Online Software Engineering Degree Overview
The field of software engineering combines skills and knowledge from several different fields to improve upon and help create new and innovative software and applications to use in a wide range of fields. Online degree programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels and usually incorporate a variety of hands-on learning experiences through applied projects and assignments. Graduates with a background in software engineering may be prepared for diverse computer- and engineering-related positions. Explore the different online software engineering programs available below.
Online Associate Degrees in Software Engineering
Online associate's degree programs are usually available in software development, but there are some on-campus associate's degree programs available in areas like software engineering and web development. These online associate's degree programs may require around 60 credits and some can be completed in as little as 18 months. Some programs may be designed to prepare students for industry certifications in different programming languages. Students can complete their coursework fully online and can usually transfer the credit from these programs to a 4-year institution fairly easily for continued study.
Online Bachelor's Degrees in Software Engineering
At the bachelor's level, students can choose from an online Bachelor of Science (BS) in Software Engineering or an online BS in Computer Science with a concentration in software engineering. Students may be required to complete between 120 and 126 credits and some programs may conclude with a capstone course and/or final design project. Some final projects may allow students to work with real-world organizations to gain practical experience. These programs generally incorporate concepts from engineering, computer science, and math and provide students with hands-on skills in project management, computer programming, security, and more.
Online Master's Degrees in Software Engineering
Students can earn a Master of Software Engineering or a Master of Science (MS) in Software Engineering online. These programs may range between 30 and 36 credits and some may follow a cohort model. Students might be able to choose between a full- or part-time format and can usually customize their studies with electives. Full-time students can usually complete the curriculum in 2 years and most programs do not require a thesis. In place of a thesis, programs may require a final software or applied project to help students apply what they have learned to a real-world project. Some programs may allow students to choose between a final project or a final portfolio.
Online Doctoral Degrees in Software Engineering
There is at least one online Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Computer Science and Software Engineering program available, as well as several online programs in related areas, like a Doctorate of Software Development or PhD in Systems Engineering. The online PhD in Computer Science and Software Engineering usually takes students 3 years to finish if they have a master's degree and 4 years to finish if they have a bachelor's degree. Students are required to take 66 credits beyond a bachelor's degree and must complete a dissertation. The curriculum is highly customizable to help students align their studies with career goals and research interests.
Online Certificates in Software Engineering
Online certificate programs in software engineering are usually available at the graduate level, while those at the undergraduate level are usually certificates in the related field of software development. There is also at least one online certificate in software engineering and quality that allows students to choose from tracks in software engineering, user experience design, or quality testing. Depending on the program, students may need to complete between 9 and 12 credits for software engineering certificates. Some schools may allow students to apply credit from the certificate towards a master's degree in the field.
Software Engineering Specializations/Concentrations
Online bachelor's degree programs in software engineering do not typically offer additional areas of concentration. There are some online bachelor's degree programs in related areas, like computer science, that may actually offer software engineering as a specialization. However, there is at least one online bachelor's degree program in software development that provides additional concentrations in programming and application development, cloud application development, web development, and mobile development. Programs with concentrations usually require students to complete a few courses in their concentration to help equip them with specific skills and/or prepare them for a specialized career.
Curriculum/Coursework for a Software Engineering Degree
Free online courses in software engineering are available from different institutions, but most do not lead to college credit or a degree. Earning an online bachelor's degree in the field provides students with a more in-depth and well-rounded education. Students at this level are required to take some general education courses in different subject areas, as well as core software engineering courses and/or electives. Core courses are usually heavy in math, computer science, and programming. Some programs may conclude with a capstone course and/or applied project. Throughout the curriculum, students usually get hands-on experience in the field through projects and assignments. While specific course titles vary by institution, students in online bachelor's programs in software engineering are likely to take classes like:
- Programming techniques
- Operating systems
- Data structures
- Process management
- Software security
- Mobile architecture
How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Software Engineering?
Typically, an online bachelor's degree program in software engineering takes 4 years to complete. However, students who have already taken some college courses and/or earned an associate's degree may be able to complete these degrees faster. Depending on the school, students may be allowed to transfer in up to 90 credits to count towards the usually required 120 credits. This may allow students to finish their bachelor's degree in as little as 2 years.
Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Software Engineering Degrees
Accreditation is available at two levels. The first level of accreditation is at the institution level and may be awarded by regional accrediting bodies like the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) or the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE); these bodies are approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation
(CHEA). This accreditation means that the institution has met set standards for each degree level to ensure quality education. Accreditation at this level also enables students to apply for federal financial aid and/or transfer credit.
The second level of accreditation is at the program level. This type of accreditation is usually determined by subject area and not all programs have it. In the case of software engineering, some programs are accredited by the engineering-related organization, the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). This accreditation indicates that these engineering programs have met engineering-specific academic guidelines to help prepare students for careers in the field.
Although it is not accreditation, some programs may also have additional designations. For instance, some online bachelor's programs in software engineering are recognized by the National Security Administration (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) National Center of Academic Excellence in Cyber Defense Education (CAE-CDE).
