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Best Doctorates in Software Engineering: Top PhD Programs, Career Paths, and Salaries

Raquel Santos - May 29, 2022


The best PhDs in software engineering are a great tool for graduate students who want to earn advanced degrees, elevate their engineering skills, and access high-paying professions. With a software engineering PhD, you’ll be able to work in leadership positions in government, engineering, and education.

If you want to pursue doctoral studies and are looking for software engineering programs, look no further. In this article, we discuss the best software engineering jobs, listing PhD in software engineering salary ranges and prospective job growth projections in the software engineering field.

What Is a PhD in Software Engineering?

A PhD in software engineering is an advanced study graduate degree in software engineering. It focuses on researching and implementing computer systems. Students are required to learn how to analyze the needs of their clients to design and deploy new software.

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How to Get Into a Software Engineering PhD Program: Admission Requirements

To get into a software engineering PhD program, you need to complete an online application, pay the application fee, send your official transcripts, and provide GRE test scores. Other admission requirements may include letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and a current resume. The requirements will vary by institution.

PhD in Software Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Online application and application fee
  • Transcripts from each higher education institution attended
  • GRE scores
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Statement of purpose
  • Current resume

Software Engineering PhD Acceptance Rates: How Hard Is It to Get Into a PhD Program in Software Engineering?

It is hard to get into a PhD program in software engineering because these programs are highly competitive. PhD programs require a high academic standing, extensive experience and educational background, and strong references. To accommodate the great amount of one-on-one time students need with professors, PhD class sizes are very small and have low acceptance rates.

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Best PhDs in Software Engineering: In Brief

School Program Online Option
Auburn University PhD in Computer Science and Software Engineering No
Carnegie Mellon University PhD in Software Engineering No
Clemson University PhD in Computer Engineering No
Cornell University PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering No
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) PhD in Computational Science and Engineering No
Purdue University PhD in Computer Engineering No
University of California, Irvine PhD in Software Engineering No
University of Miami PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering No
University of Michigan PhD in Computer Science and Engineering No
University of Utah PhD in Computer Engineering No

Best Universities for Software Engineering PhDs: Where to Get a PhD in Software Engineering

The best universities for software engineering provide high-quality education and prepare you to succeed in your future career.  If you’re wondering where to get a PhD in software engineering, check our list of the 10 best programs, below.

1

Auburn University

Auburn, Alabama

Auburn University (AU) was founded in 1856. It is a public land-grant research university, the second largest in the state of Alabama. AU offers a wide range of PhD programs in education, history, nutrition, and chemical engineering.

PhD in Computer Science and Software Engineering

This 66-credit PhD program in computer science and software engineering guides PhD students as they develop research and build skills in cutting-edge disciplines. Throughout the program, they learn about advanced topics in algorithms, computer architecture, and operating systems.

PhD in Computer Science and Software Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: 4 years
  • Acceptance Rate: Not stated
  • Tuition and Fees: $560/credit (in state); $1,680/credit (out of statet)
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Graduate assistantships, Merriwether Fellowships, Presidential Graduate Research Fellowships, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships

PhD in Computer Science and Software Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Bachelor's Degree or Master's Degree in Computer Science, Software Engineering, Cyber Security Engineering, or equivalent
  • 3.0 GPA or above
  • GRE score of at least 300, with a verbal score of at least 150, a quantitative score of at least 150, and a written score of at least 3
  • TOEFL scores (for international students)
2

Carnegie Mellon University

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Carnegie Mellon University was founded in 1900. It is a private research university with over 6,000 graduate students enrolled across its seven colleges and independent schools. It offers programs in computer science, business, and electronics engineering. It boasts curious and passionate students who go on to build cutting-edge start-ups and innovative technology.

PhD in Software Engineering

This degree in software engineering teaches students about computational methods, current policies, and societal and organizational needs. It aims to produce the next generation of software engineering professionals, educational leaders, and problem-solvers in the field.

PhD in Software Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: 4-5 years
  • Acceptance rate: Not stated
  • Tuition: $23,200/semester
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: All applicants admitted to the doctoral program receive full financial support, but there are also many fellowship programs available, such as the Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship, the Siebel Scholars Program, and the Facebook Fellowship

PhD in Software Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Online application
  • Statement of purpose
  • Current resume
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Unofficial transcript of all collegiate work completed post-high school
3

Clemson University

Clemson, South Carolina

Clemson University is a public land-grant research university. It was founded in 1889 and currently consists of seven different colleges. More than 5,500 graduate students are enrolled across its graduate programs.

