Are Project Management Degrees Worth the Investment?

How to Make Sure Your Choice Pays Off

Learning in the classroom
Learning in the classroom. Hero Images/Getty Images

Setting out to earn any degree is a substantial investment, both in terms of time and financial outlay. It’s a long-term commitment that could see you jump ahead in your career and earning potential, but it’s not a decision to take lightly.

Let's take a look at some of the considerations to take into account before making the decision to take a degree course in project management.

Degrees Are Not Required to Get a Job

First, I should say that a project management degree is most definitely not required to get a job.

Project coordinators start work often without any formal credentials aside from an interest in organization and delivery. Many senior project managers today came into project management from another field, such as software development or healthcare administration. It was their background that gave them the skills required to do a great job, not their education. You can always get a professional certification or a degree in the subject later.

However, when the job market is competitive, you may find that having a relevant degree gives you the edge for securing a job. It can also give you a lot of confidence, and many courses will offer placements or some kind of work experience that will introduce you to what the project environment will be like. Again, that gives you extra information for your resume and material to talk about at interview beyond what a week-long project management course can offer.

There are many advantages to earning a project management degree, but if the length of time it takes and the financial commitment aren’t something you can take on right now, then you can still start your project management career and build on your education later

Online or In-Person?

The main choice you’ll have to make is whether you want to study online or in-person on a campus-based course.

Online courses give you greater flexibility and you can choose an institution that if further from home. This could mean picking a course that is a much better match for your interests and career goals. However, studying online can be hard work and lonely if you don’t have a group of peers around you to keep you motivated.

Studying in person gives you the benefit of a friendly group of classmates, but it does limit your choices to a location more, unless you have a lot of time and money to spend on travel. Some courses that are taught in short bursts might sound good, but when the reality is using all your vacation time from work to travel to university to study, that can put a real strain on family life or your other commitments.

What Kind of Degree to Do?

The other choice you’ll have to make is what kind of degree to do. There are project management specialist MBA programs, or if you aren’t sure if an MBA is right for you there are undergraduate (Associate and Bachelor’s) and graduate degrees (Master’s) with project management either as the main subject or a subsidiary subject. Check the syllabus to ensure that project management is covered in enough detail for your needs. Many Associate level degree courses, for example, only touch on project management through offering a course or two, with the rest being other business or management topics.

It might make sense for you, for example, to study a construction degree with a project management component. Or to take a nursing degree with a focus on business administration and project management. You’ll get the industry background and a good grounding in project management as well, and you can be sure that case studies, examples and techniques will be relevant to the context you will be using them in.

As well as degree courses, many academic institutions also offer short courses or modules in project management which can be taken either as part of a different degree or on a standalone basis. If you can’t commit to a full degree course right now this might be the way to go.

What Your Degree Will Cover

Today you’ll find project management degrees offered by colleges, universities and dedicated business schools.

The content of these differs as professors will build courses around their specialist interests and sometimes in conjunction with industry partners — which can be a benefit if you are hoping to find a new job as a result of your studies.

Many courses will assume little to no prior knowledge so you can expect to cover the basics of project management before quickly moving on to the more advanced subjects.

Typically you’ll get an in-depth look at the fundamentals of project management such as the project life cycle, the roles and responsibilities of the project team and the project board and risk management. Once you’ve got through the basics you should expect to cover subjects in more detail and perhaps subjects that you wouldn’t necessarily get on a short course, such as responses for managing positive risk.

Assessing Your Progress

Degree assessments take a variety of formats so research what your course will expect from you. You may have essays to do, a long dissertation or a research project. Some courses that involve work placements require students to write up their experiences.

There may also be some reflective work analyzing the successes (or otherwise) or class projects where you work in small groups.

Choosing a Degree Course

The decision you make about your degree course is an important one, so it’s essential you pick a course that is going to support your career goals and help you meet your aspirations. It needs to be right for you in so many ways.

It’s a big investment, so do your research before making any financial commitments.

If you aren’t sure what course to take, see if your target institution offers a MOOC in project management so you can check out the teaching style and the course materials before committing to a full degree.

Find an Accredited Course

Another factor to take into account is whether your course or school is accredited. There are a number of bodies that accredit universities, including PMI. Taking an accredited course can open up funding opportunities and speed up getting additional qualifications as sometimes what you learn on your degree course can count towards the requirements for professional or accrediting bodies.

Accreditation also gives you confidence that you are going to study for a quality degree. It’s also recognized by employers, so that can give you the edge when it comes to applying for jobs later.

Alternatives to Project Management Degrees

If you can’t commit to a project management degree right now, there are a number of high quality, well-respected project certification schemes instead.

PMI is an accrediting body which has a family of credentials that are recognized globally. This could be a good option for you if you need something cheaper and that you can complete faster and yet still have a certification that your employer will find valuable.

There are other national project management organizations with their own credential schemes, so you can look into those as well.

What Do Graduates Go on to Do?

Most people who graduate with a project management degree go on to become project managers and work in a project environment. However, it’s a huge field. Project managers are essential to most industries so whether you choose arts administration, healthcare, oil, and gas or construction, there’s a demand for qualified, experienced people who know what it takes to get a team to come together to deliver something of value.

A degree in project management can offer you credibility, confidence, deep domain knowledge and skills, along with connections and a network that can support your career for years to come. You may also be able to secure a higher paying job because of your educational background and the experiences it offered you. But ultimately only you can decide if a project management degree is worth the value to you.