Earning a Master's in Software Engineering Online

Across the country, enrollment in software engineering programs is steadily increasing. A software engineering online master's degree affords students numerous opportunities after graduation. Students can benefit from enrolling in an online master's since the format of the program allows them to continue working while they pursue their degrees. Below, is information on potential salaries, job growth, financial aid opportunities, and resources for students considering an online degree in software engineering.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Software Engineering?

Bachelor's students looking to advance their careers by pursuing a master's degree should consider enrolling in an online master's in software engineering program. The program is also a good match for working professionals who want to increase their salaries and career opportunities.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Software Engineering?

Pursuing Specialization

A software engineering degree prepares students for work in a variety of different fields depending on their interests. Some online master's programs offer concentrations geared toward specialized careers.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Professionals who earn their master's degrees qualify for more job opportunities than their counterparts with bachelor's degrees. Those with advanced degrees also tend to earn higher salaries due to their broader skill set.

Online Learning Technology

In the software engineering world, staying current with the latest communication technology is essential. While in an online program, students have the chance to use the latest technology and see how it relates to the industry as a whole.

Prerequisites for Online Software Engineering Programs

There are many prerequisites for an online master's in software engineering. These may include:

  • Work Experience: Some programs require students to have work experience before applying, though most do not. With work experience under your belt, you can relate your coursework directly to any field experiences.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Many online master's in software engineering programs require GRE scores. There are some programs that offer opportunities to waive this requirement.
  • Coursework: Online master's in software engineering programs often require students to have an undergraduate degree in a related field. If a student's degree is in an unrelated field, the school may require completion of additional courses to ensure students have the proper familiarity with the subject matter. Minimum GPA requirements vary, though most require at least a 3.0.
  • Recommendations: Letters of recommendation are a requirement for many online master's in software engineering programs. Reach out to educational and professional contacts for letters and refrain from using personal contacts like friends and family members.
  • Essays: Essay requirements are different for every program. Some schools do not require applicants to complete an essay while other programs provide students with a topic.
  • Interviews: Some universities conduct admissions interviews as part of the application process. These interviews allow admissions teams to ask deeper questions and get to know applicants better.
  • International Students: International students must abide by the same admissions requirements as local students. However, they may also have to submit test scores from an English as a second language exam to demonstrate their ability to understand and use the English language.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Software Engineering?

The salary range for software engineering careers is between $59,446 for entry-level positions to $122,625 for more experienced professionals. While experience is valuable, having an advanced degree demonstrates a broader set of skills, unlocking more job opportunities and higher salaries. Location also impacts salary rates. For instance, software engineers typically get paid more in areas with higher costs of living.

Traditional Careers for Software Engineering Master's Graduates

Career Stats Description

Software Engineer or Developer

Median Pay: $103,560

Job Growth: 11.1%

Software engineers analyze users' needs to test, design, and develop software to meet individual needs. They perform software maintenance and testing and they collaborate regularly with other computer specialists.

Ideal for: Creative, detail-oriented individuals with strong interpersonal and problem-solving skills.

Computer Programmer

Median Pay: $82,240

Job Growth: -7.2%

Computer programmers update and expand existing computer programs, test and create code in an integrated development environment, and test programs to identify errors and create solutions for faulty lines of code.

Ideal for: Professionals with the ability to maintain concentration who have strong analytical and troubleshooting skills.

Computer Systems Analyst

Median Pay: $88,270

Job Growth: 6.5%

These analysts, sometimes called systems architects, are responsible for designing and implementing innovative new systems by choosing and configuring software and hardware. They work with managers to determine the role of IT systems within their organization.

Ideal for: Creative professionals with solid analytical and communication skills.

Network and Computer Systems Administrator

Median Pay: $81,100

Job Growth: 6%

Network and computer systems administrators maintain network and computer security within organizations and train users to properly use hardware and software. They also optimize and evaluate network and system performance.

Ideal for: Individuals with problem-solving, communication, and multitasking skills.

Computer and Information Systems Manager

Median Pay: $139,220

Job Growth: 12%

Computer and information systems managers are responsible for analyzing an organization's computer needs to recommend potential upgrades. They also plan and direct the installation and maintenance of computer software and hardware.

