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 degree, so you should take that into consideration before enrolling in school.
Project managers are found in many different industries, 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 an edge on your Bachelor's degree 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 so this should be your long-term goal.
Because project managers 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.
Business Degrees & Career Paths
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 as well as good speakers and writers. You should 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 degrees are specialized, so your Bachelor's program will be focused on your industry choice. Construction, information technology, and manufacturing are examples of specific project management programs, but project managers are also employed in most industries such as:
- Applications Engineering
Working in your field of choice is an excellent plan while you're enrolled in your degree program. While you won't find employment as a project manager you should enter your general field of interest so you have hands-on experience. Keep this in mind if your degree has an internship requirement, as many employers hire previous interns once they earn their degree.
How to Earn a Degree in Project Management
What can you do with a Project Management Degree?
Project managers are also known as production managers, team supervisors, creative directors, traffic managers, project directors, and a variety of similar titles. You'll be in charge of one or more teams and will oversee the progress of the project to ensure it stays within its 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 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. 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.
Because project managers are in charge of a team, you'll take courses in human resources and communication, and since you'll be reporting to upper management you'll take coursework on report writing and project assessment.
Typical Project Management Degree 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 a 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
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.
Important Questions to Ask
How long does it take to earn a Project Management bachelor's degree online?
The time required to earn your 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 a 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 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.
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.
As mentioned above there aren't many 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.Read More About Associates Degrees
A Bachelor's will be your entry-level degree in project management as it is typically the minimal requirement of employers. You can enter a 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:
- 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
- Business Administration
- Healthcare Administration
- Organizational Management
Earning a Master's degree 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:
- 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
- Project Management Fundamentals
- Project Initiation & Development
- Communication & Collaboration for Managers
- Project Planning
- Project Execution & Delivery
- Construction Management
- Clinical Trial Design
- Geographic Information Systems
- Information Security Management
- Leading and Managing Technical Projects
- Organizational Communication
- Program and Portfolio Management
The cost of your 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|
Earning Potential for Project Management Degree Fields and Occupations
Project Management Fields of Study Median Salaries
While project managers are found in most industries some are more common than others. Here are some fields of study you might enroll in:
|Field of Study||Entry Level Salary||Mid-Career Salary|
|Data Management and Analysis||$47,140||$82,450|
Project Management Salaries by Occupation
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. Here's a brief description of some project management occupations:
- 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.
Salary by Occupation
|Occupation||Entry Median Wage||Mid Career||Late Career|
|Engineering Project Manager||$88,050||$137,720||$208,000|
|Data Management and Analysis||$34,510||$63,230||$122,770|
|IT Software Project Manager||$59,870||$101,790||$160,100|
|Corporate Marketing Project Specialist||$32,840||$59,300||$112,260|
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:
The Project Management Institute Educational Foundation (PMIEF) offers certification scholarships for various levels of scholars.
Amount: Various ($1,000-$3,500)
Deadline: April 1, July 1, September 1
Project Manager dot com offers a scholarship in the amount of $1,000 for innovations by students in the field.
Deadline: June 1
The Dr. Harold Kerzner Project Management Scholarship offers four scholarships per year, each in the amount of $7,500. These awards are merit based for high achieving students.
Deadline: May 1
The OSP International LLC Project Management Scholarship offers full tuition scholarships to both undergraduate and graduate students in project management.
Amount: Full Tuition
Deadline: April 1, July 1, September 1
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:
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 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.
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 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.
- IPMA International Project Management Association
- Association for Project Managers
- Career Map: Project Manager | Department of Energy
- Management Occupations - Bureau of Labor Statistics