In the traditional construction industry model, professionals rose through the ranks of the construction industry by working their way up from entry-level jobs to senior positions. While this path for career growth remains an option, many construction companies now directly hire candidates with specialized educations to fill their management vacancies. Earning a master's in construction management online is an excellent way to accelerate your career and salary potential.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), construction management jobs will experience faster-than-average growth rates through 2026. During that time, the BLS projects the number of construction management jobs in the U.S. will increase by 11%. With 2017 median pay rates of $43.93 per hour or $91,370 per year, this high-growth career path offers significant financial rewards.
This guide will help you choose a quality online master's in construction management program, allowing you to make an informed and calculated decision about your educational investment.
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What to Know About Online Master's in Construction Management Coursework
Students in online master's in construction management programs acquire valuable skills including project management, risk assessment and mitigation, and how to estimate and control building costs. Students also learn the legal and contractual aspects of construction projects, including labor relations and management, how to bid on projects and negotiate terms, and how to mediate and resolve disputes.
Students must complete between 30 and 45 credits. Accelerated learning tracks may allow students to complete their degrees in just one academic year, though most programs take two years of full-time study.
What's the Difference Between a Master's in Construction Management and an MBA in Construction Management?
Many students, especially those with bachelor's degrees in business-related fields, consider alternative degree options like MBA programs in construction management. Learners can complete construction management MBA programs entirely online, and these programs follow similar timeframes as those of full-time study. However, MBA programs diverge from regular construction management master's programs in significant ways.
The main distinction lies in the focus of the two options. MBA programs focus on the business side of the construction industry, emphasizing topics like finance, investment, and marketing, while limiting practical aspects like project management and labor relations to the periphery. Meanwhile, a typical master of construction management program takes a more well-rounded and comprehensive approach, preparing students to go beyond the boardroom and apply their knowledge of project management, cost control, and labor relations in on-site roles.
What Common Courses are Offered in a Master's in Construction Management Program?
While the exact courses you will take depends on the school you choose, here are some sample classes you may encounter. This list includes descriptions of classes you will likely take as you work toward your master's in construction management online.
Construction Methods and Technologies
This course offers students a comprehensive overview of the methods to manage construction projects. Students learn about construction equipment and machinery, as well as the relationships between interior and exterior structural components of a building. Learners also explore the configuration and function of critical building infrastructure components, including electrical, plumbing, and heating and cooling systems.
Construction Finance and Cost Management
Finance and cost management courses introduce learners to essential aspects of accounting, budgeting, finance, and cost control. Students learn to budget and manage costs effectively to maintain favorable profit margins while accommodating personnel and equipment procurement needs. This course also covers advanced topics such as requisition submissions, lien waivers, tax considerations, and insurance.
Most construction projects begin with a competitive bidding situation; contractors and companies submit proposals indicating their cost estimates and budgets. Precise estimating capabilities are crucial to the professional success of a construction manager, and this course teaches students to accurately project labor, equipment, utility, overhead, subcontractor, and insurance costs. Students also learn strategies for generating value, identifying and mitigating risks, protecting profit margins, and outbidding competitors.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) maintains specific site safety requirements, both for on-site laborers and members of the public. In this required class, students learn about mandatory and optional aspects of government construction safety codes, as well as best practices for recognizing and minimizing risks, optimizing sites to avoid injuries and accidents, and implementing safety programs.
Construction Project Management
In this course, students learn advanced project management techniques, such as scheduling, project progress diagnostics, and optimizing the deployment of labor and human resources to expedite project completion. Students also learn how to respond and adjust to delays, changes, and other unexpected events. These classes require students to apply acquired skills using computerized simulations of real-world situations.
What Specializations are Available in a Master's in Construction Management Program?
Master's construction management programs offer multiple specializations, allowing you to develop advanced skills in highly focused areas. The exact set of concentrations and specializations varies from school to school, and the list below highlights three of the most common and popular options.
Sustainable construction specialists learn advanced techniques for applying emerging technologies to mitigate the environmental impact of contemporary urban lifestyles and property development projects. This concentration emphasizes environmental preservation through careful resource management, improved energy efficiency, smart building design, and ecology-oriented equipment choices and site practices.
As the construction industry adopts digital tools at increasing rates, the labor market has a pronounced need for specialists with advanced knowledge of emerging and developing technologies. Students who pursue a construction technology concentration engage with innovations reshaping civil engineering, road construction, building construction, and construction industry supply chains.
Health and Safety
The occupational health and safety concentration offers students the opportunity to become construction safety and site security specialists. This program option takes an interdisciplinary approach to health and safety, considering prevailing industry practices as well as practical applications that integrate safety considerations with project management needs.
What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?
Most programs require students to complete a capstone project or research project as the final step toward completing their online master's degree in construction management. Capstone projects involve simulations of real-world situations, in which students create comprehensive strategic plans that cover the lifecycle of a typical construction project.
Research projects often involve case studies, in which students examine and compare the outcomes of actual construction projects. These analyses typically focus on specific aspects of the construction process, such as human resource management, cost management, or site safety, and judge how and why the project was a success or failure in these regards.
How Can I Choose a Quality Online Master's in Construction Management Program?
In addition to choosing a school with institutional accreditation from a recognized national or regional body, students should consider programs endorsed by the American Council for Construction Education (ACCE) or the Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering (ATMAE). Other indicators of a quality online master's in construction management include qualified faculty with extensive and recent professional experience, high graduation rates, and a comprehensive approach to curriculum development that combines a rigorous set of core requirements with a strong depth of specialization options. High post-graduation employment rates are another important indicator of quality.
Conversely, avoid schools with low graduation rates and loose entry or advancement requirements. These factors can indicate a lower standard of quality.
