Earning a bachelor's degree in supply chain management opens up a wealth of professional opportunities. For example, many graduates work as logisticians, managing the entire life cycle of a product from design to distribution. Others may serve as industrial production managers, overseeing the operations of a manufacturing facility. Some may choose to work more independently, consulting on organizational efficiency as freelance management analysts.
This page provides an overview of online supply chain management degrees, including information on programmatic accreditation, common admission requirements and coursework, and additional details on the many career paths available to graduates. It also features an interview with a supply chain management professor.
What Is Supply Chain Management?
Supply chain management encompasses how organizations control the flow of goods and services through a production cycle. A supply chain management professional may purchase raw materials and arrange for them to be transported to a warehouse or factory. They may also analyze the design and operation of an assembly line to improve production efficiency. Many supply chain managers also work closely with customers, ensuring the prompt delivery of finished products.
Effective supply chain management helps businesses reduce cost and increase profit. It also plays a critical role in safety and environmental sustainability. In the public sector, supply chain managers work to improve the delivery of critical supplies to individuals and communities in need. A supply chain professional employed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), for instance, may coordinate the delivery of food, water, and blankets in the wake of a natural disaster.
Thanks to the demand for supply chain managers across industries, these professionals often command high salaries. For example, according to the BLS, logisticians earned a median salary of $74,600 in 2018, roughly $36,000 more than the median pay for all other occupations.
To learn more about common admission requirements and coursework in logistics and supply chain management online degree programs, review our comprehensive guide.
What You Can Do With a Bachelor's in Supply Chain Management
A supply chain management degree prepares you for a variety of career paths in business, manufacturing, and management. Many graduates take jobs as supply chain managers or logisticians, analyzing an organization's supply chain. Others work as purchasing agents, industrial production managers, and distribution managers in the manufacturing and distribution process. They also apply their knowledge as operations research analysts, identifying supply chain problems and creating solutions. These positions appeal to organized professionals with strong problem-solving skills and provide opportunities for advancing to managerial positions.
Logisticians analyze analyze and coordinate an organization's supply chain. This role may also be called supply chain manager. Logisticians help move products from the supplier to an intermediate or final consumer. A bachelor's degree in supply chain management qualifies you for logistician positions.
Median Annual Salary: $74,600
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 5%
- Operations Research Analyst
Specializing in supply chain management, operations research analysts investigate issues around an organization's logistics and develop solutions to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the supply chain. A bachelor's degree meets the typical educational requirements for this role.
Median Annual Salary: $83,390
Projected Growth Rate (2018-28): 26%
- Distribution Manager
Distribution managers oversee the distribution process, which includes planning, directing, and coordinating the distribution of an organization's products or services. They must create policies to maximize efficiency while following applicable laws and regulations. Distribution managers often work for air, rail, or ground transportation companies.
Median Annual Salary: $94,730
Our career guide offers a detailed breakdown of education requirements, certification opportunities, job prospects, and earning potential for logistics and supply chain management majors.
What to Expect in a Bachelor's in Supply Chain Management Program
Most supply chain management bachelor's programs consist of 120 credits. Full-time students usually need four years to earn their degree, while part-time students may require up to eight years to meet a program's graduation requirements.
In addition to general education classes in subjects like English composition and sociology, supply chain management students generally explore topics such as management science, sustainable operations, and continuous improvement tools and techniques. They may also choose elective classes or formal areas of concentration to hone additional skills in project management or transportation logistics. Finally, students who plan to continue their education at the graduate level usually take courses in research methods and design. You can review a list of common supply chain management courses below.
Many programs encourage learners to complete an internship or field-based capstone project. These experiences give students the chance to apply classroom learning to a real-world challenge in logistics or operations.
- Logistics Management
- This course introduces students to foundational concepts and theories in logistics and supply chain management, including topics like purchasing, warehousing, and transportation.
- Reverse Logistics
- Reverse logistics refers to the reuse of products and materials. Here, students learn about the procedures and processes associated with adding reverse logistics operations to a forward supply chain.
- Integrated Supply Chain Management
- This course takes a holistic perspective on supply chain management, with an emphasis on just-in-time delivery of materials and products through a seamless integration of supplier, warehouser, transporter, and seller.
- Resource Estimating and Scheduling
- In this class, students explore topics like activity definition, analogy-based estimation, and educated assumptions. These lessons help supply chain management professionals keep projects on time and within budget.
