Students considering pursuing a project management degree such as a master’s in project management, are often faced with a myriad of questions:
- Will earning the degree help to increase your salary?
- Will it increase your ability to find and keep a job?
- Is it, frankly, worth the effort, time, and money you will need to invest in order to graduate?
While these questions are vital for some pondering the potential of a degree in this field, others simply want to understand what it is you can do with a project management degree before investing in a program.
Read on to explore the purpose behind earning a master’s in project management, the most common job titles this degree prepares you for, and how to choose a program that is the right fit for your unique goals.
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What is a Master’s Degree in Project Management?
Project management degrees can be obtained at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels, and are designed to prepare students to become project management practitioners.
Students in these programs “learn to think strategically, identify ways to execute initiatives, and deliver value all while meeting organizational goals,” says Chris Bolick, lead faculty for Northeastern University’s Master of Science in Project Management program. These students also explore “various methodologies that can be leveraged to realize those results.”
The exact curriculum that a student will be exposed to while earning a master’s degree in project management naturally varies from program to program. However, often, these courses cover:
- Time management strategies
- Developing a project scope and plan
- Establishing project constraints
- Identifying and managing project risk
- Estimating and managing project costs
The goal of this varied curriculum is to help students develop the essential project management skills required to perform well in their chosen role.
Top Project Management Careers
1. Project Manager
At a high level, project managers are responsible for planning, organizing, and directing the projects under their supervision, while ensuring that the project is completed on time and within budget. Their individual duties are vast, and vary widely from project to project, but typically involve the initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and controlling, and closing of a project.
As can be expected, this is one of the most common job titles for individuals who earn their master’s degree in project management.
“In most organizations, working as a project manager requires an advanced degree, certification, or professional experience,” Bolick says. “If you’re coming into the industry without a degree or without experience, you will likely be tasked with working on a project team instead of leading in a project manager role.”
Project managers can expect to earn a median annual salary of $88,500 to $113,495, depending on their exact job title within their organization.
2. Industry-Specific Project Manager
Different industries often operate under different processes and economic realities. Becoming a project manager in those fields will usually require that an individual learns specialized information, gains tailored experience, and establishes unique frames of reference—three factors that are typically gained through working in that particular industry for a number of years.
For Example: Agile project management is popular in software development, and project managers who wish to work in that industry must typically have experience in that particular methodology. In exchange for this specialized knowledge, project managers working in the information technology industry earn a median annual salary of $120,000 compared to $113,495 for general project managers.
If you have an eventual goal of working in a particular industry, finding a master’s degree program which offers a concentration in that field—or in the project management methodologies which underlie that field—can be incredibly rewarding. Students enrolled in Northeastern’s master’s project management program, for example, can choose from concentrations in:
- Construction Management
- Leading and Managing Technical Projects
- Organizational Communication
- Agile Project Management
- Project Business Analysis
3. Project Coordinator
A project coordinator is another key member on most project teams who assists the project manager in organizing resources, equipment, personnel, and data in order to achieve the strategic goals of the project. This may involve adjusting budgets, scheduling meetings, and completing other discrete tasks as necessary.
This is a commonly held job title for many individuals without a relevant degree or professional experience and is often where aspiring project managers begin developing their skills.
Project coordinators earn a median annual salary of $46,452, though this can reach a high of $65,000 depending on education, experience, etc.
4. Program Manager
Whereas project managers are responsible for managing a single project from initiation to close, program managers are typically responsible for overviewing an entire program of projects.
Because the same resources (personnel, equipment, etc.) and schedules may influence the progress of multiple interrelated projects, it is the program manager’s duty to oversee any dependencies between the projects in their program and to create project plans that allow for the most efficient completion possible.
“Program managers have a lot of project management experience,” Bolick says, “which gives them the insights they need to assess all the requirements and dependencies of the projects within their program, and make sure they are meeting the overall program goals.”
Program managers earn a median annual salary of $125,000.
5. Portfolio Manager
While project managers usher individual projects towards completion and program managers ensure that any related projects in their program are completed in the most efficient way possible, portfolio managers manage the set of programs within a specific portfolio. This is done in a similar way to program management, but instead of coordinating between projects, portfolio managers are coordinating between programs.
Portfolio managers work to ensure that any and all projects and programs being pursued by an organization are helping the business work toward its strategic business objectives, whatever those may be.
