Guide to a Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering in 2020

Written by Reese Lopez


What Is a Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering?

Software engineers design and develop computer software and applications, working with other information technology (IT) professionals to create functional programs that meet users' needs. Software engineers enjoy strong job prospects. For instance, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects software developer positions to grow by 21% from 2018-2028, far faster than the national average for all occupations.

An online bachelor's degree in software engineering prepares students to enter this quickly growing field, choosing from a variety of careers in software engineering. This page offers an overview of what to expect from these programs, including application requirements, common courses, and salary potential. It also answers commonly asked questions.

Should I Get a Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering?

An online bachelor's degree in software engineering offers many benefits, such as increased salary potential and career and networking opportunities. The following list outlines several key benefits of undergraduate software engineering programs.

  • Job Opportunities: Obtaining a bachelor's degree creates job opportunities, which ranks among the most common reasons students pursue higher education.
  • Increased Salary: A bachelor's degree can provide graduates with more job opportunities with higher salary potential.
  • Job Security: Bachelor's degree-holders generally enjoy greater job stability and security than workers with only a high school diploma.
  • Job Satisfaction: Bachelor's graduates report higher levels of job satisfaction, and they are more likely to find their jobs challenging and engaging than professionals without a degree.
  • Networking: Bachelor's programs allow students to build connections with other software professionals, which can lead to increased job opportunities.

Advice from a Software Engineering Graduate

Cole Stuart

Cole Stuart

Cole Stuart graduated from Brigham Young University-Idaho in 2015 with a degree in computer information technology from the university's business department. This degree program focuses on solving business problems with software. After graduating, Cole spent 2.5 years working at Oracle in tech support for their enterprise resource software. Currently, he works for an insurance company, which is processing two acquisitions while moving to the cloud.

Why did you decide to pursue a bachelor's in software engineering? Expand - Plus/Minus

It happened on a whim, as I had always planned on being a physical therapist or a nuclear engineer (like my dad). During my sophomore year, I was still taking general education classes, and I signed up for programming 101. The teacher talked about the career opportunities, and I decided it would be a good way to provide for a family. My other interests would require far more schooling, and I realized that a four-year degree in IT could provide high value for the time commitment. It would allow me to work for almost any company in the world; just about every company has an IT department.

What was the deciding factor in selecting your specific program and specific school? Expand - Plus/Minus

I liked that my degree was in the business department and was focused on solving business problems with technology. The computer science degree would have been great to get, as well, but was different in that it went deeper into theory, which is useful, but I decided to go for more breadth instead of depth.

What was the job search like after graduating with your bachelor's in software engineering? Expand - Plus/Minus

My school had career fairs every semester, and many of the booths were looking for IT workers; it was the most sought-after major. I was able to get a lot of interview practice and an internship that was prestigious. Oracle was opening a new office the next state over and came to a nearby university career fair. I made the drive and put my resume in the pile in exchange for a water bottle. Two managers called for an interview and I received two offers; I got to choose between the teams. I was the first direct hire from my school to Oracle, but they have hired many more since.

How did your degree program prepare you for your current career and recent positions? Expand - Plus/Minus

My degree covered a lot of topics, like networking, web design, security, database, app development, and project management. I put my focus on databases and took every course available on that subject. Oracle is the biggest database company, but my first job had me doing tech support for a clunky Java application. I found myself learning enterprise resource planning software and processes specifically around accounting, which was rough. Eventually, I tried to switch to a database-focused team.

When this was not possible, I switched jobs. My degree provided a good foundation, but my detour in tech support for two years left my database skills somewhat atrophied. I had to relearn some syntax and commands, and production database work is often way more complex than anything you'll see in a classroom. If you have the foundation in place, you can still figure things out, though.

What are some of the most rewarding aspects of working in software engineering? Some of the most challenging aspects? Expand - Plus/Minus

The salary can be much higher than average, especially for those with advanced skills. There is a lot of job security for the most part, and I probably get five recruiters trying to pitch me a new job every week. It's also nice to work on important projects a lot of the time; my current project is often mentioned by the CEO and other VPs in company communications.

