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A degree in software engineering teaches the foundational principles and technical practice of developing software for computers and applications. Students learn to create and evaluate software projects. As a subfield of computer science and information technology (IT), software engineering requires skills in programming, database architecture, cybersecurity, and operating systems.

Earning a software engineering degree can prepare graduates for in-demand careers with higher-than-average salaries, including roles as software engineers, software developers, and information security analysts. Tech jobs are projected to grow in the coming years as organizations continue digitizing their operations.

This page explains potential outcomes of pursuing a software engineering degree, including common careers and salary expectations. We also describe what to expect from a typical degree program in this field. Explore some of the best schools for software engineering bachelor's and master's degrees with our rankings lists.

Why Go to College for Software Engineering?

Earning a degree from one of the top software engineering colleges can lead to new career opportunities and higher salary potential. Software engineering professionals find jobs in tech, healthcare, and defense, among other industries.

Popular careers in this field include software engineer, software developer, and security engineer. Other possibilities include information security analyst and computer hardware engineer.

  • Job Opportunities: Earning a software engineering degree can help graduates qualify for career opportunities that require specialized tech knowledge.
  • Higher-Than-Average Salaries: Earning a software engineering degree can help graduates qualify for jobs with higher-than-average annual earnings. For example, Payscale reports software engineers earn an average annual salary of $88,600 as of May 2022.
  • Versatile Tech Skills: Software engineering graduates develop programming, software testing, problem-solving, and communication skills that are in high demand across many fields.
  • High Growth: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs in the computer and information technology field will grow 13% from 2020 to 2030. For some careers within this field, these projections are even higher: For example, the BLS projects software developer jobs will grow 22% between 2020 and 2030.

Should You Go to School for Software Engineering or Cybersecurity?

When considering software engineering and cybersecurity programs, consider the key differences separating these related fields. Make your decision about which program to choose based on your career goals, academic interests, and future education plans.

Consider attending software engineer college instead of earning a cybersecurity degree in the following scenarios:

  • You want to work as a software engineer, software developer, or security engineer
  • You want to focus primarily on technical computer skills

A cybersecurity degree instead of a software engineering degree may best suit your needs if any of the following are true:

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What to Expect From the Best Schools for Software Engineering

The best schools for software engineering focus on preparing students for careers as professional software engineers in various industries. The typical curricula for these degrees includes topics like computer programming languages, computing theories, and software design and development.

Students also typically learn about computer architecture, operating systems, data security, and artificial intelligence. Most software engineering degrees include some cybersecurity content as part of a degree's core requirements or optional elective classes.

Students pursuing graduate-level degrees usually build on the expertise they gained from their associate and bachelor's programs. We explain more about the different types of software engineering degrees below.

Types of Software Engineering Degrees

Software engineering colleges offer degrees at multiple levels. Generally, the more advanced your degree, the more qualified you are for advanced positions with higher average salaries. However, earning additional degrees also takes time and costs money. Consider the pros and cons of completing further education before applying to graduate-level programs.

Below, we explain what to expect from different types of software engineering degrees. We cover bachelor's, master's, and doctoral software engineering programs.

Associate Degree in Software Engineering

Most schools do not offer software engineering associate degrees. A bachelor's in software engineering is typically the minimum educational requirement for entry-level jobs in this field. However, students can pursue an associate degree in related fields like software development or information technology.

Learners may complete an associate degree to determine whether the computer and IT fields fit their professional interests. Often, students can transfer credit hours from their associate degree to a bachelor's in software engineering program and complete the program in fewer than four years of full-time study.

Bachelor's Degree in Software Engineering

Bachelor's in software engineering degrees explore computer systems, programming languages, cybersecurity principles, and software program development. A typical program takes four full-time years to complete and requires 120 semester credits.

