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Software Engineering Programs and Majors Explained: Degree Levels, Specializations, and Common Software Engineering Courses

Susan Sanchez - June 12, 2022


The field of software engineering can be daunting, especially when you’re knowledge of the field is limited. Through a software engineering degree program, you’ll develop all of the knowledge and skills you’ll need to confidently enter the workplace.

This article will explore what is a software engineering degree, what software engineering programs you should consider, and what software engineering jobs you can expect to qualify for once you’ve earned your degree. You’ll also find information on software engineering specializations, payment options to fund your degree program, and ways to find internships while you’re studying.

What Is Software Engineering?

Software engineering is a branch of engineering focused on developing and constructing various software products and programs. Software engineers also work on software design and software solutions. Software engineering is essentially the foundation of digital operations, proving relevant in every industry.

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Software Engineering Quick Facts: Job Outlook and Average Salaries

Is Software Engineering Hard?

Yes, software engineering is hard. It can be a complex topic to learn because it encompasses many areas, such as programming, algorithms, and data structure. Software engineers endure rigorous training to develop and maintain the complex knowledge and skills needed for their various tasks.

Is Software Engineering a Good Major?

Yes, software engineering is a good major. Software engineering graduates develop excellent technical and critical thinking skills. They also enjoy high pay and a great job outlook. Graduating from a software engineering program sets you up for a great career in an ever-booming job market.

Why Should You Get a Degree in Software Engineering?

You should get a degree in software engineering because it qualifies you for a fulfilling and lucrative career in software engineering. Below, we list and elaborate on why you should get a degree in software engineering.

  1. It provides the opportunity to enter a field with a great job outlook. After graduating with a degree in software engineering, you can expect to easily land a software engineering job and won’t have to worry about your career losing relevance.
  2. It prepares you for a wide range of roles and specializations. A software engineering degree program allows you to choose from a wide range of roles and specializations within the field. It also allows you to choose the industry you want to work in.
  3. It qualifies you for a very flexible profession. Many software engineers have the opportunity to work remotely or on-site. Whether in the healthcare, finance, or government field, you are given a higher level of flexibility than most other professions.
  4. It allows you to earn a high salary. Even in entry-level software engineering jobs, your annual wage is very competitive. As you gain experience, your salary as a software engineer significantly increases.
  5. It opens up opportunities for education and career advancement. As the software engineering field is constantly evolving and advancing, you’ll never run out of opportunities to further your education or career.

Software Engineering Major: What Degree Can You Get in Software Engineering?

The degrees you can get in software engineering include an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and doctoral degree. Although some people decide to pursue a Doctoral Degree in Software Engineering, it’s quite uncommon because experience can qualify you for most of the same roles that a PhD can.

Types of Associate Degrees in Software Engineering

The types of Associate Degrees in Software Engineering are an associate of science, associate of applied science, and associate of engineering. Below, we discuss these degrees and some of the common courses in their curricula.

1

Associate of Science (AS in Software Engineering)

An Associate of Science in Software Engineering focuses on equipping students with an academic foundation in the field. They will learn about basic principles and processes of software development, usually with the intention to transfer to a four-year institution and finish their bachelor’s degrees.

Common Associate of Science in Software Engineering Curriculum

  • Software Architecture
  • IT Development and Design Fundamentals
  • Math and Logic
2

Associate of Applied Science (AAS in Software Engineering)

An Associate of Applied Science in Software Engineering focuses on preparing students for the workplace. Earning this degree requires students to complete many technical and specialized courses, as opposed to an associate of science, which tends to be more general in its curriculum. If you wish to work immediately after earning your associate degree, should choose an associate of applied science degree program.

Common Associate of Applied Science in Software Engineering Curriculum

  • Programming in C++
  • Web Design and Development
  • Data Structures
3

Associate of Engineering (AEng in Software Engineering)

An Associate of Engineering in Software Engineering program is more engineering-focused than an associate of science and more preparatory for transfer than an associate of applied science. Students develop specialized skills with an emphasis on mathematics and often choose to use this degree as a launching pad for their bachelor’s degrees.

