If you run a Google search for "Master's Degree in Project Management" you will get over 3 million results for schools across the US and around the world. Granted, those results are not solely listings for schools offering programs, but still — scary.
If you try to narrow down your search results by going to a site like gradschools.com and filtering by "Business & MBA" and "Project Management" tags you will still get 327 results. Better, but not exactly a walk in the park.
Finding the right program is a big venture. There are two questions you really need to ask yourself before you go hunting:
(1) Is a Master's in Project Management (MPM) what you really want? Would you prefer alternatives routes, such as your MBA or PMP certification?
(2) And if you do decide on the MPM, what are your personal requirements when choosing a program?
The Great "Project Management Degree" Debate
There are conflicting views about whether getting a Master's degree in Project Management is worth the time and money. According to a US News article, 43% of project managers in the US have only a Bachelor's degree.
If you follow The Great Project Management Degree Debate, you'll know there are varied opinions on the value of the degree at all. Some people say get the Master's in Project Management, some people say go for a general MBA, some people suggest alternative certificates (e.g. PMP) instead — and then there are others who say don't bother with any of them since experience beats all degrees.
We browsed through forums and articles and tried to gather a consensus on whether or not people in the field think you should get your Master's in Project Management:
The Pros & Cons of a Master's in Project Management
"Through teaching an MPM program at a local university for the past five years, I wholly believe that the students that have come through this program are much more employable once they have completed the program."
— JD McKenna, Project Manager, USA
"I have my Masters of Project Management and this qualification stands out in my CV when applying for great jobs. I know lots of guys with MBAs who are still in lower management positions. A Master's in this great field is definitely sought after and sticks out more than an MBA."
— Anonymous, USA
"My recommendation falls someplace in the middle. I would recommend that you get a Master's in Project Management [focused on] your field of expertise or interest."
— Dr. Paul D. Giammalvo, Project Manager, Indonesia
2. More Informed Execution
"I am now in a PM role (with certification) and I definitely think the MPM has helped me understand with more clarity why we do things the way we do and has certainly helped communicate [decisions].... The MPM is really interesting. You get to meet a range of other students with other PM experiences that you learn from and it is challenging and I think personally rewarding."
"I hold both an MBA and an MPM degree. I disagree that these two degrees are essentially the same. My bottom line answer is: advanced learning never hurts, so go for the degree. It may not guarantee you your next job. But it should definitely help you when it comes to executing in that job."
— Dave Violette, Program Manager, USA
"For those going through a Master's program who have already had more than a few years of work experience, PMP certification, and specific large or complex project management experiences, the MS in Project Management will likely have far more meaning to employers and ROI to you - not just financial ROI, but the ability to get the most out of curriculum.... A Master's in Project Management would be an excellent addition to the journey."
— Mark Price Perry, VP of Customer Care, USA
1. Experience and Accomplishments Count More
"Good project managers become such by practicing and continuous self improvement. Yes, they need to know the theory, but professionalism comes from applying, adapting and improving it. For that reason I don't think one-off long theoretical study is what would bring you to the next level."
— Stan Yanakiev, IT Project Manager, Bulgaria
"The qualification has not really helped me at all in getting a job, its only in combination with experience (how do you get that initially) or certification.... As a way to further your career, I am not convinced that the MPM has quite the aaahhh factor that we would like as recognition of our efforts."
"I would look dubiously on a PM candidate that has a Master's in PM but no experience. Advanced degrees are more meaningful after you have been in the field."
— Mark Price Perry, VP of Customer Care, USA
"I would value experience over master's level certification. I would recommend that you look at practitioner-based courses as well. You can take PRINCE2 without any prior experience, and it will be cheaper than a Master's."
— Elizabeth Harrin, Director of the OTOBOS Group, U.K.
"I liken project management to riding a bike, you can read as many books on the subject as you like, but until you get on and actually ride a bike you know only the theory and not the practice.... As a hirer of project managers I look for experience, then certification, and finally qualifications. Even for trainees I look not necessarily for project management experience but they should at least have participated as team members in a project environment as this environment is completely unlike a normal operational environment."
— Julie Goff, Australia
2. MBA is More Widely Recognized
"Experience and accomplishments count more than a degree in Project Management. So I would recommend that you complete your MBA first. If Project Management is a module that's good, but for a major, choose something like Finance, Marketing, Supply chain Management, or IT Management."
— Satnam Bansal, Business Manager, USA
"I found that project management courses in universities are normally aimed at the construction industry. So all the work examples were for building something. An MBA is more widely recognised than a PM masters and assures the business people you can understand where they are coming from."
— Julie Goff, Australia (again)
3. More Important is a Positive, Strong Character
"Allow me to add another attribute which, I believe, is more important than experience and certification. The job of a project manager is very dynamic and will require him to handle all sorts of situations; in other words, a project manager is a problem solver by nature. Due to this, a project manager needs to have a positive and strong character to carry the pressure in his job."
— Wai Mun Koo, PMO Director, Singapore
Other Factors to Consider When Selecting a Program
If you went through a long, strenuous, detailed process when applying for your bachelor's program, consider this: graduate school is typically even more competitive.
Before you decide which program to select, you need to figure out the potential ROI for completing your Master's degree. Do some long-term planning and roadmap the next five to 10 years of your career. Will a Master's degree help you reach the end of your 10-year plan? What do you hope to gain from the degree? Would you be better off with an MBA or PMP certificate to accomplish your 10-year plan?
After collecting advice from forums and articles, here are a few factors you should consider when applying for programs:
MPM vs. MBA vs. PMP
While we were surfing through the discussion forums based around whether or not to get a Master's in Project Management, we saw a lot of strong business leaders calling for people to get their MBA or PMP certificate instead. Consider all your options; in fact, most people recommended a combination of two or all three.
MPM vs. MBA — Both degrees have long-lasting value and show dedication to your craft. MPM is a great choice for people who want to dig into the details and nuances of being a project manager, while MBA is the path you should take if you want to go into higher levels of management that require a wider berth of business knowledge, big-picture mindsets, and the language that comes along with being an Executive.
MPM vs. PMP — Both are great for people who want to be better project managers. MPM is a great choice for people who want to stay in project management roles for the next decade. If you don't plan to stay in project management forever, or you want to put off getting a full-blown degree, perhaps PMP certification is enough to give you the knowledge you need for the next 3-5 years of your career.
Online or Onsite
With the advent of the internet, more and more universities are offering programs online. If you want access to a specific university's resources without the hassle of moving across the country or across the world, consider an online degree. Just remember that you'll lose the great libraries, convenient walk-in access to office hours, and so-bad-it's-good campus food.
General or Specialized
Some Master's programs give you a general knowledge of project management and all that it entails. Other programs are industry-specific: construction, IT, etc. If you know what field you'll be working in, and you plan to stay in that field long-term, a specialized Master's program might be a better fit. Another tip: some programs offer general MPM programs, but many of their class offerings are industry-focused. Research the course offerings before committing to a program.
Theory or Hands-on
With the wide assortment of MPM offerings, some universities are theory-based (e.g. write an essay, a term-paper, a detailed thesis), and some are hands-on learning (e.g. create project plans, develop project schedules, learn to track budgets). Don't settle on the first program you find — or the first program that accepts you — make sure they're offering the type of education that suits your goals.
Is Higher Education right for you?
A Master's in Project Management can be a great asset, or a great waste of time and money. Do your research, read program reviews, and get feedback from your peers before committing to a new degree. At the end of the day, the decision is in your hands, but you don't have to make the decision alone.
What made you finally decide to go for your MPM degree or vote against it? Give us your feedback and help out other project managers with your personal recommendations.