A project management master's degree can make your resume stand out in a growing but competitive field. Unlike subject-matter degrees that inform you about a field -- such as English or history -- a master's in project management equips you with actionable skills you can put to work in nearly any industry. For instance, construction leadership is a growing and popular career for project managers with a median salary of $91,370 per year, and a projected growth rate of 13% through 2026.
Many other careers are growing quickly, including software development, supply chain management, and clinical trial management. All these fields need new professionals with skills in budgeting, planning, and conflict resolution. An interdependent, global economy coupled with the development of new artificial intelligence machines makes project management a cutting-edge career.
As a project manager, you can work in international settings, warehouses, offices, public sector jobs, research laboratories, and economic development organizations. And thanks to the versatile skills taught in a master's in project management program, professionals who hold the degree can move fluidly between industries.
Should I Get a Master's in Project Management?
Organized people who dream of bringing together the disparate elements of a large-scale project tend to make outstanding project managers. The field's increasing professionalization, however, is pushing prospective project managers to earn a master's degree. An on-campus graduate degree is often a great choice for recent graduates, and provides them an opportunity to attend career fairs, network with professors, and earn valuable letters of reference thanks to spending time in face-to-face courses on campus. Online programs, by contrast, can help current professionals upgrade their skills without having to relocate, spend time away from family, or take a break from work. Some online programs offer students additional access to a wide national network of alumni and corporate contacts that can help students launch or advance a project management career.
Both online and brick-and-mortar programs prepare graduates to succeed in performance management, and emphasize skills like problem solving, decision making, and team leadership. Coursework in a master's in project management usually emphasizes management of demand forecasting, inventory control, supply chain management, quality control, logistics, and production planning. While enrolled in a master's program, students can participate in on-campus clubs and associations for project management students. These organizations give depth and breadth to a student's experience and are valuable when seeking internships and jobs. Most colleges and universities also sponsor career services offices that can assist students in locating jobs, writing resumes, and preparing for interviews. In short, earning a master's in project management opens more lucrative job opportunities than those available to applicants who only hold a bachelor's degree.
What Can I 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 multi-departmental undertaking. Nearly every industry needs project managers to oversee product development, shipping, and sales or to manage a team that provides a monetizable 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 supervisors on site, they also take responsibility for planning, budgeting, and project coordination. Earning a degree in a construction-related field such as project management is usually a prerequisite to starting a career in construction management. Many construction managers are self-employed.
Median Annual Salary: $91,370
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
- Cost Estimators
As their name suggests, cost estimators use data to estimate a project's cost in labor, time, and materials. They generally work in specialty trades contracting, construction, manufacturing, or automobile repair. Cost estimators need the skills in math and data analysis that a master's in project management provides.
Median Annual Salary: $63,110
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
- 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 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: $108,250
Projected Growth Rate: 10%
- Industrial Production Managers
Overseeing the daily operations of manufacturing plants, industrial production managers help bring diverse products to the market. Cars, toilet paper, electric light bulbs, and computers all require teams of creators, and those teams need managers. Some industrial production managers specialize in quality control while others focus on processes or human resources.
Median Annual Salary: $100,580
Projected Growth Rate: -1%
Logisticians are supply chain managers who move products securely and safely from supplier to customer. Manufacturing, wholesale trade, and science and technology are high-employing verticals for logisticians. 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: $74,590
Projected Growth Rate: 7%
How to Choose a Master's in Project Management Program
Undertaking a master's in project management means investing significant time and money into a single higher education institution. Though there is no right or wrong way to choose a program, prospective students need to consider several factors. How long is the program? Can learners pursue the degree part time or full time? Will the program require additional prerequisites, or will it accept transfer credits? Applicants should also consider the curriculum. Does the school offer the student's preferred concentration? Does the program include a practicum or other direct experience that could boost a resume and enhance a professional network? If the degree ends with a capstone requirement, is it an academic thesis or an applied final project? Both options can be helpful, but applicants should know which is right for them.
Cost is another major consideration for most students. Tuition, fees, textbooks, and other expenses can add up quickly. Students should ask what they can afford and understand the total cost of the degree before enrolling. Many online master's degree programs in project management allow students to work, study from home, and maintain current responsibilities -- all of which can help limit costs. Online degrees can often be much less expensive than relocating for an on-campus program, especially if the student lives in a low-cost community. Students may want to select a nearby school, though, if in-person residencies or on-campus requirements would increase a program's overall cost. Finally, applicants should think about how well their school's location positions them for future employment opportunities in project management.
Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Project Management Programs
Accreditation is a critical factor in determining a program's value, utility, and perception in the marketplace. An accredited school meets rigorous quality standards, its credits usually transfer, and its students qualify for most types of financial aid. Accreditation can be awarded both institutionally and programmatically. Regional associations are the primary institutional accreditors, and an entire college or university holds regional accreditation. Program accreditation, however, is a specialized designation for departments within a university.