PhD in Computer Engineering

This PhD in computer engineering teaches students about computer hardware and architecture, programming systems, software engineering, and signals. Students are required to complete a total of 42 credits to complete this program. Students in the program have the opportunity to work at the SCE&G Energy Innovation Center, an advanced energy systems testing facility.

PhD in Computer Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: 2 years
  • Acceptance rate: Not stated
  • Tuition: $5,056/semester (in-state)/ $10,644/semester (out of state)
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Graduate assistantships, Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship, NVIDIA Fellowship, Google PhD Fellowship

PhD in Computer Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Online application and $80 application fee
  • Unofficial transcripts from each institution attended
  • GRE scores
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Statement of purpose
  • Resume
  • TOEFL scores (for international students)
4

Cornell University

Ithaca, New York

Cornell University is a private Ivy League land-grant research university. It was founded in 1865 with the intention to offer high-quality education and contribute in all fields of knowledge. It currently has over 8,800 graduate students enrolled.

PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering

Cornell’s PhD program in electrical and computer engineering prepares students for a successful career in research, teaching, and development across all industries. Graduate students are required to engage in cutting-edge coursework and conduct studies in the field.

PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: Not stated
  • Acceptance rate: Not stated
  • Tuition: $29,500/year
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Graduate assistantships (research and teaching) and fellowships

PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Online application and application fee
  • GPA of 3.5 or above
  • Academic statement of purpose
  • Personal statement
  • Unofficial transcript from each university attended
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Resume
5

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge, Massachusetts

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) was established in 1861. It is a private land-grant research university with over 6,800 enrolled graduate students. It offers PhD programs in the humanities, social sciences, and STEM fields.

PhD in Computational Science and Engineering

This PhD program requires students to specialize in a computation-related field of their choice. Courses are taught across different departments, including mathematics, mechanical engineering, and materials science and engineering. Graduate students in this program are required to complete 60 credits of coursework and thesis preparation.

PhD in Computational Science and Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: Not stated
  • Acceptance rate: Not stated
  • Tuition: $28,795/semester
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Graduate assistantships

PhD in Computational Science and Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Minimum of a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent
  • Online application and application fee
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Transcripts from all institutions attended
  • Statement of objectives
  • Resume
6

Purdue University

West Lafayette, Indiana

Purdue University is a public research university. It was founded in 1869 and is now the flagship campus of the Purdue University system. It offers over 70 master's and doctorate programs and has more than 10,000 graduate students enrolled.

PhD in Computer Engineering

This PhD in Computer Engineering prepares graduate students to take on real-world problems in big data, cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IoT), and machine learning. This program’s graduates work in industrial research, development, and academia. During their studies, PhD students have access to well-funded research assistantships.

PhD in Computer Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: 4-5 years (6-year limit)
  • Acceptance rate: Not stated
  • Tuition: $4,859/semester (in state); $9,401/semester (out of state)
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Graduate assistantships, fellowships

PhD in Computer Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Master’s degree with a minimum GPA of 3.25
  • Online application
  • Transcript from every institution of higher education attended
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Resume
  • GRE scores (optional)
7

University of California, Irvine

Irvine, California

University of California, Irvine , is a public research university. It was established in the 1960s and is one of the 10 campuses of the University of California System. It has 14 schools, several interdisciplinary programs, and over 6,600 graduate students.

PhD in Software Engineering

The 48-credit degree program in software engineering teaches students how to design new tools, engage in relevant research in the software industry, create infrastructures, and develop theories about software and its utility.

PhD in Software Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: 6 years
  • Acceptance rate: Not stated
  • Tuition: $3,814.00/semester
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Teaching assistantships, reader fellowships, Steckler Family Endowed Fellowship, Google PhD Fellowship

PhD in Software Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Bachelor’s degree with a minimum cumulative undergraduate GPA of 3.0
  • Online application and application fee
  • English proficiency tests (all applicants)
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Transcripts for all institutions attended since high school
8

University of Miami

Coral Gables, Florida

University of Miami (UM) was founded in 1925. It is a private research university with 12 colleges and schools. UM offers 67 doctoral degree programs and has over 6,400 graduate students.

PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering

Graduate students in this PhD program learn about programming languages and algorithms, computer networks, architecture, and digital systems. They must complete 30 credits, pass their qualifying examination, and defend their dissertation to complete the program.

PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: Not stated
  • Acceptance rate: Not stated
  • Tuition: $19,530/semester
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Internal and external fellowships, scholarships

PhD in Electrical and Computer Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Online application and application fee
  • Transcripts from each post-secondary institution attended
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Official GRE scores with a minimum score of 310
9

University of Michigan

Ann Arbor, Michigan

University of Michigan is a public research university that consists of 19 colleges. It was founded in 1817, offers 100 doctoral programs, and has over 16,000 graduate students enrolled. The school offers over 3,000 courses and is ranked third among the leading public universities in the US.

PhD in Computer Science and Engineering

This PhD program teaches advanced topics in computer science and engineering. The degree supports students in conducting research and writing publishable papers. This program is intended for those who wish to pursue a career in academics, and PhD students are expected to contribute to the field of computer science and engineering through their research.

PhD in Computer Science and Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: 4- 5 years
  • Acceptance rate: Not stated
  • Tuition (and Fees): $1,730/credit (resident); $3,132/credit (non-resident)
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Graduate assistantships, fellowships

PhD in Computer Science and Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Online application
  • Statement of purpose
  • Personal statement
  • Resume
  • Research interest
  • Faculty interest
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • Official transcripts from each bachelor’s, master’s, professional, and doctoral degree earned
10

University of Utah

Salt Lake City, Utah

University of Utah was established in 1850. It is a public research university, and the flagship institution of the Utah System of Higher Education. It offers several programs in biology, computer science, and political science. Its 8,000 graduate students can choose from over 200 degree programs and access $641,000,000 in research funding.

PhD in Computer Engineering

This PhD program in computer engineering prepares students for a successful career in the software engineering industry, academia, and government. It teaches advanced topics in computer engineering, such as digital communication and advanced embedded software. Students will conduct research, pass qualifying examinations, and defend a dissertation.

PhD in Computer Engineering Overview

  • Program Length: 3 years
  • Acceptance rate: Not stated
  • Tuition and Fees: $1,271.79/credit (in state); $4,517.11/credit (out of state)
  • PhD Funding Opportunities: Teaching assistantships, ASEE SMART Fellowships, National Science Foundation (NSF) – Graduate Resources, Microsoft Research PhD Fellowship Program

PhD in Computer Engineering Admission Requirements

  • Online application and application fee
  • Master of science degree
  • 3.5 GPA
  • Transcripts for all institutions attended since high school
  • Personal Statement
  • Resume
  • Three letters of recommendation

Can You Get a PhD in Software Engineering Online?

Yes, you can get a PhD in Software Engineering. However, there are very few software engineering PhD programs available online, as most degree programs at this level require hands-on involvement. It would be easier to find PhD programs in computer science, which will cover aspects of engineering. If you want to earn your PhD in Software Engineering, you’ll more than likely need to be willing to attend an in-person program.

How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD in Software Engineering?

It takes four to five years to get a PhD in software engineering. This is the average duration for most PhD programs. Throughout the program, you will complete coursework, sit for qualification exams, and write and defend your final doctoral dissertation.

The first year usually covers core courses. The second and third years are for advanced courses related to the specialization. During the fourth and fifth years, students research and defend their PhD dissertations.

Is a PhD in Software Engineering Hard?

Yes, a PhD in Software Engineering is hard. PhD programs are hard to complete because they’re meant to develop future experts, are highly specialized, and require a lot of independent work. Over the course of five years, students are expected to learn advanced topics in their field, develop cutting-edge, relevant research, write and publish papers, and write final dissertations that dissect original research.

How Much Does It Cost to Get a PhD in Software Engineering?

On average, it costs $19,314 a year to get a PhD in software engineering, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. This value may vary. University prestige, public or private university status, and student resident status are some aspects that affect tuition.

How to Pay for a PhD in Software Engineering: PhD Funding Options

PhD funding options that students can use to pay for a PhD in Software Engineering include research and teaching assistantships, internal and external fellowships, and scholarships. Many universities have internal funding for PhD students, which you can access through the institution’s financial office.

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What Is the Difference Between a Software Engineering Master’s Degree and PhD?

The main difference between a software engineering master’s degree and a PhD is that master’s degrees are focused on preparing students for the job market, while a PhD program is more research-based.

