Ph.D. in Software Engineering

By Brandon Mario D`Souza

Updated March 21, 2024

Brandon Mario D’Souza

Brandon is a registered social worker with Social Work England. He obtained his master’s in social work (personnel management & industrial relations) and used it in fields such as water treatment, construction, software, and education. Then he transitioned to the health and social care sector with an M.Sc. in health psychology. Brandon loves to write, cook, and play musical instruments (piano, guitar, melodica, ukulele, and kazoo) and enjoys the calmness and serenity of nature.


Master of Social Work, Master of Health Psychology

Areas of Expertise & Credentials

None to disclose in particular; the basics are covered in the short bio.

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The goal of the Ph.D. in software engineering is to train the next generation of highly influential software engineering researchers, developers, and educators who will find solutions to the challenges posed by creating large and vital software systems. This doctoral degree prepares students for careers in academia, applied research, private industry, and government. It is a gateway to making new discoveries and inventions through research in various sub-fields of software engineering. A doctorate in software engineering can lead to senior positions in a variety of industries and allows students to make significant contributions to the profession. This guide covers the Ph.D. in software engineering curriculum, timeline, specializations, etc., and several important points that prospective students should be aware of.

Software Engineering phd

Best Ph.D. in Software Engineering

Finding a good Ph.D. program in software engineering is not as easy as one may imagine. When selecting a college, prospective students should evaluate infrastructure, lab and research facilities, the qualification and expertise of the teaching staff, easy access to research mentors and guides, accreditation, graduation rates, and other considerations. FBD teams have created a list of some of the best Ph.D. in software engineering programs in the country based on these and other factors: *

Colorado Technical University (CTU) is a private for-profit university founded in 1965, with its main campus in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Owned by Perdoceo Education Corporation, the university offers undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees, mainly in management, business, and technology.
Univ Address Tuition Grad Rate
Colorado Technical University 3151 S Vaughn Way, Aurora, Colorado 80014 $13,683 23%

Universities and programs are ranked by various factors, such as affordability, curriculum and coursework, reputation and availability, program length, statistics, the potential of employment, and return on investment for the students. For a more in-depth analysis, please read about our rankings methodology page

What to Expect from Ph.D. in Software
Engineering Programs

Doctoral programs in software engineering educate students for positions in research, teaching, and industry. A wide variety of topics in computing theory, hardware, software, and computing applications may be covered, with the specifics defined by student interest and staff research interests. The requirements for a doctorate in software engineering include passing comprehensive exams, a research exam, writing a dissertation, and defending it in front of a graduate committee.

The coursework for a software engineering doctorate often consists of quantitative research methodologies and highly specialized classes in the student’s software engineering field; however, the specifics may vary from university to university. Examples of Ph.D. in software engineering courses include but are not limited to:

Algorithm Applications

This course provides knowledge of the data structures and algorithms that underpin software development. It covers the technical and product-based uses of algorithms, which help graduates at the highest levels of software architecture and design.

Networks and Systems

This course concentrates on Layer 7 protocols, including DNS, advanced network and system administration ideas, and scripting approaches. Candidates practice these abilities in real-world situations to prepare for work supporting monolithic systems housed internally, managing cloud services, and maintaining containerized microservices.

Maintenance and Testing

This course provides information on how to extend, update, and move deployed software. For them to apply maintenance and testing to their own projects, students understand this crucial stage in software engineering.

Open Source Software Engineering

This course investigates the methods, procedures, cultures, and tools used in free and open-source software (FOSS) initiatives. It focuses on FOSS as a source of innovation in software engineering, business models, and open-source project evaluation while introducing the idea of using technology for social betterment.

The following is a typical program structure for a Ph.D. in software engineering:

(a) Coursework

The course selection for doctoral students is broad. Most of the time, students can choose their course plans from one concentration of software engineering that aligns with their needs and professional objectives.

(b) Teaching

Although not always a requirement, at some colleges, teaching experience is strongly recommended for students who are not Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) but want to become professors.

(c) Residency

In some cases, unless they have an assistantship, students are required to complete a certain number of prescribed credit hours of graduate-level coursework. The student is required to study full-time during this period. Residency is sometimes needed before taking the comprehensive exams.

(d) Comprehensive Exams

Students are eligible to take comprehensive examinations when they have completed all coursework. Most students choose to write a manuscript on a topic of their choice and defend it orally before a committee of departmental, school, and/or university faculty members.

