Software Engineering Master’s Degree

Software engineering includes the design, development and testing of software applications. This field can be very rewarding if you’re looking for a technology-based role with job stability due to this industry’s high projected growth. Advanced training like a master’s degree in software engineering can boost your job prospects and earning potential. Read on to find out more about online master’s degree programs in software engineering.

Software Engineering Master’s Degree Online Program Overview

Software engineering is the use of computer languages to build programs that can perform a set of desired tasks. Professionals in this occupation also use their programming knowledge to keep applications functioning smoothly by fixing errors, and releasing patches or updates.

While you can usually get a job in this field with a bachelor’s degree, earning a master’s degree in software engineering will make you more attractive to employers. With these master’s degrees in engineering, you’ll be qualified to take on a variety of job titles. The most common one is software engineer, but you’ll also have the right training for the following roles:

  • Database administrator
  • Information systems manager
  • Web developer
  • Chief technology officer
  • Cybersecurity manager
  • Computer network architect

Is getting a master’s degree in software engineering worth it? If you want a good chance at a variety of computer-based positions in growing fields, the answer is yes.

Why Earn an Online Software Engineering Master’s Degree?

There are several reasons for pursuing a master’s degree in software engineering at this time. This is a rapidly-growing field that analysts expect to remain in high demand for the foreseeable future. It has many positions available with high salaries, providing strong job security for anyone entering this occupation. Many people will also be attracted to the opportunity to work with new technology, which is always evolving in software engineering.

Anyone considering a master’s degree in this field should have an interest and talent for using programming languages, as this is likely what you’ll be doing for most of your workday. Some programs don’t require a GRE for admission. An online master’s in software engineering no GRE program will often require professional experience in lieu of a GRE.

Software Engineering Master’s Degree Curriculum & Common Courses

No matter where you get a master’s degree in software engineering, there are certain courses you’ll probably need to take. Any top-ranked school will provide the basics of software engineering, along with additional skills you’ll need when entering the workforce in this capacity.

Some of the most common courses in software engineering include the following:

  • Software systems engineering. These courses cover the development of large, complex software systems. At the graduate level, they typically focus on real-world goals and constraints when specifying and implementing their structure.
  • Software architecture. Students learn the principles of software design, typically with an emphasis on identifying patterns for making software reusable. These courses also teach best practices for documenting software, including commonly used notation.
  • Software engineering processes. These topics cover activities used to create software, including requirements collection, requirements analysis, design, coding, testing and maintenance. They may also teach multiple methods for developing and delivering software.
  • Software risk management. Courses in risk management teach methods for identifying problems that could adversely impact a software project, even when the problem hasn’t yet manifested. They typically differentiate between potential problems and difficulties in developing solutions.
  • Software security technologies. These courses include studies of the fundamental theories governing software security, with a focus on implementing solutions. Graduate-level courses may focus on the latest technologies for protecting software systems.
  • Quality assurance and testing for software. Courses on quality assurance (QA) and testing discuss practices for monitoring software development to ensure conformance to defined standards. They also cover methods for detecting errors and establishing system control.
  • Software project management. These courses are dedicated to the planning, scheduling and resource allocation needed for developing and delivering software. Most graduate-level courses will focus on Agile methodologies for iterating software based on stakeholder feedback.

Prerequisites for a Software Engineering Master’s Degree

There is no question that a software engineering master’s degree can be beneficial. However, before being accepted into such a program, you will likely have to have completed a series of prerequisites.

Keep in mind that the specific prerequisites you will need to have completed likely varies based on the school. Furthermore, some schools will likely have you meet different requirements for different concentrations. If you want to specialize in a certain area, you will have to take different courses and may have to take different undergraduate degree courses.

Some of the necessary prerequisites include: 

  • A bachelor’s degree in a related field, usually computer science or computer engineering. Different academic institutions may have different requirements for what you can get your bachelor’s degree in. 
  • A minimum GPA. This GPA requirement is where there can be real variation from school to school, but most schools want to see at least a “B” level GPA. You may also need a minimum GPA in a certain major.
  • Depending on the school, you may need a certain standardized test grade. 
  • Other outside experiences – like outside work experience or internships – likely won’t be required, but they may help boost your application above others. 
  • Letters of Recommendation from professors or individuals for whom you have worked.
  • A personal essay that answers a certain question or explains why you want to go to that school.

