By pursuing a master's in project management online, you can gain the leadership skills to deliver products and services that meet clients' needs on time and within budget. These programs provide knowledge and tools needed to define a project's scope, facilitate scheduling and cost planning, assess risk, and manage quality control.
Traditional project management graduate programs take two years to complete, but you can earn your degree faster by enrolling in an accelerated track. These intensive programs teach through eight-week courses offered year-round, allowing you to graduate in as little as one year.
This guide provides additional information about the project management field, including job options and professional resources. You will also receive guidance on how to pick the right program and navigate the admissions process.
What Is Project Management?
Project management comprises the application of tools, skills, techniques, and knowledge to fulfill the requirements for a fixed-timeline product or other deliverable. Unlike most daily activities, each project has a defined scope, resources, and schedule. Typically, multiple operational groups work together to accomplish a singular objective. Project teams are diverse, and members can come from different departments, companies, and geographic locations.
The Project Management Institute (PMI) identifies five steps in the project management process: initiation, planning, execution, monitoring/controlling, and closing. Projects come in all shapes and sizes, depending on the company and industry. Examples include the development of new software to improve marketing functions, the construction of an office building, and the expansion of a company's trade initiatives into new markets.
Project managers are in high demand. PMI estimates that project management positions in seven major business sectors will grow 33% worldwide between 2017 and 2027, leading to approximately 22 million new jobs.
You can discover more about the project management field by consulting this program guide. The guide details the best master of project management online programs. You will also gain valuable insight from an experienced project manager.
What You Can Do With a Master's in Project Management
Project managers are good communicators, leaders, and decision-makers. They must also be extremely organized and prepared to handle gray areas where nothing is clear. Project managers often work interdepartmentally to ensure smooth workflows and on-time delivery, while also negotiating the politics of a multidepartmental undertaking. Nearly every industry needs project managers to oversee product development, shipping, and sales, or to manage a team that provides a service. Although project managers are in high demand, the competition for jobs is keen, meaning employers expect accurate and high-level work from those in this profession.
- Construction Managers
Construction managers oversee construction projects from start to finish. Not only do they serve as on-site supervisors, but they also take responsibility for planning, budgeting, and project coordination. Experience in a construction-related trade and training in project management are usually prerequisites for starting a career in construction management. Many of these managers are self-employed.
Median Annual Salary: $93,370
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 10%
- Cost Estimators
As the name states, cost estimators use data to estimate a project's cost in labor, time, and materials. They generally work in specialty trades like contracting, construction, manufacturing, or automobile repair and have strong skills in math and data analysis.
Median Annual Salary: $64,040
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 9%
- Training and Development Managers
Working at the juncture of education and corporate life, training and development managers equip employees with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in their jobs. These professionals plan learning programs, deliver content, evaluate results, and coordinate an organization's overall training component. They may create videos, write manuals, use educational software, and assist subject matter experts with content delivery.
Median Annual Salary: $111,340
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 8%
- Industrial Production Managers
Overseeing the daily operations of manufacturing plants, industrial production managers help bring diverse products to the market. From paper towels to personal computers, all products require teams of creators, led by managers. Some industrial production managers specialize in quality control while others focus on processes or human resources.
Median Annual Salary: $103,380
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 1%
Logisticians are supply chain managers who move products securely and safely from supplier to customer. Manufacturing, wholesale trade, and science and technology employ many of these professionals. Due to the complex and technical nature of their work, logisticians often find that advanced degrees prepare them for promotions and job opportunities.
Median Annual Salary: $74,600
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 5%
You can explore additional project management job opportunities by checking out the following career guide. The page covers employment prospects by location, job options by degree type, and professional development resources.
What to Expect in a Master's in Project Management Program
To earn a project management master's degree online, you generally need to complete at least 30 credits of coursework. This process takes 1-2 years depending on program structure and your prior academic and work experiences. The curriculum typically contains core topics like project management principles, management of information systems, and intercultural business communications. Classwork examining behavioral economics and moral psychology can help you construct a personal ethical infrastructure for leadership, negotiation, and persuasion. These master's programs also train you to implement project evaluations with appropriate metrics and to recover from setbacks.
At the graduate level, degree plans allow you to align your academic preparation with career goals through guided electives and concentration options. For example, you can pursue an online master's degree in construction project management, taking advanced classes such as construction law and alternative project delivery methods. Master's programs often culminate in a capstone project wherein you conduct research and present a strategic plan to your peers, faculty, and industry experts.