Software engineering majors take classes like principles of programming, computer systems fundamentals, introduction to software engineering, and mathematical foundations of software engineering. Electives may examine topics like intelligent systems design, computer animation, digital forensics, and artificial intelligence. Students typically complete hands-on software engineering projects, including a senior capstone.

Graduates can apply for jobs like software engineer, security engineer, data analyst, and software architect. Learners can get real-world experience by completing an internship. Software engineering degree-holders can also apply to graduate programs in various computer-related fields.

Prospective applicants to bachelor's in software engineering programs can often use Common App to apply to multiple schools by submitting one general application.

Master's Degree in Software Engineering

A master's in software engineering degree prepares graduates for managerial, entrepreneurial, and research positions in the computer software engineering field. A typical software engineering master's program takes about two full-time years to complete and requires 30-45 credits.

Master's-level classes can include software engineering economics, open source software engineering, data analytics in software engineering, and advanced software techniques in engineering applications. Electives explore topics like text mining, game design, advanced artificial intelligence, and robotics.

Some programs require a master's thesis or master's project, while others offer coursework-only options. Students with a bachelor's degree in a discipline unrelated to software engineering must usually complete foundational prerequisite courses.

In addition to master's degrees, software engineering professionals can pursue professional credentials like the certified software engineer or professional software engineering master certifications.

Ph.D. in Software Engineering

A Ph.D. in software engineering degree lets students develop advanced expertise in the field. Graduates can qualify for high-level software engineering positions in applied research, university teaching and research, or entrepreneurship. Learners often take 4-6 full-time years to complete a Ph.D. in software engineering.

Courses in software engineering doctoral programs may include reverse engineering and modeling, user experience and interaction, software architecture and design, and advanced software engineering projects. Ph.D. in software engineering students must complete doctoral research and write a dissertation.

Jobs for Software Engineering Graduates

Software engineering degree-holders can apply for jobs like security software developer, computer hardware engineer, and information security analyst. Other options include software engineer and security engineer. The average salaries for these occupations exceed the national median salary of $58,260.

Below, we describe what to expect from some popular careers for software engineering degree-holders, including frequent duties and advancement opportunities.

Security Software Developers

Security software developers design security programs and applications. They work for private businesses, government agencies, and nonprofit groups. Security software developers need a strong programming background. Earning a master's degree may improve job opportunities and salary potential.

Required Education: Bachelor's degree
Job Outlook (2020-30): +22%
Median Annual Salary: $110,140

Computer Hardware Engineers

Computer hardware engineers design computer systems, processors, networks, and circuit boards. Some computer hardware engineers can advance to become computer and information systems managers. These professionals need strong analytical, communication, and problem-solving skills.

Required Education: Bachelor's degree
Job Outlook (2020-30): +2%
Median Annual Salary: $128,170

Information Security Analysts

Information security analysts create measures to secure organizations' computer systems and networks. Daily tasks may include fixing vulnerabilities, tracking IT security trends, and assisting computer users. Candidates with a relevant professional certification can often improve their job prospects and earning potential.

Required Education: Bachelor's degree
Job Outlook (2020-30): +33%
Median Annual Salary: $102,600

Software Engineers

Software engineers work with designers and programmers to support software design and development. They usually need relevant professional experience. Important software engineering skills include proficiency with Java, JavaScript, Python, and C#. Knowledge of cryptography, management, and data mining can also benefit prospective job-seekers.

Required Education: Bachelor's degree
Average Annual Salary: $88,600

Security Engineers

Security engineers, also called cybersecurity engineers, create computer security systems that keep data safe. They work in industries like computer systems design, finance, manufacturing, and education. Typical tasks include conducting assessments, analyzing risks, and making security recommendations to management.

Required Education: Bachelor's degree
Average Annual Salary: $95,950

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How to Choose From the Best Software Engineering Colleges

Prospective students must make multiple considerations as they choose a software engineering program. To find the best schools for software engineering, take some of the following factors into account.

