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Undergraduate and graduate certificates in software engineering can prepare graduates for higher degrees in the field and entry-level jobs as computer programmers, web designers, and network administrators.
Software engineering certificates typically appeal to high school or college graduates interested in careers in information technology, software engineering, or computer science. Seasoned professionals looking to advance professionally can also benefit from certificates. Software engineering students tend to possess strengths in logical reasoning, troubleshooting, and divergent thinking.
In today's exponential age of tech innovations, the demand for individuals with proficiencies in software programming, analysis, and testing continues to rapidly increase. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 22% employment growth rate for software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers from 2019-2029 — far exceeding the 4% average for all employers.
This guide reviews software engineering certificate requirements, prerequisites, cost expectations, and potential careers.
What to Expect From a Software Engineering Certificate Program
Software engineering certificates teach students to design, test, and write code for modern software products, such as internet browsers, operating systems, and smartphone apps.
A typical software engineering certificate curriculum comprises core requirements, concentration courses, and electives. Core coursework typically seeks to familiarize students with software engineering fundamentals like programming languages, software systems architecture, and software design. Electives and concentration courses, by contrast, tend to focus on cultivating the core competencies needed for entry-level software engineering jobs.
Software engineering certificates teach students to design, test, and write code for modern software products.
Learners can pursue software engineering certificates at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Both certificate levels tend to require 15-20 credits and usually take around 6-12 months of full-time study to complete.
Individuals looking to pursue more advanced education after graduating can apply their certificate credits toward higher degrees. To facilitate cross-institutional credit transfer, prospective students should prioritize certificate schools that boast accreditation from one of the six recognized regional accreditors.
How Is an Online Certificate in Software Engineering Different From an On-Campus Program?
Each school handles online learning differently. Still, one main difference between on-campus and online certificate programs lies in how much guided hands-on experience they provide.
Online programs may best suit self-motivated individuals. While remote learners can program and create software from their computer, they may not work in a lab alongside classmates and instructors. Distance learners may need to take more initiative in seeking out academic support, peer connections, and networking opportunities.
Remote programs also usually allow more scheduling flexibility. While on-campus classes follow a set schedule, some online courses let students work at their own pace. This environment can allow learners to complete an online certificate in software engineering more quickly than an on-campus program. Students who need more time may prefer an online course, as some programs allow up to five years for completion.
Online and on-campus programs may also differ in cost. Some institutions charge lower rates for online programs. Many state schools extend in-state tuition rates to online enrollees regardless of residency. Distance learners can also save on expenses such as transportation and housing.
Students considering a software engineering online certificate should consider how these differences may impact their learning experience. Still, online and on-campus programs typically share the same curriculum, especially programs geared toward master’s degree transfer.
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Delivery Formats for Software Engineering Certificates
Just as online learning differs from on-campus studies, available online software engineering certificate programs vary. The primary online course delivery formats include 100% online models and hybrid models.
Classes offered 100% online require no on-campus participation. All resources, class discussions, and communication occur in a digital format. Depending on the program, students may take classes synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous classes require live participation at set times. Asynchronous classes allow students to access course materials on their own schedule as long as they meet assignment deadlines.
To facilitate a completely digital learning environment, schools implement learning management systems. These platforms allow students to access grades, homework, lectures, and reading materials. Schools may design their own digital platforms or use applications such as Blackboard, Moodle, or Canvas.
Even on-campus programs use digital platforms to provide access to syllabi, homework assignments, and grades. Taking classes 100% online means that the learning platform hosts all the course's academic information. Digital learning platforms often include forums to facilitate peer-to-peer and instructor communication.
Hybrid classes combine the flexibility of online courses with the hands-on experience of an on-campus environment. Many hybrid courses require minimal on-campus participation, usually only for labs or group projects. Most lectures and classes still occur online.
Some software engineering certificate candidates may prefer a hybrid delivery format to experience a hands-on learning environment. When on campus, students can ask questions, work with classmates, and even network for future jobs. However, learners who excel in independent study, work long hours, or live far away may find a fully online format more advantageous.
Accreditation and State Authorization for Software Engineering Certificates
When choosing an institution — even for a short certificate program — ensure it holds appropriate accreditation. Both regional and national accrediting bodies hold institutions to high academic standards. These organizations report to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Each of the United States' seven regional accrediting bodies governs a specific geographical region. Nonprofit, academically-oriented schools usually earn regional accreditation. Students wishing to transfer online certificate credits towards a master’s degree should note that regionally accredited institutions usually only accept transfer credits from other regionally accredited schools.
National accreditation emphasizes career preparedness. Many vocational programs hold national accreditation. While regional accreditation carries more prestige, students preparing for specific jobs may also consider nationally accredited schools.
For institutions that primarily offer courses online, check for accreditation from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission. Likewise, various third-party agencies provide accreditation for particular programs. For software engineering programs, look for approval from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology.
To ensure online education meets the same standards as on-campus programs, many states require online schools to hold authorization. Each state maintains its own regulations. For example, Texas requires governing board approval for any electronically delivered program, including online certificates.
