Software engineering is a popular career path. Given the six-figure pay and high job growth, it’s easy to see why. While you could choose to major in computer science or information technology to become a software engineer, an online master’s in software engineering teaches the exact theory and advanced skills necessary to succeed in this field.
However, getting a master’s degree is a big commitment, especially if you’re juggling a full-time job, tight budget, or life obligations. Luckily, there’s an option that’s more budget-friendly and can be completed from the comfort of your own home: an online master’s in software engineering.
To help you find the right online software engineering master’s degree, we compiled a list of the best programs in the United States. We’ll also reveal the inside scoop on what you can expect after enrollment. Keep reading to learn more.
Program Spotlights: MS in Software Engineering Online Degrees
There isn’t one perfect MS in software engineering online because the best degree differs from person to person. With that being said, there are some programs that offer a high-quality curriculum, numerous student support resources, and an affordable tuition rate. Read on for the best online software engineering master’s degrees in 2023.
Penn State World Campus offers one of the most robust online MS in software engineering degrees. This fully online program was designed for working professionals who want to get their degree while juggling other responsibilities. Synchronous classes are held at flexible times; you can complete the program in 36 credit hours. Classes are taught by the same faculty as the in-person program and maintain the same level of academic quality. This ABET-accredited program pulls from multiple disciplines, such as creative thinking, mathematics, and computer science. To make the degree more affordable, Penn State World Campus has scholarships and generous financial aid packages for online students.
- Cost of program: $1,017/credit
- Location: Online
- Accreditation: ABET
Grand Canyon University offers a high-quality software engineering master’s degree online. The program is project-based, so students get plenty of hands-on experience. You’ll gain a deep understanding of subject-matter principles and best practices, as well as the knowledge to apply them in real-life settings. This MS in software engineering online is formatted in eight-week online courses and requires 38 credits.
- Cost of program: $575/credit
- Location: Online
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
When it comes to online software engineering master’s degrees, Texas Tech University ranks among the best. Choose between a thesis or nonthesis option for a master’s degree in software engineering that can be completed in 36-39 credit hours. Required courses include Software Project Management, Software Modeling and Architecture, and Software Verification and Validation, plus a choice of various software engineering and computer science electives.
- Cost of program: Approximately $544/credit in-state, $973/credit out-of-state
- Location: Online; Lubbock, TX
- Accreditation: ABET
Classes for Your Online Software Engineering Master’s Degree
While these spotlights provide a good idea of what you can expect from an online master’s program in software engineering, we wanted to dive into further detail on five popular courses that are likely to be part of your MS in software engineering online. Each program differs, but many feature these foundational courses in the field of software engineering. All five prepare you for roles you might take on after graduation, such as being a software developer or AI engineer.
Project Management in Software Engineering
This master’s level class typically builds upon the foundational knowledge gained in undergraduate courses. The class covers project estimation, communication, project scheduling and time management, leadership, and project tools. Throughout the course, students may work on practical assignments, simulations, and group projects to gain hands-on experience as part of their online master’s in software engineering.
Software Architecture and Design
Software architecture and design are crucial components of any MS in software engineering online program. In this course, students learn advanced principles, techniques, and best practices for designing and architecting complex software systems. Students gain a deeper understanding of how to create effective software architecture that aligns with project requirements, organizational goals, and industry best practices. Students should also be able to communicate and document architectural decisions effectively. This knowledge is crucial for those pursuing careers as software architects or senior software engineers responsible for designing complex software systems.
Database Management Systems
This comprehensive course delves into the principles, technologies, and best practices related to managing data in a modern computing environment. Online software engineering master’s degree students learn about a wide range of topics that are essential for understanding and effectively working with databases.Students will have a deep understanding of database management systems, both relational and NoSQL, and be capable of designing, implementing, and maintaining databases to meet the data management needs of various applications and organizations.
Mobile Application Development
Mobile Application Development is designed to equip MS in software engineering online students with the advanced knowledge and skills required to create mobile applications (apps) for various platforms, such as iOS, Android, or cross-platform development. Students often work on practical assignments and projects to apply their knowledge in real-world scenarios, and they may also have the opportunity to develop and publish their own mobile apps. This course prepares students for careers as mobile app developers, app architects, or entrepreneurs in the mobile app industry.
Software Engineering Ethics and Legal Issues
This course is designed to help students understand the ethical and legal considerations that are relevant to the field of software engineering. It explores the moral and legal responsibilities of software professionals, the impact of their work on society, and the legal framework that governs software development. By the end of the course, students have the knowledge and ethical reasoning skills necessary to make informed and responsible decisions in their software engineering careers. They also have an understanding of the legal landscape surrounding software development and the potential legal consequences of unethical behavior. This course helps online software engineering master’s degree students become ethically and socially responsible software professionals.
Job Outlook: Careers and Salaries with an Online Master’s in Software Engineering
It’s a commonly known fact that software engineering degrees lead to high salaries and good job prospects upon graduating, and a master’s degree increases your opportunities even more. But what exactly can you do with an online software engineering master’s degree? For a better idea, explore the careers highlighted below. We uncovered the average salaries, job outlooks, and responsibilities for three popular roles.
Lead Software Developer
Software developers dream up, test, and implement new software. They work in a variety of professional settings from start-ups to large corporations. You’ll find software developers in many niches—SAAS (which allows consumers to access the cloud), health tech, cybersecurity spaces, and many other industries. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, software developers typically earn $124,200 per year, and the ten-year job growth rate is 25%.