Many challenges stem from miscommunication, such as business users not understanding functionality or what's possible. Many projects can drag on far past their deadlines. Things can change quickly as far as new software being adopted. Teams can be "siloed" or somewhat isolated, which can make getting things done difficult when you rely on and wait for various teams to do small parts of a large process.

What advice would you give to students considering pursuing a bachelor's in software engineering? Expand - Plus/Minus

Study hard, try to get hands-on experience, and do as many internships as possible. Go broad first and get familiar with a lot, but go deep on a few things and try to become a subject-matter expert on something.

Admission Requirements for a Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering

Each school maintains its own admissions requirements, but most undergraduate software engineering programs require students to hold a high school diploma or GED. More selective colleges may require a minimum GPA and/or minimum SAT or ACT scores. Some colleges may also request letters of recommendation and a statement of purpose. Hundreds of public and private colleges use The Common App, which allows students to apply to several schools at once with the same online application.

What Can I Do With a Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering?

Graduates with an online bachelor's degree in software engineering can pursue further education, such as an advanced degree, or immediately enter the workforce. The following sections explore these two options in more detail.

Career and Salary Outlook for Software Engineering Graduates

Information technology is a rapidly growing field, and software engineers enjoy many opportunities for challenging, engaging work. Increasing demand for trained IT professionals has created accelerated job growth. As previously noted, the BLS projects careers for software developers to grow at an above-average rate from 2018-2028.

Software engineering graduates can pursue a variety of IT careers in areas like software development, programming, systems analysis, and database administration. Salaries are generally competitive, with mid-career IT professionals in many positions earning $70,000-$80,000 annually.

The following section outlines some of the most popular career choices for software engineering graduates.

Software Developer Expand - Plus/Minus
Software developers create computer applications, including software and programs, and the underlying systems that run on computers and other devices. They may identify core development needs and offer broad perspectives on software design, which other employees, such as programmers, then execute.
Information Systems Manager Expand - Plus/Minus
Also known as IT project managers, information systems managers oversee computer-related activities for all types of organizations, taking responsibility for planning and organization efforts. These specialists analyze organizations' IT needs and devise plans to meet them, focusing on management and technology.
Computer Programmer Expand - Plus/Minus
Programmers write code for computer software, hardware, and other applications, making conceptual designs a reality. These professionals often focus on writing programs, expanding them, and checking for errors. They typically understand multiple programming languages, such as Java and C++.
Systems Analyst Expand - Plus/Minus
Also known as systems architects, these specialists evaluate organizations' computer systems and design improvements to help the systems run more efficiently. These roles combine IT and business skills, as systems analysts must understand organizations' needs in terms of computing and cost.
Database Administrator Expand - Plus/Minus
Database administrators focus on the use and storage of data, such as financial records or customer information. They often identify organizational storage needs and design database systems to meet these needs efficiently, making it easier for others to create, catalog, and access important data.

Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering Careers: Median Salaries by Experience
Job Title Entry Level (0-12 Months) Early Career (1-4 Years) Mid-career (5-9 Years) Experienced (10-19 Years)
Software Developer $62,000 $68,000 $81,000 $91,000
Information Systems Manager $59,000 $67,000 $79,000 $91,000
Computer Programmer $52,000 $57,000 $69,000 $78,000
Systems Analyst $55,000 $61,000 $70,000 $77,000
Database Administrator $54,000 $63,000 $79,000 $90,000
Source: PayScale

Continuing Education in Software Engineering

Online bachelor's degrees in software engineering prepare graduates to pursue advanced degrees and professional certifications. Further education offers many professional benefits, including increased career opportunities and salary potential. Read on to learn about the best options for continuing education in the software engineering field.

  • Master's: Master's degrees typically represent the highest level of education required for software engineers, preparing graduates for advanced positions with increased responsibility. These degrees typically take 2-3 years to complete. Many online programs give students the flexibility to work while they earn their degrees.
  • Ph.D.: A Ph.D. is the highest attainable level of education in software engineering, though most positions don't require this degree. Building comprehensive, highly specialized knowledge, Ph.D. programs typically suit students interested in research and academic positions, though some graduates pursue high-level software engineering roles.
  • Certifications: Many certifications, such as the Oracle certified professional designation, can help IT workers increase their job opportunities and command higher salaries without the extensive time and money investment of a degree.