For a master's in project management, the accrediting bodies include Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs and the Project Management Institute (PMI). Attending an institution with programmatic management assures students that their degree meets recognized standards in the field, maintains a high-quality faculty, and stays up-to-date on project management research. PMI accreditation -- in particular -- means a school is connected to the practical work of project management and not just to its academic theories.
Master's in Project Management Program Admissions
Admissions requirements vary extensively from school to school. Highly competitive institutions consider many factors as they sort through applications from prospective students. Less competitive programs may welcome applications from learners who meet only baseline requirements. Most students apply to at least three -- but no more than eight -- graduate programs. Completing a graduate school application is time consuming and can be expensive, so more than eight applications is rarely feasible.
Since applicants may not be accepted at their first-choice institution, however, it is important to apply to more than one program. Students should rank their top choices according to a school's reputation, cost, financial aid, program length, and perspective. Some project management master's degrees include PMI certification as a project manager within their curriculum, which may increase the degree's utility and value during a job search. The process for applying to an on-campus program is similar to that of an online program.
- Bachelor's Degree: Applicants for a master's in project management need to hold a bachelor's degree in any field. Schools may require prerequisite courses such as accounting and statistics.
- Professional Experience: Applicants may need to hold up to three years of professional experience, but this requirement is not consistent from school to school.
- Minimum GPA: Most schools require students to present a minimum GPA of a 3.0 for their entire undergraduate experience, or a 3.5 in the last 60 credits of their program. School requirements vary by individual institution, however, so be sure to check with your prospective programs.
- Application: Graduate school applications can be cumbersome since they often require a resume, statement of purpose, and other essay-style answers.
- Transcripts: To enroll in a master's in project management, applicants must submit coursework and grades from all previous schools. Most colleges use studentclearinghouse.org, which charges $5 for electronic transcripts, but each school has its own requirements.
- 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 an accepted one.
- Test Scores: Most project management programs require students to submit the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores 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.
What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Project Management Program?
At some schools, project management is a concentration within a business or management degree. At many other institutions, however, project management serves as the major, and students can choose to direct their coursework in one of several concentrations. These concentrations vary by school and program.
|Organizational Communication||Organizational communication is the study of how people send and receive messages within a particular and usually closed environment. Students explore group dynamics, intercultural communication, negotiation, and interpersonal conflict. Classes can include ethical issues in organizational communication and organizational culture, climate, and communication.
Some schools may also require a writing lab.
|Consultant, negotiator, mediator, public relations manager|
|Clinical Trial Design||Clinical trial design establishes the parameters of a research project, including trial length, number of patients, randomized control, and anticipated effects. Project managers who want to work in biomedical research may choose this concentration. Classes include validation and auditing of clinical trial information, as well as clinical trial design optimization and problem solving.||Clinical trial manager,clinical planning study manager|
|Construction Management||Construction management is a hybrid of technical and non-technical skills that looks at timelines, costs, and contracts related to construction. Students in this concentration often focus on construction in real estate development. Courses include: building systems, materials and construction, sustainable design and construction, building information modeling, and integrated practice.||Construction manager, real estate developer, building and design manager, project manager|
|Leadership||An organizational leadership master's degree is especially useful for project managers who want to emphasize education, organizational analysis, or training and development. Courses in this concentration may include developing leadership capability, ethical leadership, and innovation and organizational transformation. Students look at personal models of leadership, leading teams, and leadership in organizational context.||Training and development, director, chief executive, senior project manager|
|Agile Project Management||Agile project management uses an iterative approach of short development cycles in order to incorporate continuous feedback. This approach uses Scrum, XP, and Crystal as methods. This concentration's courses include principles of agile project management, agile lean product development, and leading and managing technical projects.||IT project manager, agile coach|
Courses in a Master's in Project Management Program
The curriculum of a master's in project management can vary depending on the school. Most programs, however, include a hybrid of business coursework, technical subjects, and behavioral sciences. As an interdisciplinary program, project management includes courses in the theoretical foundations of management, as well as the practical skills of logistics, risk, and cost estimation.
- Project Estimation and Cost Management
Beginning with the basic principles of economics and cost management, this course looks at the tools, methods, and techniques of budgeting, cost estimation, cost control, and forecasting. Students consider scope creation, resource planning, work breakdown structures, and risk assessment. They learn bottom-up assessment, estimate evaluation, life-cycle costing, and analogous and parametric estimating.
- Project Risk Assessment and Management
Students in this course examine the risk factors extent at each phase of the product life cycle. They review the entire project planning process, including concepts of risk planning as well as the software, tools, and techniques for risk identification, assessment, and management in complex projects.
- International Project Management
This course gives a broad overview of how to adapt project management methods and principles when working in an international context. Students in the course consider the legal, ethical, cultural, and financial factors of international project management. They also discuss managing global teams, dealing with corruption, and using collaborative technology.