Requirements for a Master’s in Software Engineering

Once again, there is no set answer but a series of general ones. Once you are enrolled in a Master’s program, you will have to navigate the requirements that different schools have. Fortunately, if you earn your Master’s online, you can take your time and take advantage of the flexibility such a program offers. This can make it much easier for you to earn your Master’s at your chosen schedule.

While different programs have different requirements, most schools will still have some set prerequisites that you will have to meet. These include:

  • The completion of numerous core courses, including those in software security, engineering, or quality assurance.
  • Completing several courses in different concentration areas, such as web or game engineering. If you seek to specialize in a certain area of software engineering, you will need to take more courses in a certain academic segment.
  • Depending on the school, you may need to complete a Master’s thesis or project. This project will likely reflect the concentration or specialty that you are seeking. It may involve a series of intensive review work. 
  • Some schools may have certain internship or externship requirements, requiring you to work outside the school and gain critical real-world experience. These internships can replace a traditional course offering and be relatively intensive. When executed properly, they can give you a leg-up on a future career hunt, potentially opening the door to future employment opportunities.

While the above is meant as a solid general description, it is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to the requirements you must meet to earn a Master’s in Software Engineering. You will have to check out the requirements offered by different schools to find a program that works best for you.

How Long Does it Take to Earn a MS Software Engineering Online?

Most software engineering master’s degrees will require you to complete thirty credit hours. This is not a small number. If you take these courses full-time, you may be able to earn your degree in as little as a year.

However, one of the chief benefits of earning a software engineering master’s degree online is that you don’t have to fly your way through the program. Instead, you can take your time and take the courses at a time and place of your choosing. Many such programs offer asynchronous learning, meaning that you can review the materials at your own pace. Others have more flexible or extended offerings, enabling you to earn your degree over an extended period. This flexibility ensures that you can fit your studies into a busy schedule, such as raising a family or working full-time. 

Thus, while one year is typically the shortest time it takes to earn your Master’s, you can take your time and earn your Master’s over a much, much longer period. Many people will take 2-4 years to complete their Master’s, and you should feel no pressure to earn it as fast as possible. 

Accreditation for Master’s Programs in Software Engineering

The most important step when selecting a school for a master’s degree in software engineering is to ensure it has the accreditation needed for prospective employers to recognize your degree. These accreditations are generally classified into regional accreditation and programmatic accreditation.

Regional accreditation applies to the entire school, indicating that it holds itself to high standards. It also allows students attending the school to qualify for federal financial aid and increases the likelihood of transferring credits to and from the school. Programmatic accreditation applies to specific departments and is often provided by standards organizations within that industry. This type of accreditation is generally optional, although it does aid in recognizing strong programs.


The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is responsible for providing programmatic accreditation in the case of software engineering master’s degree programs. This non-governmental body also accredits other graduate programs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Technology (STEM) fields. ABET also provides leadership in STEM education by issuing documents like memoranda of understanding (MoU) and mutual recognition agreements. In addition, ABET hosts many workshops on STEM topics.

10 Schools with Software Engineering Master’s Degree Programs

Schools that offer master’s degree programs in software engineering should have regional accreditation, and the program should be accredited by ABET. The following programs are also offered entirely online or in a hybrid format:

1) Arizona State University

Arizona State University (ASU) has maintained continuous accreditation from the Higher Learning Committee (HLC) of the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges (NCASC) since 1931. It offers two online graduate-level programs for software engineers, including the following:

  • Online Master of Computer Science in Cybersecurity
  • Online Master of Computer Science in Big Data

U.S. News & World Report ranks ASU as the Most Innovative School, and it’s also one of the largest public schools in the U.S. It enrolls over 100,000 students in graduate and undergraduate programs, including online and on-campus programs.

2) Colorado State University

Colorado State University (CSU) is accredited by HLC and offers an Online Master’s in Computer Science degree. It’s the largest university in the CSU system. It has an enrollment of over 30,000 students, with undergraduate and graduate programs that include doctoral programs. This public institution focuses on research.

3) Georgia Tech University

The Georgia Institute of Technology, commonly known as Georgia Tech, is a public university established in 1885. It’s accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCC) to award bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees. Georgia Tech originally offered only degrees in mechanical engineering, but it has since added technical and non-technical studies to its curriculum. Current programs include an Online Master of Science in Computer Science degree.

