Earning a Master's in Project Management Online

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Project managers oversee every aspect of large-scale campaigns and productions. Working with teams, these professionals develop initial concepts, concretize plans, execute projects, and evaluate results for future endeavors. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects growth for professionals in this field. Marketing management positions are projected to increase 10% through 2026, and information systems management jobs are projected to grow 12%.

Through master's in project management online programs, colleges and universities meet the demands of employers for qualified professionals and of nontraditional students for accessible education. This guide provides academic information to find the school that best suits your interests and goals. It also provides insight into financial aid, career options, and professional development opportunities.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Project Management?

Working professionals gravitate toward distance education for its flexible scheduling, generous transfer policies, and cost-effective tuition. Master's in project management online students also benefit from distinct scholarships and grants. In general, degree candidates hold bachelor's credentials in a field related to their master's track. Related fields include business administration and organizational leadership. In addition to more job opportunities and better pay, a master's degree in project management helps students prepare for and maintain professional certification and licensure.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Project Management?

Pursuing Specialization

Schools generally offer project management as a specialization within a master of business administration curriculum. However, standalone master's in project management online programs exist and provide their own specializations. Students can pursue conventional fields like accounting, marketing, human resource management, and general business. They may also pick industry-based specializations, such as healthcare administration, nonprofit management, and computer information systems. Students can couple project management training with an entrepreneurship specialization to work as business owners and freelancers.

Career Advancement Opportunities

By earning a master's in project management online, students expand salary and employment opportunities. The 2017 Employment Projections from the BLS show that professionals with a graduate degree earn, on average, $12,000 more in yearly income than those with only a bachelor's. Professional development is an integral part of higher education. Students engage in sponsored or self-motivated research projects and cultivate relationships through practicums and conference attendance. A master's degree also helps students gain certification, such as the Project Management Professional designation from the Project Management Institute (PMI).

Online Learning Technology

Technology powers distance education in several ways, including through learning management platforms, video conferencing, and collaborative software. Online students develop digital communication skills that they can apply in administrative and marketing capacities. Depending on the nature of the business degree, students also delve into analytics, learning to extract useful information (such as consumer behavior) from big data sets. Data analysis and application is particularly important to managers because they must gauge project success to prepare for future cycles.

Prerequisites for Online Project Management Programs

Admission criteria differ by program regarding departmental goals and learning delivery systems. However, most programs ask for an applicant's GPA, work experience, professional recommendations, and standardized test scores.

    • Work Experience: Colleges and universities that offer online programs and/or degree completion paths usually require two to three years of relevant paid work experience. Candidates demonstrate career achievements through CVs/resumes, recommendation letters, and personal statements. Even if it is not an admission requirement, students can turn work experience into transfer credits through prior learning assessment.
    • Exams and Test Scores: Schools increasingly eschew standardized testing, opting for a holistic approach to student success and academic capabilities. However, many master's in project management online programs still necessitate GRE or GMAT scores. Minimum requirements vary, but competitive business schools usually require at least a 730 on the GMAT. Standardized test scores are valid for five years.
    • Coursework: Because project management functions within a business administration framework, graduate schools require students to complete certain undergraduate prerequisite classes. Course topics include calculus, statistics, economics, and general management functions. While GPA requirements vary by program, graduate students should hold at least a 2.0. Competitive schools require at least a 3.0 GPA.
    • Recommendations: Graduate applicants should prepare two-three recommendation letters. These documents should come from professional sources, such as employers, mentors, and colleagues, who can speak to the candidate's work ethic, achievements, skills, and personal qualities. Candidates without work experience can ask for recommendations from former professors. Some universities limit who can write these letters. In lieu of written testimonies, schools can contact a student's recommenders directly.
    • Essays: Prospective students usually need to submit a one-page or two-page personal statement detailing their professional achievements and aspirations. An essay also allows candidates to show that their goals and worldview align with the school and department.
    • Interviews: This part of the admissions process comes after preliminary considerations of applicant credentials. Remote or in-person interviews enable students to elaborate on their academic performance, professional history, and scholarship qualifications. An interview also allows schools to evaluate personal characteristics and discern how well a student would fit into their program cohort.
    • International Students: International admission involves immigration and the acquisition of the F1 Student Visa. International candidates also engage with a different financial aid process because they generally cannot access government funds through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Colleges and universities require nonnative English speakers to demonstrate language proficiency by submitting IELTS or TOEFL scores.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Project Management?

