Should I Get a Master’s in Project Management, MBA, or PMP Certification?

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Master's of Project Management or PMO

Worried about the job market? Well, if you’re a project manager, you might not have to be.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that management occupations are going to grow by about 7% in the next 8 years, which means 706,900 new jobs! 

So what does that mean for you?

It means that now is the perfect time to get a certification or degree under your belt so you’re perfectly positioned to meet growing job demand. If you’re smart, you’ll work on new skills to add to your resume along with valuable work experience.

For a Project Manager, there isn’t one set path you should follow to take your skills to the next level. Most people have to decide between three main paths:

  • A Masters in Project Management (MPM)
  • A Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • A Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI)

But which one is right for you?

Should You Get a Masters in Project Management?

What is a Master’s in Project Management?

A Master’s degree in project management (also known as an MPM) is a graduate professional degree. To enter an MPM program, you will probably need a Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university in Business Administration or something similar.

The goal of an MPM is to learn how to think critically and implement leadership theories and methodologies in real life situations.

Why do a Masters in Project Management (MPM)?

Long-term Career Advancement

For those thinking about their job development in the long-term, a Master’s program could be ideal.

While obtaining your degree, you will learn a wide range of technical, business and leadership skills that will serve you well throughout your entire career.  A Master’s program will teach you strategic thinking skills that you can then apply to a wide range of businesses and management needs, including Human Resources, risk management, and research. These are the skills you’ll need if you want to advance up the corporate ladder.

If you have an MPM degree, you may be more likely to become a senior project manager, be in charge of a larger team, or manage a bigger project. More knowledge translates to more responsibility at work—which, in most cases, means a salary bump.

Peer-to-Peer Learning

What kind of learner are you? If you prefer studying online materials alone, the PMP certification will be well-suited for you. But if you prefer hands-on learning and working with peers, an MPM  or MBA is the better option.

A Master’s program offers a traditional learning environment. You will absorb information from books or online content as well as your professor. Then, you will have the opportunity to work and engage with your classmates, who come with their own project management and business experience. If you take advantage of it, this is a priceless opportunity to learn from others in your field.

Real-Life Experience

More and more project management programs are offering their students the chance to access unique experiential learning opportunities like co-ops and internships. These allow you to apply the new skills and theories you’ve gained in the classroom to real life settings. You’ll gain countless skills, like how to navigate nuanced interpersonal communication.

Why a Masters in Project Management Might Not Be Right for You

You Need Real Life Experience First

Having an MPM isn’t the only think that will land you a job. To most companies that are hiring, the most attractive candidate will be one who has an advanced degree paired with substantial real-life experience working in the field.

It’s best to pursue your Master’s in Project Management after you have some work experience under your belt.

Should You Get a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA)?

What is an MBA?

Like an MPM, an MBA is a degree course. But where an MPM is specifically focused on project management, an MBA focuses on more general aspects of business. An MBA degree will generally cover:

  • Human Resources
  • Operational Management
  • Marketing
  • Accounting
  • Business administration
  • Business ethics
  • Business laws
  • Finance
  • And more!

Have a Focus Area

Because of an MBA’s generalized approach, you can curate an area of focus during your degree in your area of interest. Depending on your degree program, you can have a concentration in something like finance or online marketing. This will help you show off your specific skills to future employers.

To make the most of this, have a strategy for which classes you will take to make the most of your concentration.

Prestige

In some parts of the business world, prestige matters. If you’re in an industry that prizes such symbol of status, a Master’s in Business Administration from a reputable school can take you far.

When it comes to an MPM, PMI, or MBA, an MBA is the most well-recognized degree. Plus, if you get into a nationally-recognized program from a well-known school, your resume is going to shine.

Flexibility

Because an MBA programs are less specialized than MPMs, this degree offers you more flexibility in the job market. If you ever choose to switch tracks from project management, an MBA shows that you have knowledge and experience in all other aspects of business administration. This will help you move industries or positions, if you so choose.

Networking Opportunities

Like most major four-year schools, many MBA programs have significant alumni networks and resources for students to take advantage of. You may be able to partake in networking events through the school, or access internship opportunities that otherwise might not be available to you. Plus, a large alumni network can be absolutely invaluable to you the next time you’re on the job marketing.

Why an MBA Might Not Be Right for You

Cost

According to Investopedia, the average MBA costs $80,000 for tuition alone, plus an additional $60,000 for boarding, books, and related costs. That means over 2 years, you’ll spend roughly $140,000 for your MBA. And because many people don’t work during their degree, you won’t have any income to offset that.