Computer and Information Systems Managers
If you enjoy organizing large data sets and managing information systems, this career path might be for you. On average, computer and information system managers earn $164,070 per year and the field is expected to grow by 15% in the next ten years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In this role, managers are often leading teams of software developers and other technology professionals, so a bachelor’s or master’s degree and work experience are required.
Computer Network Architects
If communication networks interest you, a career as a computer network architect might be a good fit. Computer network architects manage local area networks (often referred to as LANs), wide area networks (often referred to as WANs), and/or intranets. They work for start-ups, small businesses, and larger corporations and are often experts in their field. A graduate with an online software engineering master’s degree can expect to earn $126,900 per year as a computer network architect, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
How Much Does an Online Software Engineering Master’s Degree Cost?
In 2023, the average master’s degree in the United States costs around $65,000, including tuition and fees. Online software engineering master’s degrees are similar in price, though some programs offer lower costs. However, remember that financial aid and scholarships can make any program more affordable. Plus, getting your degree online can drive down the tuition price or minimize other costs, such as transportation and student fees.
The table below provides a better idea of how much a software engineering online master’s degree costs at public and private universities.
|School||Cost Per Credit||Number of Credits|
|Arizona State University||$1,021||30 credit hours|
|Drexel University||$1,396||45 quarter hours|
|East Carolina University||$289.11 (in-state); $1,019.61 (out-of-state)||30 credit hours|
|University of Southern California||$2,424||32 credit hours|
|University of Maryland Global Campus||$524 (in-state); $659 (out-of-state)||36 credit hours|
What Should I Look for in an Online MS in Software Engineering Program?
When comparing master’s in software engineering online degrees, there are a couple of important factors you’ll want to ask an admissions counselor about or find on a program’s website. These include the cost, program quality, faculty expertise, accreditation status, and course format. Here’s what to look for.
As we’ve discussed, getting a master’s degree can be expensive. When looking at online master’s degrees in software engineering, find one that fits your budget and apply for as much federal and private financial aid as possible. If money is tight, consider schools with ample university-sponsored scholarships, such as Penn State World Campus.
The program quality might be the most important aspect of a MS in software engineering degree online. To ensure a program covers the topics you’re interested in, make a list of software engineering areas that interest you. Then, compare that list to the curriculum from each program you’re considering.
The world of software engineering changes fast. Having mentors who can help you navigate the changing technology landscape is a great asset. Many universities share their faculty members’ credentials and accolades on their program’s webpage. You can also check out the faculty bios for more on their areas of expertise.
For an online master’s in software engineering degree to be recognized by employers and other academic institutions, it must come from an accredited school. Regional accreditations are often the best, but national accreditation works as well. For more, check out our crash course on accreditation.
When looking at a software engineering master’s degree online, consider if a hybrid, synchronous online, or asynchronous online format is right for you. If you want some in-person interaction with faculty and peers, a hybrid program may suit your needs. For those who want live discussions but don’t want to visit campus, a synchronous format should work. An asynchronous format is ideal for independent learners who want to complete a degree at their own pace.
Questions to Ask About Online Master’s Software Engineering Programs
Here are six of the most pressing questions students ask about online master’s degrees in software engineering, according to our readers.
Are online master’s degree programs in software engineering fully online?
Not all online software engineering master’s degrees are the same. Some are 100% online while others are a hybrid format. Even for hybrid degrees, the amount of in-person time varies. Some programs only have one in-person component, such as an annual orientation.
What does the admissions process look like for this degree?
To be accepted into a master’s degree in software engineering program online, many colleges decide admission status based on an applicant’s college GPA, transcripts, essays, and GRE scores. Mainly the schools just want to ensure that the student can handle the rigorous curriculum that’s part of this master’s program. Schools typically are looking for students with an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher and those who have taken certain undergraduate classes.
How long does it take to complete a master’s degree in software engineering online?
An online software engineering master’s degree usually takes around two years to complete if you attend full time, which is generally about nine credits per semester. Completion might take longer if you attend part time or it could be shorter if you choose an accelerated program. Ultimately, how long a program takes is up to you as the student and what your goals and limitations are.
What academic and career support services are available to online students earning their master’s in software engineering?
Online master’s in software engineering degree seekers often have access to a wide variety of academic and career support services, including:
- Professional development centers
- IT support
- Tutoring and writing centers that may specialize in science and technical writing
- On-campus software engineering associations
This list isn’t exhaustive and, at the right institution, your support services are almost endless. If you’re in need of support while getting your software engineering MS degree online, reach out to a professor, academic advisor, or peer for university-specific guidance.
What are some of the technical requirements of earning an online master’s degree in software engineering?
Most students seeking an online software engineering master’s degree need a robust tech stack, including a monitor, laptop, and strong Internet connection. If you’re confused about what software and technology you need, ask your academic advisor. Many professors also list any course-required software on the syllabus. For a general list of technology to invest in, and a list of schools that will even provide you with the tech you need, explore our online college tech guide.
Can I work while pursuing an online master’s in software engineering degree?
Flexibility is one of the main benefits of getting your MS in software engineering online. Pursuing a virtual degree cuts down on transportation time and hours spent on campus between classes. Because of this, it’s often easier to balance online studies with work and family life. If you’re concerned about getting your degree while working, check out this survival guide from the University of Massachusetts Global.
Explore Other Master’s Degree Options in Computer Science
If you are still unsure which path in computer science you want to take, look at these other master’s degree options: