Online Master's Programs in Software Engineering

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Updated on: 01/07/2018

The tech-driven field of software engineering represents an intersection of computer science and programming, mathematics, and engineering. According to PayScale, some of the most common occupations related to this field earn salaries that are considered above average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also notes that jobs for computer and information technology occupations are expected to grow 13 percent between 2016 and 2026, which is faster than average. These statistics indicate high demand for software engineering professionals, and many advance within their profession with an online master's degree.

This guide to online master's in software engineering programs includes helpful statistics and detailed descriptions of expected college courses, as well as financial aid resources for students. You will also find job descriptions, salaries, links to professional organizations, and other career-oriented materials.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Software Engineering Program?

A master's in software engineering online program is suitable for those who have earned a bachelor's degree in this field, as well as tech professionals who have studied related fields such as computer science or computer programming. Most programs have a curriculum that incorporates different elements of software design, testing, and maintenance. Courses may also cover business administration and project management, both of which are useful for those seeking leadership roles.

According to U.S. News & World Report, most online master's in software engineering programs cover 30 to 38 total credits. The majority of these options are two-year programs, but some institutions offer accelerated pathways that can be completed in less time. Online master's in software engineering courses closely mirror brick-and-mortar courses in this field, and program requirements are typically the same for on- and off-campus software engineering master's students.

What common courses are offered in a master’s in software engineering program?

While each master's in software engineering online program will offer a unique curriculum, most pathways touch on the same general elements in their courses. The sample curriculum listed below represents the coursework found in most online software engineering master's programs.

Applied Human Computer Interaction

The relationship between operators and machines is crucial to software engineering. This course tackles the most common theories, concepts, and techniques used to design and evaluate different computing interfaces.

Software Architecture

The cutting-edge subfield of software architecture explores the building principles used to create software programs. This introductory course covers foundational skills and knowledge, including architectural styles, modeling and analysis techniques, and the architectural differences between different types of software projects. Case studies are reviewed throughout the course.

Information Assurance and Security

Security is highly important in software engineering and other computing fields due to the rise of cybercriminals, as well as the potential loss of sensitive data due to glitches and malfunctions. This course provides an overview of all major threats to software programs – both man-made and technical – and the best-practice solutions for neutralizing these threats.

Software Project Management

Courses in project management demonstrates the most effective ways to provide leadership during both short- and long-term project work. These include methods related to budgeting, delegating responsibility to team members, and completing project steps within a predetermined timeline This course discusses effective ways to analyze and design project plans within the software engineering field, as well as manage change and control expenses.

Software Engineering Economics

This course bridges technology and financial management, emphasizing how economic principles apply to the software engineering and IT fields. The curriculum covers topics such as product and service evaluation, emerging technology, and strategies for working with different vendors. Return on investment, time-related costs, depreciation, and other key topics in economics will also be discussed.

What exams or projects should I expect?

Online master's in software engineering programs often culminate in a final project known as a capstone. Depending on the school, the capstone may be assigned to individual students or small groups. In either case, the project is usually includes the development, implementation, and evaluation of a software program.

The capstone project typically takes place in the latter stages of the master's program, giving students the chance to draw on the design and assessment skills they have gained over the course of their studies. Although the credit length varies by institution, most capstones in online software engineering programs cover two to six credits.

What electives are available in a master’s in software engineering program?

In addition to core courses, online master's in software engineering programs often include elective course components. Examples of electives for software engineering students include the following:

Open Source Software Engineering

Open source software – which refers to publicly accessible programs that multiple users can share and modify – is critical to software engineers working today. This foundational course covers tools, techniques, and popular theories in open source software. Project management and evaluation, business modeling, and engineering are also discussed, and students will have the opportunity to create and edit different open source projects.

Software Engineering Principles and Concepts

'Special topics' courses tackle specific subjects related to broader fields, giving students the chance to explore areas of interest that are relevant to their career goals. This special topics course delves into niche areas of software engineering, such as memory systems, robotics, and binary code.

Fundamentals of Databases

In order to safeguard sensitive information, organizations of all types rely on secure databases – and qualified professionals to organize, maintain, and update them. This foundational course looks at how data is housed on different platforms, as well as ER and rational modeling, SQL, and other technical elements of modern databases.

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Software Engineering Degree?

A master's in software engineering degree online can prepare students for certain occupations within the fields of computer science and information technology. These include jobs related to software development, network architecture, computer programming, and systems analysis. Five of the most common occupations for master's in software engineering recipients are outlined below.

Most jobs in computer and information technology are available to candidates with a bachelor's degree, meaning those with a master's in software engineering may be fully qualified without background experience. However, a degree alone may not be sufficient for transitioning into professions that require additional certification, licensure, or work experience.

Computer Systems Analyst

Also known as systems architects, computer systems analysts design and implement solutions to various software-related problems and issues affecting their organization. They are expected to have a deep understanding of emerging technologies, and to regularly meet with organizational leaders to address these issues. Most computer systems analysts have a bachelor's degree in a computing field, but employers may prefer to hire those with a master's degree and a background in business.

Computer Network Architect

Network architects develop and install networks that professionals use to communicate, including local area networks, wide area networks, and intranets. In order to build effective networks, architects must also have extensive knowledge of their employer's business plan and technological capabilities. They also take network security into account during the design and implementation processes. While a bachelor's in engineering or other computer-related fields is typically required for architect jobs, some organizations prefer candidates with a master's degree.

Computer and Information Systems Manager

Also known as IT managers or IT project managers, computer and information systems managers oversee their organization's technology divisions and projects. They often have a hand in software and hardware installation, cost control and budgeting, and negotiating with vendors, as well as managing employees. A bachelor's degree and extensive professional experience is usually required, though many computer and information systems managers also have graduate degrees.