Earning Your Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering

Program requirements vary by school, but learners can generally expect online bachelor's degrees in software engineering to comprise around 120 credits and take about four years of full-time study to complete. Many schools also offer accelerated and/or part-time enrollment options.

Most bachelor's in software engineering programs are BS degrees, though some schools may offer BAs. Students build fundamental knowledge in computer science topics, such as programming languages, operating systems, database management, and communication networks. Students also complete specialized courses in software design, engineering, and architecture.

The nature of the material makes software engineering degrees a natural choice for online study. Many schools offer fully online programs, which enable learners to complete their degrees without visiting campus.

Comparing Bachelor's Degree Options

Software engineering is a diverse, rapidly developing field, and many schools offer degrees featuring slightly different approaches to the subject. These programs rarely present radically different course materials, but students may find that some specializations meet their personal and professional goals better than others. The list below outlines three common types of software engineering programs.

Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering Expand - Plus/Minus
Most software engineering programs are offered as BS degrees. These programs typically emphasize the technical, design, development, and management aspects of software engineering. Graduates can pursue a variety of career paths.
Bachelor of Science in Engineering - Software Engineering Expand - Plus/Minus
A bachelor's in engineering focuses heavily on the mechanical and electrical elements of software engineering, emphasizing how these elements interact with software systems. These programs may tackle practical engineering problems rather than taking the broader approach of some other software engineering degrees.
Bachelor of Science in Information Technology - Software Development Expand - Plus/Minus
Information technology programs typically function similarly to BS in software engineering programs. They often include a strong foundation in computer science, along with specialized courses in software development and engineering. Like the BS in software engineering, this degree applies to many career paths.

Popular Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering Courses

Most online bachelor's degree programs in software engineering offer an overview of the information technology field in addition to allowing students to specialize their knowledge and skills through electives and/or concentrations. Programs often include a final capstone project, which ties together major curriculum topics and enables students to demonstrate their overall learning.

The list below outlines five courses commonly found in software engineering programs. Exact course titles might differ between schools, but the general content remains similar.

  • Intro to Programming

    This course builds foundational knowledge of programming principles and languages (often Java). Students gain an understanding of basic programming topics, such as design, coding, documentation, and debugging. Most courses focus on object-oriented concepts and may also cover topics like data structures and input/output statements.

  • Information Security

    Security plays a major role in all aspects of information technology. This course provides an overview of basic security concepts, including threats, vulnerabilities, and system security optimization. Most courses also touch on legal issues associated with cybersecurity and cybercrime, along with the vulnerabilities inherent in software systems.

  • Project Management

    This course explores project management principles in the context of software engineering. Students learn to apply business and organizational management skills to information technology. Courses often cover the various methods of organization and learning, including team- and discovery-based methods.

  • Mobile Architecture and Programming

    Mobile computing is a rapidly growing sector of IT. These classes focus on the development of mobile applications, touching on topics like design standards, mobile functionality, security, and mobile operating system compatibility.

  • Web Scripting

    A web scripting course examines the tools necessary to create websites and other online platforms. These courses often focus on server-side scripting, web design, web document creation, form creation, and aspects of mobile design, including user interface.


Pairing Internships With Your Education

Internships can play a valuable role in both professional and academic development. Typically taking place in approved information technology environments (usually businesses), internships allow students to apply course concepts to professional practice.

Along with increased knowledge and skills, internships can build valuable professional connections that serve students after graduation. Successful internships can open doors to full-time positions or provide networking opportunities, which can make it easier to find jobs in the future.

Selecting Your Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering Program

Prospective students should consider many factors when choosing the best school for their needs. Some key considerations include:

School Size

Small schools typically provide more individualized attention than larger schools, but larger schools may offer more resources and program options.

Cost/Financial Aid

Tuition ranks among the top concerns for most students. Public schools typically cost less than private schools, but many factors affect tuition. Some schools offer reduced tuition rates for online students.

Concentrations/Specializations

Some programs offer specialized concentrations, which can help students distinguish themselves in the job market. Potential concentrations include mobile development and web development.

Program Length

Some students may be drawn to accelerated programs, which require highly intensive study but allow students to enter the workforce quickly. Students working full time may prefer part-time enrollment, which allows for lighter course loads but requires longer completion times.