Common Associate of Engineering in Software Engineering Curriculum

  • Introduction to Databases
  • Mathematical Foundations of Computer Science
  • Intermediate Programming

Types of Bachelor’s Degrees in Software Engineering

The types of software engineering bachelor’s degrees are a bachelor of science, bachelor of arts, and bachelor of engineering. While all three types of degrees prepare students for careers in software engineering, they each differ slightly in terms of focus and intent. Below, we’ll explore the core differences between these three options.

1

Bachelor of Science (BS in Software Engineering)

A Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering program equips students with a strong foundation in the field, training them in subjects like discrete mathematics, calculus, and artificial intelligence. It provides students with a thorough understanding of core technical concepts and skills. Bachelor of science degrees tend to be the most common type of degree for software engineering.

Common Bachelor of Science in Software Engineering Curriculum

  • Differential Calculus
  • Data Structures and Introduction to Algorithmic Analysis
  • Artificial Intelligence
2

Bachelor of Arts (BA in Software Engineering)

A Bachelor of Arts in Software Engineering focuses on equipping students with a comprehensive understanding of software engineering principles and concepts. It's more theoretically focused than other types of degrees at this level. It also tends to incorporate a larger portion of social sciences than a bachelor of science or bachelor of engineering program.

Common Bachelor of Arts in Software Engineering Curriculum

  • Software Design
  • Algorithms and Data Structures
  • Software Architecture
3

Bachelor of Engineering (BEng in Software Engineering)

A bachelor of engineering is similar to a bachelor of science in that they both focus on the technical and practical knowledge and skills of engineering, as opposed to a bachelor of arts, which incorporates more of a social science take on the field. Through a bachelor of engineering, students can expect to be thoroughly prepared for software engineering positions.

Common Bachelor of Engineering in Software Engineering Curriculum

  • Software Testing and Verification
  • Engineering Management
  • Engineering Economics

Types of Master’s Degrees in Software Engineering

There are three types of Master’s Degrees in Software Engineering, including a master of arts, master of science, and master of engineering. Each of these degrees allows graduates to contribute highly specialized skills to the industry. Below are some of the key differences between these three types of degrees.

1

Master of Arts (MA in Software Engineering)

A Master of Arts in Software Engineering focuses on helping students conduct research and develop creative thinking skills within the field of software engineering. Graduates will be able to utilize these technical skills in software engineering management positions or as stepping stones to doctoral degrees to focus on the research aspect of the industry.

Common Master of Arts in Software Engineering Curriculum

  • Cloud Communications
  • Cloud Computing
  • Master’s Thesis
2

Master of Science (MS in Software Engineering)

A Master of Science in Software Engineering is more technical than a master of art and has less of an emphasis on research and social sciences. The degree equips graduates to develop and implement technological solutions for nearly any issue they’ll encounter in the field

Common Master of Science in Software Engineering Curriculum

  • Agile Methods for Software Development
  • Software Architecture and Component-Based Design
  • Software Engineering Studio
3

Master of Engineering (MEng in Software Engineering)

In a Master of Engineering in Software Engineering program, students thoroughly explore a broad range of software engineering practices and skills while learning how to translate these technical theories, processes, and results in written form. While all three types of master’s degrees will qualify you for high-level positions within the field, this type of degree is somewhat of a combination of a master of arts and a master of science.

Common Master of Engineering in Software Engineering Curriculum

  • Software Comprehension and Maintenance
  • Advanced Software Architectures
  • Software Project Management

What Will You Learn in a Software Engineering Degree Program?

In a software engineering degree program, you will study topics such as algorithms, software architecture, discrete math, and programming languages. Depending on the scope, degree type, and your chosen concentration, you may also take courses related to social sciences, business skills, and management tactics.

Another factor that affects topics you’ll learn is the level of degree you pursue. The scope and depth of topics covered in an associate degree program will be vastly different from those discussed in a master’s degree program. You’ll encounter more introductory and foundational courses in software engineering at lower degree levels, whereas higher degree levels will include more research and hands-on practice.