The list below offers additional information on common courses in these programs.
- Project Management Principles: This course covers the theoretical and practical foundations of project management. Students learn to define a business problem, execute an appropriate plan, and ensure the completion of deliverables.
- Project Planning: Learners explore the general project roadmap and analyze individual plans for resource, financial, and communications management. This course also trains students in project planning adaptability, allowing them to alter priorities to meet an evolving business environment.
- Transforming Organizations: Here, degree candidates explore the models of organizational development that impact workplace culture and support critical success factors. They also develop the skills to build proactive project teams.
- Risk Analysis and Quality Assurance: Students learn to identify, rank, and monitor project risks and manage scenarios that undermine project success. This course also delves into the objectives, policies, and responsibilities that contribute to a quality product or service.
- Agile Project Management: In this advanced course, learners develop a specialized skill set that allows them to manage projects in a dynamic setting. The agile form focuses on incremental and iterative methods that take into account regulatory requirements, shifts in consumer needs, and spontaneous changes to project scope.
Jean Ballard has over 20 years of experience implementing business solutions in the financial services sector, and served as project manager for key corporate initiatives at both Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. She possesses deep knowledge spanning originations, servicing, and securitization. Ms. Ballard has a proven track record with implementing product, process reengineering, and software development initiatives, including agile and waterfall approaches from concept to implementation.
- Why did you choose a career in project management? Was this something that always interested you?
I studied finance in graduate school and entered the workforce working on the trading desk, auctioning mortgage-backed securities at a Fortune 50 company. I planned to stay in finance and be a number cruncher. However, I quickly found that a lot of the corporation's needs centered around IT, and that meant my assignments were focused on reengineering and automating processes.
Eventually, I earned the title of business analyst and worked my way to a senior business analyst, working on IT projects but on the business side. Many of my mentors along the way had the title of project manager. I admired these folks [and] was really in a way intimidated by some, as they were very proficient at what they did. I worked for many of them and really aspired to be a project manager like them.
At the time, there was a clear progression path from business analyst to project manager. I was honored to be selected for a training program offered by my employer in project management. In all, I'd say I really progressed in the role of project manager and it's not at all what I thought I'd be doing. Of course, I wouldn't have it any other way now.
- Why did you earn an MBA in finance? Was it required to meet your career goals?
Though I graduated from the top-ranked business school at the time, in October of my fourth year Black Monday struck, the stock market tanked, and the investment and Wall Street firms shut down their hiring. It was a very bad time to get a degree in finance and be looking for your first job. Sometimes things happen for a reason, though. I pursued my MBA straight from my undergraduate program under an accelerated program.
It's hard to say if the MBA made a difference in my career; for example, was I hired because I had the MBA? I actually don't think so, mostly because once I had my first job, I was connected to people and was hired because they knew me. Even if the MBA didn't directly provide gains, it was a confidence booster for me and something I am proud of.
Ironically, my daughter is making the decision whether to pursue a master's or enter the job market with her dream offer. She's not sure if the master's will make a difference to her future employers. She's ultimately decided to pursue a master's because it's something she wants for herself and that's reason enough.
- What is your current role? What are some of the most crucial skills that you gained in your studies that apply to your job on a daily basis?
I currently serve different roles, including as program manager to a multi-million dollar [per] year effort and product owner on an Agile project. I enjoy working on several initiatives concurrently, so I always have several balls up in the air, which I find stimulating. I do consulting, so there's always a new offering, a new issue to solve, and an opportunity to seize.
I've been out of school for some time now, but what I learned in school is still very useful. Spreadsheets had just come out when I was in school and have advanced since, but I still find use for calculating annuity payments. There were a lot of classes that involved group work, and, of course, it's a vital part of any assignment to work with others.
- What advice would you give to project management students who want to get the most experience they can out of their studies? What types of extracurricular activities, internships, etc. should they consider during college?
I'd suggest that PM students focus on developing themselves as individuals and team members, in addition to learning the technical part of the job. Project management is a lot about using good judgment — knowing when to escalate an issue vs. when it's not needed.
Early in my career, project management involved a lot of long-term planning, which I found challenging because I knew the initial questions that needed to be solved for, and that the answers to those questions could mean huge changes to resources and schedule. I'm pleased that some of the newer methodologies focus more on short- to medium-term planning and less on controlling the process/team and more on empowering the team.