Online vs. In-Person

Online courses offer increased flexibility, but they also require students to be highly independent and self-directed. In-person courses may be less convenient for working students, but they often feature more structure.
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Accreditation

Accreditation indicates that a school meets high academic standards. Students should look for schools with regional accreditation, which expands employment, financial aid, and education opportunities.

Should You Get Your Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering Online?

Online learning offers more flexibility than traditional campus learning. However, online formats require students to exercise more independence and self-direction. Online courses often allow students to complete classwork at any time of day, but most programs still impose assignment deadlines, and learners must take responsibility for completing their work without the structure of weekly campus sessions.

Ultimately, online learners must decide if they're willing to take on less-structured academic environments in exchange for increased flexibility. Many students, particularly those who work full time or live far from college campuses, find the tradeoff is well worth it.

Accreditation for Software Engineering Schools and Programs

Prospective learners should make sure each school of interest holds proper accreditation. Accreditation indicates that institutions meet high standards for academic and professional quality. Students who attend non-accredited schools may not qualify for federal financial aid or be able to transfer their credits to other accredited colleges.

Schools may receive regional or national accreditation, with regional accreditation generally considered the more prestigious of the two. Prospective software engineering students should look for schools accredited by one of the six regional accrediting organizations.

Programs within a school may also receive accreditation. Computer science and IT programs may hold programmatic accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.

Resources

Professional Organizations for Software Engineering

Software engineers and other IT specialists can take advantage of professional organizations to stay current in a constantly changing field. Professional organizations may offer benefits like networking, professional development, and continuing education opportunities. The list below outlines three popular professional organizations for software engineers.

  • Association for Computing MachineryDedicated to advancing computing as a science and profession, the ACM hosts conferences, provides training and continuing education opportunities, and advocates for public policy.
  • Association for Women in ComputingWith chapters nationwide, the AWC serves female IT professionals, offering mentoring, continuing education, networking, and professional award opportunities.
  • Institution of Electrical and Electronics EngineersThe world's largest professional organization dedicated to technology, the IEEE supports members through community organization, conferences, education, and professional publications.

Scholarships for Bachelor's Degree Programs in Software Engineering

Software engineering majors can potentially finance their studies through multiple avenues, including scholarships offered exclusively to technology and engineering students. This section outlines five popular scholarships for software engineering students.

A.T. Anderson Scholarship Expand - Plus/Minus

Who Can Apply: Full-time undergraduates majoring in STEM fields who identify as American Indian, Alaska Native Villager, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, or part of another indigenous group qualify for this award.

Amount: $1,000

Apply for Scholarship

Banatao Family Filipino American Education Fund Expand - Plus/Minus

Who Can Apply: Incoming freshman technology majors attending California colleges can apply. Applicants need at least 50% Filipino heritage.

Amount: $5,000

Apply for Scholarship

Entertainment Software Association (ESA) Foundation Scholarships Expand - Plus/Minus

Who Can Apply: Women and minority students who plan to pursue careers in video game design, including software engineering majors, can apply.

Amount: Varies

Apply for Scholarship

Generation Google Scholarship Expand - Plus/Minus

Who Can Apply: Information technology students who identify as members of historically underrepresented groups can apply.

Amount $10,000

Apply for Scholarship

Society of Women Engineers Scholarships Expand - Plus/Minus

Who Can Apply: Female students enrolled in ABET-accredited programs can apply. The organization offers a wide selection of scholarships each year.

Amount: Varies

Apply for Scholarship

Frequently Asked Questions

Which bachelor's degree is best for software engineers? Expand - Plus/Minus
Software engineers can choose from several degree options, including a BA or BS in software engineering or a bachelor's in engineering/IT with a specialization in software engineering.
How many years does it take to become a software engineer? Expand - Plus/Minus
Most bachelor's programs take about four years of full-time study to complete, though many schools also offer accelerated and part-time enrollment options.
What is the monthly income of a software engineer? Expand - Plus/Minus
PayScale reports a median annual salary of $85,189 for software engineers, which amounts to around $8,000 per month. However, many factors can affect salary, including experience, location, and industry.
What major is software engineering? Expand - Plus/Minus
Aspiring software engineers can major in areas like software engineering, computer science, or information technology.

Additional Reading