Is a Masters Degree in Software Engineering Worth It?

Are people telling you to get a master’s degree in software engineering? Is a master’s degree necessary to advance in your career as a software engineer? Did you know that Bill Gates and Steve Jobs made it big without any college degrees at all? 

A master’s degree in software engineering is worth it as it’ll open up better job profiles and higher pay grades. However, it isn’t a necessity, and you can land a great job if you have demonstrable skills. Your main priority should be learning to program, whether formally or informally.

I personally don’t have any degrees, but I secured the CTO position of a small travel-based startup. That said, I do see the value in getting a postgraduate degree to enhance your knowledge and career scope. In this article, I’ll weigh different aspects of getting a master’s degree in software engineering, so you can decide for yourself whether it’s right for you.

Don’t have a degree and would like to become a software developer? In the article on this link I explain to you how beneficial is to have it and what are the best ways to get a job without one.

The Value Of a Master’s Degree in Software Engineering

Getting a master’s degree in software engineering will help you access better job profiles and a higher payroll. But at the same time, you’ll need to invest your time, money, and effort in earning the degree.

To figure out whether or not a master’s degree in software engineering is worth it, you must take into consideration the following factors:

  • What you’ll learn in the program.
  • Available job profiles.
  • The expected salary of a master’s degree holder.
  • Cost of the master’s degree.

I’ve expanded on each of these points to give you a more detailed picture.

Not important master's degree in software engineering
Some downplay the importance of getting a masters degree. But the fact is that you get paid more if you have one. That said, you can also find jobs without any degree as a self taught programmer and do your studies while working.

What You’ll Learn in the Program

A master’s degree in software engineering will expand on the various topics you learned during your undergraduate studies, as well as introduce more advanced concepts.

You’ll get to develop a more in-depth understanding of designing and testing software, computer system architecture, project management, database designs, and so on. The program will also help evolve your problem-solving skills and take them to the next level.

Most master’s programs also require you to complete challenging projects based on real-world scenarios. This will help you see how the theoretical translates to the practical.

Furthermore, most universities allow you to pick a specialization where you’ll hone your skills in a particular branch of software engineering. That said, different institutions offer different specializations, but here’s a quick look at some of the most valuable and in-demand options:

  • System modeling and simulations: Create computer models to simulate a system and analyze how different elements behave and interact with each other.
  • Network modeling and performance analysis: Learn how to design and analyze different networks and distributed systems.
  • Advanced 3D generated graphics: Understand how 3D graphics and animations work.
  • Game design and implementation: Gain technical and artistic training on developing games and/or entertainment systems.
  • Embedded system design: Learning how to implement operating systems and software to control consumer electronics.
  • Advanced geographic information systems: Learn how to manage Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to capture, store, and analyze geospatial information.
  • Cybersecurity: Learn how to defend operating systems and networks from cyber threats.
  • Project management: In-depth understanding of the software development cycle and training on how to lead a team.

Available Jobs Profiles

After completing your master’s degree in software engineering, you’ll unlock a vast pool of programming job profiles. Not only are you eligible for most entry-level software engineering positions, but you can unlock a load of other career opportunities depending on your specific specialization.

Here’s a quick look at some of the most popular job profiles available to master’s degree holders in software engineering:

  • Associate Software Developer: Work with and help senior software developers create, maintain, and deploy software.
  • Security Analyst: A specialist in cybersecurity tasked with preventing and protecting systems against cyber threats.
  • Computer Network Architect: Designs and maintains communication networks for the company based on LAN, WAN, or Intranet.
  • Computer and Information Research Scientist: Researching and discovering or investing solutions to various problems in different fields that utilize computers.

Besides all these job opportunities, it’s also worth noting that getting a master’s degree opens doors to a career in academia. With a master’s degree, you can apply for a Ph.D. which is ideal if you’re looking to dedicate your career to computer science research.

Now, all that said, a master’s degree is still merely a certification and not a substitute for practical, real-world work experience. As such, if it were between you with a master’s degree and someone else with a bachelor’s degree, each with zero work experience, then you’ll be favored by the hiring committee. 

However, if you hold a master’s degree and don’t have any work experience, and you come against someone with a bachelor’s degree and have at least one year of work experience, then the ball just left your court.

Video: Is a Masters in Software Engineering Worth It? (You May Be Surprised)

Expected Salary as a Master’s Degree Holder

With a master’s degree in software engineering, you can demand a higher salary compared to regular bachelor’s degree holders.

For a software engineer with a master’s degree, the average salary is close to $110k/year in the US. That’s more than $20k/year higher than the average software engineer, with annual salaries around $88k/year

That said, because employers have to pay master’s degree holders more, they generally prefer bachelor’s, provided they’re qualified for the job title.