4) John Hopkins University

The private university was founded in 1878 and was one of the first higher education institutions to combine teaching and research. It’s one of the best in the country, with a current ranking of ninth in National Universities by U.S. News & World Report. John Hopkins still has a major focus on research and is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Its current degree programs include an Online Master of Science in Computer Science.

5) Stanford University

Stanford University in Stanford, California is a prestigious school and one of the most selective in the country. It was founded in 1885 and played a key role in the development of Silicon Valley. Stanford is still one of the biggest technology hubs in the world, with undergraduate and graduate programs in disciplines from business to medicine. Current programs include an Online Master of Science in Computer Science. Stanford is accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).

6) University of Illinois – Champaign-Urbana

The University of Illinois is a public institution located in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. It has a strong focus on research and is an R1 Doctoral Research University. The University of Illinois has a library that’s one of the largest university libraries in the country. The HLC most recently accredited this university in 2010, and its current programs include an Online Master of Computer Science in Data Science.

7) University of Michigan – Flint

The University of Michigan is a public university with a strong focus on research. It offers 12 bachelor programs and 43 graduate programs, including an Online Master of Science in Computer Science and Information Systems. Additional subjects of study include health science, management, arts and education. The University of Michigan-Flint is accredited by the HLC.

8) University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota is a public research institution with campuses in Minneapolis and Saint Paul, Minnesota. The HLC has accredited all campuses of this university. The University of Minnesota has a total enrollment of over 50,000 students and is one of the oldest colleges in the state. The National Science Foundation Survey of Research and Development ranks this university as one of the top 20 in the country in terms of research quantity. All campuses of the University of Minnesota operate with the accreditation of the Higher Learning Commission. The University of Minnesota offers an Online Master of Science in Computer Science

9) University of Pennsylvania

The University of Pennsylvania, commonly known as Penn University, is an Ivy League institution founded in 1740. This private school is generally considered the first university in the U.S., as well as the first medical school and first business school. Penn University is still one of the most prestigious schools in the country and is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. This university offers an Online Master of Computer and Information Technology.

10) University of Southern California

The University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles was founded in 1880 and has been continuously accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, the Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC) since 1949. This private institution has a strong focus on research with an enrollment of about 20,000 students. USC is a highly selective institution, with many degree programs in disciplines such as business, engineering, medicine, pharmacy and social work. Current master’s programs in computer science include the following:

  • Online Master of Science in Computer Science – Computer Security
  • Online Master of Science in Computer Science – Data Science
  • Online Master of Science in Computer Science – Scientists and Engineers
  • Online Master of Science in Computer Science – Software Engineering

How much do software engineers make?

Starting Salary for Software Engineers

The average starting salary for software engineers in the U.S. is about $70,000, according to Zippia. This figure varies greatly by state, based on factors like cost of living and demand for software engineers. For example, Wyoming has the lowest average starting pay at $47,000 per year, while California has the highest at $90,000 per year. Large cities in California offer particularly high salaries to entry-level software engineers, such as $108,000 in San Francisco.

Average Master’s in Software Engineering Salary

The average annual salary for a software engineer with a master’s degree is $162,772, according to Bonuses are routine for these software engineers and average $25,000 per year, or about 15 percent of the salary. The salary range for software engineers with a master’s degree is between $104,000 and $190,000.

What’s the most a software engineer makes?

The BLS reports that software engineers earning in the top ten percent made more than $168,570 per year as of May 2021, compared to a median of $120,730. Geographic location is a crucial factor in maximizing your salary as a software engineer, where cities like San Francisco offer significantly higher pay than other areas. However, much of the increase will be eroded by higher living expenses, especially housing. Industry is another factor that affects pay for software engineers, such that the median annual salary for software publishers is $130,180. Other industries that offer higher-than-normal pay include manufacturing with a median of $124,950 per year and finance with a median of $124,390 per year.

Tips for Increasing Salary Potential

Improving your skills is one of the most likely ways of improving your pay when you’re a software engineer. This strategy can be a highly effective means of negotiating a raise at your next performance review. Even if a pay increase isn’t possible right now, your new skills can help you save time, effectively increasing your hourly rate if you’re on salary.

Changing employers is usually the fastest way of getting a raise, especially in software engineering. Even if you’re satisfied with your job, you should always be looking for a new job to some extent. Even if you don’t get an offer, job hunting provides you with a good idea of your market value, which is highly useful information when you negotiate your next raise.

