5 Best Online Master's in Software Engineering

Updated September 8, 2022

Earning a master's degree online can be a convenient, flexible way to continue your education. Review our rankings of the best software engineering graduate programs.

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A master's in software engineering can open doors to compelling careers for creative and detail-oriented technology professionals. Degree-seekers hone their software development skills and prepare for lucrative employment opportunities in the computer systems industry.

As the general public becomes more dependent on software systems for their virtual workplaces, industry professionals benefit from increased salaries and job security. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for software development professionals to grow by 22% from 2019-2029, significantly faster than most occupations.

Continue reading to learn what to expect from a master's in software engineering program. We also rank the top five online software engineering grad schools and delve into potential jobs for graduates.

Why Get an Online Software Engineering Master's Degree?

Like other engineering fields, software engineering involves applying scientific principles to design, build, and implement systems that solve problems. Software engineering principles permeate the tech industry, remaining relevant as the market for computer applications grows.

As of 2019, computer and information technology professionals earned a median annual salary of $88,240, according to the BLS, far surpassing the $39,810 median annual salary for all occupations.

Software engineering principles permeate the tech industry, remaining relevant as the market for computer applications grows.

Professionals who earn master's degrees in software engineering can pursue fast-paced careers in software development, data analytics, and systems development. Master's degree-holders may also enjoy higher priority for promotions and management positions compared to those with only bachelor's degrees.

See below for a few reasons learners may pursue a master's in software engineering degree:

  • Transferable Skill Set: Like coding bootcamp programs, the curriculum and coursework in graduate-level software engineering programs prepare enrollees for many tech-focused career paths. Degree-holders can work in software development and nearly any computer science field.
  • High Demand: The BLS projects jobs in this field to grow 22% from 2019-2029. This projected growth coupled with a high median annual salary contributes to a high-demand, high-reward career path.
  • Opportunities for Advancement: Earning a graduate-level software engineering degree helps candidates communicate their ambition and professionalism to future employers. Tech professionals with advanced degrees can often secure high-paying leadership roles in computer and information systems management.

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What To Expect From Master's in Software Engineering Programs

Master's degrees in software engineering provide a comprehensive focus on computer-based engineering, programming, and software design. Graduate students build on their foundational knowledge to study advanced computer engineering theory.

Various degrees can help students achieve their tech industry career goals. Master of science (MS) degrees in software engineering take a theoretical approach to software design, while master of engineering (ME) degrees focus on a practical application of software creation. Both degrees can lead to jobs in software engineering.

Course requirements vary by school, but software engineering master's programs typically require 30-36 credits and take two years to complete. Applicants without certain undergraduate training may need to complete additional prerequisite courses.

Admission Requirements

Applicants to master's degree in software engineering programs typically need an undergraduate degree in computer science or a related field from a regionally accredited university. Prospective students may need to provide GRE scores, a personal statement, professional resumes, and official transcripts demonstrating a minimum 2.0 GPA.

Online master's in software engineering programs generally require applicants to make a school account and complete an online application. Most programs require applicants to provide test scores and pay an application fee.

Prospective master's in software engineering students need strong skills in statistics, database management, and software development. Internship or work experience in the software industry can make applicants especially competitive in the admissions process.

Degree Options

Prospective software engineers can boost their industry expertise by pursuing one of two graduate-level tracks: an MS in software engineering or an ME in software. Both degrees teach the fundamentals of programming and computer science.

  • This academic degree offers a research and theory-based approach to software studies.
  • Learners typically complete this degree in two years.
  • Enrollees often conduct research and complete a thesis as their culminating project.
  • This terminal, professional degree focuses on the practical applications of software development and the construction of software systems.
  • Learners may complete this degree in 12 months, although exact program length varies by school.
  • Students may work on software development projects or take an exam as their culminating project.

Comparing Software Engineering and General Computer Science Degrees

Two of the most common degrees in the ever-growing computer and tech industry include a master's in software engineering and a master's in computer science. Both graduate-level degrees provide advanced, computer-based training that can lead to high-paying software development careers.

The master's in software engineering offers a more practical approach, while the master's in computer science offers a more theoretical approach. See below for more details about the two programs.

Master's in Software Engineering Master's in Computer Science
Program Length 1-2 years Two years
Types of Classes Software architecture, project management, quality assurance, software testing Cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, machine learning, graphics
Focus The software engineering degree focuses on building and maintaining software through a hands-on approach. The computer science degree focuses on theories of computer design, mathematics, and logic.
Admission requirements Applicants need an undergraduate degree in computer science or related field. Some programs prefer candidates with programming experience. Applicants need an undergraduate degree in computer science or related field.

Popular Software Engineering Courses

Master's in software engineering programs generally include core courses with optional electives and specialized studies. Master's programs may allow students to choose between a thesis or non-thesis track.

Some common software engineering classes include systems architecture, software risk management, web geographic information systems (GIS), and web programming. Read more about these courses below:

Systems Architecture

This core course evaluates the factors that contribute to strong software architecture. Learners examine the classes, functions, and subroutines of software and how they contribute to a whole project. Instructors may assign case sets and encourage students to explore different arrangements and frameworks in software construction.

