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What Does a Career in Project Management Entail?

If your dream job is a career in project management, you should plan your education carefully. One of the first requirements employers have for project manager positions is a bachelor's in project management or another similar field, such as human resource management or supply chain management, so you should take that into consideration before enrolling in a project management program.

Project managers are found in many different industries within business administration or project risk management, so your first goal should be to identify the specific area in which you plan to work. Very few associate degree schools offer programs in project management but you can get a start on your bachelor's by opting for an associate's in the occupation field you plan to work in. As in most management positions, those with a master's degree in project management hold the top positions in their field because of the improvement in critical thinking and project planning they provide, so this should be your long-term goal.

Because project management professionals oversee budgets, employees, and cover a wide range of other duties involved with each project they manage, the position enjoys one of the highest salaries in the management sector regardless of the occupational field you choose to specialize in.

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Components of a Successful Career in Project Management

Project managers juggle many roles, so you should be sure you're a good fit for the position before you start your education. Project managers need to be flexible, organized, analytical, creative, and social with critical thinking skills, as well as good speakers and writers. You should also be proficient in time management as you will need to trouble shoot and successfully change plans as you go in order to meet your project goals in a timely manner.

As mentioned above, your first step should be to determine the industry you plan to work in. Project management skills and degrees are specialized, so your bachelor's program will be focused on your industry choice. Construction, information technology, and manufacturing are examples of specific programs in which you could focus with a project management concentration, but project managers are also employed in industries such as:

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Overview of Online Project Management Degrees

CPA-Accountant Project managers are also known as production managers, team supervisors, creative directors, traffic managers, project directors, and a variety of similar titles. A bachelor's in project management can allow you to be in charge of one or more teams and will oversee the progress of organizational projects to ensure they stay within their monetary and time budgets.

A project management degree is highly desirable, so you will have quite a bit of flexibility if you choose to change occupations mid-career. For example, while a construction project management degree is quite specific, it wouldn't be too difficult to switch to a career in manufacturing management at a later date. Your main employability strengths will be your degree and your experience, so if you're not sure about your occupation choice you can use your electives to gain insight into another field.

Typical Online Project Management Degree Requirements

Other than your core classes in English, math, and science your project management degree will require you to take courses in management and business, as well as classes specific to project management such as logistics, supply chain management, and production planning. Whether you choose a project management major or project management concentration, there will be a focus on tools, best practices, and methodologies of project management as well as specific courses on your concentration such as project management for construction or information technology for IT project management. And you can earn a project management degree online.

Because project managers are in charge of a team, you'll take courses in human resource management and communication as well as your project management major courses and, since you'll be reporting to upper management, you'll take coursework on report writing and project assessment.

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Typical Project Management Certifications Needed

Although not required for employment, certifications by the Project Management Institute (PMI) are highly desirable because they show prospective employers you are proficient in your field of choice. There are several certifications that demonstrate your level of expertise in project management and you can earn certification in your concentration: Portfolio Management, Business Analysis, Risk Management, Scheduling, and similar specialized areas.

Certification can be effective in showing your proficiency, especially if you have on-the-job experience gained before earning your degree. For example, you can earn the Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate with a high school diploma or associate degree if you also have 7,500 hours of experience leading and directing projects and have completed at least 35 hours of project management education.

Academic Standards for an Online Project Management Degree

While specific standards will depend on your school of choice you should keep in mind the standard for federal aid is a grade point average (GPA) of at least 2.0. For graduate school the standard minimum cumulative GPA is usually 3.0.

If your academic grades on the associate level are below par your credits may not transfer to a Bachelor's program at all, and the same holds true for your graduate degree. You should strive for a 3.0 minimum throughout your education in order to qualify for federal aid, scholarships, and grants that might be available. In addition, many employers look at your academic performance in order to gauge your work and performance ethics.

Exam/Experience Needed for a Project Management Degree

exam-experience Although there is no exam requirement to become a project manager you will need experience and, as mentioned above, certification is an excellent way to show your proficiency. Because the field is competitive you should plan on entering a master's degree program as soon as possible, as this will show your dedication to the field.

If you are unable to secure an internship in your field, you should look for employment directly associated with project management so that you have some experience on your resume by the time you graduate.

