Software Engineering Degree Guide

What is Software Engineering?

Software engineering grew out of computer science as a new branch focused on designing and creating software and applications to meet individual and collective needs. Whether designing the latest game rocketing up the App Store or creating an intricate patient management portal system, software engineers play integral parts in the smooth running of daily life.

Software engineering encompasses the design, development, debugging, and updating of software and provides ample opportunities for creative and exciting careers.

What Can I Do With a Degree in Software Engineering?

Graduating with a software engineering degree provides the credentials needed to attract attention from hiring managers in a variety of industries and disciplines.

Whether a graduate aspires to work more in the design space or spend their days in the coding trenches, their software engineering degree can help them secure jobs as programmers, analysts, designers, and engineers.

Software Engineering Jobs, Salaries, and Career Outlook

As the table below highlights, software engineers and related professionals can expect to enjoy job stability and growth in the coming years. Roles for these professionals pay well and should continue expanding across the decade.

CareerSalaryProjected Job Growth (2019-2029)About the Position
Computer Programmers$89,190-9%Computer programmers spend their days writing the code needed for applications and software to run smoothly. They must be familiar with programming languages and have an eye for problem-solving.
Software Developers$110,14022%These professionals use their knowledge of programming and development to mee the unique needs of clients and customers. They design software, perform quality assurance, and provide updates as needed.
Computer and Information Systems Managers$151,15010%These professionals oversee the work of other technology professionals, providing direction and coordination for IT-related activities. They often manage budgets and handle employee training requirements.
Computer Systems Analysts$93,7307%Computer systems analysts manage their companies’ IT networks and bring in new technology to address emerging needs. They may also oversee upgrades and handle the budgetary aspect of the systems’ management.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Earning a Degree in Software Engineering

Software engineering degrees prepare learners to take on both in-house and consultancy roles focused on designing, building, and maintaining software that helps businesses and individuals go about their tasks more easily. Most roles require a bachelor’s degree at minimum, and many schools across the country offer these programs both online and in-person. We dive into specifics in the following sections.

Types of Degrees in Software Engineering 

Software engineering degrees can be found at every academic level to help learners, regardless of where they are in their careers, gain the skills and knowledge needed to continue progressing. We look at the two most common types below. 

Bachelor’s Degree in Software Engineering

Bachelor’s degrees in software engineering serve as the minimum educational requirements for many jobs and take 120 credit hours over four years to complete. These programs introduce students to many foundational concepts in the discipline and prepare learners for both entry-level positions and additional higher education.

Master’s Degree in Software Engineering

Master’s degrees in software engineering support those with undergraduate degrees who want to take the next step in their careers. Whether hoping to take on a senior leadership position, embark upon a research position, or leave the office for the classroom as a professor, these programs expose students to advanced topics and nuanced studies.

Courses in Software Engineering Programs

As students review prospective programs, they will soon notice that much of the curricula overlap with other universities’ offerings. That said, coursework also varies, so students should pay close attention to which program best matches their academic interests. Some classes commonly offered include:

  • Software Construction: This course looks at the early stages of software development and focuses on topics such as testing and debugging.
  • Programming Languages: Typically taken in the first year, this class introduces students to the principles of coding and programming and provides examples and translations of the most commonly used forms.
  • Modeling and Design: With a focus on teamwork, this course looks at the overall design experience and how to bring in varied client needs into seamless final products.
  • Senior Design Project: Taken as a senior, this course brings together all that a student has learned in their time at the university and asks them to create a final project demonstrating their knowledge.

Along with electives, students can also anticipate completing a capstone project

How Long Does a Software Engineering Degree Take To Finish?

The amount of time a degree seeker spends enrolled in a software engineering program depends on several different factors.

Students who previously completed credits at another institution can often transfer at least some of these to their new school, allowing them to graduate more quickly than first-time learners. Similarly, learners enrolled in full-time or accelerated programs will graduate more quickly than part-time students. If you want to graduate quickly, consider asking whether prospective schools offer an accelerated option.

For a standard, full-time bachelor’s degree in software engineering taken by a first-time student, plan to spend four years enrolled.

Skills Learned in a Software Engineering Program

The most in-demand software engineers possess a broad and extensive set of skills required by employers. In addition to understanding computer programming, software systems, and coding with languages such as Java, Python, and Ruby, these professionals must also understand how to analyze the needs of clients and translate those into a user-friendly, intuitive design. 

After creating computer software, they must also know how to test and debug beta versions, solve problems, and create updates to greatly enhance usefulness and functionality while keeping cybersecurity in mind. These skills prove helpful both in finding employment and in preparing for graduate-level studies.

Choosing the Best Degree in Software Engineering

With so many software engineering degrees now available, picking the right one can take some time. To help you make an informed and confident decision, the following sections discuss some components of a degree to consider before signing on with a school.

Bachelor’s in Software Engineering vs Bachelor of Science in Computer Science

When looking at prospective programs, many students consider whether a bachelor’s degree in computer science or software engineering best suits their career interests. Learners interested in a more broad-based education typically choose the computer science route, as these programs over a more generalist education of many different areas of the discipline.

Students who know they want to work within software engineering and development, conversely, typically pick the software engineering route as it offers a more concentrated learning experience. You’ll have the chance to dig more deeply into nuanced subjects by pursuing this option.

Online vs. On Campus Degrees

Given the nature of software engineering, it’s not uncommon to come across online versions of this degree. Some schools may provide their software engineering program fully through distance learning, while others may offer a hybrid option that includes both online and in-person learning. 