Software engineers who are highly skilled coders may struggle with soft skills such as social skills, as these are two very different skill sets. Those who can also develop their leadership skills are in a strong position to advance to management roles, which usually have higher salaries.

Software developers typically have multiple technical skills, which can affect their salary. Choosing the right specializations can place you in position for a promotion, often by excelling in a niche with less competition.

Formal education like a master’s degree or certification is an effective method of keeping your skills current. This strategy is especially effective if you’re otherwise qualified for a position that pays more than your current salary.

Continuing Education after a Master’s in Software engineering

Continuing education after receiving your master’s in software engineering may mean focusing on advanced certification and/or a doctorate degree.

Advanced Certificates

Advanced certification often represents refresher training that you take on a recurring basis, typically as a licensure requirement. This training may be taught by a government agency or a private company authorized by the government to provide this training. You can also receive advanced certification in new skills, often prior to starting a new project that requires these skills. This type of certification is most common in software engineering due to the regular development of new tools. Software publishers often provide training on their products as part of the implementation process.

Doctorate in Software Engineering

A doctorate program in software engineering is typically customized for each student, largely due to the rapid advances in this field. The subjects of study in this program primarily consist of leading-edge technology, which currently includes big data and autonomous adaptable systems. These technologies are driving doctoral research in many areas, including service-oriented computing, multi-agent systems and static analysis.

Employers expect software engineers with doctorate degrees to be highly creative and able to collaborate with professionals in many fields. The most common uses for this degree include academic positions at universities and advanced research. Other positions that may benefit from a doctorate degree in software engineering include the highest senior positions in data science. Industries that offer the greatest use of this degree include AI, ML, natural language processing (NLP) and cybersecurity.

Financial Aid Information

In addition to assessing the benefits of earning a master’s degree in software engineering, you also need to weigh those benefits against the cost. A graduate-level education is generally quite expensive, especially if it’s in a technical discipline at a prestigious school. As a result, obtaining the necessary financial aid will typically be a crucial consideration for most students. These sources of funding may generally be classified into loans, scholarships and internships.


Loans for master’s degrees are widely available from both private and government lenders. The terms can vary considerably between lenders, but interest rates typically start at between four and five percent for private lenders. This rate assumes an ideal financial picture for the borrower, so it goes up for borrowers with a less-than-perfect credit history and high debt-to-income ratio. Government lenders generally offer lower interest rates, but borrowers must demonstrate greater financial need. Consider loans as a last resort for financial aid on a master’s degree, as you’ll eventually need to repay them.


Scholarships come from a variety of sources, including your state, the university you attend, private organizations and your employers. You don’t have to repay scholarships, making them the preferred form of financial aid. Scholarships specifically intended for a master’s degree in software engineering are offered by many universities and organizations that support this industry.

For example, the Cornell College of Engineering offers Master of Engineering Committee (MEC) scholarships that are worth at least $20,000 and may carry the full tuition for a master’s degree in software engineering. In another case, the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) sponsors the George B. Hightower Fellowship, which can be awarded to an undergraduate or graduate student enrolled in an ABET-accredited engineering program. The value of this fellowship is $3,000 per year.


An internship is another common method of financing a master’s degree in software engineering. The emphasis of these positions is usually to provide a real-world education in the student’s field of interest, but some internships offer full pay. These internships typically require current enrollment in a master’s program for software engineering or related field, often in particular specialties. In addition, internships offering a salary usually require prior experience in software engineering, either as a job or another internship. Strong applicants will also have proficiency in at least one programming language.

Look for internships that provide an opportunity to work with professional software engineers and other computer scientists on a computer project. Many of these positions are less structured than typical software engineering jobs, with greater flexibility with regard to duration, working location and time commitment than a typical internship. Furthermore, research internships may not always involve a deliverable product like a traditional internship.

Is a Master’s in Software Engineering Worth It?

The question of whether or not a Master’s in Software Engineering is “worth it” ultimately comes down to you. Only you can understand whether or not getting a certain degree will be worth the time and effort you put into obtaining that degree. However, there are many positives to earning a Master’s in Software Engineering. 

  • A Master’s in Software Engineering will enable you to potentially pursue a vast array of career paths. Potential careers include an array of software occupations, engineering, and more.
  • The field is growing and pays a very high rate. A Master’s in Software Engineering will absolutely increase your qualifications and allow you to earn more over the course of your career than you would with only a bachelor’s degree.
  • In many cases, a master’s degree is a prerequisite for jobs within the software or engineering field. Thus, your career options may be limited by a lack of this degree.
  • A master’s degree will enable you to specialize in certain areas, write a thesis relevant to your future career, and give you access to educational and occupational resources that may be critical in your efforts to get a solid job. 