The BLS occupational employment statistics place the median salary for all management occupations at $102,590. The top 25% of professionals in this field earn over $149,410, while the lowest 10% earn $48,220. However, salary potential varies by industry, employer, location, and qualifications. Master's in project management online programs help students develop hard skills, such as accounting or employee training, that employers value. As businesses continue to expand globally, project managers often find lucrative opportunities in nontraditional fields, including internet sales, user experience development, and social media consulting.

Traditional Careers for Project Management Graduates

Career Stats Description

Project Management Director

Median Pay: $120,936

Job Growth: 11%

Acting as the leader of a team delivering a project, product, or service, a project manager is responsible for monitoring scope, budget, and deadlines to ensure output matches business needs. Financial managers and controllers maintain the financial health of a company, often as head of a project management department. This role is needed in nearly every industry and is generally a full-time, office-based position.

Ideal for: Deadline-driven, multitasking motivators who excel at collaboration.

Data Manager

Median Pay: $87,020

Job Growth: 11%

These professionals use software and network systems to retrieve, organize, and protect an organization's information. Data managers oversee user needs, updating accessibility functions and ensuring data applications meet government regulations. They also manage security elements to prevent data loss and interrogate cyber crimes.

Ideal for: Information technology (IT) professionals with leadership experience and vendor certifications.

Engineering Manager

Median Pay: $137,720

Job Growth: 6%

Working for architectural and design firms, these project managers lead the development of new products and processes. They grow project ideas, propose budgets, and oversee research and planning. Engineering managers also hire and train staff, ensuring the team's work meets specifications and technical accuracy.

Ideal for: Detail-oriented project managers with professional experience as architects and engineers.

Information Systems Manager

Median Pay: $139,220

Job Growth: 12%

Also known as IT managers, these professionals determine an organization's information objectives and establish computer systems to achieve designated goals. Systems managers apply data analytics to assess departmental performance, recommending software upgrades and installing new systems where necessary. They also negotiate with vendors, set budget guidelines, and coordinate other IT professionals.

Ideal for: Project managers with a background in IT and computer programming.

Non-Traditional Careers for Project Management Graduates

Career Stats Description

Director of Events

Median Pay: $65,772

Job Growth: 11%

Working with clients and other coordinators, directors define event goals, attendance numbers, and budgets. They also help find venues, ensuring the space fits the logistical and technical needs of the event. Event directors may take on public relations roles, negotiating contracts and maintaining positive professional relationships.

Ideal for: Project managers willing to travel and work unconventional hours.

Art Director

Median Pay: $92,500

Job Growth: 5%

These creative professionals oversee the aesthetic of a publication, film, television production, or product packaging. Art directors work with clients, designers, marketers, and financial professionals to develop and actualize a visual concept that engages audiences/consumers. They also manage administrative tasks like budgeting and employee coordination.

Ideal for: Project managers with a strong artistic portfolio and understanding of visual design.

Collegiate Administrator

Median Pay: $92,360

Job Growth: 10%

A collegiate administrator's duties vary by department, with such options as student services, admissions, financial affairs, and human resources. Administrators who work in admissions, for example, determine candidate numbers, encourage prospective students to apply, and review applications. They also develop promotional materials and plan visiting student days.

Ideal for: Effective multitaskers and communicators.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, PayScale, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Project Management

Master's in project management online programs typically offer affordable tuition that often ignores residency status. Distance learners can lower costs by pursuing accelerated pathways. Applying for transfer credits represents another way for students to save money and expedite graduation. Like on-campus students, online learners benefit from financial aid. Financial aid opportunities include general university scholarships and awards specifically for project management students. The section below covers study timelines and how they affect degree cost.

Tuition Timelines

Whether students need a part-time program to fit their work schedule or an accelerated path to expedite graduation, the time commitment for a master's in project management program is a deciding factor for many prospective students. The following section outlines three timeline options.