(e) Dissertation

The Ph.D. candidate will collaborate with their advisor to choose a topic that will advance the field after passing the comprehensive exam.

(f) Field Experience

Doctoral students are encouraged to participate in independent study research courses to combine and relate classroom theory with field activities. They can engage with scientific communities through research and collate data from various sources for this purpose.

Read the Guide to Ph.D. Programs to understand more about doctoral programs.

Areas of Specialization in Ph.D. in Software
Engineering Programs

A degree in software engineering is a subfield of computer engineering and a branch of the computer science program. Despite this, there are multiple software engineering subfields for Ph.D. students to research or specialize in, including:

  • Specific Coding/Programming Languages such as R, PHP, Python, C++, Java, etc.
  • Software Quality Assurance & Testing
  • Web, Game, and Mobile Application Development
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Software Design & Development
  • Machine Learning
  • Information Security
  • Network Security
  • Deep Tech
  • Internet of Things (IoT)

Why should I do a Ph.D. in Software

Students pursuing an online doctorate in software engineering learn scientific concepts, reasoning abilities, instructional principles, and methodologies. Their education will prepare them for careers as independent scientists, postsecondary software engineering lecturers, or both. The majority of online Ph.D. software engineering graduates have gone on to work in education and research, and they commonly obtain numerous employment offers before finishing their studies.

Students with a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree who intend to pursue a professional career in basic and applied research, teaching, advocacy, information technology, or advanced scientific roles should pursue a Ph.D. in software engineering. Overall, this degree can lead to rich and satisfying jobs and experiences in academic positions in higher education, postdoctoral positions in related subjects, and advanced positions in the government and corporate sectors.

Because of society’s growing reliance on technology, many companies use software systems, which require ongoing upkeep. High-level software engineering researchers find solutions to issues relating to intricate, extensive software systems. A Ph.D. in software engineering enables people to stay current with technological advancements. Furthermore, Ph.D. candidates can work on their own unique research concepts to address flaws and weaknesses they find in many branches of software engineering.

After graduating, students can use their studies to apply them in research, teaching, or professional services, with the ability to:

  • create and provide technical documentation for architecture, design, and quality assurance.
  • evaluate appropriate design choices to apply to various challenges;
  • create software engineering process models and management methodologies for large software system design and architecture;
  • assess organizational challenges and make software, network, security, and database recommendations;
  • use diverse tools, methods, and technologies for data capture, integration, transformation, visualization, analysis, presentation, and interpretation to aid decision-making.

Free Courses for Ph.D. in Software
Engineering Students

Several free software engineering courses are available on the internet from reputed platforms. Unfortunately, many of these free courses rarely lead to certification recognized by academic institutions or employers. Still, they provide additional software engineering information that may be useful for research, assignments, or exams. Here are a few to explore:

CourseDescriptionProvided by
Topics Related to Software EngineeringedX provides free courses from popular companies and universities such as IBM, Microsoft, Dartmouth, and Harvard on topics such as DevSecOps, intelligent and integrated energy systems, human-computer interaction, etc.edX
Topics Related to Software EngineeringUdemy offers several reasonably priced and some free courses on topics such as Kubernetes for developers, quantum computing, virtualized development environments, etc.Udemy
Topics Related to Software EngineeringMassachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) OpenCourseWare offers graduate-level courses and non-credit courses in various topics related to software engineering, such as natural language and the computer representation of knowledge, advanced symbolic programming, etc.MIT OpenCourseWare

How to get into the Ph.D. in Software
Engineering Program?

To be admitted to a Ph.D. in software engineering program, applicants must have a master’s degree from a regionally accredited college or a foreign university that meets the standards for both a bachelor’s and master’s degree. Furthermore, a Grade Point Average (GPA) of at least 3.0 on a 4.0 scale is usually necessary. Prospective students at some universities may also be required to find a suitable professor to serve as their advisor or mentor throughout their studies. Aside from this, some of the most common Ph.D. in software engineering admission requirements are:

Online Application & Application Fee

Completing an online application and paying the prescribed application fee.

Academic Transcripts

An official copy of academic transcripts from each college/university attended.

Undergraduate/Graduate Degree + Grade Point Average

An undergraduate and/or graduate degree and Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.0 or more.

Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) Scores

An official copy of GRE scores no older than 5 years.

Graduate Résumé or Curriculum Vitae

The latest résumé or CV that provides personal information and work experience.

Personal Statement or Statement of purpose

A statement outlining how the program relates to the applicant’s career goals.