Career Opportunities With a Master's in Construction Management Degree
A construction management master's degree online can lead to high-level management and executive positions with construction companies. However, a graduate degree in construction management does not guarantee employment. Some of these careers may require additional training, licensing, or certifications you will need to earn independently. However, your master's in construction management online will provide an excellent educational base for positions in these fields:
Construction managers oversee building projects in a supervisory capacity, creating plans and schedules, hiring subcontractors, securing equipment, and ensuring work falls within established budgetary guidelines. They typically work in on-site field offices, making observations and collecting data to inform their decision-making processes. Typical responsibilities include responding to accidents and emergencies, adjusting established plans to accommodate unforeseen events, and ensuring projects remain on schedule. Construction managers build these skills through a combination of education and practical training, with a growing number of employers preferring candidates who hold advanced degrees.
- Median Salary: $91,370 per year
- Currently Employed: 403,800 (2016)
- Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: 11%
Estimators perform advanced, detailed analyses of both discrete and extrapolated factors to come up with accurate, reliable cost estimates for the completion of large-scale construction projects. In compiling their estimates, they take all aspects of a project into consideration, evaluating everything from land acquisition and preparation costs to materials, labor, equipment, insurance, and contingency funds. Many estimators have hands-on experience in the construction industry, which they learn to apply in advanced ways through graduate school education.
- Median Salary: $63,110 per year
- Currently Employed: 217,900 (2016)
- Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: 11%
Sustainable construction specialists offer expertise in emerging, technology-driven building systems such as greywater recycling, thermally driven air conditioning, "on command" hot water recirculators, geothermal heating, and "energy-plus" construction techniques that enable buildings to generate more electricity than they consume. A specialized type of management analyst, construction sustainability consultants earn their credentials through master's in construction management online degrees that offer specialist concentrations in green building concepts.
- Median Salary: $82,450 per year
- Currently Employed: 806,400 (2016)
- Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: 14%
Occupational health and safety specialists ensure construction sites conform to government-mandated safety standards. They also perform detailed site evaluations to assess, evaluate, mitigate, and eliminate risks while working to educate laborers and other stakeholders on best practices for workplace safety and security. Safety specialists also devise, implement, and refine detailed safety plans that take site-specific factors into consideration, helping prevent workplace accidents and injuries and avoiding the negative financial effects associated with lost productivity and insurance claims.
- Median Salary: $67,720 per year
- Currently Employed: 101,800 (2016)
- Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: 8%
Construction technicians apply principles of civil engineering to help guide the design and execution of a wide range of construction projects, from municipal and intercity infrastructure elements like roads and bridges to residential, industrial, commercial, and mixed-use buildings. In many cases, construction technicians act as go-betweens, splitting their time between field settings and offices of engineers and architects. They inform site planning and design initiatives with the observations they collect from site visits.
- Median Salary: $51,620 per year
- Currently Employed: 74,500 (2016)
- Expected Job Growth in next 10 years: 9%
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics,
What's the Expected Job Growth for Construction Management Careers?
Economic data published in June 2018 shows that construction is one of America's hottest industries. The BLS predicts that, overall, the U.S. will see an 11% rise in the number of construction jobs by 2026, far outpacing average growth rates across all industries. Specialist occupations, such as sustainability consulting, seem likely to enjoy even more aggressive growth rates in the years ahead.
Professional Organizations for Careers in Construction Management
Construction industry professional organizations offer students and recent graduates opportunities to network and commit to continued professional development through certified training and skills upgrade programs. Many of these organizations also offer exclusive access to resources such as job boards, career services, and annual conferences.
American Institute of Constructors
The AIC focuses on ethical building practices and offers members the opportunity to signal their commitment to the highest standards of excellence and professionalism. It offers ongoing networking, training, and educational initiatives.
Associated General Contractors of America
AGC helps members forge networking connections and enables construction professionals across the United States to form productive, profitable, and mutually beneficial partnerships through ongoing events and conferences.
Construction Industry Institute
The CII helps construction professionals achieve elite levels of skill and expertise by developing and implementing best practices through research and innovation. The organization achieves this through collaborations with multiple stakeholders, including contractors, businesses, and academic institutions.
Associated Builders and Contractors
ABC is a national trade organization with a membership of more than 21,000 professionals. Dedicated to advancing safety principles, ABC also helps members bid more competitively and boost their profitability while meeting high ethical standards.
U.S. Green Building Council
An excellent option for professionals looking to develop their knowledge of sustainable building practices, the USGBC shows strong leadership in the ongoing worldwide development of green alternatives to traditional construction.
How to Pay for a Master's in Construction Management Degree
Students commonly use financial aid to help pay for their online master's in construction management studies. The U.S. federal government offers student loan packages, which students can supplement by pursuing scholarships and paid internship opportunities.
Federal Financial Aid
If you need help paying for your studies, make sure to fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Federal agencies offer borrowers favorable terms compared to private lenders, and applicants automatically receive assessments for non-repayable funding sources like grants, work-study opportunities, and government-backed scholarships.
Scholarships from Professional Organizations
National and regional professional construction, contractor, and civil engineering organizations across the United States offer scholarships to students applying to or enrolled in master's programs in construction management. Awards typically range from several hundred dollars to thousands of dollars, and unlike loans, recipients do not have to repay these funds.
Philanthropic organizations, trusts, educational institutions, and private companies also offer a wide range of scholarship opportunities to students pursuing master's degrees in construction management. Expand your search for scholarships beyond professional organizations and into these areas and ask your school's financial aid office if any opportunities are available for construction management students.
While some internships do not offer any pay, others provide modest stipends that can help ease the financial burden of full-time study. Paid construction internships offer particularly high value to students in master's programs, as they also deliver valuable professional experience that employers view favorably when evaluating job applicants.