Established in 2013, the State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (SARA) consolidate state authorization regulations to make online education more accessible across state lines. SARA covers any postsecondary distance education, including certificates.
Currently, 49 U.S. states, plus the District of Columbia and U.S. territories, hold SARA membership. Higher education institutions that participate in SARA can accept out-of-state students without further authorization.
Software engineering certificate programs normally require each applicant to submit an online application, a CV, school transcripts, recommendation letters, and a nonrefundable application fee.
Admission to an undergraduate certificate program typically requires a high school degree or GED certificate. An applicant to a graduate certificate program must generally hold a bachelor's degree. Neither type of certificate program normally requires prior software engineering experience. However, training in IT or programming can boost admission chances.
The best software engineering schools may also require SAT or ACT scores for prospective undergraduates, along with GRE or GMAT scores for graduate students.
GPA entry requirements vary substantially across different software engineering certificate programs. Undergraduate and graduate programs typically require a minimum 2.75-3.0 GPA for admission.
Different Certificate Types
A software engineering certificate differs from certification in software engineering. A certificate in software engineering delivers academic credentials in software design, programming, and testing, whereas certification in the field offers postgraduate confirmation that a job-seeker possesses the core competencies needed for a specific occupation.
Students can pursue software engineering certificates online, on-campus, and through hybrid delivery. Programs may offer distance learning courses in synchronous or asynchronous formats. Synchronous courses mirror the on-campus experience, with regular live virtual lectures and discussions. An asynchronous format, by contrast, enables participants to access pre-recorded lecture and course materials at their own pace.
Many certificate programs allow enrollees to concentrate in specific software engineering areas.
Students with demanding work or family obligations may prefer asynchronous courses' added flexibility. On-campus and synchronous programs may hold greater appeal for learners seeking more personal faculty guidance.
Many certificate programs allow enrollees to concentrate in specific software engineering areas. Popular concentrations include software architecture, user interface design, and blockchain technology. Before choosing a concentration, students should carefully weigh their career goals and academic interests.
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Popular Software Engineering Certificate Courses
Core courses typically focus on programming languages, high-level programming, software metrics, and software testing and analysis. Electives and concentration courses may cover software architecture, the software development cycle, user interface design, and blockchain applications.
Common courses in software engineering certificate programs include:
- Introduction to Programming Languages: This core course introduces students to the design and implementation of programming languages throughout history, with a special emphasis on functional (e.g., ML and Scheme), imperative (e.g., Java and C++), scripting (e.g., Python and Ruby), and logic-based languages (e.g., Datalog and ASP). Learners also gain insight into formal semantics, high-level versus low-level languages, and high-level language classifications.
- C++ Programming: This core class teaches learners to design general algorithms for applications and code them in C++ — an imperative, object-oriented programming language. Lectures and course assignments cultivate strong troubleshooting skills for testing applications and addressing coding issues.
- User Interface Design: This concentration course introduces students to the latest techniques and strategies for designing compelling user interfaces for websites, desktops, and mobile devices. Topics covered include design typology, templating, formatting, color schemes, and wireframes. Enrollees learn to use interface design strategies and usability testing procedures to devise and assess novel user interfaces.
- The Software Development Lifecycle: This elective course often includes several field trips to tech companies at the forefront of software design and development. During these visits, students gain practical experience with key aspects of the software development lifecycle.
- Blockchain Applications: In this concentration course, students leverage their knowledge of algorithms, networks, and protocols to develop proficiency in designing applications for blockchains — the decentralized, distributed ledgers that support cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, Ethereum, and Cardano. This class often requires programming proficiency in a modern high-level language, such as Java or C++.
How Much Do Certificates in Software Engineering Cost?
The cost of a software engineering certificate program varies with school type and prestige, student residency, and delivery format. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the cost of tuition and fees at four-year undergraduate institutions averaged $23,490 for the 2018-19 school year.
However, in-state public schools typically charge less than private and out-of-state public institutions. For the 2018-19 academic year, NCES reported an average cost of $9,212 for in-state public tuition and fees. Private and out-of-state public tuition and fees averaged $31,875 and $26,382, respectively, for the same school year.
Distance learners may enjoy more favorable tuition rates, as many colleges and universities offer remote courses at a discount. Pursuing a software engineering certificate online or in a hybrid structure can also deliver savings on educational expenses like room and board, on-campus amenities, parking, and commuting.
To further offset the costs of earning a certificate in software engineering, prospective students can explore financing opportunities, such as scholarships, fellowships, and grants.
Why Get a Certificate in Software Engineering?
Pursuing a certificate in software engineering can help satisfy prerequisites for more advanced software engineering or computer science degrees. Certificate-holders may also qualify for entry-level positions in the field. Even without a college degree, a certificate in software engineering may suffice for securing employment in web development, computer programming, and network administration.
