Project management degrees: Do you need one and what you can do with it
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Are you wondering whether it’s worth getting a degree in project management? Or what you can do with a project management degree for a job once you finish your bachelor’s or master’s studies?
This article is for you!
- What job titles to look for once you graduate
- What industries you can work in
- What you can expect to earn
- How to transition from another industry via a degree
- Lots more!
Ready? Let’s dive in!
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.
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
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.
What can you do with a degree in project management?
The simple answer is: you can get a job as a project manager.
About 16% of project management jobs require a degree (not necessarily a project management degree).
However, becoming a project manager isn’t the only thing you can do. A project management degree can lead to a wide range of career opportunities including general management, in a huge range of industries.
What jobs can I get with a bachelor’s degree in project management?
An undergraduate (bachelor’s) degree in project management leads to a range of related jobs in the project profession.
Here are some project management job titles to search for when looking on recruitment sites for open positions:
- Project coordinator
- Projects lead
- Project manager
- Project officer
- Project support officer
- Project administrator
- Business analyst
- Junior project manager
- Assistant project manager
- PMO coordinator
- PMO analyst
- Project analyst
- Portfolio analyst
- Portfolio coordinator.
In my experience, job titles vary hugely between employers. One company’s project coordinator is another company’s senior PM. Read the job descriptions carefully and apply if you meet 80% of the requirements.
(No, you don’t have to meet 100% of the requirements in the ad before you send in your resume or CV.)
You might think you could walk straight into a high-paying project management job with that level of higher education. In reality, most employers will also expect experience for those top roles, so it’s going to be easier to go for an entry-level position if you don’t have the experience.
Many experienced business leaders start their project management careers with an entry-level job title. If you’ve got the project management skills and aptitude, you can expect to progress quite quickly.
The outlook for project management employment
The outlook for project-related jobs is very positive.
PMI reports an expected global need for 25 million new project professionals by 2030. That’s due to:
- an increase in the number of jobs requiring project management-oriented skills (i.e. most knowledge work jobs as well as industries where PM has traditionally been important)
- higher demand due to economic growth
- retirement rates.
That’s about 2.3 million new jobs a year. Many of these roles are predicted to be in software development and sub-sectors like app development, IT security, and healthcare tech.
Even those fields have entry-level positions available, so you don’t need to be an experienced project manager to take advantage of the growing demand.
Trust me, if you are good at what you do, can demonstrate project management best practices, and have the certifications to back you up, you’ll get a job.
Project management jobs you can get with a degree and experience
Let’s say you have some work experience already, perhaps in a particular field or in a general management role.
This might apply to you if you have come to your degree studies as a mature student or as part of a career change.
If that’s you, be on the lookout for these kinds of job titles, as you can probably enter project management higher up the ranks:
- Project manager
- Senior project manager
- Program manager
- Business change manager
- Organizational change manager
- Delivery manager
- PMO manager.
For example, let’s say you have a job as an IT team leader or marketing manager. If you want to move into a job as a technical PM or marketing PM, a degree will help you prove that you are serious about the career.
What kind of industries can you work in?
Pretty much every industry requires project managers. From airlines to zoos, project managers deliver change and make strategy happen.
Here are some different industries that frequently recruit project managers:
- Government/public sector
- Oil and gas
- Supply chain management
- Charity work
- Human resources.
You can work in architecture, space travel, garden design, legal project management… the list goes on.
A PM degree opens doors to any industry, so pick something you are interested in. There’s not much point in building a career as a digital project manager if your heart is in social justice work (although who’s to say you couldn’t combine both?). There’s space for you wherever you want to go and however you want to contribute to society.
Transitioning from another industry
A degree can help you transition from your current industry to another.
Let’s say you currently work in a construction project management role. You want to move into another industry. A degree can help you bridge the gap.
It’s not that you will learn loads of stuff you don’t already know, but it will show employers that you are a rounded individual. It will help you convince them that there is more to you than construction and that you can apply your skills to their industry.
How much can you earn?
Project management is a well-paid career. That’s certainly one of the major reasons to consider using your course for a project management job instead of moving into another, related occupation or a general management role.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the mean hourly wage for a project management specialist is $40, which equates to a mean annual wage of $84,290.
