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Guide to Earning Your MS in Project Management

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What is a Master's Degree in Project Management?

A master's degree in project management is a graduate-level degree that gives you an in-depth understanding of the project management process so that you can successfully lead high-budget, multi-step, and high-stakes projects. It's a smart choice for current project managers who want to advance their careers or for people who are brand new to the field and want to jump in at a leadership level.

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"By obtaining a master's degree in project management, employers will recognize you as a doer and a leader," says Morgan Martin, the CEO and founder of CoApt Projects, LLC. "Having a master's degree in project management positions you as team lead and gives you a chance to break out of what otherwise might be siloed work."

Typical Programs and Concentrations for Project Managers

While project managers are needed in every field, there is greater demand in certain industries, such as construction, information technology, manufacturing, healthcare, and marketing. To prepare project managers for this demand, many master's programs offer concentrations in these industries.

You'll find master's programs that grant degrees such as "Master of Science in Project Management with a concentration in Healthcare Administration" or "Master of Project Management with a concentration in Marketing Strategy." Other common concentrations include:

  • Human resources
  • Software development
  • Information technology management
  • Manufacturing and production site management

You might see project management master's degrees with names like "Master of Science in Project Management" or "Master of Project Management." These different degree titles won't change the content of your program or courses. They're simply how the school has chosen to designate their project management master's degree. But be aware that a master's in product management is different than a project management master's. No matter what it's called, your master's degree will take two to three years to complete.

Project Management Master's Coursework

The exact courses and structure of degree programs vary by school, but the fundamentals of your degree cover the same core topics.

"A reputable master's-level program in project management should dedicate time to data analysis and decision making, leading teams, and human behavior," says Martin, "and ultimately give you the opportunity to capstone with real-world project management."

"Every program typically covers project management knowledge areas such as cost management, schedule management, resource management, risk management, etc.," adds Dr. Nebil Buyurgan, director of the Project Management Master's Program at Missouri State University.

A typical master's program will cover areas such as cost management, schedule management, resource management, and risk management.

Prerequisites for a MS in Project Management

It'll take two to three years to earn your master's degree, and you'll need at least a four-year bachelor's degree in any subject before you begin. Master's programs are often competitive and many look for GPAs of at least 3.0. Some schools will also ask for GRE scores, admission interviews, letters of recommendation, resumes, and personal statements explaining your career goals.

Is Earning a Master's in Project Management Worth it? 

"At a master-level you're really deep-diving into the science of the project management philosophy and becoming proficient in leading at each phase of a project lifecycle," explains Martin.

Earning a master's degree is a great way to begin or advance your project management career. The classes you'll take for your master's degree will help you prepare for tackling large-scale and complex projects and give you a deep understanding of the project management process. Even if you already have a bachelor's degree in project management or a similar field, your courses will go beyond the basics to help you grow as a professional.

Other Degree Programs for Project Managers

A master's in project management isn't your only option if you want to become a project manager. You can also consider:

  • Associate degrees. While there aren't associate degrees specific to project management, you can get a two-year degree in a related area such as business administration or healthcare management and then apply for entry-level project management roles. This route is a good option for people who want to jump into the field quickly.
  • Bachelor's degrees. A bachelor's degree in project management is a great way to gain foundation knowledge in project management and business. You  can earn a project management bachelor's degree as a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, or Bachelor's in Business Administration.
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA) degrees.  You can earn an MBA with a concentration in project management from some schools. Although this isn't strictly a project management degree, an MBA is a very valuable business degree. An MBA with a project management concentration can be a good choice for project managers with a broader business or financial focus.

Is Certification Important?

There are no required certifications for project managers. However, there are a few that are highly recommended and that can make a major impact on your career. These certifications might not be national or state requirements, but they are often required by employers seeking qualified project managers. Holding both a master's degree and a certification can help you gain access to high-level, high-paying roles in project management.

Your master's degree alone isn't enough to qualify for certifications. You'll likely need some experience first. However, the degree can help you meet the educational requirements and give you the knowledge you need to pass your certification exam on your first try.

Are Project Management Master's Programs Offered Online? 

Online master's degrees are a popular option for project management students. There are fully online options available that allow you to complete the entire program online without ever needing to visit campus. Generally, you can even complete requirements such as capstone projects without on-campus time. 

An online program allows you to earn your degree at a slower pace, in the evenings, or whenever your schedule allows. Plus, you can attend classes from the comfort of your home, or during your lunch hour at your current job. For students juggling families, employment, and other commitments, online programs are often the best choice. 

Programs and Schools: What to Look For

The project management master's degree program you select can have a significant impact on your career. It's important to choose a program that aligns with your goals and meets your learning needs. It's also important to choose a program that will deliver a high-quality education. One of the best ways to ensure this is to check for accreditation. Project management schools and programs can be accredited on two levels, ensuring a solid project management education.

State accreditation. This shows that the university has met all quality requirements set by the state. It also ensures that any credits you earn will transfer to other institutes later if you want to transfer schools or go for a doctorate. Additionally, it allows you to use federal student aid such as loans and grants to pay for school.

Project Management Institute (PMI) accreditation. PMI is one of the largest associations and certifying bodies for project managers around the globe. Programs that are accredited by PMI's Global Accreditation Center are guaranteed to have courses that are in line with the latest industry standards and best practices.

stephanie behring

Written and reported by:

Stephanie Srakocic

Contributing Writer

morgan martin

With professional insight from:

Morgan Martin, PMP, MPA, CEBS

CEO and Founder, CoApt Projects, LLC