Part-Time Path

Part-time enrollment benefits working professionals, allowing them to take online classes and/or flexible campus courses while maintaining their career and family responsibilities.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Pennsylvania State University
Total Credits Required: 30
Pace: 6 Credits / 2 Classes per Semester
Total Semesters: Five
Summary: Part-time students can complete Penn State's online project management program in three years. Because part-timers pay per-credit tuition, the total cost exceeds that of a full-time learner. All students finish the degree plan with a problem-based capstone course. GPA and standardized testing requirements scale in relation to each other. For example, candidates with a 3.0 GPA need a 450 GMAT score. Those with lower GPAs need higher test results.

Full-Time Path

As the conventional path, full-time enrollment enables students to earn their master's in two-three years. These learners benefit from full university resources, including internship placement, career services, and financial aid.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Boston University
Total Credits Required: 40
Pace: 9 Credits / 3 Classes per Semester
Total Semesters: Four
Summary: BU offers a comprehensive master's in project management online program that students can complete in 18-24 months. Degree candidates personalize the curriculum through electives and specializations. BU provides financial assistance, including departmental scholarships, fellowships, and paid research opportunities. Students with PMI certification can apply their graduate degree work toward the professional development units needed to maintain the certificate.

Accelerated Path

On top of degree completion tracks, some schools offer accelerated pathways that enable online students to earn their master's in one year. Even if their program does not offer a dedicated accelerated plan, students may craft their own by transferring credits and taking full course loads every term.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: University of South Carolina
Total Credits Required: 24
Pace: 18 units / 6 Classes per Semester
Total Semesters: One
Summary: USC offers an online master of science in project management that students can complete in one or two years. All distance learners pay a flat tuition fee and benefit from financial aid, including military discounts and employer reimbursement. USC offers three enrollment dates each year. Applicants need a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

In addition to federal and institutional aid, students can pay for their master's degree with private scholarships and grants. The list below details five awards for project management students.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Project Management Program

Master's in project management online programs span two-three years and require candidates to earn at least 30 credit hours. Most colleges and universities enable distance learners to pace their degree plan with asynchronous classes delivered through software like Canvas, Moodle, or Blackboard. However, some schools require students to engage in cohort learning, in which they take one course at a time and advance through the degree plan at the same pace as their peers. The section below contains common milestones for graduate students in this field.

Major Milestones

  1. Practicum: Any time during program

    Through internships, summer residencies, and practicum experiences, students gain hands-on training for career advancement. Some schools allow distance learners to complete a practicum with a current employer if the position aligns with programmatic outcomes.

  2. Capstone Experience: Last year of program

    Capstone requirements differ by school. Some students complete thesis research and oral defenses, while others implement projects with the support of sponsoring organizations. Certain colleges only ask students to take a senior seminar.

  3. Comprehensive Exam: Last semester of program

    On top of a capstone experience, some master's in project management online programs require students to pass a final exam. Testing occurs under the guidance of a school-approved proctor. Students must demonstrate that they can apply core management theories and skills to solve real-world challenges.

  4. Professional Licensure/Certification: Post-graduation

    While not a requirement for project managers, employers prefer professionals with advanced training. To earn certification/licensure, candidates need adequate higher education and work experience. They also need to take an exam.

  5. Continuing Education: Post-graduation

    For project managers seeking work as researchers or postsecondary teachers, earning a doctoral degree represents the next step. Other practitioners pursue continuing education through post-graduate certificate programs or noncredit courses to maintain licensure and stay competitive in the evolving business field.

Coursework

Graduate project management degree plans contain such core business classes as conflict resolution, risk management, and quantitative decision-making. Advanced coursework differs by program focus, specializations, and elective options. Below, are five popular courses for master's in project management students.

Risk Management

Students learn to use probabilistic modeling techniques and spreadsheets to make management decisions. They also learn to predict and troubleshoot project disruptions at the local, national, and international levels. Additional topics include utility theories, influence diagrams, and risk attitudes.

Conflict Resolution

This class provides resolution models specific to conflict types and work environments. Students learn to select appropriate strategies that benefit individual and organizational well-being. They develop cultural responsiveness and the ability to recognize ethical and unethical techniques.

Planning and Scheduling

Students learn to define project scope according to organizational goals and policies. The course teaches students to optimize resources, allocate the workforce, and reduce costs. Students also study scheduling, including monitoring and controlling delayed projects.

Procurement and Contract Negotiation

This advanced course provides an in-depth examination of procurement administration from seller and buyer perspectives. Students learn to develop vendor selection criteria, identify general terms and conditions, and choose appropriate contracts.

