An online software engineering degree can be a benefit to anyone interested in pursuing higher education, whether that’s at the undergraduate or graduate degree level. Some or all of the coursework in an online software engineering degree, whether for a bachelor’s, masters or doctoral degree, may be available through distance-based learning and Internet connectivity. Often, all students need is a laptop or personal computer to make a start in their instruction.
Online learning takes away the commitment involved in commuting to campus and generally allows you to do your coursework and homework assignments on a schedule that fits your needs. Of course, like with any campus-based program, you’ll have assignments due and papers that need to be completed by certain dates. At the same time, the actual learning component, whether it’s reading material online or participating in group assignments and discussions, may provide more flexibility. This means that if you are employed full-time during the day or even at night, you may be able to squeeze in class work on lunch breaks, after work (even if that’s at 3 a.m.!) or on the weekends. Before making a decision about online learning, however, be sure you are well educated about your options. Just keep on reading below to discover more about online software engineering degrees.
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Dean Knudson, PhD, is an associate professor at the University of North Dakota, and teaches in the online Master of Software Engineering program there. He is also a capstone coordinator in the Department of Computer Science. He has more than 35 years of experience in the software development and management field, and has worked for companies as varied as Bell Labs, Northrop Grumman, and Microsoft.
Colin J. Neill, PhD, obtained his doctoral education in software and systems engineering with a focus on real-time systems design from the Universtiy of Wales. An associate professor in software engineering and systems engineering at Penn State University, he also is a faculty member of the Penn State World Campus online master's program and the associate division head of engineering and information science. In addition to being well-published, he is associate editor-in-chief of Innovations in Software and Systems Engineering.
Dave Root is an associate teaching professor for Carnegie Mellon University, based out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in its software engineering master's degree program. He teaches courses such as Managing Software Development and Software Development Studio. He became assistantt director of the MSE distance program in 2001 and has research interests that include distance education for software engineering and agile processes. He has two master's degrees, including in education and in public management with an emphasis on information technology.
Guodong Go, PhD, is an associate professor in the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources at West Virginia University. His teaching interests range from computer vision to machine learning and image processing to pattern recognition. Not only is he a senior member of the IEEE (Institute of Electric and Electronics Engineers), but his areas of special interest include biometrics, video analysis and biologically-inspired materials.
Frank Tsui, PhD, is an associate professor in the College of Computing and Software Engineering at Kennesaw State University, in Kennesaw, Georgia. He has authored or co-authored three different books, inclduing "Managing Software Projects," and has more than 30 years of experience in software development, project management, and executive level positions, including for IBM and BlueCrossBlue Shield. In fact, several well-known IBM projects were either developed or improved upon under his tenure.
Admission requirements for acceptance into online software engineering programs will vary. At the undergraduate level, the requirements may be general overall and applicable to many different fields of study, not just software engineering. However, a strong knowledge of math and technology always could be beneficial to succeeding in a software engineering program. Students looking at an undergraduate program in software engineering may also need to have a specific high school GPA and need to submit scores from the SAT, or even ACT.
At the graduate level, requirements often become more specific. For online software engineering programs, these could include a 3.0, or similar, grade point average (GPA), background knowledge in the field (usually through a related bachelor’s degree), letters of recommendation, official transcripts and even a statement of purpose. Some schools also may require students to submit Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores. (If this is the case at the school you are considering, you may want to be thinking about preparing well in advance, as the GRE is typically a test that students study for).
The process usually begins by filling out an online application, for which there may be fees, and submitting all of the needed materials before an upcoming deadline date. Many online software engineering schools do have more than one enrollment date during the course of the year, so if you miss one deadline, you may be able to apply to make a start in the next program. There also may be additional steps needed for international students, including submitting materials earlier, so it is always best to be clear on expectations and requirements beforehand.
The Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) is the main accrediting agency in the U.S. that accredits both bachelor’s and master’s level software engineering programs. There are more than 20 ABET-accredited software engineering programs in the U.S.ABET reports that accreditation is important for several reasons including that:
Licensing is not required for the software engineering field, although there are several related certifications available through the IEEE. These fall into content areas, such as Software Engineering Management and Software Engineering Process, as well as include credentialing, like for Software Engineering Management Associate Engineer Certification. Organizations, like Cisco, also offered related software certifications.
Requirements for online software engineering programs will vary from school to school, but in general will focus on building skills in software engineering including through different math and IT types of coursework.
Students in an undergraduate program in online software engineering can start building math, analytical and engineering skills right along with their general education coursework. Within the first couple of years, they may learn about programming languages, software enterprise design and analysis, engineering statistics and more. As they advance, they may learn more about web application programming and mobile systems, and even need to complete a capstone project.
Most graduate level programs in online software engineering have an expectation that students already have the core knowledge foundational to continuing on in their studies. Students typically gain theoretical and practical skills that are applicable in today’s modern software environment and that could range from software construction and design to software project planning and estimation. They also might take classes that are related to database design concepts, software systems architecture, web security and more.
Many master’s degree programs require completion of 11 to 12 graduate-level courses, and also may necessitate students to take a comprehensive exam or complete some type of final project toward the end of their degree program. Some schools also may allow students to pursue software engineering concentrations, which may be found either at the full master’s degree or certificate level. This could include a master’s degree with a choice to take more classes in management rather than the technical side or vice versa, or even a master’s level certificate that offers concentrations in areas, such as:
North Dakota State University has four options for students interested in pursuing graduate level education in software engineering. This includes a graduate level certificate in software engineering, a master’s degree in software engineering, a master’s of science in software engineering, and a PhD in software engineering. While the master’s degree is coursework only, the master’s of science includes a comprehensive exam and a research program. The PhD program requires 90 semester hours of work.
