Emerging as a distinct professional discipline during the latter part of the 20th century, project management is a dynamic field with valuable applications across a variety of industries. This guide breaks down the application process, compares the relative strengths and merits of different study opportunities, and provides potential career paths with an online degree in project management.
Many accredited colleges and universities offer project management degrees, and the information contained in this page will help you find the right fit for your professional goals.
Overview of Project Management Degrees
Project managers use specific techniques and management strategies to guide commercial projects to successful conclusions. In an enterprise sense, a "project" is a temporary undertaking that dedicates certain organizational resources to achieving a particular objective, such as the creation of a new product. Project management professionals work within defined constraints, tracking progress and allocating organizational resources to meet the project's stated deliverables. As you work toward your online project management degree, you will develop proficiency with these techniques and management strategies, ultimately learning how to achieve project objectives on time and on budget.
Most project management online degrees enable students to complete all requirements without attending any physical classes. Above all, successful project managers require excellent communication and organization skills along with impeccable attention to detail. Employers continue to recognize the valuable contributions project managers make to organizational productivity, making this a rewarding career path for prospective students. According to the Project Management Institute (PMI), employment for project management professionals in select industries is projected to grow 33% by 2027, totaling an estimated 22 million new jobs worldwide.
Beyond typical materials such as transcripts, standardized test scores, and a general application, the application process for an online project management degree often involves additional documentation. Schools may require one or more letters of recommendation and a personal essay stating your reasons for pursuing this career path. Programs leading to a bachelor of science designation may require applicants to take a mathematics placement examination. Institutions with particularly competitive application processes might also want you to supply a copy of your resume or curriculum vitae. This allows admissions officials to assess your educational history and work experience to further substantiate that you make a good candidate for the program.
Many applicants to project management programs already hold some college experience. Even if not formally required, possessing some business-related college coursework or even a previous associate or bachelor's degree can give you a competitive advantage in the application process. Schools will request your college transcripts if you previously earned postsecondary credits. If you plan on transferring credits to expedite your degree-completion timeline, you should also submit detailed course descriptions so departmental representatives can evaluate your prior work.
What Will I Learn?
An online degree in project management from a reputable, accredited institution helps you build professional skills in the discipline's key areas: project planning and organization, identifying and procuring the necessary resources, managing and leading participating team members, facilitating communication with supervisors, and overseeing scheduling and progress toward project completion.
Course and graduation requirements vary among schools, but they generally range from 120-180 credits. Core courses usually make up around one-third of that total. Project management-related electives and specialization options typically cover another one-third, while general education electives make up the rest of the credit total. However, program structures differ and these figures serve only as a guide.
While exact course titles and offerings will also vary from school to school, below you can find a sample curriculum summarizing the types of core courses you will likely encounter.
Principles of Project Management
Students typically take this high-level introductory course in their first semester, as it informs all subsequent coursework in the program. It introduces and helps learners build confidence with key topics and techniques, such as project selection, organization and management, conflict mediation, scheduling, budgeting, and resource deployment.
Project Scheduling and Controls
Students begin by examining theoretical approaches to scheduling and controlling project costs, parameters, and scope. Learners then apply these principles to practical examples using immersive technologies that simulate real-world project management problems. In doing so, students build and test critical skills they will use in everyday on-the-job situations.
In this course, students engage with a high-level overview of the operations principles and processes that inform the development of commercial products and services. Applying decision-making skills and drawing on tools like mathematical modeling and competitive advantage theory, students explore ways of managing processes to optimize efficiency, quality, and cost effectiveness.
Tools of Project Management
This course introduces students to an essential set of standard theoretical tools used to define and plan projects, identify scope, estimate and control costs, create and manage schedules, ensure quality, and communicate with management. Learners also engage with frequently encountered concepts such as preventing "scope creep," applying learning curve theory, and using the principles of trade-off decision-making.
Contract Management and Procurement
With outsourcing increasing in popularity among businesses in various industries, project managers must demonstrate proficiency in procuring external services, dealing with vendors, and creating service and procurement contracts. This course looks at the strategies professionals use to source reliable outside vendors and contractors and to navigate the accompanying legal requirements.
Quality Control and Assurance
In this course, students learn a systematic way of designing and managing projects to ensure compliance with internal and external quality standards. Specific topics may include strategic and data-capture aspects of total quality management along with the "theory of constraints" and other widely used quality control models.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor's Degree in Project Management?
An online degree in project management puts you in an excellent position to follow one of two post-graduation paths: proceeding into the job market to compete for entry-level positions or earning professional certifications from an agency like the Project Management Institute (PMI). PMI certifications serve as the de facto international standard, and a bachelor's program delivers the knowledge, skills, and tools you need to earn introductory endorsements like the Certified Associate in Project Management. Holding these certifications can improve your job prospects.