Ideal for: Professionals with solid business, analytical, decision-making, and organizational skills.

Non-Traditional Careers for Software Engineering Master's Graduates

Career Stats Description

Computer and Information Research Scientist

Median Pay: $114,520

Job Growth: 19%

Computer and information research scientists explore fundamental problems in computing and derive theories and models to address them. They also invent new computing tools, languages, and methods to improve how people work with computers.

Ideal for: Individuals with analytical and critical thinking skills who are detail-oriented.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO)

Median Pay: $104,700

Job Growth: 8%

Chief executive officers negotiate and approve contracts and agreements and they establish and carry out organizational and departmental policies, goals, and procedures. They also identify areas where they can cut costs to boost performance, programs, and policies.

Ideal for: Individuals with excellent time management skills and are able to be strong leaders.

Computer Hardware Engineer

Median Pay: $115,120

Job Growth: 5%

Computer hardware engineers conduct tests on the hardware they design, update existing computer equipment, and oversee manufacturing processes for computer hardware.

Ideal for: Professionals with solid critical-thinking, analytical, and communication skills.

Postsecondary Teacher (Computer Science)

Median Pay: $76,000

Job Growth: 15%

Postsecondary computer science teachers instruct college or university students in a variety of relevant subject areas. They plan lessons, develop assignments, and work with students to improve their knowledge or career skills.

Ideal for: Individuals who are resourceful and have strong interpersonal, speaking, and writing skills.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Software Engineering

Tuition rates vary depending on the college or university. Generally, in-state tuition is lower than out-of-state costs, although some schools offer one flat rate. Some schools also offer different rates depending on the student's enrollment, whether they enroll part-time, full-time, or choose to follow an accelerated format. There are plenty of financial aid opportunities available to help pay tuition costs.

Tuition Timelines

When choosing an online program, students also need to decide what type of enrollment they are interested in: part-time, full-time, or accelerated.

Part-Time Path

Part-time enrollment is ideal for students who need maximum flexibility, especially students who have full time jobs or other schedule commitments.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Washington State University
Total Credits Required: 30
Summary: The online master's in software engineering program at Washington State University takes students about three years to complete. The total cost for the program is about $17,460 which is subject to change due to increasing tuition costs.

Full-Time Path

Full-time enrollment is considered the standard enrollment for students. Most schools base their estimated program lengths on full-time enrollment.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Columbia University in the City of New York
Total Credits Required: 30
Summary: The online master's in software engineering at Columbia University in New York City costs about $64,595 overall, although tuition rates are subject to change. Students usually take two years to finish the program.

Accelerated Path

Accelerated programs allow students to take more credits in a semester than regular, full-time students, allowing them to complete their program sooner.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: DePaul University
Total Credits Required: 52
Summary: This online master's program takes students two years or less to complete. The total tuition cost for the entire program is around $44,200 although the cost of tuition is subject to change.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

There are many financial aid opportunities for students pursuing their master's in software engineering online including scholarships, like those listed below, that are specific to software engineering graduate students.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Software Engineering Program

Master's in software engineering online programs typically take students about two years to complete if they enroll full-time. Some programs require students to participate in internships to gain field experience. Most schools require students to complete either a capstone or thesis for their final project during their senior year as a way to demonstrate the skills they developed during their program.

Major Milestones

  1. Capstone: Senior year

    Students work with faculty to complete a senior project using the skills they developed throughout their coursework. Subject matter for capstone projects varies depending on the area of interest.

  2. Thesis: Senior year

    During their senior year, students work with a faculty member to compose a thesis. They regularly meet with their chosen advisor to discuss their project and they write a final paper to turn in at the end of the course.

  3. Internship: Junior year

    Even programs that do not require students to complete an internship often give students credit if they decide to pursue one. Internships serve as great first-hand experience for students and help them relate the things they are learning in their course material to the real world.

  4. Intent to graduate: End of senior year

    During the final semester of their senior year, students have to apply to graduate. They must make sure all outstanding tuition payments have been made and if they are participating in the graduation ceremony, they can order their cap and gown.