Software engineering PhDs prepare students for advanced careers in research and academia. Master’s degrees are a lower qualification but are often more job-focused. Other differences between these types of graduate programs include career options and the time it takes to complete.

Master’s vs PhD in Software Engineering Job Outlook

The job outlook for master’s and PhD graduates in software engineering are similar since both qualifications make you eligible for similar positions. Even though their salaries are different, both professionals are looking at the same job outlook.

Postsecondary teaching employment, a common professional for PhD-holders, is expected to grow by 12 percent in the next decade.  Meanwhile, employment in web development, a position better fitted for a Master’s Degree in Software Engineering, is expected to grow by 13 percent over the next decade, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Difference in Salary for Software Engineering Master’s vs PhD

While master’s and doctorate students share many of the same job positions, their salaries vary slightly. When applying for the same position, a PhD graduate can bargain for a higher salary with their advanced knowledge and skills. However on average, according to PayScale, a software engineer with a master’s degree earns, on average, $111,000 per year, while a software engineer with a PhD in the field earns $103,000 , annually.

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Why You Should Get a PhD in Software Engineering

You should get a PhD in software engineering because the demand for software engineers is high, meaning the salaries are high as well. You can complete a PhD program with full funding, and the program will elevate your career, improve your communication skills, and hone career-specific skills. It also qualifies you for senior positions and to teach at the university level.

Reasons for Getting a PhD in Software Engineering

  • Higher salaries. Professionals with a software engineering PhD generally earn more than those who have bachelor’s or master’s degrees.
  • Funding opportunities. Most students pursuing a PhD in software engineering are eligible for research and teaching assistantships, internal and external fellowships, and scholarships that cover their full tuition.
  • Improve communication skills. Software engineering PhD students are required to research and write papers. They are then required to dissect their findings in conferences and seminars, which builds communication skills.
  • Hone career-specific skills. Throughout a software engineering PhD program, students work on their programming, software development, software testing and debugging problem-solving, teamwork, and other career-specific skills.

Getting a PhD in Software Engineering: Software Engineering PhD Coursework

A software architect working on their programming skills.
Professionals in software engineering must keep on top of competitive skills like programming, communication, cloud computing, and teamwork.

Besides research and writing a dissertation, getting a PhD in software engineering requires completing courses in software engineering research, symbolic mathematical modeling and analysis, and human-focused empirical research. Software engineering PhD coursework also includes topics like design and engineering of software systems and the applications of software in society, business, and policy.

Software Engineering Research

A software in engineering research course is designed to prepare students to develop relevant research skills. It introduces field research strategies, discusses developments that led to current inquiries, and allows students to critique and evaluate research papers.

Symbolic Mathematical Modeling and Analysis

In this course, students engage in research methods that include discrete models, proofs, and software-relevant mathematical topics. The most common areas of study in this course are machine learning, programming language semantics, and formal logic.

Human-focused Empirical Research

This course focuses on behavioral science research methods. It touches on human-based topics relevant to software engineering and includes the study of interviews, case studies, surveys, human subjects experiments, and mining software repositories.

Design and Engineering of Software Systems

The design and engineering of software systems course requires a significant engagement with software design, consideration of software artifacts, and exposure to tradeoffs at the core of software engineering.

Software in Society, Business, and Policy

This course covers ways in which software interacts with problems in society, businesses, and public policy. It focuses on topics like the social web, information security and privacy, privacy engineering, and the foundations of privacy.

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How to Get a PhD in Software Engineering: Doctoral Program Requirements

To get a PhD in software engineering, you need to meet your school’s program requirements. These include completing the required coursework, passing the qualifying and candidacy exams, creating a program of study, and defending a final dissertation.

1

Complete Required Courses

A PhD in software engineering requires the completion of a few core courses in the first year of the program. Once you are done with these courses, you’ll need to be evaluated to continue the program.

2

Pass a Qualifying Exam

At the end of the first year of the software engineering PhD program, students have to pass a qualifying exam. This examination evaluates students on their knowledge in core subjects that they studied throughout the year.

3

Create a Program of Study

In the second year of study, students enroll in more specialized courses. With the help of an advisor, students create a program of study for the rest of the program, including finding a permanent advisor to guide them through their dissertation.

4

Complete Candidacy Examination

Once you’re done with the advanced courses, the faculty will have to assess your knowledge in the different areas of your specialization. Students also have to present a preliminary sample of what their dissertation will be. After passing this exam, students are considered PhD candidates.

