What is a Simulation Programming Degree?

Simulation programmers develop computer simulations that allow us to predict, see, think about, test, and manipulate real-world products, services, systems, processes, conditions, situations, and issues, without taking the risk and incurring the costs of doing so in the real world.

These simulations have applications across many sectors and industries. In the medical field, for example, a simulation program might be used to teach doctors how to perform a particular surgery or procedure. Urban planners might use simulations to model and visualize improved traffic patterns. And of course, airlines use simulators to train pilots to fly their planes.

Math, engineering, and computer science are the overlapping disciplines that simulation relies on. Degree programs in the field are made up of courses in these technical and scientific areas, but they are also focused on teaching the skills of abstracting, theorizing, hypothesizing, and intellectualizing.

In other words, simulation programming students learn everything they need to conceptualize the world into models that are designed to reach solutions for many of the world’s challenges and problems.

Program Options

Associate Degree in Simulation Programming – Two Year Duration
A simulation programming education at the associate level combines foundational courses in the major with classes in linear algebra, physics, English composition, and general psychology. With this degree, graduates frequently go on to further study in a bachelor’s program. They may also qualify for entry-level positions, often in game design and development.

Bachelor’s Degree in Simulation Programming – Three to Four Year Duration
The bachelor’s is the most comprehensive undergraduate curriculum. It prepares students for most mid-level and some senior level simulation programming roles in various sectors.

The following are examples of core simulation programming courses offered in these two undergraduate programs. The longer bachelor’s program explores more of these topics, and more of them in greater detail. It also allows students added time to conduct independent projects in their preferred areas of interest.

  • Creative Presentation – using visual storytelling techniques; analyzing audience, delivery, message, and the visual story
  • Psychology of Play – applying game strategies to accomplish creative, professional, and social tasks
  • Technology in the Entertainment and Media Industries – the impact of technology and technological innovations across industries, examination of types of media, programming languages, and organizational structures
  • Discrete Mathematics – fundamental concepts of mathematics and mathematical reasoning; logic, sets and relations, sequences, algorithms, number theory, and probability
  • Introduction to Programming – introduction to computer science and programming, algorithms, software problem solving, input/output, how to program software in a high-level programming language
  • Advanced Programming – advanced object-oriented programming, file input/output, abstract data types
  • Systems Programming – methods used in object-oriented programming languages
  • Professional Development Seminar I: Simulation and Visualization – career opportunities and contemporary issues in the simulation industry
  • Data Structures and Algorithms – the organization of data and the algorithms used for sorting, searching, and problem solving
  • Software Engineering – the process of constructing software, finding and fixing software bugs, tracking changes made
  • Applied Human-Computer Interaction – exploration of human-computer interaction using concepts from computer science, design, and psychology; how to conduct human-computer interaction research
  • Project and Portfolio I: Simulation and Visualization – hands-on learning of techniques used by programmers and designers throughout a production cycle
  • Project and Portfolio II: Simulation and Visualization – hands-on project planning and documentation, software quality-assurance
  • Microcontrollers – basics of electronics; theory, history, soldering, components for USB sensing and control from a PC
  • Operating Systems – the functions of operating systems and how they impact code
  • Simulation and Visualization Software – software applications and the art of building simulation software
  • Computer Networks – the design and analysis of computer networks
  • Digital Fabrication – the process of using rapid prototyping and computer-aided design and computer-aided manufacturing software
  • Probability – examination of probability theory and statistical methods through engineering and programming applications, solving problems using probability
  • Project and Portfolio III: Simulation and Visualization – hands-on learning of the fundamentals of modeling and simulation, solving problems using models
  • Computer Graphics – core computer graphics, using 3D rendering systems
  • Data Visualization and Modeling – how to integrate large data sets from different kinds of sources and create visualizations of sample data
  • Artificial Intelligence – techniques for designing and creating lifelike behaviors in characters, applying these techniques in games and simulations
  • Virtual and Augmented Reality – the elements involved in designing the way a simulation environment or modeled data is visualized
  • Project and Portfolio IV: Simulation and Visualization – computational modeling approaches, applying real-time mathematical models to prototype, developing a working continuous simulation of a real-world process
  • Project and Portfolio V: Simulation and Visualization – assignment to design, develop, fabricate, and assemble the elements of a working simulation

Master’s Degree in Simulation Programming – Two Year Duration
Some simulation programmers enter a simulation programming master’s program after having gained some experience in the field. This allows them to focus on the application of simulation and visualization in their own sector or industry. Students at this level focus on research, specialization projects, and work on their master’s thesis. In addition, they are required to complete graduate courses in:

  • Modeling and Simulation of Dynamic Systems
  • Introduction to Applied Simulation and Visualization
  • Computer Graphics
  • Algorithms and Data Structures
  • Dynamic Simulation of Closed-Loop Systems
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Data Processing and Visualization
  • Virtual Worlds
  • Machine Learning

Degrees Similar to Simulation Programming

Computer Engineering
This degree field integrates electrical engineering and computer science to further advancement in digital technology, computer networking, and computer systems. Students of computer engineering study calculus, physics, computer architecture, digital-logic design, data structures, and programming languages.

