Degrees in Software Engineering


Updated February 27, 2023

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With more businesses turning tech-centric, demand for capable software engineers is on the rise. The global software developer shortfall may mean a favorable job market for software professionals. Degrees in software engineering can help position graduates to pursue these opportunities.

Software-related roles are the most popular tech industry occupations. CompTIA's 2022 State of the Tech Workforce report shows nearly two million software workers in the U.S. — over a million more than any other specialization.

This guide explores associate, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in software engineering. We also look at certificates, bootcamps, and other alternative educational paths.

What Is Software Engineering?

A specialized computer science subfield, software engineering uses engineering principles to design, develop, test, and analyze computer software. Software engineering programs differ from other computer science degrees by combining engineering and computer science concepts.

Software engineering benefits society with programs and applications to make life easier. Software engineers create digital tools that make information more accessible, simplify tasks, save time and money, and help people connect.

The profession attracts analytical, creative problem-solvers with excellent math and computer skills. Software engineers often work in computer systems design, manufacturing, and software publication.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes software engineers in the category of software developers. BLS data indicates an excellent career outlook for these professionals, with a faster-than-average 25% employment growth rate projected from 2021-2031. As of 2021, software engineers earned a median annual salary of $109,020.

Software Engineering Degree Paths

Students can pursue associate, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in software engineering. Some schools offer software engineering bootcamps, along with undergraduate and graduate certificates. Degree programs are typically available in person and/or online.

The best degree in software engineering depends on each student's career goals and personal interests. Learners should also consider their budgets and the time commitments they can devote to education. Below, we describe what to expect from different software engineering degrees.

Software Engineering Certificates

Prospective students who may not want or need to complete degrees in software engineering can pursue certificates instead. Graduate- and undergraduate-level software engineering certificates often demand less time and money than traditional degrees. Many certificates in software engineering take 6-12 months.

Some students earn certificates as a first step to help decide if they want to pursue degrees in software engineering. In other cases, working computer science professionals pursue certificates to fill in knowledge gaps and develop specialized skills to advance in the field.

Associate Degrees in Software Engineering

Associate degrees in software engineering cover topics like network management, programming, and software applications. A typical curriculum may include subjects like web development using PHP and MySQL, data analytics, Python programming, and discrete mathematics.

Students usually take about two full-time years to earn associate degrees in software engineering.

Graduates can pursue entry-level information technology positions like application developer. Some learners continue their education by transferring to four-year bachelor's programs. Potential four-year majors include software engineering, computer engineering, and computer science.

Bachelor's Degrees in Software Engineering

Bachelor's programs in software engineering focus on engineering, advanced math, and computer programming. Enrollees develop coding, database management, and teamwork skills.

Majors in software engineering usually include courses in design and analysis of data structures, algorithms, and client/server development. Most bachelor's in software engineering programs take about four full-time years to complete. Graduation often entails a computing capstone project.

Graduates can pursue jobs like software engineer or developer, computer programmer, and information technology manager. They can also apply to master's and doctoral programs in software engineering and related fields.

Master's Degrees in Software Engineering

Master's degrees in software engineering usually take full-time students about 15-24 months to complete. A typical master's program in the field focuses on software development and engineering theory and practice.

Students take advanced classes like software engineering economics, open-source software engineering, information assurance and testing, and software engineering principles and concepts.

Depending on their prior academic and professional experience, master's in software engineering graduates can pursue managerial and senior-level positions in software engineering. Potential jobs include software developer, software architect, application developer, and computer system analyst.

Doctoral Degrees in Software Engineering

Doctoral programs in software engineering are less common than bachelor's and master's degrees. The highest degree available in the field, a doctorate in software engineering prepares graduates to pursue high-level research and teaching careers. Potential jobs include college professor, researcher, and entrepreneur.

Popular software engineering doctoral courses include applied data structures and algorithms, concurrent programming, distributed system design, and machine learning. Students can tailor the curriculum to their own research interests. Each enrollee develops expertise in a narrow focus area by researching, writing, and defending a doctoral dissertation.

A typical doctorate in software engineering takes about four full-time years to complete.

Software Engineering Bootcamps

A software engineering degree program is not the only route to a career in the field. Prospective students can also consider software engineering bootcamps.

Many bootcamps in software engineering take less time to complete than traditional four-year degrees. Bootcamps provide intensive software engineering training in a condensed time frame. These accelerated programs help prepare participants to pursue entry-level jobs upon completion.

Bootcamp prices vary by program length, format (in-person or online), and availability of student support. Some offer job placement assistance or job guarantees.

Other Paths for Learning Software Engineering

Formal college education requires significant time and money. In comparison, nontraditional methods for learning software engineering are often cheaper and may allow students to learn at their own pace. Professionals with specific skills enjoy high demand in the tech industry, and although many employers prefer formal credentials, a college degree is not always mandatory.

Alternative learning methods include massive open online courses, mentorship programs, and industry internships. Aspiring software engineers can also create self-study programs using online resources. Besides strengthening basic skills and knowledge, these modes of learning may also help learners build their professional networks.

Self-trained professionals can take certain steps to prove their skills. Earning industry-standard certifications may help people without computer science degrees stand out to potential employers.

Resources for Software Engineering Majors

Steps for Becoming a Software Engineer

Steps for Becoming a Software Engineer

Best Programming Languages for Software Engineering

Best Programming Languages for Software Engineering

How Software Engineers Differ From Software Developers

How Software Engineers Differ From Software Developers

A Day in the Life of a Software Engineer

A Day in the Life of a Software Engineer

Questions About Software Engineering Degrees

  • Is software engineering hard to study?

    It can be. Software engineering is a technical field, which some people find challenging. However, most students can succeed in software engineering if they dedicate the time and effort to master the material.

  • Which degree is best for jobs in software engineering?

    A BS in software engineering or a related field prepares graduates to apply for entry-level software engineer positions. A master's degree or Ph.D. can open the door to more advanced and senior-level positions.

  • Do I have to major in software engineering to be a software engineer?

    No, a degree in the field is not always mandatory for a software engineering career. Bootcamps, online courses, and on-the-job experience can also provide the skills necessary to land a job as a software engineer.

  • Is a software engineering degree worth it?

    The BLS projects software engineering jobs to grow 25% between 2021 and 2031. With this faster-than-average rate, software engineers are in demand and often enjoy high-paying careers.

Page last reviewed on Dec 17, 2022

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