- Adaptive Project Management
- Logisticians must know how to adjust their plans to deal with unforeseen circumstances. In addition to reviewing business change theories and iterative techniques, students in this course gain hands-on experience with agile methodologies and software.
Shay Scott, Ph.D. is executive director of the Global Supply Chain Institute. In this capacity, Scott works closely with the organization's corporate and institutional partners to advance the knowledge and practice of supply chains globally.
As a faculty member in the Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management at the University of Tennessee, Scott teaches within the executive MBA and global supply chain executive MBA programs. He also performs other teaching duties in graduate, undergraduate, and executive education programs. Scott is responsible for the UT Haslam College of Business's relationships with international academic institutions, as well as the UT Center for Executive Education's distance and online education programs.
- Why did you choose a career in supply chain management? Was this something that always interested you?
Supply chain management provides an unparalleled variety of challenges and opportunities, which drew me to the field. I began my career in construction management after completing an engineering degree. My experience in construction opened my eyes to the potential for an organization to create sustained, competitive advantage through supply chain management. In the twenty years since I made that decision, the field has continued to develop and allows me to use both my analytical skills as well as my relational and leadership skills.
- Why did you earn an MBA in supply chain management? Was it required to meet your career goals? Could you have achieved your goals with a lower degree?
In my case, returning to school in an MBA/MS industrial engineering double degree program provided the best opportunity to transition from being a project manager in construction to a supply chain management role. While it would have theoretically been possible for me to make this transition without the advanced degree, it is highly unlikely that I would have been able to secure four job offers for great supply chain roles.
And even if I had been able to make the career switch, I would have likely still needed to pursue a degree to advance my skills in business and supply chain, as my undergraduate degree in civil engineering had not focused in this area.
- What advice would you give to supply chain 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?
Be deliberate about how you connect classroom learning with opportunities to gain wisdom from industry experts and real experience through projects, internships, or working while attending school. Be proactive in asking people for counsel and assistance, as most people -- whether faculty or industry professionals -- are happy to assist if you approach in a thoughtful and prepared manner.
Be cognizant of the bigger picture of becoming a good leader and a good all-around businessperson, as that -- combined with your supply chain specific skills -- will enable a fulfilling career.
- What advice would you give to supply chain management students who are debating whether to earn their degrees online or on-campus?
It is not a question of one being better than the other, as there are surely strong and weak programs taught online and in traditional classrooms. The question is one of fit. If you have a job that is helping you to build experience, I would recommend staying in that role and pursuing a program in a flexible format, such as online. This will provide context for your learning, enabling you to apply concepts and tools on the job; research shows that you will retain more with this approach.
We have designed our online format MS-SCM program at the University of Tennessee to support this approach by crafting assignments and assessments that foster immediate application and results in the workplace. This is an excellent way to get promoted by adding value for your employer.
If you are in a position to dedicate yourself completely to school (as I was with my career transition), on-campus programs can provide a wonderful experience. For example, our tri-continent MS-SCM program at the University of Tennessee allows on-campus students to study for a semester in Europe and Asia in addition to their time on our campus.
- What is professional development like in your field? Do most professionals pursue these types of opportunities?
Supply chain management is a young field, so professional development is a must to simply keep up with reasonable best practices. It is essential if you want to position yourself as a strong performer.
Given the relative immaturity of the field, high variation exists in the quality of development opportunities, so you need to carefully ascertain whether the activity is truly contemporary and best practice or simply an organization bent on capitalizing on the rapid growth of supply chain management. Look for strong connections with industry leaders and a strategic view that the supply chain supports the customer and overall business.
While most people have typically pursued an MBA, the rise in the specificity and complexity of supply chain is driving individuals and employers toward MS degrees. Look for a degree that balances the analytical and business skills, as many programs tend toward technical content and miss the overall benefit that supply chain management, done well, brings to a business. Many so-called "supply chain development opportunities" are still rebranded and outdated functional approaches.
- In your opinion, are there any changes that need to be made in how colleges teach supply chain management? If so, what are those changes?
The supply chain management field has developed over the past 20 years, so it is quite new when compared with most areas of study, such as finance, marketing, or accounting. The crux of SCM is that businesses create advantages by considering the overall picture of how they deliver products and services to their customers. This integrated approach is very different from -- indeed, the polar opposite of -- the functional approaches that existed 20 years ago.
