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In today's fast-paced, technologically complex economy, businesses rely on project managers to shepherd projects through to completion. According to the Association for Project Management, "at its most fundamental, project management is about getting things done through people." In practice, project managers may orchestrate development of a new product, an overhaul of business processes, or a corporate restructuring. The common element is a big-picture coordination of activities according to a schedule and budget, combined with a need to manage risk and uphold quality standards.

A master's degree in project management cultivates the technical and theoretical knowledge critical to effective project leadership. Available a variety of formats, the master's in project management generally takes a year or two to complete. Working professionals can earn a master's degree online, applying the skills they learn directly in the workplace.

Prepare for graduate study by focusing your goals and identifying the academic resources to help you achieve them. WorldWideLearn.com's guide to earning an MBA or MS in project management helps you build a foundation for your future in project management.

Guide to the Master's in Project Management

Project management taps into today's information systems resources to streamline and execute complex business initiatives. The role features a unique blend of quantitative and business management skills. On the technical side, the field draws on systems analysis, applied mathematics, and cost engineering. Relevant business specialties include accounting and financial planning, workforce management, supply chain management, risk analysis, and leadership.

Learn more about this evolving discipline at WorldWideLearn.com's Guide to Majors, where you'll find a section devoted to project management. The Project Management Institute also publishes an in-depth, authoritative guide to project management best practices, A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge.

Types of Master's Degrees in Project Management

The interdisciplinary nature of project management is reflected in the master's degree options. The MBA and MA in project management both offer a comprehensive introduction to the field, but the perspective and resources are weighted toward their respective departments.

Master of Business Administration

The MBA in project management aims at a comprehensive pre-professional curriculum. Armed with core business training in finance, accounting, and project leadership, graduates possess the broad skill set necessary for functioning effectively within an organization. The MBA also emphasizes internships and other opportunities for applied business training. The degree attracts mid-career professionals, who can earn a master's degree online, part-time, or through accelerated programs.

Master of Science in Project Management

The MS in project management bears more resemblance to academic master's degrees, though the project management discipline keeps the program rooted firmly in business practice. In keeping with its academic foundations, the degree encourages deep specialization and typically culminates in an independent research project. The MS is appropriate for individuals looking to focus their business and technical skills before heading into the workforce. The curriculum also attracts professionals interested in deepening their expertise in a specific technical area.

WorldWideLearn.com offers a comprehensive exposition of the differences among master's degrees, The Master's Degree Explained. Also see the sections on Online MBA Programs and Master's Degree Online for more information on master's degree programs.

Project Management Specializations

Whether you choose to pursue a MBA or MS, or to earn a master's degree online or on campus, you'll have the opportunity to develop expertise in a specific area. Specialization may take the form of elective courses (MBA programs) or independent research directed by a faculty advisor (MS programs).

Project management specializations often focus on one of the nine knowledge areas established by the Project Management Institute. These defined fields are:

  • Integration management
  • Scope management
  • Time management
  • Cost management
  • Quality management
  • Human resource management
  • Communications management
  • Risk management
  • Procurement management

Most master's programs in project management encourage students to define their own research projects within or across these fields.

Despite the standardization efforts of the Project Management Institute, project management specializations remain idiosyncratic to the institution. Master's programs may choose to emphasize the technical or business administration end of the project management spectrum. Understanding the direction of your interests can help you sift through your graduate program options.

Careers in Project Management

A master's degree qualifies you for advanced careers in project management. Titles include:

  • Project manager
  • Project director
  • Chief technical officer
  • Project management consultant

Demand for project management professionals is strong, as businesses look for ways to negotiate dynamic markets, manage innovation, and streamline operations. The Project Management Institute predicts that an average of 1.2 million project management positions will need to be filled each year through 2016, citing an October 2008 study by Anderson Economic Group. For more information about the career outlook for project managers, see Project Management Institute's resource site Project Management and the Economy.

Plan for a Master's Degree in Project Management

A clear sense of your graduate education resources and personal goals paves the way for a seamless application process. The following steps take you through the logistics of preparing for graduate school, from researching programs to submitting applications.

Step One: Find the Right Graduate Project Management Program

The diversity of master's degrees in project management means that your first step involves researching the array of schools and programs available to you.

WorldWideLearn.com Research Resources

WorldWideLearn.com features several resources to help you evaluate campus and online master's degree programs in project management:

Find schools using WorldWideLearn.com's search tools:

  • Degrees by Subject features a database of accredited campus education, online degree programs, and online MBA degrees.

Explore master's degree programs:

Browse the Project Management Degree and Programs resource for links to individual programs, where you'll find specific information about academic resources. WorldWideLearn.com offers an interactive search tool that matches you with programs that meet your academic program criteria.

Program Evaluation Criteria

As you use the resources above, keep in mind the following criteria for evaluating academic programs.

1. Accreditation

Accreditation is a fundamental indicator of program quality--no institution should make it onto your list without it. In addition to securing the value of your degree, accreditation qualifies you for federal financial aid programs. The U.S. Department of Education Web site posts a searchable database of approved accreditation agencies.

Accreditation Resources:

The Project Management Institute sponsors the Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs (GAC), a prestigious accreditation specifically designed for project management programs. The association publishes a directory of GAC-accredited degree programs.

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB International) is the most prestigious international accreditor of MBA programs. Search AACSB's database of graduate management programs by field of study, location, and campus or online format.