Competitive Admission

Like we mentioned earlier, MBA degrees have a certain prestige that will help you on the job hunt and in the negotiating room. But this prestige is maintained by having selective admissions processes. That means you will have to submit your standardized test scores (like the GRE) and your undergraduate transcripts to even be considered for admission.

Some MBA programs even require you to have field experience or an undergrad degree in a business-related field.

Should You Get a Project Management Professional (PMP) Certification?

What is a PMP?

A Project Management Professional (PMP) certification is a designation offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI). To earn the designation, you have to pass a rigorous exam based on PMI’s Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK).

To qualify to take the exam, you must have:

  • A Bachelor’s degree
  • 4,500+ hours of project management experience
  • 35 hours of formal project management education

Why do the PMP?

Enhance On-the-job Experience

By studying the PMBOK, you’ll learn all of the best practices, tools, and theories for project management. These are meant to be immediately applicable to your on-the-job experience. In fact, they should be able to help you learn from your past and improve future strategies.

You Will Be a Specialist

PMP certifications are internationally recognized, so having one on your resume is sure to help you get job offers and raises. Peers, employers, and clients alike will recognize you as a specialist in project management. Whereas someone with an MBA will have a more generalized range of knowledge, you will possess a depth and specificity that is very attractive.

In fact, many companies these days are actively looking for managers with advanced technological experience. A PMP combines technical knowledge with managerial theory and skills, which will greatly increase your value in the modern job market.

Stand Out from the Pack

A few years ago, MBAs were rare and few schools offered the degree. But over time, demand for MBA programs grew, which led to more universities offering the degree. Some schools even created fast-track programs that were more convenient for working professionals.

That means that these days, most people who can afford to get an MBA will earn one. As you can probably imagine, that’s led to a bit of a glut in the job market. The industry no longer has room for all of these MBAs, so many people are finding out that earning the degree hasn’t led to the promised job advancement or salary boost.

In contract, a PMP is industry-specific. You’ll get training in your own vertical that will compliment your existing knowledge base. This hyper-specific track is perfect for those who want to set themselves apart from the pack.

Plus, the PMP certification is new enough that you will be one of the few to earn the certification—another way to differentiate yourself from the competition.

ROI

As a business-minded person, you’re probably always thinking about ROI. Well, let’s break down the numbers.

According to PMI’s annual salary survey for 2020, having a PMP will earn you an average of 22% more than a project manager who does not have a PMP. That averages out to an additional $20,000 a year!

But whereas an MBA may cost upwards of $100,000, you only need to spend about $2,000 on the application, books, and materials for a PMP certification. That means a one-time investment of $2,000 will result in a huge ROI over time in the form of a salary increase.

Why a PMP Might Not Be Right for You

Study in Isolation

If you’re the type of person who enjoys a classroom setting and working with peers, a PMP might not be the best option for you. When studying your for PMP test, all you will have is the study materials, your computer, and your thoughts. If you don’t think you can absorb information effectively in this way, you might want to consider an MBA or MPM.

Membership Costs

While a PMP is certainly much more affordable than an MBA or MPM, it is not a cheap certification.  To become a PMI member, you have to pay $129 to join, and $119 each year to renew. The test itself is also expensive—it costs $405 for PMI members and $555 for non-PMI members just to sit for the exam. If you do not pass the first time, you will have to pay the fee again. And finally, you have to pay $150 every 3 years to renew the certification.

Exam Conditions

If you’re not a good test taker and suffer from testing anxiety, the PMP certification may not be right for you. To earn your certification, you have to sit for a 4 hour exam in a testing location. If this sounds impossible or terrifyingly nerve-wracking, an PMP might not be a great idea.

What Should You Do?

With all this information, it’s time to make a decision. There are pros and cons to MBAs, PMPs, and MPMs, and there is no “right” answer. Depending on your lifestyle, job experience, and budget, each of these options could work for you.

Let’s sum it all up.

A PMP Certification Is Right for You if…

  • You want proof that you are a specialist in your field for short-term employment opportunities.
  • You want to achieve a qualification in less than one year.
  • You are capable of studying by yourself.
  • Your main focus is improving your knowledge and skills with project management tools, theories, and methods.

An MPM Is Right for You if…

  • You want to advance both your long-term and short-term career prospects.
  • You want to develop wider business skills beyond project management.
  • You can commit to 2 years of study.
  • You want to work with project managers and technical specialists from a wide range of industries.

An MBA Is Right for You if…

  • You are interested in the “big picture” of business administration and have interests in finance, accounting, marketing, and more.
  • You want the prestige of an MBA and can gain admission to a reputable school.
  • You want long-term career flexibility.

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