“Becoming a portfolio manager typically requires unique skill sets and competencies compared to other project management job titles,” Bolick says. “If you are interested in potentially pursuing this career, consider taking courses that can expose you to the general concepts of strategic thinking, project management maturity levels, and organizational leadership that you will eventually need to utilize in a portfolio manager role.”
Portfolio managers earn a median annual salary of $135,500.
Project Management Salary & Job Outlook
The median annual salary for a project manager in the United States is $116,000, according to the 2020 Project Management Salary Survey compiled by the Project Management Institute (PMI). Keep in mind that this figure differs slightly from the salary offered above as it encompasses data from both self-employed and traditionally-employed project managers.
Typically, average pay corresponds closely to the number of years that an individual has worked in the field, whether or not they have earned their PMP certification, and if they have earned an advanced degree in the field. For example, those with a master’s degree in project management earn an increased median annual salary of $120,000, and those with a doctoral degree in project management earn $123,000.
The average salaries outlined above largely correspond to an increased demand for individuals with project management skills and training. What’s more, experts predict that the industry will add a total of 88 million jobs globally by 2027, effectively growing the field by 33 percent.
While this increased demand is expected to take place across sectors, Bolick specifically identifies the healthcare industry as a major source of growth. “Healthcare is one of the leading industries needing project managers,” he says. “Now that everything is digital, the healthcare industry needs project managers to [help their organizations] make that digital transformation.”
A Degree That Transcends Project Management Roles
One common assumption is that only current or aspiring project managers should consider earning a master’s degree in project management. However, because project management skills can be leveraged in an array of careers and industries, earning this degree can actually be beneficial for professionals across industries.
Many larger organizations employ individuals specifically to manage projects, but small and mid-sized companies often refrain from putting one employee in charge of those duties. Instead, project management practices become absorbed within roles. For this reason, the discipline has a profound impact on a number of unique careers.
For example, in the publishing field, a managing editor performs many of the same duties typically associated with project management. These include:
- Establishing and adjusting timelines and schedules
- Coordinating efforts between different departments, such as between the editorial, design, and production departments
- Hiring freelancers to conduct various tasks which are not capable of being handled in house
- Managing budgets for all activities associated with bringing a book to print
- Communicating between all stakeholders, such as the developmental editor, the art director, the layout manager, the publisher, and the sales and marketing teams
Though it is not uncommon for a managing editor to begin their career with an undergraduate degree in literature or journalism, earning a master’s degree in project management can be an excellent means of developing the skills needed to advance along this particular career path.
This is just one of many examples of how an advanced degree in project management transcends both titles and industries.
Choosing the Program That’s Right for You
For those who have decided that earning a master’s degree in project management will help you reach personal and professional goals, the next step is to choose a program that is structured to best help you achieve them.
When making this decision there are many factors that should be taken into consideration, including:
- The curriculum: When selecting a project management program, you should be sure to choose one that features an innovative, cutting edge curriculum that continues to evolve to meet modern challenges that the industry is facing. Additionally, if you have plans to eventually work as a project manager in a specific field, it can be wise to choose a program that offers a concentration in that unique area of study.
- The faculty: Whenever possible, you want to make sure that you’re learning from faculty who are professionally certified and have experience in the field. Learning from actual practitioners will help you understand the real-world challenges that project managers face on a daily basis, and allows for insight into how the industry is evolving. Additionally, industry-aligned faculty know what employers are looking for in candidates and can help to point students in the right direction post-graduation.
- The experience: The best project management degree programs will offer students the opportunity to engage in experiential learning. These projects allow students to put your lessons into practice by working with functional organizations on the real problems they face in their industries. This type of hands-on experience not only benefits your education during the pursuit of your degree but can help you stand out among other applicants in competitive job markets.
The Master of Science in Project Management program at Northeastern has been designed with each of these vital components in mind. The curriculum is regularly workshopped and adjusted so that it remains highly relevant in a rapidly-changing industry, and students are able to declare one of six specific concentrations in order to tailor their education.
What’s more, Northeastern’s program is led by industry experts who can offer valuable insights and connections to students. It also strategically incorporates experiential learning projects throughout the course of the program to set students up for success upon graduation.
Want to learn more about how a master’s in project management from Northeastern can help shape your career? Download our free guide below.