Letters of Recommendation

At least 3 letters of recommendation from those who can provide a thorough evaluation of the applicant’s abilities at the graduate level.

Proof of English proficiency

A document proving proficiency in English (for non-native English speakers).

Ph.D. in Software Engineering No
GRE Programs

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) measures a student’s ability to finish graduate coursework on their own. While GRE scores have become optional in numerous areas, this trend has not yet reached software engineering. As a result, it is practically impossible to find a school that offers a Ph.D. in software engineering without a GRE requirement. Nevertheless, in some situations, an institution may eliminate the GRE requirement, but they will be more selective otherwise – they will have more stringent requirements for minimum GPA, work experience, recommendation letters, research work, and other criteria.

How Long does it take to complete the Ph.D. in
Software Engineering Program?

A Ph.D. in software engineering takes an average of 4 to 5 years to complete, but some can be completed in 3.5 years, and others can take up to 7. Regardless of how long it takes, Ph.D. students’ work is usually quite comprehensive and closely focused on their chosen specialty. When choosing a Ph.D. program in software engineering, students should consider how much time they want to devote to it. This will influence how long it takes to complete the program. Here’s a quick rundown of the Ph.D. in software engineering program’s duration:

  • Minimum time required for a full-time Ph.D. in software engineering: about 4 years.
  • Maximum time required for a Ph.D. in software engineering: up to 7 years.
  • Typical time frame to complete a Ph.D. in software engineering: about 4 to 5 years.

Accelerated Ph.D. in Software Engineering

Students completing an accelerated curriculum will almost always graduate sooner. An expedited doctoral program allows students to obtain their Ph.D. in software engineering in as little as four years. However, in addition to the coursework, the dissertation may take an additional year to complete. Some universities allow students to begin their Ph.D. program while still completing their master’s degree. As a result, in these situations, the master’s thesis can be “upgraded” or broadened to serve as a Ph.D. dissertation. While universities do not specify ‘accelerated’ degrees in their prospectus, the concerned department helps interested students expedite their programs to a certain extent where possible. It is advisable for such students to check with the faculty about the ways to fast-track their Ph.D. in software engineering.

Accreditations for Ph.D. in Software
Engineering Programs

Accreditation is a stamp of approval bestowed upon a college or program that demonstrates to the general public and future employers that the school adheres to the highest levels of educational quality and standards. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) may grant programmatic accreditation to Ph.D. programs in software engineering. ABET, an ISO 9001-certified nonprofit organization, certifies software engineering programs based on curriculum, student outcomes, student performance, research facilities, faculty experience and qualification, and resources available to students. Furthermore, colleges are accredited nationally or regionally by independent bodies recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE) and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The most frequent type of accreditation in the United States is regional accreditation, which six organizations award:

  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education(MSCHE)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

To ensure program quality, students should confirm that their selected university is accredited by ABET, a regional or national accreditation body, or both. Read the Guide to College Accreditation to learn more about accreditation.

How to Pay for a Ph.D. in Software
Engineering Program?

The costs associated with earning a doctorate in software engineering are high. The average cost of a Ph.D. in the United States is $98,800, as reported by Education Data. Many would-be online students may struggle to afford the expensive tuition and associated research expenditures, even if they do not have any other out-of-pocket expenses (such as books, supplies, or meals). The following external funding opportunities are available to students pursuing a Ph.D. in software engineering and may be used to cover some of the costs of their education:


Scholarships are popular among students since they do not have to be paid back. They are given to students who demonstrate academic excellence and achievement by individuals, organizations, and universities.


Grants are not expected to be repaid like loans are. And in contrast to scholarships, which are more commonly given out in recognition of academic achievement, grants are often given to those who demonstrate a financial need.


Predoctoral fellowships, often known as Ph.D. fellowships, are awards to those pursuing a doctorate. Accepting a fellowship as a Ph.D. student often comes with stipulations, such as a required project or required use of funds. Several awards and fellowships are available to help retain or recruit the most promising students.

Work-Study Programs

College students who participate in work-study programs can earn money toward their education while still in school. Numerous work-study positions offer meaningful connections between classroom learning and real-world experience.

Graduate Assistantships

Graduate assistantships are available to students who work with faculty in a teaching or research capacity. Volunteering students often receive a monetary stipend or a reduction in their tuition fees for their efforts.

