Degrees in Software Engineering


Updated September 8, 2022

Interested in pursuing a degree in software engineering but aren't sure what path to take? Read on to learn more about your options.

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Credit: Feature Image: Luis Alvarez / DigitalVision / Getty Images

As a specialized subfield of computer science, software engineering uses engineering principles to develop, test, design, and analyze computer software. Software engineering differs from other computer science degrees by incorporating concepts from engineering and computer science.

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

The BLS projects a faster-than-average 22% employment growth rate for this field from 2020-2030.

For students who want to become software engineers, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data indicates an excellent career outlook. The BLS projects a faster-than-average 22% employment growth rate for this field from 2020-2030. A BS in software engineering can prepare graduates to pursue professional entry-level software engineer jobs.

Keep reading to learn how to find schools with the top degrees in software engineering. We also explain what to expect from a typical program, along with salary and career outlook for graduates.

What Is a Software Engineering Degree?

Degrees in software engineering can prepare students to pursue in-demand, high-paying jobs as professional software engineers. Graduates can also qualify for other computer and information technology occupations.

The BLS reports that software engineers earned a median salary of $110,140 as of May 2020. This significantly exceeds the $41,950 annual median income for all occupations. A software engineer typically needs at least a bachelor's degree in computer science or a related field.

When Is a Software Engineering Focus Better Than a General Computer Science Degree?

A concentration or BS in software engineering typically offers more specialized skills and knowledge than a general computer science program. Majors in software engineering study software development skills and engineering techniques.

A software engineering degree typically includes a more practical, skills-based focus than general computer science degrees, which concentrate on theoretical concepts. Software engineering often suits students who know that they want to become professional software engineers or who plan to apply to graduate school in the same subject.

When Might a General Computer Science Degree Be Better Than Software Engineering?

A general computer science degree may make more sense for students uncertain of what to specialize in. Computer science incorporates a broader and more theoretical focus than specialized degrees in software engineering.

General computer science majors can keep their options for careers or future education more open than software engineering grads, who typically remain on the software engineering pathway. Computer science degree-holders can learn specialized skills on the job after graduation. They can also qualify to apply to more graduate programs than software engineering degree-holders.

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Types of Software Engineering Degrees

Software engineering programs offer several degree levels. 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.

The ideal degree in software engineering depends on each student's career goals and personal interests. Also, consider your budget and the time commitment you want to devote to your education. Below, we describe what to expect from different software engineering degrees.

Software Engineering Certificates

Prospective students who do not know if they want to complete any degrees in software engineering can pursue certificates instead. Graduate and undergraduate-level software engineering certificates take less time and money to complete than traditional degrees. Most 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 gaps in their knowledge and develop specialized skills to advance in the field.

Most certificates in software engineering take 6-12 months.

Associate in Software Engineering

Associate degrees in software engineering cover network management, programming, and software applications. A typical curriculum requires classes like web development using PHP and MySQL, introduction to data analytics, introduction to Python, 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 degrees include software engineering, computer engineering, and computer science.

Bachelor's in Software Engineering

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

A BS in software engineering usually includes classes like design and analysis of data structures and algorithms and client/server development, full-stack development. Most bachelor's in software engineering programs take about four full-time years to complete and include a computing capstone project.

Graduates can apply for 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 in Software Engineering

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

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.

Doctorate in Software Engineering

As the highest degree available in the field, doctoral programs in software engineering are less common than bachelor's and master's degrees. Software engineering doctoral programs prepare 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 receive considerable freedom to tailor the curriculum to their own research interests. Each enrollee can develop expertise in a narrow area of software engineering by researching, writing, and defending a doctoral dissertation.

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

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Software Engineering Degree?

The BLS reports that software engineers — included in the job listing for software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers — earned a median annual salary of $110,140 as of May 2020. Its projections indicate a 22% growth rate (much faster than average) for the occupation from 2020-2030.

Explore more salary information below.

Bootcamps in Software Engineering

A four-year degree is not the only route to a software engineering career. Prospective students looking to avoid spending the time and money on a college degree can also consider bootcamps.

Most bootcamps in software engineering take significantly less time to complete than traditional degrees. Bootcamps provide intensive software engineering training in a condensed time frame to prepare participants to pursue entry-level jobs upon completion.

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

Additional Resources for Software Engineering Students

Keep reading to learn more about careers in software engineering and ways to prepare for your degree. Explore our additional resources for software engineering students below.

Careers in Software Engineering

Our career resources for software engineering students discuss how to become a software engineer, a typical day for a software engineer, and careers in video game design and software development.

Software Engineer Career

Software Engineer Career

Discover How to Become a Software Engineer

Discover How to Become a Software Engineer

Learn More About a Typical Day for a Software Engineer

Learn More About a Typical Day for a Software Engineer

Video Game Designer Career

Video Game Designer Career

Software Developer Career

Software Developer Career

Preparing For Your Software Engineering Degree

The resources below help prospective students prepare to pursue software engineering degrees. Learn how to pay for your program, explore scholarships and financial aid, and discover diversity and inclusion efforts in STEM.

FAQ's About Software Engineering Degrees

How do I become a software engineer?

A prospective software engineer typically needs a BS in software engineering or a related field. Some organizations hire software engineers who do not possess bachelor's degrees if they can demonstrate their skills and knowledge through previous experience or professional certifications.

Is software engineering hard to study?

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

How many years does it take to become a software engineer?

It usually takes four full-time years to earn a BS in software engineering — the industry standard for entry-level positions. However, some people land software engineering jobs before completing four-year degrees.

Which degree is best for 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.

Feature Image: Luis Alvarez / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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