Popular Specializations for Software Engineering Degrees

Some of the most popular specializations you can choose from include data science, cyber security, and machine learning. While there are many other concentrations you can choose for your degree, those are some of the most popular and applicable across many different industries.

The 5 Most Popular Software Engineering Concentrations

  1. Data Science
  2. Cyber Security
  3. Machine Learning
  4. Cloud Computing
  5. Network-Centric Systems

Common Software Engineering Courses Across All Specializations

Aside from specializations, there are common software engineering courses you can expect to take during your degree program. While these required courses listed below may vary in terms of specific curriculum or course title, they all cover foundational aspects of software engineering.

  • Object Oriented Software Design. An object oriented software design course ensures that students understand how to implement object oriented modeling through the software systems development process. Students enrolled in this course are generally required to already have object oriented programming backgrounds and experience with data structures.
  • Fundamentals of Software Engineering. This course introduces the software engineering field as a whole. Topics include the software life-cycle, best practices and process, programming, and software engineering tools.
  • Software Quality Assurance and Maintenance. This course teaches students how to identify, test, assess, and address issues in software. They’ll also learn the processes and methods for maintaining, updating, and securing software.
  • Database Systems. In this course, students are generally expected to have experience in object oriented programming, algorithms, and data structures as they’ll be using that knowledge to conduct research on standard relational databases. They’ll study everything from concurrency control to the optimization of linear recursions.
  • Programming Languages and Compilers. There are several variations of this course, depending on the degree level you’re taking it at. Lower-level degree programs will offer this course to teach students fundamental programming concepts. Graduate-level programs will cover advanced topics, such as aspect oriented programming, lexical analysis, and syntactic translation.

Best Minors for Software Engineering Students

The best software engineering minors are those that can add practicality to your skillset. Choosing a minor is your chance to learn something that slightly differs from your main track. Some students choose minors that are relevant to their major, while others use this opportunity to develop unrelated skills or knowledge. Below are some of the best software engineering minors.

The 5 Best Software Engineering Minors

  1. Business
  2. Communication
  3. Physics
  4. Electrical Engineering
  5. Mechanical Engineering

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How to Choose the Right Software Engineering Degree Program for You

There are several factors to consider when choosing the right software engineering degree program for you. Some of the things you should take into account are the accreditation status, curriculum, concentration options, graduation rate, and cost, all of which we’ll discuss below.

1

Accreditation

The accreditation of the school and program is always a vital factor to consider. The best software engineering programs will likely be accredited by ABET. In addition, make sure the institution you choose is regionally or nationally accredited. This will ensure that employers recognize your degree and it will allow you to pursue higher education at an accredited institution, should you decide to do so.

2

Curricular Content

The curriculum of a program is essentially a list of the knowledge and skills you’ll graduate with and be able to offer to employers. Make sure the curriculum of the program you’re considering aligns with your professional and educational goals. If you know that you’ll want to eventually pursue even higher education, make sure the curriculum of your current program offers the prerequisite courses you’ll need for a higher degree program.

3

Specialization Options

Specialization options, while not necessary, are highly beneficial and valuable to employers, especially at the graduate level. Assess the specialization options offered by the school you’re considering to see whether any of them align with your career goals or interests.

4

Graduation Rate

Checking the graduation rate of the school gives you great insight into the program. The higher the graduation rate, the higher the number of students who were supported and equipped to finish well. Although a low graduation rate is a direct indication of the quality of education or faculty, it does insinuate that something is preventing a large percentage of students from finishing.

5

Cost

The cost is one of the first and most important factors to consider. Make sure that the program you choose is within your means or offers financial aid, scholarships, grants, low-interest student loans, or other financial assistance. Keep in mind that lower tuition isn’t correlated with a lower quality of education.

Best Software Engineering Colleges and Universities: Where to Find the Top Software Engineering Degree Programs

There is a plethora of excellent colleges and universities that offer top-notch software engineering degree programs. However, in terms of affordability, quality, reputation, and curricular content, the programs listed below are some of the best ones you should consider at the associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree levels.