Software Risk Management

This core course focuses on the aspects of identifying risk probability within software programs and limiting the chances for risks to occur. In studying software engineering, learners may analyze risk factors related to unstable software, unsafe data, poor time management, and cost overruns.

Web Programming

This core programming course focuses on database design, security, and web user experience. Enrollees gain hands-on experience with popular web applications like JavaScript, Python, and Structured Query Language. Students use these applications to design and execute web programming projects.


This elective course allows students to explore the connection between the web and GIS, the system which controls the collection and analysis of spatial and geographic data. Enrollees learn to manage GIS-based projects and to use the latest GIS technology.

Master's Thesis

This culminating project requires degree-seekers to select a topic, conduct research under faculty supervision, and present a thesis paper. Learners often address problems in the software development industry or investigate a specialized topic of interest. The entire thesis project can take several semesters to complete. Most thesis papers span 40-80 pages.

How Much Will a Master's Degree in Software Engineering Cost?

Master's in software engineering programs generally include 30-36 credits. Graduate tuition for degrees such as a master's in software engineering costs $19,314 per year on average, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Tuition rates depend on educational factors like school prestige and reputation, private or public status, online or on-campus instruction, and enrollees' home states.

Degree-seekers should also factor in other costs, such as campus fees related to parking, technology, and health services. Fortunately, pursuing software engineering master's degrees online allows students to avoid many of these expenses.

Learners can pursue many financing options to help fund their education, including scholarships, grants, loans, and fellowships. See below for financial aid information for software engineering degree-seekers.

Jobs for Master's in Software Engineering Graduates

Earning a master's in software engineering prepares graduates for a variety of employment opportunities in the tech field. Many employers prefer candidates with a master's degree, giving applicants with an advanced degree an advantage in the job market.

Graduates of software engineering programs can work in various fields, including software development, computer and information systems management, network engineering, and computer systems analysis.

Software Developers

Software developers create, maintain, and enhance computer programs. They may incorporate emerging technology to create new applications or improve the functionality of existing systems.

Required Education: Bachelor's degree required, but master's in software engineering preferred
Job Outlook (2019-29): +22%
Median Annual Salary: $107,510

Computer and Information Research Scientists

These professionals design and initiate new approaches to computing languages, tools, and methods. They work to solve computing problems in science, business, and medical industries.

Required Education: Master's degree in computer science or software engineering
Job Outlook (2019-29): +15%
Median Annual Salary: $122,840

Computer Network Architects

Computer network architects, or network engineers, create data communication networks, including local area networks, wide area networks, and intranets. Network architects rely on advanced computing expertise and advanced planning strategies.

Required Education: Bachelor's degree required, but a master's in software engineering or master of business administration (MBA) preferred
Job Outlook (2019-29): +5%
Median Annual Salary: $112,690

Computer and Information Systems Managers

Computer and information systems managers, or IT managers, direct an organization's use of computer hardware and software. They plan and organize their employer's computer-related activities.

Required Education: Bachelor's degree required, but MBA or master's in software engineering preferred
Job Outlook (2019-29): +10%
Median Annual Salary: $146,360

Computer Systems Analysts

Computer systems analysts, or systems architects, analyze and make recommendations to improve an organization's computer systems. They may streamline procedures and design solutions to help an organization operate more effectively.

Required Education: Bachelor's degree required, but MBA or master's in software engineering preferred
Job Outlook (2019-29): +7%
Median Annual Salary: $90,920

The Top Software Engineering Master's Degree Online Programs

The following list comprises the top five master's in software engineering programs. All of the schools on our list hold regional accreditation.

Accredited educational institutions meet quality standards for learning established by third-party agencies. Accreditation ensures status, legitimacy, and aptness. Noteworthy accrediting bodies validating our ranked programs include:

  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  1. Auburn University

    Auburn, AL



    Auburn is a public university in Alabama, established in 1856. The university houses over 400 academic and non-academic buildings and more than 15 schools and colleges. The school mascot, Aubie, is a nine-time national mascot champion.

    Master of Science in Computer Science and Software Engineering

    The master of science in computer science and software engineering is a 30-credit program offered at Auburn's Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. The course specializes in artificial intelligence, computer networks, cybersecurity, machine learning, databases, and data science. Online students may choose a non-thesis option by completing additional courses for three extra credits, making a total of 33.

    Course topics include advanced computer architecture, advanced operating systems and algorithms. Online students select between an engineering or data science option for the program. Graduate program officers at Auburn help students create a plan of study after admission.

    Applying to Auburn

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in computer science and software engineering or equivalent. Those seeking admission must also provide official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and a resume.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: SACSCOC
    Tuition: $949/credit
    Required Credits: 30-33 credits
    Delivery Format: 100% online (synchronous and asynchronous)

  2. Pennsylvania State University - World Campus

    University Park, PA



    Penn State World Campus is a public university located in University Park, Pennsylvania. With 125 years of experience in distance learning, Penn State offers over 150 degree courses online, beyond the traditional campus experience.