2. Program Format

Master's degrees come in a variety of program formats to suit the complicated schedules of working professionals. Choose among:

  • Full-time campus degrees
  • Online MBA and master's degrees
  • Part-time programs
  • Accelerated one-year MBA programs
  • Night and weekend schedules

The option to earn a master's degree online has brought continuing graduate education to mid-career managers. As online programs add remote access to project management technology and research resources, distance graduate education is becoming an attractive alternative to the traditional campus program.

Online Master's Degree Resources

The Sloan Consortium, which represents online institutions nationwide, publishes a list of programs in business and management, including some online master's degrees in project management.

3. Academic Programs

The heart of your program evaluation takes you into each school's unique landscape of academic resources. Factors to take into account include:

  • Curriculum: Check the courses offered, specialization options, and degree requirements for an indication of the school's emphases and training resources.
  • Degree format: Master's programs incorporate a range of educational activities, including lectures, group projects, independent research, case studies, and internships.
  • Faculty: Faculty publications and areas of expertise offer a general sense of departmental strengths. If you plan to pursue a research specialization, it's crucial to find a faculty advisor who can sponsor your project. Also check for faculty credentials. Graduate schools may hire industry insiders, academic professors, or both.
  • Industry relationships: Graduate programs in project management can enhance the applied training component of the degree by maintaining strong ties with local employers. Look for special programs such as corporate competitions, work clinics, and internships.
  • Technology resources: Depending on the focus of your program, access to state-of-the-art project management technology may prove crucial to your success. Ask a faculty advisor or visit the campus to evaluate computing facilities.
  • Academic environment: Building a professional network is nearly as important as building project management expertise. Look for a program that promotes networking through community events, collaborative projects, etc.

Academic Evaluation Resources

School Web sites publish course descriptions, degree requirements, links to faculty CVs and publications, and other information about program resources.

Informational interviews with faculty, alumni, and current graduate students offer a means of assessing the academic environment and local resources.

4. Program Quality

Finally, rank the schools on your list by assessing the quality and competitiveness of their graduate project management program. Consider these factors:

  • Reputation: Reputation impacts the value of your degree in the job market. Ask a faculty advisor or consult ranking publications to gauge a school's reputation.
  • Selectivity: Admissions standards serve as a secondary indicator of quality and give you an idea of your own prospects as an applicant.
  • Job placement record and career support services: How does the degree perform in the job market? Placement statistics indicate the value of the degree and the effectiveness of career support services. A strong placement office should provide access to resume and interviewing assistance, job search counseling, job boards, and corporate recruiting events.
  • Student demographics: Information such as students' average years of industry experience can help you assess whether the program is right for you.

Resources

Admissions departments publish data on admissions selectivity, job placement, and student demographics. If the information isn't published online, ask an admissions counselor for a data sheet.

Influential program rankings include:

Step Two: Apply to Graduate Project Management Programs

Once you've settled on a list of five to ten top schools, applying to graduate project management programs is a matter of connecting the dots. Follow these steps to admission:

1. Complete Prerequisites

To be eligible for a graduate project management program, you should complete:

  • A bachelor's degree in mathematics, computer science, business, or a related field.
  • Prerequisite courses, if required by the graduate school (check with an admissions counselor).
  • Standardized tests, including the GMAT (for MBA) or the GRE (for MS degrees) and TOEFL (for international students).
  • Work experience (required by some advanced or executive-level MBA programs)

WorldWideLearn.com's Education Resources Guide features test preparation resources and online prerequisite courses to help you qualify for graduate study.

2. Submit Application Materials

The online application form is just one element in your admissions portfolio, which includes:

  • Academic transcripts
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Test scores
  • Personal essay
  • Resume

It's important to start your applications well in advance of the deadline to ensure that all these documents arrive in time.

3. Finance Your Master's in Project Management

The ability to earn a master's degree online has reduced the financial impact of graduate school by allowing students to keep their jobs while they work toward the degree. Still, most students rely on some form of financial aid. Sources include:

  • Grants and scholarships through the university, private foundations, or the federal government.
  • Employer educational incentives such as tuition grants.
  • Low-interest student loans through the federal government or private lenders such as banks.

Filling out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) qualifies you for a series of federal financial aid programs, including Pell grants and Stafford loans. For more information, meet with college financial aid advisors or consult WorldWideLearn.com's graduate education funding resource.

Your future as a project management guru begins with careful planning and research. A master's in project management opens doors to a world of opportunities, both during and after the degree. Position yourself to take advantage of these resources by focusing your goals and finding the right project management program.

Sources

  • AACSB Accredited Business Schools Database, AACSB International--The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.
  • Best Business Schools: U.S. News & World Report (2009).
  • "Business School Rankings and Profiles," BusinessWeek.
  • Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, U.S. Department of Education.
  • Directory of GAC-Accredited Degree Programs, Project Management Institute.
  • Exploring Graduate Business Degrees, Graduate Management Admission Council (GMAC).
  • Glossary of Project Management Terms, Association for Project Management.
  • International Project Management Association.
  • Master of Business Administration, Project Management specialization, Capella University.
  • Master of Science in Project Management, The George Washington University.
  • Master of Science in Technology Project Management, University of Houston.
  • MBA Project Management, Columbia Southern University.
  • "MBA Rankings and Executive Education Programs," The Wall Street Journal.
  • Online MBA 2009, Business School Rankings. Financial Times.
  • Programs in Business and Management, The Sloan Consortium.
  • Project Management Graduate Programme, The University of Sydney.

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