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What is a project management degree?

What is a project management degree? Project management programs prepare graduates for careers in business, construction, and technology. Find out whether it's the degree for you.
Written by Maura Deering, Contributor
Project manager updating tasks and milestones progress planning with Gantt chart scheduling interface on a virtual screen
NicoElNino, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Project managers plan, organize, and execute projects within organizations. They lead construction, computer systems, marketing, and product launching projects.

Potential careers include:

  • Engineering project manager
  • IT project manager
  • Manufacturing project manager
  • Marketing project manager
  • Project coordinator

Courses in a project management degree program cover project phases, including defining the project's scope and planning the timeline and budget. The curriculum also teaches core business skills and covers procurement, risk management, and team leadership.

Project management programs offer students the chance to explore subdisciplines through electives and concentrations. Read on to find out if project management is a good fit.

What skills do project management programs teach students?

Project management programs emphasize career-preparation skills, but course content varies by degree level. 

Associate degree coursework trains students to perform entry-level administrative tasks and assist project managers. 

Bachelor's programs focus on analytical, interpersonal, organizational, and teamwork skills. Most project managers need at least a bachelor's degree. 

Graduate students gain advanced skills in communication, strategic leadership, risk management, and quality control. They also complete qualitative research projects and learn program and portfolio management skills.

What kinds of project management degrees are there?

Undergraduate certificate in project management

Undergraduate certificates typically introduce general project management concepts like system dynamics, negotiation, leadership, cost management, and project risk and change management. 

Many programs are not industry-specific. Others focus on IT, business, or construction project management and may prepare graduates to take business or tech certification exams.

Students can earn these non-degree credentials in four to eight months. They may qualify for entry-level jobs as project managers and coordinators, associate project managers and assistants, and project controllers. 

Associate in project management

Two-year associate degrees in project management offer opportunities to prepare for bachelor's-level study or start at the bottom of the field as an assistant and work your way up. 

Some curricula prepare enrollees to take national certification exams. Graduates may qualify for associate project manager and project coordinator positions. 

Programs may include internships, which provide valuable hands-on training. Courses include elements and principles of project planning, project management process and ethics, accounting, and information systems. 

Bachelor's in project management

A bachelor's in project management degree focuses on prepping students for leadership roles. The curriculum includes projects and presentations. 

Coursework features core business and general education topics but also covers project management and project cost, quality, and risk management fundamentals.

Bachelor's degrees traditionally take four years to earn, but accelerated bachelor's degrees and online study can shorten the timeline. 

Graduates may work as construction project managers, industrial production managers, and advertising, promotions, and marketing managers.

Graduate certificate in project management

Graduate certificate in project management programs target professionals interested in career or educational advancement. 

These non-degree credentials offer training in selecting, planning, executing, and completing projects in roles as project directors and senior project managers.

Many programs prepare students for certification exams and allow them to transfer credits toward master's degrees. The project-based curriculum may include courses in processes and techniques in project management, project lifecycles, and strategic management. These certificates typically take one year of part-time study.

Master's in project management

Project management master's degree programs emphasize analytical and managerial skills and offer concentrations in areas like capital administration, engineering project management, integrated supply chain management, international projects, and technology. Programs may require a capstone, project, or thesis.

Core courses typically cover project cost management and scheduling, strategic management, and scope, quality, and risk management.

Programs take one to four years to complete and can lead to careers as IT project managers, architect and engineering project managers, and global project managers.   

Project management vs. an MBA in project management

Project management master's degrees teach students how to lead projects in high-level management positions. MBA concentrations include project management and offer courses in general business management skills but also in project management.

Students interested in focusing on business models, evidence-based project management strategies, and managing teams may want to pursue an MBA.  

Doctorate in project management

A project management doctorate takes three to five years to finish. This is a specialty area in a doctor of business administration degree (DBA) or a Ph.D. program. 

Ph.D. graduates become university professors and researchers. DBAs in project management may work as senior project managers and project management consultants.

Other doctoral degree fields may offer project management concentrations, such as education, engineering, and technology. 

Doctoral curriculums often require dissertations and comprehensive examinations.  

Who accredits project management programs?

The Project Management Institute Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs (PMI GAC) accredits project management degrees.

Accreditation means the program undergoes regular evaluation to ensure that the curriculum meets quality standards and continually improves. Ensure that any degree program you're interested in holds PMI GAC accreditation.

How hard is a project management degree?

Obtaining a degree or certificate in higher education can be challenging at any level, and project management is no exception. 

You'll learn new material and keep up with assignments, reading, and project deadlines, including researching and completing a thesis or dissertation if you're a master's or doctoral student. These responsibilities take discipline, self-motivation, and time management. 

Strategies for success include:

  • Embracing the challenge as an opportunity to hone problem-solving skills and creative thinking
  • Engaging with classmates and faculty, even if online
  • Enrolling in a part-time or online program, which may offer more flexibility
  • Experiencing internships and connecting with mentors to gain practical experience and advice

In conclusion

With annual project manager salaries averaging $77,500, according to Indeed's April 2022 statistics, earning a project management degree can be a sound investment. 

Follow the links on this page to our program rankings and explore your options. 

This article was reviewed by Alexandra Tapia, MBA

Alexandria Tapia, a blonde woman, smiles at the camera

Alexandra is a driven, high-spirited, unapologetically energetic, and optimistic person. She prides herself on her devotion to becoming a better business leader and overall human. She has an insatiable hunger for knowledge, asks a million questions, and thrives on making change.

She has reached many populations throughout her career. She's studied recidivism, helped prior criminal offenders reintegrate into society, and built trusting relationships while working at a homeless shelter. 

Her passion for education also shines through in her work. She taught younger children for many years but has since turned her focus to higher education. She loves collaborating with others to be a disruptor in the education industry, creating and delivering programs that are unlike others — all while building a better future for her clients and students. 

Tapia is a paid member of the Red Ventures Education Integrity Network. 

Last reviewed May 3, 2022.

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