Do you need a project management degree?

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Recently someone got in contact with me to ask about how to become a project manager. I thought I’d repeat here what I said to her, in case anyone else finds it useful. She wrote:

I have been advised that you have to do a degree in a particular subject e.g. engineering, do project management training e.g. PMI®, PRINCE2® etc and work your way up in order to become a project manager. Is this true? On the other hand, I have been advised to do a degree in project management and do work experience in a particular field to build up your experience.

So, do you need a degree in project management to become a project manager? It depends on your career goals.

“Do I need a degree in project management?”

Firstly, I should say that I don’t think you require a degree in a particular subject in order to become a project manager – both my degrees are in English Literature and I work as an IT project manager in the healthcare sector.

I do think that having a degree (of any kind, in any subject) is beneficial for securing a job, especially as project managers are expected to influence and lead, and many employers want to see evidence of the ability to operate at that level and use a degree as a benchmark for it.

However, there are more and more degrees offering either project management as the main subject or as a module or sub-speciality. If you know project management is your career of choice, then getting a work-relevant degree will only help your future career prospects.

Read next: What can I do with a degree in project management?

If you are coming to project management later in your career, I don’t feel that you need a degree in it.

But you will benefit from a project management certification such as PMP®, CAPM® or PRINCE2® in order to get a job as a project manager. There are lots of online courses that make it easy to take a short certification program.

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Having said that, this might be different if you want to work in a non-office/non-generalist field such as architecture or civil engineering. For all that project management is mainly transferable skills I wouldn’t know where to start with building shopping centers or roads after the years doing what I do.

Personally, I think employers value work experience over a degree, so a degree in project management, while it will show that you have the technical and soft skills, will not ensure you a job.

What I would do is this: get a degree in a subject I enjoy and could find work in, and then add project management as a specialism later through targeted work experience and certificates. Oh, that’s what I actually did do.

Types of degree

Having a degree is a useful back up in case you change your mind later about wanting to work in a project management role. Many undergraduate degrees in related subjects like engineering, construction and the built environment, digital and business management will offer electives in project management.

These degrees may offer work experience and general business knowledge as well as project management theory such as the knowledge areas and technical skills that are required to be a good project leader. Any project management course at university level should cover the interpersonal and fusion skills that are required for success as well, such as leadership, communication, people management and teamwork.

If you really want a project management degree at a later date, there are lots of Masters level project management programs and courses that offer professionals with experience the ability to codify that through academic and practical study.

Alternatively, there are MBA programs that offer project management options or the opportunity to specialize.

So if you do want to ‘prove’ your skills, I would suggest doing so at a later date with one of those once you have some work experience to your name. The risk of a undergraduate degree in project management is that you actually find out you don’t much like it after all and then you’re stuck with it.

Build your career without a degree in project management

There are other options for building your project management skills without taking a degree. These training courses are good options for improving your skills. On the job training is another option, if your employer offers it.

A good starting point if you want to check out what is available is this free course from PMI.

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An excellent free beginners project management course that comes in Agile and Predictive versions. Perfect for accidental project managers and people needing a structured approach to project work for the first time.

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Please note that this is my personal opinion and that I cannot give tailored career advice over email. You can find my views on whether CAPM or PRINCE2 is the right choice for you here.

Next steps

  • Research the kind of roles you want and see what the job requirements are.
  • If the job requirements involve a degree, think about whether you want a professional (i.e. project management) degree or are happy to take another course and perhaps move into project management later via a certification route or Master’s certification.
  • Start looking into programs and universities/colleges to choose a place to study OR check out short courses and project management professional exams like PMP as an alternative.

The project manager career path is varied; I know plenty of project managers who have taken different routes to me. If you already know that you want to make project management your career, and can afford the degree course, then go for it!

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