Best Schools to Get an Associate in Software Engineering

  1. Anne Arundel Community College
  2. Ivy Tech Community College
  3. Dakota State University
  4. Lake Washington Institute of Technology
  5. New England Institute of Technology

Best Schools to Get a Bachelor’s in Software Engineering

  1. Milwaukee School of Engineering
  2. Fresno Pacific University
  3. Rochester Institute of Technology
  4. Auburn University
  5. Drexel University

Best Schools to Get a Master’s in Software Engineering

  1. Auburn University
  2. Drexel University
  3. Stratford University
  4. New Jersey Institute of Technology
  5. Rochester Institute of Technology

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How Can I Pay for a Software Engineering Degree Program?

You can pay for a software engineering degree program in a variety of ways, including financial aid, work-study programs, scholarships, loans, and grants. Below, we’ll discuss these options in detail.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)

FAFSA is one of the most important forms you need to fill out as a college student. This completely free application assesses your eligibility for government financial aid, which can significantly, if not fully, cover your tuition. Upon completing the application, the information is also shared with your school where the admissions office will ensure you’re awarded the amount you qualify for. None of the money you receive through financial aid needs to be repaid.

Work-Study Programs

Work-study programs let you work part-time during the school year and possibly full-time over the summer. In addition, most schools have a careers department where they’ve established partnerships with a variety of companies and organizations. This arrangement allows the partners to offer students part-time positions that are relevant to the fields they’re studying.

Scholarships

Scholarships are one of the best ways to lessen the financial burden of tuition, especially because they don’t need to be paid back. Scholarships are offered both internally and externally in a plethora of categories, including academic merit, athletic ability, minority membership, exceptional circumstances, and much more. Students can apply for as many scholarships as they want and receive as many as they win.

Loans

Student loans are one of the most popular ways to pay for school, particularly for students who don’t qualify for financial aid and didn’t win scholarships. Although it’s a popular option, student loans should be one of the last methods you consider, as all loans must be paid back and with interest. Federal loans tend to have the lowest interest rates. However, you can apply for private loans, too.

Grants

Grants, like scholarships and financial aid, are free money awarded to qualifying applicants. Unlike scholarships that tend to solely invest in your education, grants can be applied to a broader range of needs, including housing, bills, food, and other personal needs. While you can and should apply for both private and public grants, your chances of qualifying for a government grant are much higher, especially because they’re distributed more generously.

Software Engineering Scholarships

Software engineering scholarships are one of the best ways to fund your software engineering education. You can apply for as many as you want and none of the money you receive has to be repaid. Below are some of the best software engineering scholarships you should apply for.

1

Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship

Amount: $40,000

The Amazon Future Engineer Scholarship is awarded annually to 100 students studying in fields such as computer science, software engineering, or a related field. In addition to the $40,000 scholarship you’ll receive, you’re also guaranteed a paid internship at Amazon.

  • Eligibility Requirements: Authorized to work in the US, high school senior in the US who has completed or is currently enrolled in a computer science course or is self-taught and takes the assessment, planning to attain a bachelor’s degree in an eligible field, minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0, prove financial need
  • Amount: $40,000
2

Women at Microsoft Scholarship

Amount: Up to $5,000

This scholarship by Microsoft is awarded yearly to women and non-binary people who wish to pursue a career in the science, technology, engineering, arts, and math (STEAM) fields. Unlike most scholarships, this one does not require students to study in a STEAM field, but rather requires them to plan to pursue a STEAM career. This scholarship is open to US citizens and international students and can be awarded once or every year for four years.

  • Eligibility Requirements: Graduating high school senior who identifies as a woman and/or as non-binary, plans to pursue a career in STEAM fields, plan to be engaged in a STEAM industry in their career, plan to attend an accredited two to four year public, private, or technical college in or affiliated with the US, have a high school GPA of 3.0 or higher
  • Amount: Up to $5,000
3

Medtronic Foundation ScholarSHPE

Amount: $25,000

ScholarSHPE aims to support Hispanic STEM students in the US and Puerto Rico. It awards scholarships to high school seniors beginning an undergraduate program in STEM, those in the middle of their undergraduate career, those pursuing technical certificates, and those getting a graduate degree.