  • Accreditation: In addition to institutional accreditation, some of the best schools for software engineering hold programmatic accreditation from ABET. ABET-accredited software engineering programs meet rigorous industry standards that ensure students are prepared for careers in the tech field.
  • Cost/Financial Aid: What is your budget? Research the estimated cost of attendance for prospective schools, including tuition, fees, and the cost of living. Explore each institution's financial aid options, including scholarships and grants that can defray higher education costs.
  • Program Length: How long will it take you to finish your degree? Do you want to attend part time or full time? Some programs offer accelerated options for students who want to finish their degree as fast as possible.

Should You Get Your Degree Online?

Universities offer online, in-person, and hybrid (a combination of online and in-person classes) software engineering degrees.

Online software engineer schools can offer greater flexibility than traditional on-campus programs. Asynchronous programs do not require set class meeting times and allow students to access course materials and complete assignments on a less rigid schedule. Earning an asynchronous online software engineering degree may appeal to students with career or family obligations.

Synchronous degrees, on the other hand, require learners to attend virtual classes at specific times. Software engineering majors may find their courses are especially well-suited to the online learning experience because these classes require work with computers and other technology.

Top Schools for Software Engineering Bachelor's Degrees

Explore the ranking that follows to learn about the top software engineering schools for students seeking a bachelor's degree in 2022. The link below explains how we rank schools across all degree levels.

#1

The University of Virginia's College at Wise

School Information
Location Wise, Virginia
Admission Rate 59%
Graduation Rate 44%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 41% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

The University of Virginia's College at Wise is a public institution offering a variety of four-year degrees, including a bachelor's in software engineering. After completing a bachelor's program, individuals can apply for admission to master's programs or enter the workforce. Undergraduate degree-seekers take general education courses and major classes. 

Degree-seekers can use elective credits to earn a minor or concentration in a specialized area. The institution maintains an 11-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio, which allows students individual time with faculty. Networking events can help learners connect with peers and professionals in their field.

The institution offers affordable tuition rates, which help students minimize debt. In-state students pay $5,527 per year, and out-of-state learners pay $23,262 per year. The school reports an admission rate of 59% for incoming learners. The institution holds accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. Prospective bachelor's degree-seekers can contact the admissions department for information about applying.

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#2

California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo

School Information
Location San Luis Obispo, California
Admission Rate 28%
Graduation Rate 82%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 8% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

After earning their bachelor's degree, graduates of California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo's software engineering program often pursue careers in the field. The software engineering program's rigorous curriculum provides foundational knowledge through core coursework.

The bachelor's in software engineering blends core courses, general education classes, and upper-division classes. The program curriculum comprises major requirements and elective credits. Many students also complete an internship or capstone project to prepare for the workforce.

Admissions advisors help individuals understand the application requirements for their prospective program. Undergraduates typically require four years to earn their bachelor's degree.

California Polytechnic State University-San Luis Obispo Facts:

Percentage of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 63%

Students Receiving Loans: 29%

Number of Bachelor's Programs: 75

Transfer Credits Toward Degree: No

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#3

Point Loma Nazarene University

School Information
Location San Diego, California
Admission Rate 74%
Graduation Rate 75%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 26% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Situated in San Diego, California, Point Loma Nazarene University has some of the best course offerings in the country. Learners at the institution enroll in bachelor's programs that meet high academic standards, including a bachelor's in software engineering. 

Degree-seekers gain the knowledge and skills they need to secure roles in their field. General education requirements for bachelor's degree-seekers include classes in areas such as English literature. Major classes explore topics specific to software engineering to prepare them for the workforce. Degree-seekers can use elective credits to earn a minor in a specialized area.

In addition to coursework, students can receive credit for completing service-learning experiences. The school’s website provides details about hands-on learning opportunities. Degree-seekers can access support services such as tutoring from the institution. Student organizations provide learners with professional development and networking opportunities.

