Computer Software Degree Program Overviews

Software engineers design, install, and maintain computer software systems for many types of use on a variety of platforms. Learn about the different degrees, requirements, and courses, as well as how to continue your education and career options.

Essential Information

Undergraduate programs in software engineering train students in the basics of computer operating systems, programming languages, networks and database management in addition to general education instruction. Many classes have a hands-on component, allowing students to get practical experience. Graduate level programs are for students with undergraduate degrees in computer science, and many programs require some work experience as well. Master's degree programs offer advanced training in software development, while doctoral programs train software engineers to teach at the college level or work in research.


Associate Degree in Software Engineering

Associate degree programs in software engineering are intended for students with minimal experience with computer software engineering. These 2-year programs begin by covering the fundamentals of computer operating systems and hardware, then move on to computer programming languages, network systems, and database management. Applicants are required to hold a high school diploma or GED.

Associate degree software engineering programs include both classroom-based training in software concepts and project-based assignments. The following courses are commonly incorporated into the curriculum:

  • Introduction to computer operating systems
  • Fundamentals of computer programming
  • Introduction to software development
  • Java programming, C++ programming, HTML programming
  • Database management
  • Computer networking

Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering

Software engineering bachelor's degree 4-year programs prepare students for entry-level careers in the development of computer software. Students receive technical training in programming languages and concepts of software design. Additionally, these programs include coursework in computer hardware, operating systems and other topics relevant to a future career in the computer industry. Many programs provide career-focused training in the social, ethical and professional aspects of working as a computer specialist. In order to apply, students are required to be high school graduated (or GED holders) with satisfactory ACT or SAT scores, and a strong mathematics background is encouraged.

Students in bachelor's degree programs in software engineering are trained to design, produce and develop software through the following such courses:

  • Computer software engineering
  • Fundamentals of computer programming
  • Computer operating systems
  • Java programming
  • Database management
  • Computer software design and software quality assurance

Master's Degree in Software Engineering

Master's degree programs in software engineering are intended for individuals with prior education or professional experience, including current software engineers seeking advancement. These programs train students in the technical aspects of creating computer software. Students often work in teams on projects, gaining career-focused skills in collaborative software design. Software engineering master's programs typically require students to develop mastery in one or more programming language, such as C++ or Java.

Students will need to hold a bachelor's degree with GRE scores in order to apply to the program. Coursework in master's degree software engineering programs help students develop their design, development and testing skills. Common courses include:

  • Computer software design and testing
  • Database management
  • Data engineering
  • Advanced C++ programming
  • Advanced Java programming
  • Software quality assurance

Ph.D. in Software Engineering

Ph.D. programs in software engineering are most commonly pursued by professional software engineers interested in teaching at a college or university, as well as those interested in advanced research in software development. A Ph.D. is rarely required for a career in software engineering, though some pursue the terminal degree in order to advance into a leadership or management position. The bulk of students' time is spent on research and the completion of a thesis; however, students also take coursework to further develop their skills in the field.

In order to enter a doctorate program, students must be bachelor's degree holders with strong GRE scores. Coursework in Ph.D. software engineering programs includes advanced study of software development, programming languages and other areas that prepare students for leadership roles in the field. Common courses include the following:

  • Computer software development management
  • Programming language theory
  • Software performance analysis
  • Computer software architecture
  • Research methods in software engineering

Popular Career Options

Graduates of software engineering associate degree programs work in software design firms, technology companies and information technology departments of large businesses. Graduates of bachelor's programs in software engineering are qualified to work in software development and related computer-based careers. Graduates of Ph.D. programs in software engineering typically pursue careers in one of the three following fields: computer software engineering teaching at the postsecondary level, software research consultant, or senior software developer. Listed below are popular job titles for graduates with an associate's or a bachelor's degree:

  • Computer software technician or software testing consultant
  • Computer systems analyst
  • Computer software engineer
  • Computer scientist
  • Software development project manager
  • Computer programmer

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 289,420 computer programmers and 390,750 software developers were employed in 2015 (www.bls.gov). Computer software developers work for software publishers, computer system designers, computer manufacturers and other related industries.

The BLS indicated that employment opportunities for software developers were expected to grow by 17% between 2014 and 2024, with an estimated 186,600 new jobs created. Much of this growth was expected as a result of swiftly evolving technologies and expansion of computer networking. As of May 2015, the median annual salary for software developers was $100,690, while computer programmers had a median annual wage of $79,530.

Continuing Education Information

Due to the constantly evolving nature of the field, computer software engineers often pursue frequent continuing education and professional development. This includes attending seminars and joining professional organizations. Many individuals pursue certification in a particular technology or programming language, such as C++. Certification is not commonly required for employment.

Computer software degree programs are available at associate's, bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degree levels and are commonly referred to as software engineering or computer science programs. These programs give you the skills to thrive in a number of fields and earn certification in a specific technology or programming language, in addition to continually improving your education through seminars and the like.

Search Degrees, Careers, or Schools