Software engineers develop the algorithms used in designing, applying, and maintaining computer applications and software. Their work provides the structure for various operating, navigation, and network distribution systems that run smartphones, cars, and businesses. Software engineers create the instructions that tell a computer how to perform specific functions. Software engineers who work for small employers may take on programming responsibilities such as writing code, while professionals in large companies often supervise the work of computer programmers.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the addition of roughly 175,000 jobs in the computer software engineering field from 2008-2018. Because practically every industry requires computer software professionals, graduates with a bachelor’s degree in software engineering can pursue jobs in a variety of industries, including manufacturing, design, aeronautics, and construction.
This guide provides an overview of the software engineering field and covers topics including occupation and salary outlook, coursework, and financial aid and scholarships.
Many schools offer on-campus and online software engineering degrees. Because of the variety of options, choosing the software engineering program that best fits your needs can be overwhelming. The list below can help prospective students narrow down their options. When creating the list, we considered factors including tuition, variety of online coursework, and available online and on-campus resources.
Although no degree can guarantee a job or a specific salary, a bachelor’s in software engineering can enhance professional opportunities. Graduates can pursue a variety of positions, including information systems manager, systems analyst, and security specialist. Additionally, software engineering professionals can work in almost any industry. After earning an on-campus or online software engineering degree, graduates enter a growing field; according to the BLS, employment for software engineers increased 34% from 2008-2018.
The table below includes descriptions of common career paths for software engineering graduates, along with salary expectations and projected job growth.
Software developers design the underlying systems that control the different functions of an electronic device or a computer program. They develop, implement, and maintain application systems, and they document every aspect of software development for troubleshooting purposes and/or future upgrades. Software developers often direct and supervise computer programmers in creating code. However, software developers sometimes write code themselves, especially when working for smaller companies.
Some companies refer to computer and information systems managers as IT project managers, or simply IT managers. These professionals help define the technological needs and objectives of a company and develop the systems that meet those objectives. They may also review the integrity of an organization’s digital infrastructure and make recommendations to preserve or enhance the system’s security.
Most computer systems analysts work in the nexus of business and technology. They apply current or emerging technologies to business processes to improve functionality and increase profitability. Computer systems analysts help select new computer or IT systems for a company and often customize these systems to meet the company’s specific needs. They also train and teach personnel using new systems.
An information security analyst’s typical responsibilities include monitoring networks for security breaches, installing firewalls and data encryption programs, and conducting penetration testing to find vulnerable areas. They also research IT security applications and trends and assess their relevance to a company’s security objectives.
A database administrator ensures that an organization’s information is secure, up-to-date, and accurate. Database administrators organize data for stakeholders, modify database structures to improve efficiency, update permissions, and back up databases. Some database administrators are responsible for the physical and technical aspects of an entire database, while others deal with specific applications.
Sources: BLS 2018
Job growth and salaries vary greatly between states and industries. According to the BLS, the states with the highest employment levels for applications software developers are California, Texas, Washington, New York, and New Jersey. The annual mean salaries for software developers in these states range from $103,390-$131,430, and Washington professionals earn the highest salaries. The computer systems design industry employs the highest concentration of software developers, followed by the software publishing industry.
Students earning an online bachelor’s degree in software engineering typically complete the same courses as on-campus students. However, because each school provides a curriculum geared toward specific academic objectives, systems engineering coursework varies by school. Along with major coursework, learners generally take courses in related disciplines, such as computer science, applied statistics, and calculus. The courses below are common to most software engineering programs. Students should contact their prospective school for specific course requirements.
Students gain in-depth knowledge about algorithmic design theories, matrix algorithms, and fundamental data structures. They complete programming assignments to learn how to implement and test algorithms.
In this introductory course, students learn about current topics and emerging trends in computer graphics, such as geometric modeling, image synthesis, interactive techniques, and object-modeling techniques.
Students explore the role of data in the design and development of computer and information systems. They study topics such as database design, data access and security, and the languages used in data definition and description.
This course focuses on engineering techniques commonly used to secure a networked information system environment. Students learn about evolving security threats and countermeasures to address them.
Students examine the impact of mobile computing on software development and design. Students learn how the increasing demand for mobile applications influences and complicates the field of software engineering.
Students pursuing a software engineering bachelor’s degree online should consider several factors. Program cost is an important consideration for most students. Other key aspects of a program include accreditation status, graduation and retention rates, and course and project requirements. The following section answers five common questions about online software engineering degrees.
Online software engineering courses typically have the same rigor and requirements as their on-campus counterparts. Because digital learning is quickly becoming integral to the educational landscape, schools design and develop online courses that provide the same challenges and learning opportunities as on-campus classes.
Most undergraduate programs offer a variety of courses, which cover key aspects of the software engineering field. This provides students with the general skills and knowledge they need for various professional roles and settings. Broad curricula also provide a foundation for future studies. Students interested in a certain specialization area should enroll in relevant courses.
Some programs require a practicum, while others culminate in a capstone project. Most schools provide this information online. If a program offers ideal coursework but not the culminating experience of your choice, ask whether students can pursue their preference. Some schools allow students who present concrete and convincing requests to pursue alternate projects.
Like most on-campus undergraduate programs, an online bachelor’s in software engineering typically requires about 120 credits and takes four years of full-time enrollment to complete. Students can accelerate completion time by choosing a program with asynchronous classes and several start dates per year.
Each school has a unique transfer policy, so students should check their school’s website and contact the school directly for more information. Typically, transferring credits is easier when the earned credits are from an accredited institution. In the U.S., the Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology is the most widely recognized accrediting body for software engineering programs.
Many students take out private or federal student loans to help pay for college. Payments for some private student loans begin even while the student is in school. Because there is high demand for professionals in STEM fields, there are several scholarship programs for students pursuing STEM degrees. The list below is an ideal starting place for students researching software engineering scholarships.
This scholarship program awards up to $7,500 to junior and senior undergraduate students. However, the program does not accept applications directly from students. Only accredited two- and four-year institutions with a Goldwater campus representative can nominate candidates for the scholarship. Nominees must be full-time STEM students, have at least a 3.0 GPA, and be U.S. citizens or noncitizen permanent residents.
This scholarship is reserved for female college students enrolled full time in an accredited college or university. Applicants must be pursuing a technical degree in an area such as computer science, information technology, or software engineering. Applicants participate in a coding competition and submit a software project. Students must demonstrate financial need to be eligible for this $5,000 scholarship.
This $10,000 scholarship is open to African-American, Hispanic, American Indian, and female high school seniors. Applicants must show proof of acceptance to or enrollment in a computer science, software engineering, or related program at an accredited U.S. college or university. Applicants must submit a letter of recommendation from a STEM teacher. Recipients can participate in Google’s Computer Science Summer Institute.
The recipient of this $10,000 scholarship gives the keynote address at the National Space Club and Foundation’s Goddard Memorial Dinner. The scholarship program is open to high school seniors as well as college and graduate students who plan to pursue a career in a STEM field. Recipients can only apply the award toward tuition; the foundation delivers the funds directly to the recipient’s institution.
Graduating high school seniors who plan to major in a STEM field can apply for one of several scholarships from Northrop Grumman, each worth $10,000. Applicants must reside in a state in which Northrop Grumman has a significant presence (California, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Utah, or Virginia). Applicants must have a minimum 3.0 GPA and a composite SAT score of at least 1700.