  5. Licensure exam: After graduation

    After graduation, graduates can pursue a variety of certification programs. Certifications require individuals to take and pass exams, sometimes more than one per certification.


Online software engineering master's programs cover many subjects to help prepare students for successful careers after graduation. Some common courses are listed below.

Database design concepts

The database design concepts course focuses on the capture, development, and design of relational database applications, the development of appropriate systems, and the analysis of business requirements.

Software systems architecture

In the software systems architecture course, students learn about architectural design patterns and principles, how to document and evaluate software architectures, and how to reuse architectural assets through frameworks.

Applied human computer human interaction

The applied human computer human interaction course focuses on applying theories and techniques to the design and evaluation of software-based products. Students gain an understanding of these core concepts through analyzing existing interfaces and developing prototypes.

Software system design

Students learn to understand the best practices in the analysis, requirements, and design of large software systems including the Unified Process and the Unified Modeling Language in the software system design course.

Enterprise integration

The enterprise integration course focuses on the advances in the development, deployment, and design of management and control software for enterprise and production information systems.

Requirements to Practice

After graduating with an online master's in software engineering, students can obtain certifications in different areas including Java programming, web design, and web development. These are just a few certifications students may consider:

  • CIW Web Design Professional: To become a certified CIW Web Design Professional, individuals must pass two certification exams: CIW Web Design Specialist and CIW E-Commerce Specialist. Passing these exams validates the individual's ability to understand website design and development, how to manage technical issues, and how to conduct business online.
  • CIW Web Development Professional: CIW Web Development Professionals earn certification by passing three different exams: CIW JavaScript Specialist, CIW Perl Specialist, and CIW Database Design Specialist. This program is great for software developers, application programmers, and web architects.
  • Oracle Certified Professional (OCP): Java SE Programmer: The Oracle Certified Professional: Java SE Programmer certification teaches advanced level skills in Java programming and certifies individuals in the latest Java software, equipping them with the tools they need to make the most out of the program. To gain certification, individuals have to pass an exam.
  • IEEE Professional Software Engineering Master Certification: IEEE offers a Professional Software Engineer Master Certification in 11 different areas such as software maintenance, software configuration management, and software engineering economics. To gain certification, individuals must pass an exam that covers all 11 topics.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Graduates with their online master's degree in software engineering can join professional organizations to advance their careers. Professional organizations allow members to network and build useful business connections. Online resources are useful to both students and professionals, serving as learning tools, forums, and research portals.

  • Association for Computing Machinery: The world's largest scientific and educational computing society, ACM delivers resources to help advance computing. ACM has nearly 100,000 members and over half of them reside outside the United States.
  • Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence: A non-profit scientific society, the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence is devoted to advancing the scientific understanding of the mechanisms underlying intelligent behavior and thought. The association aims to to promote responsible research of artificial intelligence.
  • Computing Research Association: With membership of over 200 North American organizations dedicated to computing research, the Computing Research Association encompasses laboratories and centers, computer engineering, computer science, and information.
  • Institution of Electrical and Electronics Engineers: IEEE is the world's biggest technical professional organization committed to advancing technology to better humanity. The organization has more than 423,000 members in over 160 countries.
  • Institution of Engineering and Technology: The Institution of Engineering and Technology is a professional organization that serves over 168,000 members in 150 different countries. It is the most multidisciplinary organization of its kind.
  • Founders and Coders: A free resource, Founders and Coders is an online code academy based in the United Kingdom that features a 16-week program of web development coursework and projects. Students work with industry experts on external project for hands-on experience.
  • Codeacademy: Codeacademy features an interactive setup that allows users to acquire skills they feel are necessary to achieve their own individual goals. Codeacademy provides access to free programs tailored to CSS, JavaScript, and HTML.
  • Processing Forum: Processing Forum is a question and answer forum that covers a variety of subject matter pertaining to software development. It's free and easy to use.
  • Programmr: An online teaching tool used to introduce beginners to programming skills, Programmr offers a straightforward learning experience covering many topics software developers need to know.
  • Code Review Stack Exchange: Code Review Stack Exchange is a question and answer online community that touches on a variety of topics and is organized in an accessible manner to effectively serve as a resource for experienced and beginning software developers.