That varies depending on the industry. Expect digital project management to earn more than retail, for example. Government jobs typically pay better than working in education.
Where you work also makes a difference to how much you will earn. The average salary varies by geography. The graph shows the Bureau of Labor Statistics figures for the highest paying US states.
It’s no surprise to me that salaries in Washington DC are so high: I identified Washington as one of the top cities for project management.
Another bonus of a project management degree is that you quickly find a network.
You’ve got your fellow students. And you’ll get to know industry groups like your local Project Management Institute Chapter, simply because you’ll be connected to the world of projects.
I didn’t have this as a newbie. I had to find a community of project management professionals myself as I went through my career. Don’t underestimate the power of knowing people who do the same job as you.
Future career options
A project management position is a good entry point into an organization. My first PM role was as a Business Change Analyst and I went from that to a Business Change Manager and then into project management, program management, and a role that was kind of internal project management consulting with a bit of other stuff thrown in.
The great thing about project jobs is that you get to meet loads of people from across the organization. You’ll work on project teams with all kinds of subject matter experts from a range of fields.
That exposes you to the types of roles that you would never otherwise know exist. You can use those internal networking opportunities to build connections. Those contacts will help you with project delivery, but also for when you want to move on and get promoted.
Project management is also a great door into upper management. Because you get to see a lot of the business’ challenges (and fix them), that helps you understand the context and strategy. Put your business acumen to use and bag the kind of job that comes with higher salaries!
What to do with your graduate degree
Graduate project management degrees are a good option if you already have an undergrad degree and are looking to gain a specialist education. They will typically be a Master of Science (MSc) program.
Whether you are just wrapping up your first degree or have spent some time in the industry and are looking to return to university or college, a graduate-level course expands your career options.
A master’s degree is typically specialized in project management and will give you a deep knowledge of areas like risk management, time management, and quality management. You’ll have the opportunity to practice your leadership skills and communication skills during group work. You’ll create project plans and carry them out.
All of those topics are helpful regardless of what kind of job you end up in. Consider them universal skills!
Employers value practical, work-related skills, and a project management program will give you a head start above other candidates who can’t evidence those on their application.
Another alternative route is a combined degree, for example, a business administration degree with project management.
This is a good option if you are interested in a particular industry such as IT or construction, and you want to earn project management skills within that field. You’ll be able to demonstrate domain knowledge in your industry and that you have the project management skills to excel in the role.
Plus you’ll get experiential learning and opportunities to prove that you can use your organizational skills and critical thinking to structure work and lead team members to deliver successful projects.
If you haven’t started your degree yet…
It’s worth checking if your degree will give you credit towards the Project Management Professional (
Other professional organizations also accredit degree programs, so it’s definitely worth checking out what the situation is near you. APM, for example, lists over 45-degree courses and modules where you can earn academic accreditation for your studies.
Choosing the right degree can make a lot of difference when it comes to earning professional certifications.
You might also want to consider the MBA vs project management degree debate because an MBA might be a better all-around choice.
Don’t have a project management degree? Don’t worry.
In the UK, you can get into project management with a degree in any subject. Many other countries are the same. It’s still worth applying for jobs even if your studies were in an unrelated subject.
Both my degrees are in English Literature-related topics, and I did OK!
Ready to make a splash in the business world? Read 3 ways to get a project management job this year (with 5 examples from real people who landed PM roles).
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.
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.
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.
- 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
PMPas 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!
What kind of jobs can you get with a project management degree?
If you have work experience, you could go into consulting, industry, or business leadership roles with a PM degree. Entry-level jobs include junior project manager and PMO coordinator roles.
Is project management a good degree?
Yes! So many jobs require project management skills. You’ll be able to organize and plan work, lead a project team, and collaborate effectively to get things done with a project management degree. Even if you don’t get a formal project management job.
How much can you earn with a project management degree?
Project management salaries vary by country, industry, and by role. It is a well-paid job. You can expect to earn at least £50k in the UK. US salaries average around $90k. Check out the latest PMI salary survey to get a feel for what you can earn.
Statistics correct at the time of writing: June 2021