Online Project Management Associate Degree

As mentioned above there aren't many online associate degree programs for project management. If you're planning to enroll in a two-year program you can still get an edge on your project management bachelor's degree by focusing on an associate that offers some of the basic classes required in the Bachelor's degree program. Your best course of action is to look at several Bachelor's degree curriculums and match the course requirements to an associate degree. For example, you can take many required business classes in an associate degree in business program. Likewise, Associate Degrees in Construction Management or IT will give you an edge in your field of choice when you're ready to enroll in a Bachelor's program and many of the credits should transfer to your new degree program.

Online Project Management Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree in project management is typically the minimal requirement of employers. You can enter an online bachelor’s program straight out of high school or start/complete an associate degree with transferrable credits. Here are some examples of project management courses on a bachelor degree level:

Online Bachelor’s Degree sample courses

  • Process Groups and Knowledge Areas in Project Management
  • Integration and Scope Management
  • Scheduling, Cost, and Quality Management
  • Human Resources and Motivation Management
  • Communication and Stakeholder Management
  • Public Administration and Relations

In addition, you'll be required to complete coursework in your area of specialization, which will be the focus of your degree. Here are some of many project management specializations you might choose from:

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Online Project Management Master’s Degree

Earning an online master's degree in project management will show you are in the top of your field and should be your ultimate educational goal. You will need to have completed a bachelor’s degree in order to enter a master’s program, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be in project management. If your degree was in IT, you can complete a project management master’s to give you IT project manager qualifications. Here are some example courses you might find in a master's program:

Online master’s degree sample courses

  • Project Communications Management
  • Project Risk and Cost Management
  • Project and Program Governance
  • Financial Concepts
  • Quantitative and Qualitative Decision- Making
  • Global Supply Chains
  • The Innovation Process: Developing New Products and Services
  • Ethics
  • Project Management Fundamentals
  • Project Initiation & Development
  • Communication & Collaboration for Managers
  • Project Planning
  • Project Execution & Delivery

In addition, at the online master's level you will be required to choose a concentration which will focus on your career field of choice. Here are some examples of online project management concentrations:

  • Construction Management
  • Clinical Trial Design
  • Geographic Information Systems
  • Information Security Management
  • Leadership
  • Leading and Managing Technical Projects
  • Organizational Communication
  • Program and Portfolio Management

Cost Range for Each Degree

The cost of your online degree will depend on where you are in your education. If you already have your associate degree, you'll have two years of full-time school to earn your Bachelor's degree and another year or two to finish your master's. The chart below shows the average cost of school nationwide; the cost of your school of choice will depend on where you live, whether your tuition in considered in-state or out, and how much financial aid you receive.

Degree Public School Private School
Associate $7,140 $29,174
Bachelor $14,280 $58,348
Master $30,000 $120,000

What Can I Do with a Project Management Degree?

A degree in project management is one that sets the stage for success. With this degree you can work for companies, as a consultant, and help them organize their professionals as they embark on a project. You'll work with the budgeting, travel, scheduling, and practical matters relating to the work itself. You may also be asked to assemble teams that are particularly good fits for each individual client and project. As you gain experience, you may even be able to open your own consultancy organization.

Fields of Study

  • Human resources: If you are focused on human resources in a project management position, you are likely to spend time recruiting the best possible people for each specific job. You’ll look for those who bring the necessary skills to the table and will still allow your project to be completed within the required budget.
  • Risk Management: Project managers are always working under a deadline, under a budget, and under various constraints such as the types and number of contractors available in any given location. Those who deal with the management of risk are likely to have their say before the project even begins. You’ll have your say in the preparation stages, consulting with the board of a company and letting them know what level of risk they are looking at. You might suggest changes or even tell them that the risk isn’t worth it.
  • Procurement: You may enter this position from a supply chain major or experience because what you’ll be doing is getting your hands on all the necessary materials for the job to be completed. This may mean finding contractors that have the right expertise or it might mean finding a source of steel and wiring for a large building. No matter what the project needs, you’ll make sure it arrives on time.

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Project Management Careers and Salary

In project management you can expect your income to increase in direct correlation to your education and experience. In other words, as you earn each degree and gain experience on the job your salary will rise in proportion. Once you earn your master's degree you will most likely be in the top 10% income bracket for your occupation. Next, you’ll find some brief descriptions of possible project management occupations.

