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Master's in Software Development Vs. Master's in Systems Engineering

Master's degree programs in software development and systems engineering have some similarities in available formats and program length, but vary in other aspects. Compare and contrast some of the course topics, career outcomes, and other characteristics of these degrees here.

Comparing a Master's in Software Development to a Master's in Systems Engineering

Master's in Software Development

Master's degree programs in software development are usually offered as a Master of Science (MS) or Master of Software Development, and some of these degree programs may be specifically designed for students who do not have a background in computer science. These degree programs are commonly available on-campus or in a fully online format, with some online programs offering multiple start times for flexibility and/or still providing students with hands-on experiences in the field. Some software development programs can be completed in as little as 12 months, while others may take 16 to 24 months. The curriculum for these programs generally consist of core courses and electives that may cover topics in programming, software design, algorithms, architecture/data structures, and systems, and students may be required to complete a final capstone course and/or project to apply the knowledge they have gained throughout the program to a real-world problem. Many graduates with their master's in software development go on to pursue a career as some kind of software developer, such as a web software developer or UX designer, but other graduates may pursue related careers, like a software consultant or computer and information research scientist.

Master's in Systems Engineering

Master's programs in systems engineering are more common than software development programs, are typically available as MS or Master of Engineering (ME) in Systems Engineering degree programs, and are available in on-campus or online formats. Students can typically complete these programs in 2 years, but some programs may vary in length due to the intensity of study and some schools may allow students up to 5 years for completion. Some MS in Systems Engineering programs may offer additional areas of concentration, such as project management, cybersecurity, or software systems, and several MS programs provide students with a final project or thesis option, while some ME programs may follow a cohort model and may require a final applied project. Coursework for either an MS or ME degree generally consists of core courses and electives that cover topics in systems engineering, systems testing, systems design, project management, architecture, and systems management. Some graduates with their master's in systems engineering may work in careers as consultants, engineering managers, or project managers, but many go on to pursue careers as systems engineers and can work in a wide range of fields, including aerospace, healthcare, agriculture, transportation, and manufacturing.

Degree ProgramProgram LengthProgram RequirementsRelated Careers
MS or Master of Software Development12-24 months*Bachelor's degree*Software developer
*Software consultant
MS or ME in Systems Engineering24 months*Bachelor's degree*Systems engineer
*Engineering manager

Admission Requirements for Master's in Software Development and Master's in Systems Engineering Programs

Admission requirements vary by school and program, so students should be sure to check the specific requirements for their desired program, but in general, both master's programs in software development and systems engineering require applicants to have at least a bachelor's degree and may have a minimum GPA requirement, usually around a 3.0. However, master's programs in software development will usually take applicants that have a bachelor's degree in any field, but some programs may require applicants to have prior coursework in areas like calculus, statistics, or introductory software development. Many master's programs in systems engineering require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in engineering, science, math, or another math-heavy field and may require applicants to have prior coursework in areas like calculus. Although not as common, some master's programs in systems engineering may require applicants to have at least 1 year of work experience. Some master's in software development or systems engineering programs may require students to take the GRE, but it is fairly common for both programs to require applicants to submit their official transcripts, references, resume, and/or a statement of purpose with their application.

Master's degree programs in software development and systems engineering are both usually available in online formats and can be completed in 2 years or less. However, these degree programs vary greatly in areas like culminating experiences, course topics, and career outcomes with graduates of software development usually working in information technology as software developers and graduates of systems engineering working in a wide range of industries as systems engineers.