- What advice would you give to project management students who are debating whether to earn their degree online or on campus?
I'd say which path to choose is really more about lifestyle than anything else. I enjoyed being onsite for the program I participated in, but was only able to do so because my employer brought the training in house. At the time I had two young children, so convenience was a huge requirement for me.
If your lifestyle allows you to be able [to] take the program on campus, then that's a good way to make bonds with fellow classmates, network, and dive into the materials. However, if on-campus is logistically challenging due to distance or schedule, the online way may be the best path for you.
- What is professional development like in your field? Do most professionals pursue these types of opportunities?
I'd say most project and program managers take some form of formal education. Earlier in one's career, [one] may take more technical training classes to learn the methodologies. As one masters those basic skills, then project managers I know tend to focus on the softer skills, like best negotiations tactics, political savviness, and just recently there was a waitlist-only option for clarifying and communicating complex issues.
- Any final thoughts for us?
Just that as you start your career in project management, know that your path will go in directions you can hardly predict. Continue to always think about the problem you are solving and you will deliver value. Also, consider market trends to be sure you are always staying ahead of the curve, since entire jobs become obsolete over time, so it's important to look ahead and actively manage your career. Stay abreast of the market needs and keep your toolbox sharp.
How to Choose a Master's in Project Management Program
Colleges and universities must maintain national or regional accreditation to confer valid degrees respected by government agencies, professional organizations, and employers. Postsecondary schools gain national accreditation through authorities supported by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education. Alternatively, they can become regionally accredited through one of six organizations, based on location.
Programs for earning a master's in project management online can also pursue specialized accreditation from the PMI Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs. By earning an accredited degree, you ensure that your accumulated skills and knowledge satisfy comprehensive, global industry standards. Holding a degree from an accredited school or program also allows you to sit for major certification/licensure exams.
Other important factors to consider in choosing an online master's in project management include those listed below.
Cost and Financial Aid
Learners can minimize student loan debt by attending universities that offer adequate financial support and low tuition prices. Many online programs deliver affordable tuition that disregards residency status.
Graduate education should specifically relate to your career goals. To this end, consider programmatic characteristics like course offerings, concentration options, and experiential learning components. You should also prioritize programs that embed networking opportunities into the curriculum.
Effective graduate schools provide personalized academic counseling, tutoring services, and research guidance and funding. You should also look into the availability of career services at prospective schools, including internship placement and job search assistance.
Master's in Project Management Program Admissions
This section covers the general application requirements you can expect for programs that allow you to earn a master of project management online. These criteria include GPA standards, relevant bachelor's education, and standardized test performance. You can also expect to craft a one- to two-page personal essay and provide 2-3 recommendation letters. The enrollment process varies by program, so be sure to seek the guidance of a school's admissions counselors in regard to requirements like:
- Minimum GPA
- Prerequisite coursework
- Career experience
- Graduate school applications can be cumbersome since they often require a resume, statement of purpose, and other essay-style writing.
- To enroll in a master's in project management, you must submit coursework and grades from all previous schools. You can typically request transcripts from schools for a small fee.
- Letters of Recommendation
- Most schools require three letters of recommendation from both academic and professional references. A strong letter of recommendation can be the difference between a borderline application and one that is accepted.
- Test Scores
- Most project management programs require students to submit scores from the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) or the Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT). A GMAT score of 450 is a typical minimum, but individual school requirements vary.
- Application Fee
- The average college application fee is about $40. Colleges collect this money to fund the admissions process. Some schools do not charge any fee, while others offer fee waivers.
Resources for Master's in Project Management Students
Published by the Association for Project Management (APM) and the International Project Management Association (IPMA), this peer-reviewed academic journal releases cutting-edge research eight times annually.
Founded as an effort toward gender inclusivity in project management, this site helps all managers through guides, resources, and reviews of software, books, and training.
This online library of project management resources includes more than 1,200 articles and 180 webinars. Members can also download white papers and get a peek at upcoming conferences.
Written by Scott Berkun, project manager of one of Microsoft's biggest projects, this book covers topics like making good decisions and what to do when things go wrong.
Published by the Association of Engineering, Project, and Production Management (EPPM-Association), this open-access academic journal is released twice a year. Sample articles include "Technological and Economic Aspects of Wave Energy Harvesting" and "Analysis of Outbound Logistics Channels for Construction Material."