Global Supply Chains

Relevant for manufacturing, production, and operations managers, global supply chains deal with the activities needed to ensure products/services are provided in a timely manner. Students learn about multinational operations and outsourcing relationships. The course also delves into internet sales and international team management.

Requirements to Practice

Because of the high-ranking status managers hold, employers look for candidates with substantial work experience. Project managers generally do not need a state license or perfunctory professional certificate to obtain work. However, depending on the nature of their duties, managers can pursue specialized training and optional credentials. For example, an IT manager benefits from vendor-specific (like Adobe) and vendor-neutral (such as CompTIA) certification. The section below details four professional development opportunities for project managers.

    • PMI Project Management Professional: As the premier certification for project managers, the PMP designation demonstrates general supervision skills and experience in directing cross-functional teams. To earn the certificate, candidates sit for a multiple-choice, 200-question exam. They must possess at least 4,500 hours of relevant work experience to qualify. PMI members pay $405 while nonmembers pay $555.
    • CompTIA Project+: A foundational certificate, the CompTIA credential suits professionals who lead small-scale projects. The 90-minute exam contains 95 questions on areas like project life cycle, resource management, and stakeholder interests. Candidates should have at least one year of project management experience. The exam costs $319.
    • Certified ScrumMaster: A powerful tool for project managers, the Scrum methodology enables users to address complex problems and deliver high-quality products. This certification from the Scrum Alliance entails an in-person, two-day course. After training, candidates take an exam that covers topics like team development and product backlog refinement.
    • ASEM Engineering Manager Professional Certification: The American Society for Engineering Management offers multi-level certification that empowers professionals to work in technical management fields worldwide. The certified associate exam spans two hours and contains 100 questions. The certified professional exam lasts four hours and includes 200 questions.

Professional Organizations & Resources

By earning their master's in project management online, students gain the applied skills and hands-on training necessary for job advancement. Professionals can gain additional opportunities and cultivate career longevity by engaging with a professional organization. While membership comes with an annual fee, benefits include financial support through academic scholarships, travel allowances, and research grants. Members also gain access to networking and professional development opportunities. For example, the American Management Association operates online training seminars and a Women's Leadership Center.

  • Project Management Institute: In addition to comprehensive certification programs, the PMI offers online training courses and live seminars. The institute connects members through national symposiums and world events. Members also benefit from career guidance and a job board.
  • International Project Management Association: The IPMA contains more than 70 member organizations, each of which creates project management competencies for its geographic area. The association offers up-to-date research, project funding, and certification for management consultants.
  • American Management Association: In addition to individual training programs, the AMA provides a vast business resource library and government-funded case studies. The association supports students through scholarships and youth engagement initiatives. Members enjoy career support and searchable listings.
  • Project Development and Management Association: Boasting over 2,000 members, the PDMA focuses on developing innovative activities to integrate aspects of a project life cycle. Members collaborate through research forums and national conferences. PDMA offers project development, professional certification, and a career center.
  • Society for Human Resource Management: The SHRM supports more than 300,000 members in 165 countries. The society operates global events and regional conferences on topics like employment law and diversity/inclusion. Members access onsite training and elearning tools. They also benefit from certification programs and career planning models.
  • Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers: Founded in 1888, the IEEE advocates for technological advancements that benefit the global community. The institute sponsors more than 1,800 annual conferences and provides a vast digital library. Professionals connect through industry-based societies, technical communities, and working groups.
  • Association for Information Systems: The AIS supports members in over 100 countries through research funding and fellowship programs. The association also delivers webinars, career services, and a job index. AIS operates student chapters in colleges and universities worldwide.
  • EDM Council: This organization advocates for data management integration in business and organizational operations. Project managers benefit from elearning tools, including topical courses and certification programs. The council also provides research standards and best practices based on focus areas.
  • American College Personnel Association: The ACPA supports collegiate administrators and other education professionals with career services and community initiatives. The association operates skill development institutes for new and mid-level management professionals. Student members can take advantage of graduate academic guidance and an emerging scholars program.
  • International Institute of Business Analysis: The IIBA connects its 28,000 members through regional chapters and special interest groups. The institute offers professional development opportunities, including four competency-based certifications. Project managers and business analysts also benefit from a career center and global mentorship program.