Master’s in Project Management vs MBA

Project manager with his team in the background

Project management is a skill that is in high demand. In fact, the Project Management Institute (PMI)® expects project management positions to grow by 33 percent through 2027.1 This represents an additional 22 million jobs added to the field.2 If you want to become a qualified project manager, going back to school is the next step.

However, it can be difficult to choose the right degree program that aligns with your career goals. Use this guide to help you choose between a Master of Business Administration (MBA) program and a Master of Science in Project Management.

Examining the MBA Degree Program

One way to understand the differences between an MBA and a master’s program is to consider their areas of focus. An MBA program is typically quite broad in scope, with a curriculum that covers wide-ranging areas in leadership and marketing, to more quantitative areas such as operations management, finance and accounting. Some universities also include project management topics in their MBA programs. However, the focus is on equipping graduates with a broad business-related skill set that will enable them to be successful in virtually any industry.

A typical MBA degree takes about two years to complete, although some students take a little longer than this, depending on their desired course load. In addition, MBA students are usually expected to have several years of work experience, before entry into the program. It is not customary to go straight into an MBA program after graduating with a bachelor’s degree, although some students choose this approach.

Evaluating the Master’s in Project Management Program

In contrast to an MBA degree, a Master of Science in Project Management program has a more narrow focus intended to give students advanced skills and knowledge in this specific topic area. If you choose this degree, you can expect to study key topics such as agile principles and best practices in project management along with foundation topics in traditional project management. It is an ideal degree for students who are eager to pursue a project management career characterized by hands-on work within a collaborative environment.

Whereas an MBA student will explore how a company works and makes operational decisions, a master’s degree student in project management will study how to effectively plan and execute projects. Another way to compare the two degrees is, as an example, that an MBA program explores how to best develop organizational strategies and a Master of Science in Project Management program dives into the details about how best to implement those organizational strategies within a project context.

Another difference between these two degree programs is the time it takes to complete them. Whereas an MBA program typically takes at least two years, it is often possible to complete a Master of Science degree in one year. Of course, it may take a given student longer, depending on their course load. In addition, while MBA students typically have several years of work experience before applying to a business school, a master’s degree student may choose to enter graduate school immediately after graduating with a bachelor’s degree.

Choosing an Alternative Option

If you are still having trouble choosing between the master’s degree and the MBA degree, you should know there may be a third option available to you. Some business schools offer MBA programs with focus areas or, i.e., specializations. For instance, you can look for a university that offers an MBA with an Emphasis in Project Management or a Graduate Certificate in Project Management.

This type of program would give you the broad knowledge and hands-on leadership skills needed to succeed in high-level positions within organizations. However, you would also learn about core areas of project management. This can help you refine your career focus and pursue the job of your dreams. Graduates of these programs are prepared to pursue positions ranging from a project analyst to a project manager to a program manager.

Considering the Benefits of a Project Management Certification

Regardless of whether you enroll in an MBA program or a Master of Science degree, it is important to choose your school wisely. You should look for a school that offers degree programs that feature a curriculum aligned with the standards of PMI®’s A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

Curriculum aligned with the PMBOK® can help prepare you to pursue PMI® certifications, which are widely considered to be the gold standard in the industry. Individuals typically pursue these certifications after graduating from an MS or MBA program. Some of the PMI® certification options available include the following:

  • Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM)®
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)®
  • Agile Certified Practitioner (ACP)®

When you’re ready to pursue your dream career, Grand Canyon University is here to help you turn your dreams into reality. GCU offers Master of Business Administration with an Emphasis in Project Management degree program and a Graduate Certificate in Project Management. Enroll now and emerge prepared to begin pursuing a PMI® certification and rewarding career as a project manager. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to explore our comprehensive degree programs.

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1 This was study on 11 countries and for project management-oriented labor force in seven project-oriented sectors.


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.