Career Options for Project Managers

  • Construction Project Manager
    oversee an entire project or specific area of a large project. In residential building construction one might control the entire project from foundation to completion; in a large nonresidential project there might be several project managers for different aspects of a project such as land acquisitions, subcontractor management, and supply chain.
  • Data Management and Analysis
    deal specifically with the numbers for projects within a business or corporation, for example compiling, analyzing, and presenting the monetary logistics of a project within the company.
  • Information Technology Manager
    correlate different aspects of an IT project from start to finish, such as the development of a specific technology application, hardware item, or type of software.
  • Marketing Project Manager
    oversee the marketing aspects within a company such as a sales or promotional campaign for either a product or the company itself.

Project Management Salaries by Career

Occupation Entry-Level Median Annual Salary Mid-Career Median Annual Salary Late-Career Median Annual Salary
Engineering Project Manager $64,600 $90,500 $115,700
Data Management and Analysis $53,000 $69,300 $98,000
IT Software Project Manager $59,500 $90,100 $114,300
Corporate Marketing Project Specialist $47,200 $67,900 $80,200

Important Questions to Ask (FAQ)

How long does it take to earn a Project Management bachelor's degree online?

The time required to earn your online project management Bachelor's degree will depend on two things: the number of credits you've already earned and whether you take a full course load or attend part time. Since an associate degree requires 60 credits and a Bachelor's requires 120 you'll need either two or four years of full-time college to earn your degree; 120 credits comes in the form of around 40 college courses.

Does the school have the major(s) you’re considering?

Don't be swayed by promises of future degree majors a school may offer. Make sure your school of choice has a current project management program in place before you enroll and ask how long the school has offered the program. A new program may not offer as many class choices as a program that has been in place for several years.

How many students graduate “on time,” in four years?

If the majority of students aren't graduating in a timely manner it may be an indication the school is more interested in enrolling new students than they are in seeing students succeed. While many students attend online school because they work full-time and take classes part-time this should be indicated on the school's graduation rate page of their website. Look for the rate of full-time student graduation to gauge the success of the program as a whole.

How much does an Online Project Management bachelor’s degree cost?

The cost of your degree can vary widely depending on your school of choice. The U.S. Department of Education states the total cost for a Bachelor's degree ranges between $22,000 and $50,000; most students offset part or all of this cost with scholarships, grants, and student loans. However, this cost can vary wildly outside of this range as well, to as much as $300,000 in the most prestigious schools in the country. You’ll want to check very closely to see what the rates are for credit hours at your prospective institutions.

Project Management Bachelor's Degree Coursework

In addition to courses pertinent to your concentration, you can expect to take a combination of business and management courses such as:

  • Advanced Cost Management
  • Quality Management
  • Business Systems Analysis
  • Human Resources and Communication in Projects
  • Contracts and Procurement

What kind of accreditation does the online program hold? How is it regarded in the field?

School accreditation in general determines whether the college meets the criteria set by the U.S. Board of Education. An accredited school will proudly display this credential and you should research the accreditation to verify it is an accepted standard.

Besides national and regional accreditation project management programs may have accreditation by the Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs (GAC) which is a standard of the PMI and held in high regard throughout all industries.

If you're not sure about your school's accreditation do a quick web search of the listed acronym to determine whether it is acceptable or not. Federal aid and most scholarships require accreditation as a qualification and the US Department of Education website lists acceptable accreditations.

Software/Technology/Skills Needed

You will need to learn the software and technology skills that are specific to your industry. For example, construction management software will be required for the construction industry while a Software Development Project Manager will need a well-rounded education in both areas. All project managers will need software skills in statistical analysis as well as word processing programs.

Because part of the position requires budget oversight you can expect to learn basic accounting and budgeting programs that will help you track the financial progress of your projects in a timely manner.

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Project Management Scholarships

There are many scholarships for project management students, so you should plan to set aside at least two hours a week in order to apply for as many scholarships as possible. Each organization has different criteria for scholarship qualifications; for example, the Project Management Institute (PMI) offers over 50 different awards. Here are some other scholarships specific to this degree:

Professional Project Management Organizations

As soon as you enroll in college you should plan to join one or more professional organizations dedicated to the field of project management. Other than offering scholarships and continuing education information you'll find these organizations a valuable resource for information, resources, conferences, mentoring, and other opportunities related to your field of study. Here are some groups you can join as a student:

  • PMI
  • IPMA
  • AMA
  • APM


Project Management Institute (PMI)

the PMI is the premiere organization for all things project management. With local chapters throughout the country PMI offers certification, courses, white papers, seminars, and training courses as well as endless other benefits. Student membership is deeply discounted.