An online bachelor’s or graduate degree in software engineer suits the needs of many students by offering maximum flexibility in terms of course schedules and locations. That said, lots of learners want to experience the social aspects of campus-based learning and appreciate the structured schedule of in-person classes.

Should I Complete Courses Online?

On the fence about which learning style best supports your stage of life? We can help.

For many students, online learning works for their needs. Whether balancing personal and professional obligations, looking to study further afield, or simply seeking control over your schedule, online learning can make all of these possible. That said, distance learning can also require more discipline and focus since you won’t be visiting campus multiple times per week or logging on for real-time classes.

Students considering this path should not feel concerned that online degrees are somehow lacking when compared to campus-based counterparts. Many schools use the same faculty for both types of classes, and all learners receive identical diplomas when graduating.

How Long do Online Courses Take to Complete?

In this section, briefly answer some questions readers might have about online education. Items could include

  • Synchronous vs asynchronous courses
  • Hybrid vs online courses/programs
  • Accelerated online courses
  • How long students have to can complete an online course

Accreditation

Fully understanding the importance of accreditation is one of the most important things a student can do for their college experience and beyond. Failing to attend a properly accredited school can result in substantial issues, so make sure you pay close attention to this facet.

Accreditation comes in two forms: institutional and programmatic. Institutional accreditation covers the school as a whole and is offered both regionally and nationally. Regional accreditation is considered the better of the two and is typically reserved for four-year institutions.

At the programmatic level, prospective software engineering students should look for programs accredited by the Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). By doing this, you can be sure that programs offer adequate training that follows industry standards and prepares you for a job after graduating.

Applying to Software Engineering Degree Programs

Introduce the basics of applying to this type of degree. Let readers know about useful application materials, such as the Common App.

Admission Requirements for Software Engineering Programs

Every school sets unique admission requirements, but students typically find a lot of overlap in general requirements. Some of the materials you’ll likely need to provide include:

  • Official Transcripts: Schools use these documents to ensure you’ve taken required classes and met minimum GPA requirements.
  • Standardized Test Scores: Scores from standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT provide an across-the-board metric for measuring potential candidates’ academic preparedness against one another.
  • Essays: Essays offer the opportunity for prospective students to share unique facets of their life, including experiences that made them want to pursue software engineering and/or apply to a particular school.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Letters of recommendation help admissions specialists learn how others see candidats, ranging from their academic achievements to their personal qualities.

Paying for a Degree in Software Engineering

With the cost of higher education rising annually, figuring out how to pay for a software engineering degree can feel daunting. In addition to costly tuition, students must also plan for expenses like university fees, textbooks, and required supplies. Those looking to participate in a study abroad should tack on several thousand extra to their budget.

That said, plenty of funding options exist to help lower costs and make obtaining a degree feel less financially overwhelming. Colleges and universities, professional associations, nonprofits, businesses, and government agencies commonly offer scholarships and grants to offset costs, while attending a properly accredited school also allows you to qualify for federal financial aid such as loans.

Software Engineering Degree Costs

How much a student pays for their software engineering degree can vary substantially based on several factors. Learners enrolled in a public school in their state typically pay the lowest rates of tuition, though some online programs now offer in-state tuition rates, regardless of location. Private schools most often charge the highest tuition. 

Securing financial aid in the form of scholarships, grants, work-study funds, and other types of support that do not require repayment can also greatly reduce the amount of debt a learner graduates with.

Scholarships for Software Engineering Students

Banatao Family Filipino American Education Fund: This renewable $5,000 scholarship supports incoming Filipino-American students from California who plan to study software engineering, computer science, or a related subject.

ESA Foundation Computer and Video Game Scholarship: Women and minority students who plan to work in computing and video game arts and sciences can apply for this award if enrolled full-time in a four-year degree program.

Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship: Amazon provides up to $40,000 in academic funding alongside a paid internship at the company for students enrolled in a computer science or software engineering program at the bachelor’s level.

Generation Google Scholarship: Google provides $10,000 in scholarship funds for students enrolled in a software engineering or closely related field who can demonstrate both financial need and passion for increasing the representation of underrepresented minorities.

Software Engineering Career Resources

Association of Software Professionals: The ASP supports individuals working in the development and engineering for real-world software in areas of SaaS applications, mobile apps, and cloud computing. 

IEEE Technical Council on Software Engineering: This multinational membership group provides annual awards, conferences, leadership opportunities, and information on news in the field of software engineering.

Association for Women in Computing: Since 1978, the AWC has supported the growth and advancement of women working in the computing industry, including software engineering. Members can take advantage of awards, local chapters, conferences, and industry resources.

Institution of Engineering and Technology: In existence for more than 150 years, the IET facilitates opportunities for software engineers and other industry professionals to network, learn alongside one another, and stay up-to-date on innovations in the field.

Developers Alliance: Billed as the voice of the software industry this global membership network supports software professionals the world over by addressing policy issues and advocating for the discipline.

Software Engineering Degree FAQs

What degree does a software engineer need?

The majority of these professionals hold degrees in software engineering, but others may pursue studies in computer science or a related STEM field.

How long is a software engineering degree?

Completing a bachelor’s degree in software engineering takes four years for full-time students and six years for part-time learners. Those who enroll in an accelerated program can graduate in as few as three years.

Is a software engineering degree worth it?

Software engineering provides a great option for learners who want to earn above-average salaries and enjoy job security. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that roles for these professionals will grow by an astonishing 22% between 2019-2029.

Can you get a bachelor’s in software engineering?

Yes, bachelor’s degrees in software engineering are quite common and offered by many universities across the country. Most employers require software engineers to hold at minimum a bachelor’s degree.

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