Computer Graphics
This degree field teaches students how to develop graphics software. Coursework includes drawing, graphic design, digital modeling, multimedia applications, and software engineering.

Computer Science
The field of computer science is focused on computer systems and how humans interact with them. Courses cover mathematics for computer science, artificial intelligence, data structures and algorithms, and introduction to program design.

Computer Software Engineering
Degree programs in computer software engineering teach students how to apply engineering principles to software development. Students learn how to design, build, test, implement, and maintain computer operating systems, as well as applications that allow end users to accomplish tasks on their computers, smartphones, and other electronic devices. Most programs begin with core engineering classes like mathematics, chemistry, and physics.

Cyber Security
Degree programs in cybersecurity provide students with foundational knowledge and skills in computer science, computer programming, cloud computing, information technology, big data, and digital forensics. Within the discipline are specializations such as database applications, systems and network administration, and data recovery.

Game Design
Degree programs in game design teach students how to create, develop, and produce video and computer games. Foundations of a game design curriculum typically include game theory and history, pre-production and production techniques, storytelling, graphics, animation, digital music and sound, and programming.

Industrial Design
Industrial designers design the way that we live our lives, by creating, innovating, and styling the common mass-produced items that we buy, use, and consume. They research, build, and test prototypes to maximize the functionality and desirability of products, from cars to food packaging to consumer electronics. Students of industrial design study the history of the field, design conceptualization, drawing, dimensional and computer-aided design, materials and processes, and model making.

Information Technology (IT)
IT refers to anything related to computing technology: the Internet, computer hardware, computer software, and computer networks. It is the design and use of computer networks for data processing and communication.

Information Technology (IT) Management
IT management programs prepare students to oversee the IT systems of businesses. The curriculum covers systems analysis, databases, e-business networks, management information systems, and project management.

Management Information Systems
Students who major in management information systems learn how to build systems to retrieve and store information. They take courses in database architecture and management, multimedia systems, and human/computer interaction.

Network Systems Administration
This degree program teaches students how to manage the computer operations of a business or organization; in other words, how to coordinate and connect different systems and keep a network up-to-date and operating.

Robotics Technology
Degree programs in robotics technology prepare students to work with engineers who design robots and robotic systems that can perform duties that humans are either unable or prefer not to perform.

Skills You’ll Learn

Students of simulation programming develop skills in much more than programming. They come away from their studies with a considerable set of transferable skills. At the top of the list is problem-solving, because doing just that – creating solutions – is the essence of simulation programming. Here are some other talents that simulation programmers develop throughout their education:

  • Adaptability
  • Communication and Collaboration
  • Conceptualization, Research, and Project Planning
  • Critical Thinking
  • Data Analysis
  • Judgement and Decision Making
  • Learning
  • Mathematics
  • Monitoring
  • Operations Analysis
  • Perseverance
  • Quality Control Analysis
  • Self-Motivation and Independence
  • Sharp Memory
  • Systems Design
  • Systems Analysis
  • Systems Evaluation
  • Time Management

What Can You Do with a Simulation Programming Degree?

Computer simulations help us understand things that are too expensive or dangerous to study in the real world. Employment opportunities for simulation programmers, therefore, are diverse and exist in many different fields:

  • Advertising – simulation of how products and services work
  • Architecture and Landscaping – simulations of structures and outdoor areas not yet built
  • Business and Government – training programs that simulate real-world situations, such as driving a car or flying a plane
  • Defense / Military / Search and Rescue – simulation of security threat situations, hazardous operations, missile performance, aircraft engine performance, equipment safety tests, methods for search and rescue
  • Education – designing simulation programs that create visuals of complex theories or that help people learn something, like a new language
  • Engineering / Industrial Animation / Manufacturing – simulation of design and automation / production in areas such as aerospace, arms, automotive, electronics, and medical devices; artificial intelligence programs to predict when machine components need to be replaced
  • Forensics and Law – simulating, recreating crime scenes
  • Medicine / Healthcare / Clinical Education – a simulation program that allows a surgeon to practise an operation and educates both medical professionals and patients
  • Oceanography – simulation of ocean science and underwater technologies
  • Pharmaceuticals – simulation of how a drug interacts with the human gastrointestinal system and brain
  • Shipbuilding – use of simulation to visually prototype ship components and marine operations
  • Television and Film Production – technical direction, which involves use of scripting languages that automate the execution of tasks
  • Urban Planning – simulation of smart cities, to manage earthquake risk or solve problems like crowding and traffic
  • Video Game Design – machine learning and artificial intelligence in gaming technology

As this wide array of employment sectors shows, no two simulation programming jobs are exactly the same. This means that simulation programmers have various titles, depending on the company they work for and the specific functions and responsibilities of their role. Here are some of the top simulation programming job titles:

  • Programmer / Analyst
  • .Net Programmer
  • Asp.Net Developer
  • Systems Programmer
  • Programmer
  • Java Software Developer
  • Application Programmer
  • Sas Programmer
  • Java Programmer
  • Vb.Net Programmer


See which schools are the most and least expensive.

Read about Tuition