International Project Management Association (IPMA)

the IPMA offers benefits on an international scale so you can enjoy research, news, and events throughout the world. IPMA also offers certification and continuing education.



American Management Association

the AMA offers student benefits such as webinars, webcasts, podcasts, and discounts on publications pertinent to the field. Students enjoy over half off the regular membership cost.



Association for Project Managers (APM)

the APM offers information and education for project management in the field of construction, design, and owner organizations. They offer workshops and consultations to those working and learning in these specific fields of project management.

Choosing an Accredited College

Make a list of online schools you're considering for your project management degree. Your first criteria should be accreditation. Proper accreditation means your credits will be accepted when you're ready to apply for a bachelor’s from an associate or to graduate school; it is also required for most scholarships and grants as well as federal aid and loans. Regional accreditation is most common and there are six regional accreditation organizations:

  • The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • The New England Association of Schools & Colleges
  • The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • The Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges
  • The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • The Western Association of Schools and Colleges

If you can't find your school's accreditation you can go to the website of your regional association and check their list.

Online vs On-Campus vs Hybrid

Each type of college has its pros and cons, so you'll need to evaluate each and decide what will work best in your personal situation.

  • Online courses are convenient because they can be completed anywhere and anytime but you have to have the self-discipline to complete the work on time. While it's easy to fit into a schedule if you're juggling work and family you don't have the support of a campus staff, library, or on-campus seminars and labs.
  • On-campus enrollment works best if you learn easily in a face-to-face environment. You'll have direct interaction with your professor and other students and can easily access the perks of a full campus. On the other hand, class times are set in advance and are quite rigid and you'll have to add commute times and expenses to your schedule.
  • Hybrid school combines the two above, so if you're within driving distance from your school of choice this might be the best option. You can take some courses online and opt for on-campus courses for more difficult subjects, in effect choosing the perks that fit best in your own work and family life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is earning a PMP certificate the same as earning a degree in project management?

While the PMP certification does require a number of learning hours, it is not the same as earning a degree in the field, though it can provide benefits despite this. Whether or not you should earn a PMP, or a degree depends on what you are trying to accomplish within your career. Those who wish to work in business would be well served by earning a project management degree. This is partially because the degree offers education in general business knowledge, which will serve you throughout your career. And the project management specialization will prepare you well to move into general and specific management positions, whether you ever work as a project manager or not. However, those who have already made their way into a career may gain much by earning a PMP certification. This certification can add to their existing expertise and provide them with an extra bump to their resume that can help them move into management no matter what industry they work within.

How do I become a project manager?

Most project managers have a degree, and not just a project management degree. While this degree might help you to move into a management position, it is just as likely that those with a bachelor’s in a specific industry will be able to move into a project management position once they have some experience under their belt. You might need to have a degree in information technology to move into an IT project manager position, while a project management degree might get you into a business PM position once you’ve gained some experience. How much education and experience you require depends on the industry you work within. Those industries that require a lot of specialized knowledge will require that you first gain either education or experience in that field. So, if you are going to work within a specialized industry (construction of IT), you might want to earn a bachelor’s in that field and then gain certification in project management rather than the other way around.

Does the College Have Post-Graduate Job Placement Help & Assistance?

If you're not already employed in the field, post-graduate job placement can be vital to your success. It can also be a good way to evaluate a school because a college that is invested in their students' success will use it as an advertising slant. If you can't easily find the graduation and job placement statistics on your school's website, it may be a sign that they are more interested in enrolling you than in your eventual success.

Why You Need to Consider How Rating/Accreditation Can Affect Your Salary

A project management degree isn't worth much if it's not respected by other professionals in the field. Before you commit to enrollment you should check with other students, graduates, and working project managers to make sure the school you're considering is regarded as a good program. Look for alumni groups and see where the members are employed and check the websites of prospective employers to see where the management attended school.

A highly rated school with proper accreditation can make a big difference in your salary once you graduate because your employer will recognize the program on your resume. Attending a respected school can mean you'll be fielding job offers before you graduate and not have to job hunt at all.

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