Jun Kong, PhD, is an associate professor in software engineering at NDSU. He obtained his doctorate degree in computer science in 2005 from the University of Texas at Dallas, has been published in the “International Journal of Human Computer Studies” and other publications, and has research interests that include human and computer interactions, pervasive computing, and, of course, software engineering.
Simone Ludwig, PhD, joined the staff at NDSU in the fall of 2010 as an associate professor. She received both her PhD and MsC degrees from Brunel University in the United Kingdom and has research interests that include evolutionary computation, fuzzy reasoning, neural networks and computational intelligence. She has taught classes such as Advanced Intelligent Systems, Intelligent Systems, and Introduction to Artificial Intelligence.
Penn State University offers a master of software engineering that is available 100 percent online. The program is 36 credit hours, or 12 classes, in all, and can be completed in seven-week terms over two years. Accepted students progress along with their learning cohort from the start to finish of the program, and for their final course, complete a software project allowing them to incorporate the knowledge they have gained. Penn State Online has been nationally recognized by U.S. & News World Report as being among the best schools offering graduate education programming online in engineering.
Joanna DeFranco, PhD, an assistant professor in software engineering at Penn State University, has expertise in areas like e-learning, project management and collaborative problem solving. She has taught courses that include Software Systems Design, Advanced Software Engineering Studio, and Information Technology Series Seminar. She received her PhD from the New Jersey Institute of Technology.
Philip Laplante, PE, PhD, is a professor in software and systems engineering at Penn State University. He has led an effort since 2010 to establish a national licensing exam for software engineers and has interests that include requirements engineering, software engineering, and software quality and management. Additionally, he has published more than 250 scholarly papers as well as 30 books.
The master of science in software engineering degree available at West Virginia University is offered through distance-based education and is 33 credits in all. Students can complete a post-graduate certificate first, if they want to, before moving on to finish their full master’s degree. Courses for either program are offered once a week, live, using the school’s eCampus platform. Students also can choose a thesis option, which instead only requires 30 credit hours to complete their master’s degree.
Thirimachos Bourlai, PhD, is an assistant professor for West Virginia University’s college of engineering and mineral resources. His research interests include face recognition, computational physiology, biometrics in small platforms, and image and video processing. He received both his master’s of science degree and PhD from the University of Surrey in the U.K.
Katerina Goseva-Popstojanova, PhD, a professor in West Virginia University’s college of engineering and mineral resources, received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees from St. Cyril and Methodius University, in Skopje, Macedonia. Her research interests include software reliability and performance software risk assessment, fault tolerant computing and dependable systems, and computer security and survivability.
Both a masters in software engineering and software systems engineering is offered through distance learning at Mercer University, based out of Macon, Georgia. Students not only learn how to program proficiently in Java, C++ or C#, but also to develop capabilities that include enterprise architectures, software architectures, software testing, and/or software security.
Paul MacNeil, PhD, is an associate professor and graduate chair for the college of engineering at Mercer University. He has worked at the university since 1990, but also has worked as an independent consultant. His teaching and research interests include applied computational intelligence and software engineering. He also has worked in aerospace and for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Wade Shaw, PhD, the dean and Kaolin chair of engineering at Mercer University, also is a fellow of the IEEE, and has research and teaching interests that include engineering education, project management, systems engineering and modeling and simulation. From 2004 to 2010, he served as editor-in-chief of “Engineering Management Review.”
The University of Maryland University College’s master of science in information technology is a distance- learning program that has numerous specializations, including in software engineering. The program is 12 classes in all, including five core courses, six courses in the area of specialization and one class that is a capstone project. Students who have not had any recent programming coursework may be encouraged or required to take necessary computer programming courses before starting the program.
Michael Brown, PhD, is a collegiate professor and program director of software engineering at the University of Maryland, University College. His PhD is from Nova Southeastern University and he became part of UMUC staff in 2012, following more than 20 years of employment in the information technology field, including for NASA and Sun Microsystems.
Irena Bojanova, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Maryland, University College, has a PhD in computer science and mathematics from the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences. Her research interests range from cloud computing to educational innovations and cloud security. In 2013, she received the University System of Maryland Board of Regents Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching.
Many of the programs offering online software engineering degrees do not require campus visits throughout the year as online programs in other fields, like nursing, may do. That said, there may still be some on-campus attendance required for the program that you enroll in, giving you the chance meet with other students in your learning cohort or to become more familiar with the overall program or the instructors who will be teaching. On-campus visitation also may be necessary for thesis requirements or to complete a comprehensive final exam that has to be passed before a degree can be granted. Again, these visitation requirements will vary from school to school, but it may be in your best interest to be clear on these up front.
When it comes to selecting the online software engineer program that is right for you, there can be any number of factors impacting your decision. These can range from overall cost to time needed to complete the program, whether part-time enrollment is available, and even whether a school accepts transfer credits. Another consideration may be whether on-campus visits are required and, if yes, what your availability is in being able to travel to school and having the funds to do so. Quality and reputation of the program also are important as is the overall skills and depth of knowledge of the professors. You may want to ask about the success stories of graduates and how many students who enroll for the program actually complete it to be able to more appropriately assess a program.
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