To fund their education, 92% of the school's students obtain financial aid and 55% take out loans. Students can apply for grants and scholarships to reduce the financial burden of earning a degree. The school has a 74% admission rate.

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#4

University of California-Irvine

School Information
Location Irvine, California
Admission Rate 27%
Graduation Rate 84%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

A degree from University of California-Irvine helps graduates advance their careers and pursue new opportunities. The school requires bachelor's in software engineering students to complete general education classes in core areas like humanities and arithmetic. Major courses build on foundational knowledge and explore topics specific to the learner's field of study. Earning a minor can make graduates more competitive for specialized positions.

As an accredited institution, University of California-Irvine delivers programs that prepare learners for the workforce and further studies. Most undergraduate students complete their bachelor's program in about four years. Since the institution holds accreditation, it can issue federal financial aid. The institution delivers in-person and virtual student support services. This often means peer or professional tutoring in various subjects.

The school is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission, a regional accrediting body.

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#5

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott

School Information
Location Prescott, Arizona
Admission Rate 66%
Graduation Rate 69%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 4% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Graduates of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott often use experience from the bachelor's in software engineering to secure entry-level positions and gain experience before pursuing career advancement. While earning the bachelor's degree in software engineering, enrollees complete a rigorous curriculum comprising core and specialized coursework.

Degree-seekers who plan to pursue specialized careers can choose electives aligning with their goals. Gaining professional experience during internships and bolstering their resume with capstone projects can benefit graduates applying for positions in their field.

Prospective applicants can contact the program for more information about admission requirements and deadlines. Students enrolled full time typically require four years to complete a bachelor's program.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Prescott At a Glance:

Percentage of Students Receiving Financial Aid: 97%

Percentage of Students Receiving Loans: 44%

Number of Bachelor's Programs: 22

Transfer Credits Accepted: No

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Top Schools for Software Engineering Master's Degrees

Consult the ranking that follows to discover the best schools for software engineering for master's students in 2022. Learn how we rank schools at our methodology page.

#1

University of California-Irvine

School Information
Location Irvine, California
Admission Rate 27%
Graduation Rate 84%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 15% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

California-based University of California-Irvine provides a comprehensive catalog of 291 academic programs, including 105 master's programs. Master's degree-seekers complete advanced courses in their field. The software engineering MS helps learners gain the knowledge and skills they need to secure roles in the field. Program coursework explores specialized topics.

Master's degree-seekers who study full time typically complete their program in two years. Information on the acceptance of transfer credits can be found on the school's website. Learners can access the institution's student support services online and in person. Learners can access peer and professional tutoring.

The University of California-Irvine At a Glance:

Student Enrollment: 36,908

Master's Offered: 105

Graduate School Tuition Rate: $11,442 in-state; $26,544 out-of-state

Average Total Aid Per Student: $17,930

Average Price With Financial Aid: $15,268

The school is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission.

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#2

Harvard University

School Information
Location Cambridge, Massachusetts
Admission Rate 5%
Graduation Rate 97%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 18% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Learners attending Harvard University can earn a master's in software engineering. Harvard University is a Cambridge-based private institution. Learners currently employed in the software engineering field can pursue promotions or raises after earning their master's degree.

The software engineering master's degree uses a rigorous curriculum that meets high academic standards. Master's students gain specialized knowledge during elective classes and practical experience while completing internships. Master's degree-seekers can access support services including faculty mentorship, academic advising, and career counseling.

The master's program generally takes full-time students 1-2 years to complete. Learners can transfer previous credits into their graduate program to minimize overall tuition costs. Degree-seekers with financial need can submit the FAFSA to qualify for federal grants, scholarships, and loans.

