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Best Online Degrees in: Software Engineering

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Editor's Picks: Online Schools for Software Engineering

Career Support
Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) offers students the best career planning assistance among schools that have online graduate programs in engineering. Students can schedule phone conversations with career counselors, practice their interview skills using the interview prep site InterviewStream, and sign up for career webinars.

Technology Support
Pennsylvania State University wins best online master's degree program in software engineering for technology support. Penn State tech support offers course compatibility for Apple, PC, Unix, and Linux. Course lectures are delivered in live streaming and recorded audio and video formats, and utilize simulations, online labs, and online bulletin boards. Penn State also maintains online communities through Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube

Student Engagement
Pennsylvania State University wins best online software engineering master's degree program for student engagement. Through discussion forums, Skype, Eluminate Live, and other tools for peer collaboration, Penn State maintains a strong student community. World Campus students also have access to student events, online clubs, and philanthropic events. Students may also join the Penn State Blue & White Society, the alumni association student membership, for access to networking opportunities.

Library and Research Support
Pennsylvania State University online students have access to the seventh-largest research library in North America and its 100,000 e-books. The University Libraries system allows students to search databases, use research guides, and more. Students can also email, call, or chat online with librarians to seek research-related advice.

Learning Support
Pennsylvania State University wins this category for the learning resources it makes available to students. Penn State offers online labs, undergraduate advising opportunities, and live tutoring services to students. All classes are recorded and posted online so that students can access lecture material at their own convenience. U.S. News & World Report ranks Penn State ninth for its student services among schools that offer online graduate engineering programs.

Faculty Credentials
Pennsylvania State University wins best online software engineering graduate program for faculty credentials. U.S. News & World Report ranks Penn State fifth in "Best Online Graduate Computer Information Technology Programs". Penn State World Campus' faculty are the same instructors that teach on campus at Penn State University. Within the computer information technology department, Penn State has 35 full-time and 16 part-time faculty members, 13 of which are tenured or tenure-track. Faculty members at Penn State University's online software engineering graduate program average three years of experience teaching online courses. Penn State also provides for the training of its faculty members in online course teaching.

Faculty Accessibility
Pennsylvania State University's Master of Software Engineering program wins the award for faculty accessibility. Instructors respond to emails within 24 hours, and instructors also track the frequency and duration of student logins. In fact, U.S. News & World Report ranks Penn State's program third in the nation among all graduate engineering programs in this category.

New Online Student Orientation
Pennsylvania State University provides the most comprehensive online student orientation to new students. Topics covered include academic advising, accessing course materials, and financial resources. Students will view webinars that cover the ins and outs of learning online.

Explore a Master's Degree in Software Engineering

Software engineering is the design, implementation, and management of computer programs. An online master's degree in software engineering is a good option for people who have a bachelor's degree in the field and who want to make themselves more competitive for software development positions. A student can typically earn a master's degree in software engineering after completing 36 credit hours of courses, although the length of the program varies by college or university.

Class Curriculum

Students of an online master's degree program in software engineering will enroll in courses designed to prepare them for successful professional careers. The curriculum typically examines software design techniques, methods, and project management, as well as technical concepts and financial and legal issues. Common courses include requirements engineering, software system design, database design concepts, and program understanding. Some schools offer concentrations within their software engineering programs, which may include information science and technology and computer science. Read on for an in-depth look at three common software engineering courses:

  • Requirements Engineering. A requirements engineering course examines the methods, tools, and techniques for analyzing, specifying, and managing requirements in modern software development. The course focuses on the relationship between requirements engineering, business process reengineering, and strategic IS and business planning. It may include instruction in validation, testing, and writing for hardware and software systems.
  • Software Design. The software design course covers the fundamentals of software design methods and principles. This includes the best practices in analysis, requirements, and design of large software systems, as well as instruction in the Unified Modeling Language and the Unified Process.
  • Software Project Management. The software project management instructs students on the major aspects of software development. These include the estimation of cost factors and risk management, planning schedules and resource allocation, and team building, leadership, and process tracking.

In software engineering courses, students are required to complete reading assignments from academic textbooks, software design projects, research papers, and exams. The software design projects include the use of structured programming, information hiding, and strength and coupling measures, as well as software maintenance and software testing techniques and strategies.

Building a Career

A master's degree in software engineering may lead to a career as a software developer. These professionals write software for a wide range of technologies, including operating systems in cell phones and computers, video games, or in other hardware. They design, test, and develop software according to their analysis of a user's needs, collaborate with other computer specialists to create the most efficient software, and ensure the software continues to work by constantly testing and maintaining it. Software developers work across a broad range of industries, including in businesses and technology manufacturing.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), software developers earned a median annual salary of $90,530. Although the BLS states the entry-level education is a bachelor's degree, some employers may prefer candidates with a master's degree in software engineering. Employment in this field is expected to increase by 30%, or much faster than average for all occupations, between 2010 and 2020. A rapid increase in the demand for computer software will increase job opportunities for software developers, according to the BLS. However, keep in mind that your salary may differ from the figures reported by the BLS, as salary and job prospects often depend on your level of experience, education, and employer.