Software Engineering Licensure & Certification
While certification is not necessarily required for becoming a software engineer, there are some different certifications available in the field to demonstrate a professional's expertise. For example, the Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP) offers the Certified Software Engineer (CSE) designation. To earn the certification, students must pass 3 different exams covering topics in information systems, object-oriented analysis and design, and software engineering. There are also some unique partnerships, like the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon University, that offers various certificates and certifications for professional development and to demonstrate mastery of different skills used in the field.
Due to the applicability of software engineering to several other computer science-related positions, students may end up pursuing additional types of certifications based on their position. For example, computer network architects and other professionals who work with different types of software systems may become certified in a specific kind of software. This certification is usually offered by product vendors like Oracle, Google, Microsoft and AWS.
Software Engineering Career Information
Many graduates with a bachelor's degree in software engineering go on to be a software engineer. However, even within the field, there are several related, yet unique positions. For example, there are some differences between a cloud engineer and a software engineer or a DevOps engineer vs. a software engineer.
Computer systems software engineer job duties may also vary slightly from these positions. While specific education requirements may vary by career, in general, graduates of software engineering programs can pursue diverse positions like:
- Software developer
- Web developer
- Systems analyst
- Network administrator
- Video game designer
- User interface designer
- Computer programmer
- Information technology manager
- Full stack developer
- Systems architecture designer
How to Become a Software Engineer
Students wishing to become a computer software engineer generally need to have a bachelor's degree in the field or a related area, such as computer science. However, some software engineers are self-taught and work their way up to positions through experience. In general, it is beneficial for software engineers to have some hands-on training through an internship or other real-world learning experience(s). Software engineers must have strong engineering, programming, and computer science skills to succeed in the field.
Software engineers' job duties usually include developing the different programs and applications used on various devices, like computers and cell phones. Some of these professionals may specialize in systems development or applications development and may help ensure that these different programs are running smoothly on a device. According to ''PayScale.com'', software engineers had a median annual salary of $86,313, as of November 2020. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide a job outlook specifically for software engineers, it did note that for 2019 to 2029 software developers had an outlook of 22%.
How to Become a Computer Network Architect
Computer network architects typically need a bachelor's degree from an area like computer science, engineering, or another related area. However, some employers may prefer professionals to hold a master's degree. A position as a computer network architect commonly requires 5 to 10 years of work experience. This experience may come from various areas of information technology (IT) in positions like computer systems analysts or network and computer system administrators. Certification is available for specific products these professionals may use.
Computer network architects create data communication networks. This may require them to explore new technologies in the field and determine what hardware and software is needed to help an organization achieve its goals. As of 2019, the BLS reported that computer network architects had a median annual salary of $112,690 and a job outlook of 5% from 2019 to 2029.
Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Software Engineering Degrees
Various forms of financial aid are available to students to help them pay for their postsecondary education. To first see what federal loans and/or grants they may qualify for, every student should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Then, students may want to explore additional grants and/or scholarships that are available at the local, regional, national, or even international level in a wide range of categories.
There are many organizations and/or schools that provide scholarships specifically for students in the engineering and/or computer science field, which would include software engineering students. Some schools, like Iowa State University, may have a broad scholarship application for students in the College of Engineering to use to apply to numerous scholarships. Other schools, like the University of Nebraska-Lincoln may have individual scholarships to apply to, including the Lockard Family Scholarship, which is awarded to 7 full-time, first-year students in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. There are also national awards, such as the Barry Goldwater Scholarship, which is available to aspiring engineers, scientists, and mathematicians.
How to Choose a Software Engineering School and Program
Choosing an online bachelor's degree program in software engineering may feel daunting, but students can break down the steps to find the right fit for them. One of the first items to consider is the type of degree that a student wants to earn. For example, a bachelor's degree specifically in software engineering may better prepare students for a career as a software engineer, while a computer science degree with a concentration in software engineering may be more flexible for additional types of computer science-related positions. Students should also look for programs that provide plenty of hands-on learning experiences through projects and other real-world applications to help prepare for a future career. Finally, students in a software engineering program may want to ensure that the program is ABET-accredited to indicate academic quality and excellence in their engineering skills.
There are also several more general and personal preference factors to consider. Some students may need to look for a program that is more flexible in nature to accommodate a busy work schedule or home life. Students may also need to compare tuition rates at different institutions and/or explore available scholarship opportunities at different schools.
Professional Organizations in Software Engineering
Since software engineering is such a diverse field that is also involved in different areas of engineering and computer science, professionals in the field can choose from a wide range of professional organizations to participate to further their development in the field. These organizations provide a wide range of resources to help professionals connect and stay updated in current developments in the field from around the world. A few examples of software engineering-related professional organizations include:
- Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Computer Society- The IEEE's Computer Society gives professionals access to an online library, publications, and professional communities. Students can pursue membership and participate in conferences and/or volunteer opportunities.
- Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals- The ICCP not only offers professional certifications to computing professionals, but provides a wide range of training materials, online courses, and self-examinations. The group also hosts conferences and offers membership.
- International Association of Engineers Society of Software Engineering- The IAENG Society of Software Engineers (ISSE) allows professional software engineers from all over the world to participate in networking and help advance the field. The organization uses regularly scheduled conferences and workshops to help professionals further their education, and also provides membership and access to publications.