- Project Procurement Management
Helping students prepare for the procurement and contracting components of project management, this course examines pricing, contracts, legal concepts of procurement, and procurement from the buyers' perspective. Students learn an operational model for procurement and contract management, as well as how to manage inventory and apply company and statutory regulations.
- Project Management Tools
Students in this course look at the basic tools of quality management, estimation, cost management, risk identification, and multiple project management. Upon completing the course, students know how to use tools to plan, estimate, schedule, execute, and review projects using Gantt charts, logic networks, and other tools.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Project Management?
Master's degree programs in project management can vary significantly in the time it takes to complete, the number of credits required, and the delivery format. Students at one university may need to take only 30 credits, while students in a different school may have to complete 48, which increases the length of the program by 6-18 months. Most students in a master's in project management can finish in their programs in 12-18 months, however.
Students enrolled in a cohort program know their graduation date when they start since the entire cohort progresses through the curriculum together. Cohorts provide emotional and academic support, but they may be challenging for students who need to take fewer credits if they are busy or working. Those who take a self-paced degree, though, can extend or shorten their program lengths by taking fewer or more credits per semester. Sometimes, schools cap their per-semester price at nine credits, meaning students can take additional courses without adding to their tuition costs.
How Much Is a Master's in Project Management?
The cost of a master's degree in project management can be as low as $21,000, and as high as $38,000, depending on the credit hours required, cost per credit, and state residency discounts. Earning a project management master's degree usually requires between 30 and 48 credits, and longer degrees often cost more than shorter ones. Still, a low-cost-per-credit program can make the extra classes worthwhile without raising the overall expense for the degree. Many public institutions offer sizeable discounts for veterans, military personnel, and state residents. Some schools even extend the state resident discount to their online students.
On the other hand, digital learners may have to pay technology fees that students enrolled at brick-and-mortar campuses can avoid. Still, savings in housing, meal plans, fees, and other costs typically mean online programs charge far less than their on-campus counterparts. Students who need to pay for childcare while at school may also find that online education saves them on this budget item. Unless a university offers flat fee pricing, students need to examine all costs associated with earning their degrees. Tuition alone is just one part of the price.
Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Project Management Prepares For
- PRINCE2 Foundation
Though best known in the United Kingdom, the Projects in Controlled Environments (PRINCE) certifications are globally recognized. A PRINCE2 Foundation certificate is earned through the ILX Group, and the PRINCE2 Practitioner certificate demands that applicants hold one of the following: PRINCE2 Foundation; Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM); Project Management Professional (PMP); or an IPMA certification.
- IAPM Certified Project Manager
IAPM offers four layers of certification in two disciplines: traditional project management and agile project management. In each discipline, project managers can become a certified junior manager, manager, senior manager, or international manager. While there are no prerequisites to sit for the certification exams, these tests are challenging for anyone without an academic background in the field.
- Professional in Project Management
The Global Association for Quality Management supports the PPM, which targets experienced or intermediate project managers who are responsible for day-to-day management, risk management, or crisis management. Applicants do not need a master's degree in leadership, but they must hold project management experience and be able to pass the PPM exam.
- Master Project Manager
Offered by the American Academy of Project Management, the MPM is a professional license available to professionals with three years or more of project management experience or a master's degree. Professional project managers as well as others with experience in business management or technology can receive the certificate.
- Project Management Professional
The gold standard of project management certificates, the PMP requires passing a rigorous exam as well as holding at least a four-year postsecondary degree, three years of experience, 4,500 hours directing projects, and 35 hours of project management education. Applicants who lack these qualifications may meet alternative standards.
Resources for Project Management Graduate Students
Published by with 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 now speaks to anyone through guides and resources, as well as reviews of software, books, and trainings.
This online library of project management resources includes more than 1,200 articles and 180 webinars. Members can also download whitepapers 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."
Professional Organizations in Project Management
Students can attend annual conferences, network with project managers from around the world, and read the latest research in project management by becoming active in a professional organization. Project management associations often provide discounted rates for students and young professionals, and many also offer valuable certification options for young professionals as well as seasoned project managers. These organizations establish the ethical standards for the profession and advocate for government efficiency in the U.S. and around the globe.
IAPM offers digital magazines, certifications, and project management awards to members around the world. Certifications include project management and agile project management at junior and senior levels.
Since 1990, APM has offered training, education, and consulting for its members. Courses include introduction to project management and advanced management/project administration.
The AMA provides an extensive catalog of training solutions, including seminars, online trainings, podcasts, white papers, articles, and case studies. The organization also offers a discounted student membership and a jobs board.
Based in the Netherlands, IPMA maintains membership around the world and offers education, training, certification, research, and project management awards. Members can earn a consultant certification with IPMA.
PMI serves 2.9 million professionals around the globe through advocacy, collaboration, research, and education. Professional project managers can earn the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification through PMI.