As such, if you’ve secured your master’s degree, I’d advise that you go for the niche job profiles that you’re specialized in to get the most value out of your certification.

Cost of the Master’s Degree

In the US, tuition fees for a master’s degree in software engineering will vary depending on where you’re attending, but it’s usually between $45k to $100k. That’s a lot of money, especially when you add the hundreds of thousands of dollars you might already have in student loans.

It’s also worth considering that you are putting in your time apart from investing your money. 

A master’s degree is typically 18-24 months long. This means you’ll spend two more years earning the degree, which is time you could have otherwise spent doing a job and earning a salary, not to mention gathering practical experience.

So, when you factor in the loss of income from not joining a job along with the actual cost of the program, a master’s degree becomes an extremely expensive investment. 

This is a significant factor to consider when evaluating whether or not getting a master’s degree is right for you. Sure, it’ll open doors to better high-paying job opportunities, but is the pay high enough to make sense of this investment?

Why a Master’s Degree in Software Engineering Might Be Worth It

If the job you want requires you to have a master’s degree and there’s no alternative, then it’s worth it, and you should go for it.

However, to evaluate whether a software engineering degree is financially worth it, you need to compare the investment in getting the degree to the amount of money you can make with the degree.

Now, knowing this upfront is really difficult. 

This is why I always recommend that you join the software industry with a simple bachelor’s degree or even a coding Bootcamp certificate. Then, from within the industry, look at different job profiles, find out which one you like, and see if a master’s degree will help you get that role.

If yes, then get your master’s. You already have an idea of how much your target job profile will pay you. So go with an institute that falls within your budget.

Is a Master’s Degree in Software Engineering Necessary?

Do you want to become a software engineer and wondering whether a master’s degree in the field will ensure you a job? Well, it’ll help, but you can get by with much less to enter the software industry and slowly build yourself up from there.

A master’s degree in software engineering isn’t necessary to become a programmer or a software engineer. Getting a bachelor’s degree or even completing a coding Bootcamp is enough to get you a job. However, a postgraduate degree will give you access to some advanced and niche job profiles.

It’s worth noting that I have no degrees, let alone a master’s. 

I started out by completing a coding Bootcamp, following which I got an entry-level job as a web developer. Over the years, I gathered work experience, kept up to speed with the latest technologies, and eventually got promoted to CTO of a small travel-based startup in Austria, Europe.

Also, many of my friends and colleagues are in prominent positions with nothing but a bachelor’s degree. So no, you don’t need a master’s degree to become a successful software engineer. 

But with all that said, there are specific job profiles that demand a master’s degree, and if you have your eyes set on one of those, you need to get that degree, as there’s no way around it. 

Which Certification in Software Engineering Do You Need?

The various programs and certifications available for software engineering can make things confusing quickly. 

As such, I’ve put together a simple table comparing the cost, course duration, course curriculum, job availability, and salary expectation for coding Bootcamps attendees versus bachelor’s and master’s degree holders. 

Factors To ConsiderCoding BootcampBachelor’s Degree in Software EngineeringMaster’s Degree in Software Engineering
Program Cost $7k to $21k$100k-160K throughout the entire course
Or, $12k-20K per semester
$45k-$100k throughout the entire course
Or, $15k-$25k per semester
Course Duration3-6 months3-4 years18-24 months
Course CurriculumFocus on how to write, test, maintain and debug code prioritizing a few popular programming languages.
Overview of the current industry trends, tools, and techniques.
Learn how to read, write, maintain, and debug code.
Learn popular programming languages like C, Java, Python, or JavaScript.
In-depth studies on important programming concepts like OOPS, Data Structures, or System Architectures.
Get a more elaborative and advanced look at the various topics studied during your bachelor’s degree.
Option to study a “Specialization” course in niche programming domains.
Jobs Available Right After CompletionEntry-level programmerEntry-level programmer
Easier to land a job being a more favorable candidate.
Entry-level programmer
A wide job pool based on the specialization topics.
E.g., cyber security, game development, jr. project manager, etc.
Average Salary Right After Completion$75k/year$85k-$97k/year$105k-120k/year

Overall, if you want to jump-start your career as a software engineer or programmer, completing a coding Bootcamp is the quickest route. However, getting a bachelor’s degree makes sense if you’re looking for more in-depth knowledge and a traditional/formal educational environment.

A master’s degree is worthwhile for working professionals stuck in their career or if you’re looking to crack a niche job profile that demands a postgraduate certification.

Key Takeaways

Getting a master’s degree is expensive. But it offers you specialized training, access to niche job profiles, and the ability to demand higher pay. As such, getting a master’s degree mostly makes sense if you want a job that specifically requires it. 

Otherwise, I’d advise getting a master’s degree further down your career when you hit a roadblock or want to switch to a different job profile.