Information Security Analyst

Information security analysts represent the line of defense between their organization and different types of cyber threats. They are responsible for monitoring their employer's computing activities, as well as responding to and reporting cyber attacks, equipment malfunctions, and other problems that put sensitive data at risk. They also develop contingency plans that take all potential security problems into account. A bachelor's in a computing field will be sufficient for most information security analyst jobs, but some employers prefer candidates with a graduate degree.

Software Developer

Software developers design games, apps, and other computing programs, as well as the systems that enable devices and networks to work properly. Each project includes distinct development, testing, and evaluation phases. Software developers are also responsible for extensive documentation in order to guide maintenance and upgrades. A bachelor's degree in a field related to computer science, as well as working knowledge of different development platforms, is usually required, though a master's degree may be preferred.

Software Engineering Associations and Organizations

Joining a professional organization can be very beneficial for aspiring software engineers. These associations offer a wealth of resources, including webinars, networking events, access to online publications, and job leads. Many also offer discounted membership rates to students, new graduates, and young professionals.

Association of Software Professionals (ASP)

The ASP website includes resources such as buying and downloading software, using cloud-based technology and information security, and a guide to growing startups. Eight membership categories are offered for different professions, including vendors, developers, and online distributors.

Association for Women in Computing (AWC)

AWC advocates for the hiring and advancement of women within the computer and information technology field. They also offers continuing education, networking events, and mentorship opportunities.

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)

The IEEE is one of the world's largest engineering organizations and facilitates more than 1,800 conferences each year. The IEEE Society Technical Council on Software Engineering focuses on using engineering techniques and theories to improve computing systems.

Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI)

The AAAI is a nonprofit that promotes "research in, and responsible use of "artificial intelligence in different types of machines. The association sponsors conferences, symposia, and other face-to-face gatherings, and also publishes a quarterly, members-only magazine.

Association for Computing Machinery

The ACM was launched in 1947 and now has more than 850 chapters worldwide, in addition to the ACM Women's Council, which promotes gender equality in the computing field. The ACM publishes more than 50 online journals and hosts more than 100 annual conferences.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Software Engineering?

While an online master's degree in software engineering will not guarantee higher pay or more job opportunities, this credential often leads to salary increases and career advancement for software engineering professionals. The growth rates for some software engineering jobs are also faster than average, according to the BLS, which should lead to more opportunities in the years to come. The table below breaks down salary and growth expectations for the jobs profiles above.

Job Title Lowest 10% Earned Annually Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Earned Annually Job Growth 2016-2026
Computer Systems Analyst Less than $53,750 $88,270 More than $139,850 +9%
Computer Network Architect Less than $58,160 $104,650 More than $162,390 +6%
Computer and Information Systems Manager Less than $83,860 $139,220 More than $208,000 +12%
Information Security Analyst Less than $55,560 $95,510 More than $153,090 +28%
Software Developer Less than $59,870 $101,790 More than $160,100 +24%

Source: BLS 2018

According to the BLS, the average growth rate for all occupations between 2016 and 2026 is expected to be 7%. As shown above, most jobs for software engineers have faster-than-average projected growth rates during this period. A high demand for computing software should propel growth for software developer positions, while the widespread emphasis on cybersecurity ensures more opportunities for information security analysts. As organizations continue to expand their digital operations, demand for qualified computer and information systems managers should remain high.

According to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), salary expectations are higher for software engineers with a graduate degree than those with a bachelor's. The median annual salary for professionals with a graduate degree in computer engineering is $101,000, while those with a bachelor's degree earn $87,000. Undergraduate and graduate degree-holders in other computing fields, such as computer and information systems, computer science, and information sciences, have reported similar discrepancies.

Online Master’s in Software Engineering Program Accreditation

Accreditation is a very important consideration for students to make when choosing a college or university to attend. The purpose of accreditation is to evaluate postsecondary institutions to ensure their educational offerings meet certain standards. Private organizations known as accreditation agencies conduct the accreditation process, during which they assess student outcomes, course curricula, on- and off-campus resources, and other academic indicators.

The Council for Higher Education (CHEA), a non-government organization, and the U.S. Department of Education maintain separate lists of recognized accreditation agencies. Programmatic accreditors in the software engineering field include ABET, which recognizes applied sciences programs at all collegiate levels. The U.S. Department of Education also recognizes the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, a national accreditation agency that specializes in online programs. Students interested in an online master’s in software engineering program should consider the school’s accreditation before enrolling.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Software Engineering Degree

The cost of an online master's degree represents a significant financial investment for most students. As a result, many rely on loans, scholarships, and other forms of financial aid to pay for their education. Four potential financial aid sources for software engineering students are outlined below.

  • Federal Student Loans

    Students pursuing a master's in software engineering may qualify for certain federal student loans. These include Direct Unsubsidized Loans and Direct PLUS Loans, neither of which carry a financial need requirement. In order to qualify for federal loans, candidates must complete and submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA.

  • Society for Women Engineers Scholarships

    The SWE offers annual scholarships for female undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in engineering programs at ABET-accredited schools. Amounts vary by award. In 2017, the SWE awarded more than $700,000 in scholarship funding to more than 230 recipients.

  • STEM Scholarships

    Unlike student loans, scholarships offer money for college that does not need to be repaid. Many scholarships are reserved for students pursuing degrees in certain subjects. STEM Study, a student site from Florida Polytechnic University, provides a database of scholarships for students earning degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.

  • STEMGradStudents.gov

    The federal government maintains this website, which lists scholarship and grant opportunities for STEM students at the master's and doctoral levels. The site's search tool allows visitors to search for opportunities using different criteria, such as geographic region, eligibility, and specific STEM disciplines.