As you might expect, many schools have remnants of these outdated functional approaches in their programs. For example, supply chain is not simply a process to be optimized. Rather, it is a giant strategy game that is won by making the correct decisions to position an organization to best serve its customers, do so profitably, and in a superior way to the competition. This means that schools must have a curriculum that teaches not only the functions but also the strategic concepts and enablers.
In addition, students need access to real-world situations and should have an opportunity to apply this learning. Advances in supply chain management are not happening in the corner of a sterile lab; they are happening in industry. For a school to properly prepare a student, it must have a finger on the pulse of what industry is doing and quickly incorporate this into the curriculum.
If advances are in industry, you might question why a student would return to school. Research shows that a formal learning environment and the employment of sound frameworks is essential to properly catalog and utilize new knowledge. You won’t get that from pure on-the-job learning.
- Any final thoughts for us?
It is an exciting time to be in supply chain management. The emergence of integrated supply chain management as a field -- and the success of companies who do it well, like Amazon, Apple, Zara, Dell, and Walmart -- is nowhere close to its peak. Technological advances are ushering supply chain into the digital age and will create additional disruption and opportunity.
For those who want to have an impact, work in a fast-paced and changing environment, engage with diverse groups of people globally, and position themselves to make a mark on society, I would recommend that you consider supply chain management.
How to Choose a Bachelor's in Supply Chain Management Program
When deciding where to earn a supply chain management degree online, make sure to choose an accredited program. The accreditation process require schools to meet certain academic standards and demonstrate they adequately prepare students for careers in their chosen field. If you attend a program without accreditation, future employers may not recognize your degree. You may also fail to qualify for certain financial aid opportunities.
The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) is the primary accreditor for business programs, including those that offer online supply chain and logistics degrees. Colleges and universities may also hold regional accreditation to provide undergraduate business degrees. To learn whether your program has either AACSB or regional accreditation, check the Council for Higher Education Accreditation's online database.
Alongside accreditation, remember to also consider the factors listed below.
- Available Coursework/Concentrations: Find a program that offers classes and specializations aligned with your career goals. For example, if you hope to oversee logistics for a software company, you may want to take courses in information technology project management.
- Delivery Method: Online courses are offered either synchronously or asynchronously. Synchronous courses provide a great deal of interaction between instructors and students and require live participation. Asynchronous courses allow learners to watch lectures and complete assignments on their own schedule, but they require strong self-discipline.
- Cost/Financial Aid: Finally, the overall cost of your education should be one of your top considerations when choosing a program. Public colleges generally have lower tuition costs than private schools, especially for state residents. Some private organizations may also provide scholarships specifically to business students.
Bachelor's in Supply Chain Management Program Admissions
Admission standards vary from program to program. For example, some colleges of business require applicants to take the ACT or SAT, while others consider prospective students on the basis of their high school GPA and any relevant professional experience. Three of the most common admission requirements for supply chain management programs are listed below:
- High School Diploma/GED
- Minimum GPA/Entrance Exam Score
- Letter of Recommendation
- Prospective students submit an application listing their educational history and experience. Over 700 colleges and universities now accept the Common Application, which allows students to submit applications to multiple schools at once.
- Most applicants must submit high school and college transcripts. Some transfer students may not need to submit high school transcripts, depending on how many college credits they have earned.
- Letters of Recommendation
- Many colleges require letters of recommendation from academic and professional references. Applicants should give their letter writers at least three weeks' notice.
- Test Scores
- Applicants typically must submit standardized test scores; most colleges accept either the SAT or ACT. However, some programs waive the test score requirement.
- Application Fee
- Most institutions charge an application fee to review the application materials; applicants can typically request a fee waiver through the college or university.
Resources for Bachelor's in Supply Chain Management Students
Offered by the Association for Supply Chain Management, this career resources site provides job postings, career coaching, and career planning guides for students and professionals. The site also offers a mentor center.
The Institute for Supply Management Career Center posts job openings and internship opportunities for supply management job-seekers. The site also provides career coaching and reference checking for members.
A publication dedicated to supply chain management, SCMR publishes columns, features, and case studies on top companies. Their writers include business school professors, industry analysts, and supply chain management professionals.
A weekly publication with news, information, and commentary on the supply chain field, Supply Chain Digest offers resources aimed at professionals in supply chain and logistics management.
An online forum dedicated to connecting supply chain professionals, Supply Chain Brain features articles, blogs, podcasts, and white papers for people in the field.