5

Defend your PhD in Software Engineering Dissertation

At the end of the software engineering PhD program, students must present and defend their final dissertation in an oral presentation. Once they pass their presentation, they must deliver a copy of their final work.

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PhD in Software Engineering Salary and Job Outlook

Getting a PhD in software engineering will give you access to jobs that pay well above the national average and grant you career stability. Career prospects are positive since employment in the field is projected to grow over the next decade.

What Can You Do With a PhD in Software Engineering?

With a PhD in software engineering, you can get a job as a computer and information systems manager, a computer and information research scientist, or a senior software developer. You might also become a database administrator, database architect, or computer science postsecondary teacher. With a PhD, you can access senior roles in the industry.

Best Jobs with a PhD in Software Engineering

  • Computer and Information Systems Manager
  • Computer and Information Research Scientist
  • Software Developer
  • Database Administrator and Architect
  • Computer Science Postsecondary Teacher

What Is the Average Salary for a PhD in Software Engineering?

The average salary for a PhD in software engineering is $103,000 per year, on average, according to PayScale. This salary average varies with the career path you choose, the industry you’re working in, and the state you’re based in.

Highest-Paying Software Engineering Jobs for PhD Grads

Software Engineering PhD Jobs Average Salary
Computer and Information Systems Manager $162,930
Computer and Information Research Scientist $142,650
Software Developer $120,990
Database Administrator and Architect $96,110
Computer Science Postsecondary Teacher $89,610

Best Software Engineering Jobs with a Doctorate

Throughout the following sections, we’ll discuss some examples of the best software engineering jobs with a doctorate. We’ll also cover how much they pay, the job outlook, and the highest-paying states for each job.

1

Computer and Information Systems Manager

PhD Salary: $162,930

Computer and information systems managers plan, coordinate, and direct every computer-related activity in their company. They are responsible for making sure the company’s current computer systems can support business goals.

This position carries a lot of responsibility and can be specialized depending on the specific company needs and your skillset. Your title may be chief information officer, chief technology officer, IT director, or IT security manager.

2

Computer and Information Research Scientist

PhD Salary: $142,650

Computer and information research scientists create computer software and hardware and improve the existing tech. They work across industries and their main responsibility involves studying and solving problems in computing.

3

Software Developer

PhD Salary: $120,990

Software developers create computer applications to help organizations reach their full potential. They oversee the entire development process, from communicating with clients to coding the program, to launching the new software and performing software maintenance.

4

Database Administrator and Architect

PhD Salary: $96,110

Database administrators and architects create and organize software systems to store and secure information. They evaluate their organization’s software requirements, design database models, code new data architecture, and check for errors and inefficiencies.

5

Computer Science Postsecondary Teacher

PhD Salary: $89,610

Postsecondary computer science professors teach advanced courses in computer sciences. They may specialize in a field of computer science like software engineering. Usually, they work in the computer science department of a university and teach one or two courses a semester.

Is a PhD in Software Engineering Worth It?

Yes, getting a PhD in software engineering is worth it. With a PhD, you will develop relevant skills for the job market, work on your research and communication skills, and get a high-paying job in the field. A software engineering PhD opens doors for a range of high-paying positions. While most PhD graduates want to pursue a career in academics, you can also choose to work for the government or engineering companies.

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PhD in Software Engineering FAQ

Are there any software engineering events?

Yes, there are several software engineering events that you can attend for learning and networking. This October, the DotNETOS Conference will take place online, covering .NET 5, .NET 6, and .NET Core for people invested in the .NET community. You can attend for free.

What’s the difference between a software engineer and a programmer?

The difference between a software engineer and a programmer is in their focus. Programmers create functional code while software engineers design software from an engineering perspective. Software engineers have to consider end-users and are also programmers themselves.

What are the best software engineer tools?

Some of the best software engineer tools include Adobe Dreamweaver, Gnu Debugger, and Notepad++. A few other popular tools for software engineers are GitHub, Stack Overflow, and Visual Studio.

What are the top skills for software engineers?

The top skills for software engineers include programming languages, programming skills, cloud computing foundations, knowledge of DevOps practices, familiarity with the software development process, and strong communication skills.

About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.

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Raquel Santos

About the author: Raquel is a content writer with extensive experience in writing, education, and tech. She holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology and a Master’s Degree in Forensic Genetics, both from Porto University. She also has a certificate in Writing in Science from Stanford University and Coursera.

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