A Master’s in Software Engineering is not just a job — it is an investment. You should consider that when debating the pros and cons of pursuing this degree.

How to Become a Software Engineer

Becoming a software engineer isn’t easy. Doing so takes multiple years and requires relatively intensive academic and professional work. Fortunately, there’s good news: The advent of various deeply flexible programs – including online undergraduate and graduate degrees – have made it easier than ever for all individuals to become a software engineer.

Generally speaking, you can follow a series of steps that will enable you to get your degree:

  • Major in a related field in undergraduate school, including computer science or engineering.
  • Obtain work-related experience in the field that will confirm your interest and look good on a college application.
  • Identify a specific school or program from which you may be interested in earning your Master’s in Software Engineering . 
  • Determine the specific prerequisites of the schools you are applying to.
  • Enroll in a Master’s in Software Engineering program — one that is either in person or online. Use that program to learn relevant knowledge and build connections that will enable you to get a high-paying and secure job in the future.

Remember that the pathway to obtaining a job in the software engineering field is different for everyone. The above process is one of many ways you can potentially become a software engineer, but there are a series of pathways that you may be able to take. A Master’s in Software Engineering is not necessarily required to enter this field, but there is no question it is highly beneficial.

FAQ section

How much does a master’s in software engineering cost?

The total cost of obtaining a master’s degree in software engineering is highly dependent on cost, as tuition is often based on the school’s prestige. While some universities can charge up to $60,000 for this degree, the average cost is closer to $30,000. In addition to financial aid, it’s usually possible to cut the cost further with an online program. Online programs are often less expensive, since many colleges charge online students the in-state tuition rate, regardless of their actual residence. As a result, an online master’s degree in software engineering is usually in the range of $7,000 to $35,000.

Online programs offer an additional financial advantage by allowing you to continue working while pursuing your degree. These degree programs are more self-paced than on-campus programs, meaning you can study at night and weekends.

Is a master’s degree in software engineering worth it?

The decision to pursue a master’s degree in software engineering usually has a financial basis, rather than just a desire to further your education. You must therefore weigh the time and cost of obtaining the degree against the advancement you can expect in your career by simply continuing to work full time. This decision can be an easy one to make if your employer offers a position at a substantial raise contingent upon obtaining a master’s degree.

Most of the time, however, you’ll need to predict the probability of getting a promotion with a master’s degree that you wouldn’t have received with just a bachelor’s degree. In the case of software engineering, information research scientists almost always require a master’s degree. IT-based executive roles like chief information officer (CIO), chief technology officer (CTO) and computer system manager (CSM) often require a master’s degree as well.

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

It typically takes about two years to get a master’s degree in software engineering by using an on-campus path, but you can reduce that amount of time by taking more classes than average. However, it’s possible to do it in one year if you go to school online and study full-time. If you need to work full-time while earning your degree, you can go to school part-time and graduate in about three years. Online programs often allow you to go at your own pace, taking more or fewer credit hours as needed until you graduate with your degree.

Is a master’s degree required to advance as a software engineer?

The positions most likely to require a master’s degree in software engineering are primarily teachers at the college level. Research positions may also require an advanced degree, especially for new technologies.

Master’s in Software Engineering vs Computer Science: What’s the Difference?

Most colleges treat software engineering as a specialization of computer science that focuses on the development of software. A master’s degree in computer science may offer more job opportunities overall, while a master’s degree in software engineering is more likely to get you a higher salary within that specialization.

Can I earn a master’s in software engineering without a bachelor’s degree?

Colleges will typically require you to hold a bachelor’s degree in software engineering or related subject before admitting you to a graduate program. However, some colleges will allow you to substitute professional experience in lieu of an undergraduate degree.

What industries are hiring software engineers with a master’s degree?

Higher educational institutions are most likely to hire software engineers with a master’s degree. Companies also hire these software engineers for executive positions, especially if they’re in a high-tech industry.

Is an online master’s in software engineering the same as an on-campus degree?

Colleges don’t typically distinguish between online and on-campus degrees in either their transcripts or diplomas. Individual employers may have a preference for on-campus degrees.

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