Student Loans

Ph.D. students can apply for and receive a student loan to cover the costs of their education. Loans for higher education are available from a wide variety of sources, including private lenders and the government. Taking out a loan will increase educational expenditures due to the interest charged on borrowed funds. Understand how one can apply for loan forgiveness to avoid repaying student loans by reading about Donors for Student Loans and Grants for Student Loans.


The Free Application For Student Aid or FAFSA is an application for federal financial aid that all prospective and current college students must complete to check if they are eligible for aid and receive the best financial aid package possible. The FAFSA Student Aid guide explains more.

Read about What is Financial Aid? and find out everything there is to know about college funding in the How to Pay for College guide.

Fully-Funded Ph.D. in Software
Engineering Programs

Finding a university that provides a fully supported Ph.D. program in software engineering is difficult. Universities must offer top-notch research facilities and online resources because Ph.D. programs are among the most specialized degrees. Therefore, one will seldom come across fully funded online Ph.D. programs in software engineering or other computer science-related fields. Still, many universities offer tuition waivers to excellent and promising students. Some colleges also provide minimum tuition support, in which students pay only a fraction of the tuition charge.

FAQs Related to the Ph.D. in Software
Engineering Program

Is there Ph.D. in software engineering online?

Most of the coursework for a doctorate in software engineering is completed offline and typically needs a significant length of residency because of the need to access advanced computers and networks. On the other hand, some educational institutions might let students enroll in online courses (if such a provision exists) to increase convenience and appeal to working professionals.

How much can I make with a Ph.D. in software engineering?

How long is a Ph.D. in software engineering?

What can I do with a Ph.D. in software engineering?

Software Engineering Ph.D. or Computer Engineering Ph.D. – which is better?

Should I get a Ph.D. in software engineering??

How do you get a Ph.D. in software engineering?

Career Opportunities and Salaries after obtaining
a Ph.D. in Software Engineering

A master’s degree in software engineering improves job prospects, opens doors to more specialized work, and often results in higher salaries, even though many positions only require a bachelor’s. On the other hand, earning a doctorate in software engineering that covers fields like cyber security, software development, hardware development, database administration, or network security will likely lead to higher pay and senior positions in academia, research, and the government.

It is difficult to identify job titles and assess pay for software engineers with a doctorate because they typically find work in upper-level management or as research scientists, and the compensation varies by industry. However, to give an idea of what Ph.D. holders can expect in the field of software engineering, listed below are some examples of jobs in the field, along with their median annual salaries and projected job growth, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It is essential to keep in mind that the mentioned salaries are more typical for software engineers with bachelor’s or master’s degrees. The earning potential for Ph.D. holders is higher because of their higher education level and expertise.

OccupationJob DescriptionSkills RequiredMedian Annual SalaryJob Growth (up to 2030)
Top ExecutivesTop executives devise strategies and policies to ensure an organization’s objectives are met. They coordinate and direct the work activities of businesses and organizations and direct and supervise the financial and budgetary activities of a company.Communication skills, problem-solving skills, leadership skills, decision-making skills, time-management skills$98,9808% (as fast as average)
Postsecondary TeachersPostsecondary teachers impart education to students in a wide range of academic subjects beyond high school. In addition, they may conduct research, write scholarly papers and books, plan lessons and assignments, and supervise graduate teaching or research assistants.Speaking skills, writing skills, interpersonal skills, critical-thinking skills, resourcefulness$79,64012% (faster than average)
Information Security AnalystsInformation security analysts design and implement security safeguards for a company’s computer networks and systems. They create security standards and test computer and network systems for vulnerabilities.Creative skills, problem-solving skills, analytical skills, communication skills, detail-oriented$102,60033% (much faster than average)
Computer and Information Research ScientistsComputer and information scientists create new applications for existing and emerging technology. They research and develop solutions to complex computing problems in science, medicine, business, and other fields.Logical thinking, problem-solving skills, math skills, analytical skills, communication skills, interpersonal skills, detail-oriented$131,49022% (much faster than average)
Computer and Information Systems ManagersComputer and information systems managers, also known as information technology (IT) managers or IT project managers, plan, coordinate, and direct computer-related activities within an organization. They help determine an organization’s information technology goals and are in charge of putting those goals into action through computer systems.Organizational skills, communication skills, analytical skills, business skills, decision-making skills, leadership skills$159,01011% (faster than average)

Certifications and Licensing for Ph.D. in Software
Engineering Students

Acquiring a professional certification in software engineering is a great way to round out one’s education. These more advanced certifications are meant to attest to one’s mastery in a specific sector of software engineering. A Ph.D. should be strong evidence of one’s knowledge and ability, but additional credentials can give one’s resume extra oomph and open up more employment opportunities. General, vendor-specific, and vendor-neutral (third-party) certifications are offered by a wide variety of businesses and organizations. The following are a few instances:

Professional Software Developer Certification

The Professional Software Developer Certification assesses a candidate’s knowledge and expertise in four areas: software requirements, software design, software development, and software testing. Certification requires passing the IEEE Computer Society (CS) Online Exam.

Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP)

Top application security specialists are recognized with the Certified Secure Software Lifecycle Professional (CSSLP) credential. It demonstrates to potential employers that the candidate possesses the in-depth technical abilities required for authentication, authorization, and auditing across the software development lifecycle (SDLC) using (ISC)²‘s best practices, standards, processes, and policies.

Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP) Certifications

The Institute for Certification of Computing Professionals (ICCP) provides numerous certifications on a wide range of topics at different levels of expertise and experience. Some certifications include:

In almost all instances, licensing is not required to work as a software engineer.

Additional Resources for Ph.D. in Software
Engineering Students

In the scientific and technical communities, peer relationships are critical for success. Conference sponsorship, journal publication, and editorial services are examples of professional organizations’ activities. They assist members in obtaining jobs and advancing their careers by establishing educational and professional standards. Working professionals and Ph.D. in software engineering students would benefit from interacting with such organizations to gain a better understanding of the field. Here are a few to explore:

Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI)

The Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) is a non-profit scientific society dedicated to the study of computer thought and intelligent behavior. AAAI is an organization that promotes artificial intelligence research and application. It also aims to increase public awareness of artificial intelligence (AI), teach and train AI practitioners, and advise research planners and funders on AI’s utility and potential.

IEEE Computer Society (CS)

The IEEE Computer Society (CS) brings together computer engineers, scientists, academics, and industry professionals from all fields of computing to drive global technological advancement. Through conferences, publications, and programs, IEEE CS empowers, shapes, and directs the future of its members and the industry as a whole, creating new opportunities to better serve the world.

Computing Research Association (CRA)

The Computing Research Association (CRM) is made up of over 200 computer science and engineering departments, labs, and institutes from industry, government, and academia in North America. The association works with these organizations to represent computing research and influence change.

Association for Women in Computing (AWC)

One of the first professional organizations for women in computing was the Association for Women in Computing (AWC). AWC is dedicated to the advancement of women in computer science careers. Its members include programmers, operators, system analysts, Internet specialists, technical writers, trainers, and consultants.

Association for Computing Machinery (ACM)

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the world’s largest educational and scientific computing organization, offers resources to help advance computing as a science and a profession. ACM maintains the leading Digital Library in the computing field and provides cutting-edge publications, conferences, and career tools to its members and the computing profession.

Author Bio:

Brandon Mario D’Souza

Brandon is a registered social worker with Social Work England. He obtained his master’s in social work (personnel management & industrial relations) and used it in fields such as water treatment, construction, software, and education. Then he transitioned to the health and social care sector with an M.Sc. in health psychology. Brandon loves to write, cook, and play musical instruments (piano, guitar, melodica, ukulele, and kazoo) and enjoys the calmness and serenity of nature.


Master of Social Work, Master of Health Psychology

Areas of Expertise & Credentials

None to disclose in particular; the basics are covered in the short bio.


The average tuition (based on degree type for in-state students), average graduation rates, and rankings are based on data from various sources, including the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), and are variable over time. All rankings and statistics are subject to change. The rankings are solely the opinion of Find Best Degrees (FBD) and are based on our proprietary methodology. They do not represent the views of the institutions or organizations mentioned, nor do they represent any official government census or survey. Furthermore, any views or opinions expressed on this page are of FBD’s researchers and teams. Unless otherwise specified, they do not represent the thoughts and opinions of the individuals, institutions, or organizations mentioned. This page’s content is provided solely for informational purposes, with data drawn from various sources, including IPEDS. FBD and its employees make no guarantees regarding the accuracy or completeness of any information found on this page or by following any link. FBD will not be held liable for any errors or omissions in this material nor any losses, injuries, or damages resulting from the exposure or use of this information. Although the information on this page is/was correct at the time of publication, readers should exercise caution because some or all of the provided information may have changed over time, potentially resulting in inaccuracies. For more information, please read our Terms of Service. Trademarks and logos are the property of their registered owners.