such as location, weather and campus facilities, are rather a moot point with distance learning. The below list will provide a few steps to take in deciding where to apply.

  • Confirm your school of choice is accredited.Even though most software engineering programs are not accredited by ABET, at the very least the school itself should have regional or national accreditation.
  • Figure out the admission requirements.Is a certain degree needed for acceptance? If not, do you need a certain amount of work experience or have taken a certain number of computer and programming classes? Is an admissions test required, such as the GRE?
  • Ask to meet with an academic or admissions advisor.Even if you have no questions, it’s still worth the time to speak with an advisor to make sure your understanding of the online software engineering program is correct. Remember, you don’t know what you don’t know.
  • Determine an area of study you’re interested in.Formal specializations aren’t common in online software engineering programs. However, most schools provide opportunities for their software engineering students to take classes or work on projects in specific areas of academic interest. Make sure your school of choice will allow you to take courses in areas you’re interested in.
  • Research the alumni network and career services department.Even if you will already have a job at graduation, a school with a more extensive and well-developed alumni network can provide additional professional opportunities for you.
  • Figure out how you’re going to pay for your degree. Will your employer provide tuition reimbursement assistance? Will you be eligible for financial aid or merit-based scholarships? See what’s available and how much it will defray your cost of attendance.

The High Value of Accreditation

Any degree takes a great deal of effort to complete. One way to make sure this effort is worthwhile is to confirm that the educational institution is accredited. Accreditation ensures that the institution granting the degree meets certain educational standards.

Accreditation usually takes place at the geographic or program level. At the program level, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the preeminent engineering program accrediting body. However, very few online software engineering programs are accredited by ABET. Instead, the schools offering the online degree or certificate in software engineering are more often accredited at the regional or national level.

To determine which regional or national organization has accredited a given software engineering program, check out the US Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Beginning the Enrollment Process: Master’s Degree

The application process can take several months and require many steps. The below chart will discuss what some of these steps are and when you should take them. Because a master’s degree is the most common, we’ve focused on applying to an online master’s degree program.

Time Before Program Start Date
Step 1

Earn a bachelor’s degree in software engineering, computer science or a related field.

5 or more years
Step 2

Gain real world experience by working in the software engineering industry.

1 or more years
Step 3

Take the GRE

About 1 year
Step 4

Complete and submit admission applications

Varies, but usually about 6 to 9 months

Step 5

Finish filling out the FAFSA so that financial aid determinations can be made by the government or school.

About 9 months

Perhaps you know which degree you want and even have that dream school you’re eyeing. How can you make sure you get accepted, or at the very least make sure you give yourself the best chance of getting in?

  • Study hard for the GRE, assuming the schools you’re applying to recommend or require it.
  • Join and get involved in a professional organization such as IEEE and the IAENG Society of Software Engineering.
  • Take computer programming and advanced math classes (like Calculus) in high school.
  • Get a software engineering or computer science bachelor’s degree.
  • Gain real world software engineering experience.
  • Get published in a software or computer engineering oriented publication.

Possible Careers for Software Engineering Students

Those who graduate with a degree in software engineering don’t necessarily have to become a software engineer. The skills and knowledge gained during the degree pursuit lend themselves well to other, related professions. Here are just a few.

Computer Systems Analyst

Computer systems analysts work with organizations, businesses and even government entities to help them work more efficiently with their computer and information systems.

Computer Hardware Engineer

Computer hardware engineers design and develop the physical hardware and ensure it will work with a variety of computer software.

Computer Network Architect

Computer network architects design computer networks using the parameters and instructions provide by their customers.

Computer Programmer

Using the directions from software developers, computer programmers actually write the computer code to create the software.

Database Administrator

Database administrators store, manage, secure and organize data using specialized database software.

Career National Job Growth(2014-2024) National Median Annual Salary (May 2014) Minimum Education
Computer Systems Analyst 21% $82,710 Bachelor’s degree
Computer Hardware Engineer 3% $108,430 Bachelor’s degree
Computer Network Architect 9% $98,430 Bachelor’s degree
Computer Programmer -8% $77,550 Bachelor’s degree
Database Administrator 11% $80,280 Bachelor’s degree

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Software Engineering Certifications

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of certifications available for computer engineers. Some of the certifications are application or programming code specific while others are more general. Below is a list of several of the more widely known certifications.

Technology Degrees in Related Subjects

Getting a software engineering degree or certificate isn’t the only way to work with a computer or software. These degrees might make a great alternative to those who don’t necessarily want to move into software engineering, but do prefer to work in a related field.

Online Data Science Degrees:

Most commonly found at the master’s level, the data science degree takes ideas from many different areas, such as statistics, data mining and computer science. The data science degree teaches students the theories, principles and concepts that allow them to find useful information and compile applicable conclusions from various sources of data.

Online Computer Programming Degrees:

Generally obtained at the undergraduate level, a computer programming degree will teach students the basics of computer coding. Students can expect to learn the fundamental concepts of programming as well as how to code in a variety of programming languages.

Online Web Development Degrees:

Largely studied at the bachelor’s level, a web development degree will allow graduates to learn the ins and outs of creating content for the Internet. From the basics of common programming languages to concepts and ideas for creating the most compelling web content, a web development degree will teach students how to be a part of this growing industry.

Software Engineering Resource List