When you complete your project management degree online, you will emerge with a highly marketable set of core competencies, including:
- Identifying and defining critical project aspects, such as objectives, deliverables, resource needs, constraints, and team member performance requirements
- Managing the entire lifecycle of a commercial project
- Finding solutions to challenges arising from established project parameters and resource limitations
- Using professional project management software and communication tools
- Adjusting schedules, strategies, and the assignment of resources as needed in response to external and internal factors
- Adhering to prevailing ethical principles and best practices
- Effectively communicating with employees and stakeholders at all levels
You will continue to draw on these skills and competencies in your daily duties, especially as you move into mid- and high-level positions with greater amounts of responsibility. As such, employers expect job-ready degree holders to display reliable proficiency with these skills, even at the entry level. Successful project management professionals also continue to build and expand their existing skill sets by engaging with continuing education opportunities at all stages of their careers.
Potential Careers and Salaries
While qualified project managers can find employment in many different industries and sectors, they tend to enjoy particularly strong demand in construction, finance, information technology (IT), finance, and healthcare, among others. An online degree in project management from a reputable institution teaches skills applicable to many different job settings, but employment experts often recommend that students pursue project management specializations if they want or plan to work in a particular industry.
For example, many schools offer dedicated programs for construction project management, healthcare project management, and finance project management. Similarly, performing project management duties in an IT-related sector typically requires advanced knowledge and formal training in the commercial use of enterprise computing technologies.
With that in mind, consider these five commonly pursued careers as possible paths to achieving your personal and professional goals:
Annual Median Salary: $72,138
Generalist project managers typically work for medium-sized or larger companies, liaising with members of management to define strategic objectives, plan and coordinate projects, supervise documentation and contract requirements, assign tasks, supervise team members, and bring projects to successful completions.
Annual Median Salary: $81,473
Product managers oversee the development and physical production of products for consumer markets. They typically participate in the training of both new and established employees and in the creation and implementation of quality control standards and safety guidelines.
Annual Median Salary: $65,329 (mid-to-late career)
Account executives market a company's products and services to new clients while managing existing client and customer relationships. Beyond these sales-related duties, they also help formulate and refine marketing and business growth strategies.
Annual Median Salary: $57,391 (junior level)
Project engineers mainly participate in the planning and development phases of the project lifecycle. Typical duties include soliciting and evaluating proposals, establishing and reviewing project guidelines and objectives, and assisting project managers as they work toward completion of active undertakings.
Annual Median Salary: $61,450
Also known as general managers, operations managers oversee the day-to-day functions of a business. They manage and supervise employees, interface with clients, participate in supply chain management, and ensure the company's products and services meet quality standards and customer expectations.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Project Management?
Labor market experts generally agree that an online degree in project management at the bachelor's level can fulfill the educational requirements for launching a successful career. Employers typically view applicants with bachelor's degrees as good candidates for entry-level positions. When combined with meaningful professional experience and recognized industry certifications, the reach of a bachelor's degree can extend significantly.
However, prospective students and job seekers should remember that growing numbers of employers favor candidates with advanced degrees, even for junior positions, as the global job market continues to grow increasingly competitive. If you do not plan on continuing your education after earning your bachelor's degree, you should strongly consider participating in ongoing professional development and training opportunities that lead to certifications, such as PMI certifications. Holding these credentials functions as an effective alternative to accruing additional degrees, especially for those eager to start their careers or avoid amassing more student debt.
Accreditation for Project Management Bachelor's Programs
Accreditation certifies that the college or university offering your online degree in project management meets accepted educational and professional standards. As such, you should only consider programs from regionally or nationally accredited institutions recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and/or the U.S. Department of Education.
Beyond these general endorsements, some schools feature programmatic accreditation. The PMI Global Accreditation Center offers these endorsements, as do numerous other agencies. For instance, project management programs with business administration orientations may hold accreditation from agencies like the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, or the International Assembly for Collegiate Business Education, among others.
Project Management Professional Organizations
Professional organizations play an important role in many different careers, but they offer particularly important advantages to project managers. Through events like conferences and seminars, members can forge and foster productive and beneficial networking relationships with other like-minded professionals. Project management organizations also offer ongoing training opportunities, some of which lead to universally recognized certifications that can greatly enhance your career prospects. Other noteworthy resources they offer include career development support and job boards.
These three organizations enjoy particularly strong reputations among project management professionals:
Project Management Institute
Considered the world's leading project management professional association, the PMI offers credentialing and certification programs that lead to prestigious, in-demand endorsements. The PMI offers various levels of membership, including free and discounted memberships for current students.
International Project Management Association
IPMA dedicates itself to improving the professional competencies of its large member base through specially tailored workshops and development services. Aligned with dozens of corporate partners, government agencies, educational institutions, and training providers, the IPMA functions as a federation of approximately 70 member agencies and possesses a footprint on every continent.
American Management Association
The AMA offers certification and training programs that hold strong reputations among employers in the U.S. and internationally. In addition to workshops for individuals, the AMA also provides growth and learning opportunities for teams and entire enterprises.