  • Eligibility Requirements: Active SHPE Member, cumulative GPA of 2.75 or higher, full-time undergraduate student by the fall semester following your application, living in California, Colorado, Minnesota, or Puerto Rico, pursuing a degree in biomedical, chemical, computer, electrical, industrial, materials, or mechanical engineering
  • Amount: $25,000

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Student Loans for Software Engineering Majors

You can choose between a federal or private loan. Federal loans usually offer repayment plans, have the lowest interest rates, and offer higher borrowing limits than private loans. While this financing option should be one of the last you resort to, it has allowed millions of students to go to college. Below is more information on student loans.

What Is the Average Student Loan for Software Engineering Associate Degrees?

The average student loan for software engineering associate degrees was about $18,550 from 2015 to 2016, according to NCES. The average federal loan was about $18,060 in the same year range, while the average private loan was $9,950.

What Is the Average Student Loan for Software Engineering Bachelor’s Degrees?

The average student loan for a software engineering bachelor’s degree program was around $29,910 from 2015 to 2016, according to NCES. The average federal loan was about $27,050, while the average private loan for a bachelor’s degree was about $18,700.

What Is the Average Student Loan for Software Engineering Master’s Degrees?

The average student loan for a software engineering master’s degree program was around $50,290 from 2015 to 2015, according to NCES. The average federal loan for a master’s degree was $42,330 during the same time period, while private loans ranged from $56,350 to $62,010, on average.

How to Get Into the Best Schools for Software Engineering

To get into the best schools for software engineering, you should work hard to maintain a high GPA, get good standardized test scores, request strong letters of recommendation from teachers, counselors, or employers, and thoroughly prepare for each stage of the admission process. Below are five of our top tips for getting into the best programs at software engineering schools.

Top 5 Tips to Get Into the Best Programs at Software Engineering Schools

  1. Maintain a high GPA, starting from the beginning of high school.
  2. Write an impactful essay or personal statement that will illustrate your suitability for the school.
  3. Get strong letters of recommendation from reputable sources, such as your school counselor, teacher, or employer.
  4. Study hard for the SAT and ACT to ensure you get good grades on these standardized tests.
  5. Express your interest in the school and dedication to your software engineering education by participating in relevant events and programs that can be added to a resume.

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How Can You Get a Software Engineering Internship While in College?

You can get a software engineering internship while in college by networking, making use of your college’s career services, and browsing job boards. Below, we’ll explain these tips in detail.

1

Networking

College is a great place to form meaningful and beneficial connections. Through networking with peers and professors, you may meet someone who can refer you to a relevant internship position. Aside from college, consider your friends, family, and past employers, as personal recommendations are valuable to employers.

2

Career Fairs

Most colleges and universities hold career fairs periodically. During these events, members of different organizations go to college campuses to hire students for relevant jobs, apprenticeships, and internships. Make use of your college’s career fair, as this is an event that often leads to gaining field experience and even long-term employment.

3

Job Boards

The Internet is full of reputable job boards, acting as one of the main methods for finding employment. Some of the most popular job boards include Indeed, Glassdoor, LinkedIn, and Monster. You can filter the results based on location, experience, and arrangement. By utilizing the internship option, you’ll have access to plenty of internships in your area.

What Jobs Can You Get With a Software Engineering Degree?

The jobs you can get with a software engineering degree include web developer, software engineer, technical consultant, and data scientist, to name a few. With an associate degree, you can qualify for entry-level jobs within the software engineering field. Most employers require at least a bachelor’s degree for positions like software engineer and security analyst. With a master’s degree, you can land management positions.

Software Engineering Degree Salary Outlook

The software engineering degree salary outlook is quite impressive, depending on the level of education you pursue. Below are the average salaries for each degree level. It’s worth noting that in addition to your level of education, your salary will vary depending on your location, workplace, professional certifications, and hands-on experience.

Degree Level Average Salary
Software Engineering Associate Degree $58,000
Software Engineering Bachelor’s Degree $84,000
Software Engineering Master’s Degree $111,000

Software Engineering Degree Jobs and Career Outlook: What Can You Do With a Software Engineering Degree?