Harvard University At a Glance:

Total Master's Programs: 148

Students Receiving Aid: 73%

Students Receiving Loans: 2%

Transfer Credits Allowed: No

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#3

Northeastern University

School Information
Location Boston, Massachusetts
Admission Rate 18%
Graduation Rate 89%
Instituation Type Private
Accreditation Yes New England Commission on Higher Education
Percent Online Enrollment 10% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Northeastern University educates undergraduate and graduate degree-seekers from its campus in Boston, Massachusetts. Learners who aspire to leadership positions in software engineering can pursue the institution's MS in software engineering systems to qualify for high-level roles. 

Enrollees complete a rigorous curriculum and gain field-specific training. Students can customize the program through experiential learning opportunities and electives. Graduate students can discuss complex issues with experienced faculty advisors. Graduates of the software engineering program can apply for positions in the field or advance their current career.

At the accredited institution, students who demonstrate financial need can qualify for federal aid. To help learners succeed academically and professionally, the school provides a variety of support services, such as academic advising and career counseling. Prospective students can contact the institution for details about application deadlines and requirements.

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#4

California State University-Fullerton

School Information
Location Fullerton, California
Admission Rate 53%
Graduation Rate 69%
Accreditation Yes Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior Colleges and University Commission
Percent Online Enrollment 38% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

California State University-Fullerton is a public institution educating graduate and undergraduate students. Among the school's master's programs is a master of science in software engineering. Enrollees pursuing the master's degree complete a rigorous curriculum that fosters field-specific knowledge and features experiential learning opportunities.

The graduate-level curriculum comprises core coursework and advanced software engineering classes. The school delivers accredited programs to prepare learners for career advancement. The school offers support services, including academic advising and career counseling, for graduate students. Graduates can transition to a software engineering career or advance their current career in the field.

The institution holds accreditation, which means degree-seekers can qualify for federal financial aid programs. At the school, 77% of students receive financial aid to fund their graduate education.

California State University-Fullerton Facts:

Number of Master's Programs: 49

Online Master's Program Offerings: 5

Average Cost Per Credit: Unavailable

Graduate Tuition In-State: $7,176

Graduate Tuition Out-of-State: $16,680

Transfer Credits Permitted: No

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#5

University of Houston-Clear Lake

School Information
Location Houston, Texas
Admission Rate 74%
Accreditation Yes Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges
Percent Online Enrollment 42% Percentage of all students who are enrolled online.

Learners can enroll at University of Houston-Clear Lake to pursue a master's in software engineering.  Learners currently employed in the software engineering field can pursue promotions or raises after earning their software engineering MS.

Enrollees take core and specialized coursework to gain a solid foundation in the field. Master's students gain specialized knowledge during elective classes and practical experience while completing internships. To help learners succeed academically and professionally, the school provides a variety of support services, including academic advising and career counseling.

While most master's programs require 1-2 years, part-time degree-seekers may take longer to graduate. In addition to reducing degree completion time, transferring credits into a master's program can help learners save money on tuition. Degree-seekers at the accredited institution can qualify for federal grants and loans.

University of Houston-Clear Lake Fast Facts:

Average Per-Credit Price: Not Known

Total Master's Programs: 45

Number of Online Master's Degrees: 8

Students Receiving Aid: 64%

Students Receiving Loans: 37%

Transfer Credits Accepted: No

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Frequently Asked Questions About Software Engineering

Is software engineering a good career?

Software engineering can make an excellent career for people who like using technical skills to solve problems. Software engineers can earn higher-than-average salaries in a job landscape growing faster than average.

Is software engineering hard?

Earning a software engineering degree can be challenging due to the field's requirement for technical skills. However, learners can master these skills by investing time and effort into their coursework.

Do I need to go to college to be a software engineer?

Software engineering colleges can provide excellent preparation for a career as a software engineer. Many employers prefer software engineers with at least a bachelor's degree, but in some cases a software engineering bootcamp or professional certification will suffice.

Which college is the best for software engineering?

Our ranking lists of the best software engineer colleges are an excellent place to begin your search for a program. Make sure to consider your career goals, budget, and learning style when choosing a school.


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