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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:

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

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.

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.

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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