With a software engineering degree, you can qualify for a wide variety of roles in the tech field. Higher levels of education qualify you for higher positions and pay. Below are some of the jobs you can expect to qualify for upon completing the different degrees.

Top Software Engineering Associate Degree Jobs

  1. Information Technician
  2. Software Developer
  3. Data Entry Clerk
  4. Network Support Consultant
  5. Systems Analyst

Top Software Engineering Bachelor’s Degree Jobs

  1. Software Engineer
  2. Cyber Security Analyst
  3. Software Architect
  4. Database Administrator
  5. Machine Learning Engineer

Top Software Engineering Master’s Degree Jobs

  1. Senior Software Engineer
  2. Computer and Information Research Scientist
  3. Cyber Security Manager
  4. Chief Technology Officer
  5. Data Scientist

Highest-Paying Software Engineering Jobs

Highest-Paying Software Engineering Jobs Entry-Level Salary (0-12 Months) Early-Career Salary(1-4 Years) Mid-Career Salary (5-9 Years) Experienced Salary (10-19 Years)
Principal Software Engineer $109,960 $116,903 $132,585 $143,817
Software Development Manager $101,844 $103,005 $119,192 $131,005
Machine Learning Engineer $94,609 $111,966 $140,673 $147,181
Lead Software Engineer $94,258 $99,216 $119,075 $127,817
Software Engineer $77,953 $86,327 $97,896 $108,569

Professional Software Engineering Organizations and Resources

While studying or working in the software engineering field, you should make use of professional software engineering organizations and resources. Below are some of the best software engineering organizations and resources you can explore.

1

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET)

The Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) is an organization that seeks to share its knowledge with the global engineering community. Its members specialize in different areas of the technology field, from computer science to industrial engineering. It has various resources on its website for educational and professional development, including courses and apprenticeships.

2

Computing Research Association (CRA)

Computing Research Association is an organization of professionals in the computing research field. It partners with government and academia-affiliated societies to represent the community and push changes in the industry. On its page, it has various resources, including a career mentoring workshop, scholarly publications, and workforce reports.

3

Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)

Association for Computer Machinery is the largest society dedicated to the field of computing machinery. It delivers high-quality resources that help advance the technological industry and profession. It provides useful services such as publications, conferences, career resources, and educational resources on its website.

Software Engineering in 10 Years: Is Getting a Software Engineering Degree Worth It?

Yes, getting a software engineering degree is worth it. Software engineering, in 10 years, is only going to increase in relevance, demand, and reward. Getting your software engineering degree ensures you’re guaranteed a profession that is stable, compensates well, and makes vital contributions to every industry and sector. As you gain experience, you’ll qualify for higher positions within the field, leading to higher salaries and various responsibilities.

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Software Engineering Degree FAQ

Is a degree in software engineering heavy on math?

Yes, a degree in software engineering is heavy on math. However, it does depends on your specialization and level of degree. The higher level of degree you pursue, the higher level of math you’ll need to learn.

How long will it take to become a software engineer?

The amount of time it takes to become a software engineer depends on the learning path you choose. Generally, a bachelor’s degree is necessary for a software engineering career. A Bachelor’s Degree in Software Engineering takes about four years to complete. If you pursue a master’s degree, it will take about six years from start to finish.

Will a degree in software engineering make me rich?

A degree in software engineering can make you rich, depending on the level of your degree, your location, and the company you work for. California, Washington, and New York are the highest-paying states for software engineers. Additionally, while a bachelor’s degree will qualify you for most software engineering jobs, a master’s degree will significantly increase your salary.

Do you need a degree to be a software engineer?

No, you don’t necessarily need a degree to be a software engineer. However, it’s important to note that most employers do require candidates for software engineering positions to possess bachelor’s degrees in relevant fields. Although you can find positions that don’t require a degree, it will be much more difficult and they won’t pay as much.

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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Susan Sanchez

About the author: Susan is an experienced content writer who has been contributing to the field for nearly 10 years. During her writing career, she has been published on many different websites, including SelfGrowth.com and BuzzFeed. She has a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the Lyceum University of the Philippines as well as extra education in journalism and human resources.

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