    Master of Software Engineering

    Penn State offers an online, 36-credit master of software engineering program at its online campus. The cohort-based program impersonates remote-workplace environments, including 12 applicable courses that students can complete over two years. Course topics include pattern oriented design, web security and privacy, and database design concepts.

    The software project capstone course tests the knowledge obtained in previous courses. Penn State programs follow an asynchronous module, facilitating self-study and peer-to-peer interaction through chat, video conferencing, email, social media, discussion boards, and more.

    Applying to Penn State

    Admission requires a bachelor's or tertiary degree from an accredited U.S. institution and a junior/senior GPA of 3.0. Some cases may require GRE and language proficiency tests.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: MSCHE
    Tuition: $996/credit
    Required Credits: 36 credits
    Program Length: 2 years minimum
    Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous)

  3. California State University - Fullerton

    Fullerton, CA



    CSUF is a public university located in Fullerton, California, which is a leading campus of CSU. The university enrolled 1,266 international students from 72 countries in the fall 2020 semester.

    Master of Science in Software Engineering

    CSUF's College of Engineering and Computer Science offers a fully online master of science in software engineering. This program focuses on software processes and management with seven standards of assessment and evaluation. The degree requires 30 credits of online coursework. Learners complete the degree in 22 months.

    Notable classes include professional, ethical and legal issues for software engineers, modern software management, and advanced software processes. Students generally spend 6-10 hours on homework per week for each class. Students can discuss the readings, lectures, and assignments and engage with professors and fellow students in discussions of specific course topics through the virtual classroom.

    Applying to CSUF

    Applicants require a baccalaureate degree with a software engineering course or equivalent work experience. The university accepts a minimum 2.6 GPA.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: WSCUC
    Tuition: $2,082/semester
    Required Credits: 30 credits
    Program Length: 22 months
    Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous)

  4. University of Southern California

    Los Angeles, CA

    Established in 1880, USC is a private university located in Los Angeles, California. With a graduation rate of 92%, USC awarded degrees to nearly 46,000 students in 2020.

    Master of Science in Computer Science

    USC offers an online master of science in computer science specializing in software engineering. The 32-credit program offered at USC's Viterbi School of Engineering provides skills in software development, system engineering and management. Students typically learn software management and economics, testing and analysis of software systems, analysis of algorithms, and software architectures.

    Students may also include research for an optional master's thesis in their programs if they wish to pursue advanced studies and research leading to a Ph.D. Online students at USC meet the same academic standards as on-campus students.

    Applying to USC

    Applicants must hold a bachelor's degree in computer science. Transcripts, a letter of recommendation, a resume, and a personal statement are the only requirements for the online application.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Private
    Accreditation: WSCUC
    Tuition: $2,148/credit
    Required Credits: 32 credits
    Program Length: 2-3 years
    Delivery Format: 100% online (asynchronous)

  5. East Carolina University

    Greenville, NC



    Located in Greenville, North Carolina, ECU is a public university. ECU boasts over 500 student clubs and organizations, and the school conducted more than 1,800 student-affiliated events and programs in the 2019-20 academic year. The acceptance rate at ECU is 78.7%.

    Master of Science in Software Engineering

    Master of science in software engineering offered at ECU is a 30-credit program. Prospective students without a bachelor's degree in software engineering or a similar computing discipline require completing eight credits of prerequisite courses. Notable courses include foundation of software testing, programming and data structures foundations, and software management. Students choose from a research-based project, thesis, or coursework-only option.

    Qualifying students can also apply for federal, state, or institutional aid programs. Online students at ECU can access their course material 24/7. The required coursework and examinations at ECU are the same for online and on-campus students.

    Applying to ECU

    Admission to the program requires a minimum undergraduate GPA of 3.0 and a 30th percentile score in GRE or a satisfactory MAT score.

    Program at a Glance

    School Type: Public
    Accreditation: SACSCOC
    Tuition: $289/credit (in state); $1,020/credit (out of state)
    Required Credits: 30 credits
    Delivery Format: 100% online (synchronous or asynchronous)

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Software Engineering

Is a master's in software engineering worth it?

Yes. Tech professionals who earn a master's in software engineering enjoy fast-paced careers and may also receive promotions and leadership opportunities over professionals with only a bachelor's degree.

How long does it take to get a master's degree in software engineering?

Master's in software engineering programs generally comprise 30-36 credits and take two years to complete. However, program length varies depending on learners' enrollment status.

What can I do with a master's degree in software engineering?

Professionals with a master's degree in software engineering can work in a variety of tech careers, including software development, computer and information systems management, and computer systems analysis.

How much does a software engineer with a master's make?

While specific salaries vary, the BLS reported a median annual salary of $88,240 for careers in the computer and information technology industry as of May 2019.

Feature Image: alvarez / E+ / Getty Images

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