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A software engineering degree provides students with the skills and knowledge to design, build, and maintain software for various industries. Graduates are hired as software engineers, web developers, cyber security analysts, and programmers. There’s a high demand for software engineering graduates across all sectors, including automotive, aviation, defense, telecommunications, security, and data management.

The median annual salary for software developers is $132,270, nearly triple that of the average United States worker. Wages will vary depending on the position, location, and industry. Those in software publishing have an annual median salary of $143,210, while those who work in computer systems design have a median salary of $127,880.

The average annual cost for a bachelor’s degree in software engineering is $16,618, but it varies depending on the institution, program, and student housing requirements. Most programs require four years of full-time study; however, accelerated and part-time options are available. Students are required to complete between 120 and 180 credits to graduate.

How to Choose a Software Engineering Program

Choose your area of study

Students can pursue three degree levels in software engineering: associate, bachelor’s, and master’s.

Associate degrees are two-year programs that provide foundational knowledge of software engineering. Graduates can pursue entry-level positions in the field or continue their studies with a bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor’s degrees in software engineering are available as a Bachelor of Science or Bachelor of Engineering. These programs often require four years of full-time study and are prerequisites for most entry-level positions. Graduates work as software developers, software engineers, and systems analysts.

A master’s degree in software engineering is a graduate-level program typically requiring two years of full-time study. It provides students with an advanced understanding of software engineering and prepares them for leadership roles in development teams, research positions, and teaching careers.

Students in software engineering programs can select from various specialties on which to focus their coursework. Common concentration areas include cyber security, big data, game development, artificial intelligence, and cloud computing.

Research schools and programs

When researching schools, look for those accredited by recognized institutions, such as the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE). Students who attend a school with regional accreditation will have an easier time transferring credits, receiving government loans, and getting hired after graduation.

Look for software engineering programs accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Programmatic accreditation ensures the curriculum meets universal quality standards and adequately prepares students for future careers.

You can learn more about prospective schools by gathering information in person and online. Consider visiting the school in person, browsing their website, attending an open house, and following them on social media. You can also speak with an admissions counselor to learn more about the school culture and gain insights into the program.

Prepare for tests and applications

Application requirements for software engineering programs vary by school, but most require you to submit the following:

  • High school transcripts
  • SAT or ACT scores
  • A letter of recommendation
  • A personal statement

If English is not your first language, you must also take an English language proficiency test. Speak with an admissions advisor before submitting your application to review the required materials, deadlines, and fees.

Select your program

Review your logistical needs and career goals when selecting your program. If you receive acceptance letters from multiple schools, narrow them down by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Is the program full-time or part-time?
  • Do they offer synchronous or asynchronous learning options?
  • Is the program online or in-person?
  • What is the cost of the program?
  • Do they have housing options?

Choose the program that will set you up for success and prepare you for your future career. For additional guidance, speak with an academic advisor. They’ll review your options and help you decide on the best option for your needs.

Determine how you’ll pay for your degree

Calculate the annual cost of your program to determine whether you can pay for the degree yourself or require financial aid. Include academic costs, including tuition, fees, supplies, and living expenses like housing, transportation, and food.

Visit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) website and apply to learn the amount of financial assistance you’re eligible for, including scholarships, grants, work-study funds, and loans. You can also ask your employer if they offer employee tuition assistance benefits.

Best 50 Accredited Software Engineering Degree Programs

Best Software Engineering Degree Programs_2024 badge

University of California, Irvine

San Jose State University

Iowa State University

Michigan Technological University

California Polytechnic State University

Penn State Behrend

Arizona State University

University of Texas at Dallas

University of Washington

Miami University

Montana Technological University

Kennesaw State University

University of Nebraska - Lincoln

Auburn University

Washington State University

Florida Gulf Coast University

University of Minnesota Crookston

University of Central Oklahoma

Valley City State University

University of Michigan - Dearborn

University of Wisconsin - Platteville

Saint Cloud State University

Drexel University

Stevens Institute of Technology

Milwaukee School of Engineering

East Carolina University

Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania

SUNY College at Oswego

Bowling Green State University

University of Northern Colorado

Utah Valley University

Florida Institute of Technology

Vermont Technical College

Mississippi State University

Brigham Young University - Idaho

Rochester Institute of Technology

Oregon Tech

Snow College

Embry - Riddle Aeronautical University

University of Central Missouri

The University of Texas at Arlington

Trine University

Indiana Tech

William Penn University

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How we rank schools

This list features some of the best software engineering degree programs at top colleges across the country. Each school featured is a nonprofit, accredited institution — either public or private — with a high standard of academic quality for postsecondary education. The programs on our list are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), a reputable organization that assesses engineering programs for educational excellence.

We evaluated each school’s program on admission, retention, and graduation rates as well as tuition costs, faculty, reputation, and the resources provided for on-campus students. Then, we calculated the Intelligent Score on a scale of 0 to 100. Read more about our ranking methodology.

Next, we compared this comprehensive list of software engineering degree programs to a list of aggregated college rankings from reputable publications like U.S. News & World Report, among others, to simplify a student’s college search. We pored through these rankings so students don’t have to.

What Can You Expect From a Software Engineering Program?

A software engineering degree gives students an in-depth understanding of software, programming, and computer science concepts. Programs often consist of core courses, in which students will learn the fundamentals of software engineering, and elective courses, which allow students to tailor coursework to their specializations. Typical course topics include the design, usability, testing, modeling, and implementation of software systems.

Students use various learning methods, including labs, lectures, exams, and projects. Programs often emphasize group work, as teamwork is crucial to software engineering and development. The degree usually concludes with an internship or capstone project that allows students to demonstrate the knowledge and skills they learned throughout the program.

Potential courses you’ll take in a software engineering program

  • Data Structures. Students learn the fundamental concepts of data structures, including data types, algorithms, sorting, text processing, and analysis.
  • Systems Programming. This course covers the development of programs that provide services to software developers. Topics include process creation, linking and libraries, performance measurement, and socket programming.
  • Software Processes and Management. Students will learn about the software development process and related management issues. Course topics include process models, tools, software maintenance, configuration management, and team management.
  • Concurrent Computing. Students explore the concepts and techniques of concurrent computing, including processes and threads, semaphores, monitors, deadlock, message passing, and mutual exclusion.
  • Introduction to Combinatorics. This course provides a fundamental understanding of combinatorics. Topics include set theory, integers, functions and relations, permutations, combinations, and graphs.

Software Engineering Degree Program Frequently Asked Questions

How do I apply to a software engineering degree program?

Visit the program page of your prospective school to determine the admission requirements and deadline. Most software engineering programs require you to submit your high school transcripts, SAT or ACT scores, a letter of recommendation, and a personal statement. As requirements vary by school, speaking with an admissions advisor to review the application process and ensure you have the required materials is essential.

How much does a software engineering degree cost?

The average annual price for an undergraduate software engineering degree is $16,618, but it varies by school and program. Students should consider additional costs that may increase this, such as housing, transportation, supplies, and living expenses. Part-time students may incur lower annual fees due to the reduced credits taken per year.

How long does it take to earn a software engineering degree?

Most software engineering degrees require four years of full-time study and 120 to 180 credits for graduation. Part-time and asynchronous programs are available, which allow students to complete the program at their own pace. Some institutions also offer accelerated programs that take two to three years to complete.

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