Software engineering certificates generally take less time and provide greater affordability than software engineering degrees such as bachelor's and master's degrees. Accordingly, certificate students planning to enter the workforce after graduating could potentially see a faster return on investment than learners who choose to pursue a software engineering degree.
Earning a certificate in software engineering provides sought-after competencies that readily apply across most sectors, making a certificate in the field a highly versatile credential.
Software engineering certificate-holders may qualify for roles as:
- Computer programmers
- Web developers
- Network administrators
- Health information technicians
- Web designers
- Database administrators
Should You Get a Certificate or an Associate Degree?
Prospective software engineering students may wonder whether to pursue certificates or associate degrees in the field. While the two tracks provide similar qualifications and cover comparable course material, they differ in length, credit load, and costs.
Aspiring software engineers looking to enter the workforce as quickly as possible may prefer certificates, which cost less and take less time than associate degrees. Conversely, because an associate degree provides additional credits and more exposure to the academic environment, this option may appeal to learners looking to use their earned credits toward higher degrees.
The following information explores how software engineering certificate programs and software engineering degree programs typically compare.
Comparing Certificate and Associate Programs
|Software Engineering Certificate||Software Engineering Associate Degree|
|Length||6-12 months full time||Two years full time|
|Credit Load||15-20 credits||60 credits|
|Average Cost of Tuition and Fees at Four-Year Institutions||$11,245-$23,490||$44,980|
|Typical Courses||Introduction to programming, software systems architecture, user interface design, blockchain technology||Programming languages, calculus, artificial intelligence, software systems architecture, blockchain technology|
|Goal||Prepare students for more advanced education or entry-level jobs in the field||Prepare learners for higher degrees or entry-level positions in the field|
|Examples of Careers Available After Graduation||Web developer, computer programmer, web designer, health information technician||Database administrator, computer programmer, network administrator, health information technician|
Software Engineering Certificates Versus Bootcamps
Coding bootcamps provide coding proficiency within a short period — typically a few weeks or months. Bootcamps differ from software engineering certificates in admission requirements, student demographic, costs, and breadth.
Coding bootcamps usually attract working professionals looking to change careers or pursue more advanced roles. Certificates hold greater appeal for students who plan to pursue more advanced education in the field or enter the workforce immediately after graduating.
Below, we explore some key differences between software engineering certificate programs and bootcamps:
Comparing Certificate Programs and Bootcamps
|Software Engineering Certificate||Software Engineering Bootcamp|
|Length||6-12 months full time||A few weeks to a few months|
|Credit Load||15-20 credits||Not usually applicable|
|Cost Estimate||$11,245-$22,490||Varies with bootcamp length but typically costs a fraction of the average annual tuition and fees for four-year schools|
|Student Demographic||Students hoping to secure an entry-level job or pursue a higher degree in the field, seasoned professionals seeking to advance in their current roles||Working professionals looking to change careers or climb the career ladder to a higher role.|
|Proficiencies||Proficiencies in designing, assessing, and writing code for software||Coding proficiencies|
|Admission Requirements||A high school diploma or GED certificate||Often no prerequisites|
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Selecting the Right Software Engineering Certificate Program
School rankings can provide a strong starting point on your quest for the right software engineering certificate program. Before settling on a program, you should also weigh factors like accreditation, state authorization, and career services availability:
- Accreditation: Confirm that your prospective schools hold regional accreditation from one of the six official institutional accreditors. This type of institutional endorsement helps ensure access to federal funding for eligible students, credit transfer across institutions, and employer recognition of certificate credentials. The best software engineering certificate programs also hold field-specific accreditation from ABET.
- State Authorization: If you plan to take online courses in a different state from where you reside, confirm that the school in question participates in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA). NC-SARA participation ensures that the remote courses satisfy the educational criteria for software engineering certificates.
- Career Services: The best software engineering certificate programs offer robust resources, such as job fairs, resume workshops, and mock interviews. Career services can also help you find internships, locate further education opportunities, and identify employers who hire software engineering certificate-holders.
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Frequently Asked Questions About Software Engineering Certificates
How long does it take to get a certificate in software engineering?
How long it takes to get a software engineering certificate depends on your prior qualifications, chosen specializations, and course load. Most students complete certificates in 6-12 months of full-time study.
How can I become a software engineer without a degree?
To become a software engineer without a degree, you can pursue a software engineering certificate, attend bootcamp, or earn credentials on your own by accessing free online content. With some work experience, these options may suffice for entry-level software engineering jobs.
Is it hard to become a software engineer?
Difficulty in becoming a software engineer depends on your academic strengths and chosen educational pathway. If you are strong in math, logic, and statistics, you may not find it hard to become a software engineer. Even if you possess strengths in these areas, you may still find advanced degrees like a Ph.D. in software engineering difficult and strenuous.
Should I get a certificate in software engineering?
It depends. If you want to enter the workforce as quickly as possible, you may benefit from earning a software engineering certificate. If you aim to change careers, pursue higher degrees, or advance in your current industry, you may benefit more from pursuing a degree in software engineering.
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