Earning an Online Doctorate in Project Management

Across the country, the demand for project management professionals continues to increase at a much higher rate than that of qualified management professionals available to fill the positions. The Project Management Institute (PMI) projects that employers will fill 2.2 million project-management related roles each year from 2017 to 2027. For students entering this field, this gap represents a significant opportunity.

Doctoral students possess the advanced skills and training required by many management positions, and these positions represent the highest median annual wages of all the major occupational groups. The following information covers a doctorate in project management online in more detail, highlighting what the degree entails and how students can fund their education, along with career salary and growth potential they might find after graduating.

Why Get a Doctorate in Project Management?

Pursuing Specialization

A doctorate in project management online helps set graduates apart from their competitors, and students may specialize further to create a niche or obtain additional qualifications in a certain area. For example, they may wish to concentrate in risk management, specializing in analyzing risk and opportunity potential for businesses in areas like finance and marketing. Furthermore, project management students can apply their skills to a variety of industries, like healthcare, creating even more career options and potential to explore.

Career Advancement Opportunities

Project management professionals occupy upper-level positions. Their advanced training and skill sets equip them to oversee organization developments. This means great responsibility, and it leads to financial rewards. According to PMI research, these professionals enjoy a wage premium of 82% over non-project management wages. At the core of their training, project management professionals acquire leadership skills that help them get the most out of teams and departments. They learn to evaluate employee performance, motivate and encourage growth, and implement new and improved systems.

Online Learning Technology

The ability to earn a degree online provides educational access to a group of people who might not otherwise pursue a degree. Working professionals, for example, can now seek professional and educational development while maintaining employment. In a doctorate in project management online, students gain experience using the latest communication technology, which comes in handy as more organizations offer more remote opportunities. Furthermore, many organizations host global projects which require management to utilize remote technology to oversee development virtually.

What's the Difference Between a Ph.D. and a DBA in Project Management?

The differences between a Ph.D. in project management and a DBA in the same field vary by school, but some differences remain consistent. The degrees tend to feature different curricula, attract different students, and lead to different careers.

A Ph.D., for example, often focuses more on research and the theoretical components of project management. In this degree, research-driven students usually complete a dissertation and pursue a career in academia afterwards, like teaching or scholarly research. The DBA, conversely, focuses more on experiential learning. Many programs even replace the dissertation requirement with one or more research projects. Ideal candidates often possess practical experience or plan to enter the project management profession after graduation.

Students should consider what they want from their degrees and careers, and find the program that best suits those aspirations.

Prerequisites for Online Doctorate in Project Management Programs

Admission requirements vary between schools and programs, but students can expect at least some of the following when applying to a doctorate in project management online. The list below identifies the most common expectations and application elements requested of doctoral candidates.

  • Work Experience: Some programs require work experience to ensure all candidates possess the practical experience necessary to thrive in their studies. Many programs, however, allow applicants to enter without any relevant experience. Graduate programs often include internships or practical learning opportunities for students to gain some exposure and training. Experience, either gained prior to the program or within it, provides scenarios, settings, and contexts in which students can apply their training.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Not all programs request applicants to submit standardized graduate exams, but many use them to evaluate and compare candidates. The GRE and GMAT represent the most common tests required of doctoral students, and score expectations vary between programs. According to the U.S. News & World Report, scores between 310 and 315 on the GRE or 650 and 690 on the GMAT constitute good performance Test scores remain valid for up to five years.
  • Coursework: Depending on the program, some admission requirements may include course prerequisites or grade requirements. Some programs require undergraduate training in mathematics or business foundations prior to admission. Others allow students to earn training before starting a doctoral course. Many doctoral programs require students to possess a cumulative 3.0 GPA. This helps validate their past educational success and indicate future performance potential.
  • Recommendations: One of the more common elements of an application, letters of recommendation give room for a student to highlight their potential in the desired field. Many programs require these letters from applicants' current or former employers and professors. These letters identify why and how students might succeed in a doctoral program and the industry in question.
  • Essays: Applications often include personal essays, question-driven essays, or essays addressing potential research as part of the admission requirements. Personal essays allow students to write about themselves and why they chose to pursue a doctorate. Question-driven essays require students to write on a given topic, demonstrating their skills while providing insight into their interests in the field. Some essays simply outline applicants' potential research areas and what they hope to cover in the program.
  • Interviews: Though not as common as some other admission requirements, some programs may require candidates to undergo interviews. These allow program advisors to meet with potential students and question them about their interests and research goals. Interviews give applicants better insight into their prospective program, and permit faculty to determine whether they would suit the program.
  • International Students: In their applications, international students often need to submit additional materials to address potential language barriers and differences in education. For example, they may need to submit results from an English proficiency exam, like the TOEFL or the IELTS. Some students may need to obtain and submit a credit or transcript evaluation, as well.

How Much Can I Make With a Doctorate in Project Management?

The earning potential for project management professionals presents a large range. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, management occupations in the 10th percentile earn $49,300 annually, or $208,000 annually in the 90th percentile. Many management positions require experience, but doctoral students' specialized skills and training give them access to the most desirable and highest-paying positions available. For additional opportunities, graduates can explore nontraditional industries and careers.

Traditional Careers for Project Management

Careers Stats Description

Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Manager

Median Pay: $132,620

Job Growth: 10%

Advertising and marketing managers plan and implement programs to promote products and create interest for organizations. They coordinate operations for a variety of departments to ensure all campaign elements progress smoothly. Candidates require marketing savvy, along with leadership and communication skills.

Compensation and Benefits Manager

Median Pay: $121,010

Job Growth: 5%

Compensation managers take charge of employee wages and benefits, ensuring they fit within state and federal guidelines and internal budgets. These managers implement programs that evaluate employee efficiency and salary implications. Ideal candidates possess finance and human resources training, plus analytical skills.

Financial Manager

Median Pay: $127,990

Job Growth: 19%

Financial managers oversee an organization's financial health, running investment programs, implementing long-term action plans, and identifying financial risks and opportunities. These professionals understand financial laws, restrictions, and regulations. Candidates should possess finance training, plus analytical and math skills.

Human Resources Manager

Median Pay: $113,300

Job Growth: 9%

These in-demand professionals use their considerable research skills to analyze an organization’s operations and make recommendations for changes. They use statistical analysis and predictive modeling to show clients how their businesses can grow when they implement recommended changes. Candidates for these positions must have strong mathematical skills.

Sales Manager

Median Pay: $124,220

Job Growth: 7%

Sales managers lead sales teams and initiatives, ensuring their organization meets its targets. These managers assess sales performances, identify opportunities, and implement new sales and training programs. Successful candidates possess business and leadership training, along with communication and analytical skills.

Source: PayScale/BLS

Nontraditional Careers

The broad and applicable skills gained while earning an online Ph.D. in project management allow graduates to explore several careers outside of the traditional business environment. The following list highlights potential options available to graduates in other industries. Some of these positions may require additional training or experience.

Careers Stats Description

Architectural and Engineering Manager

Median Pay: $140,760

Job Growth: 6%

Skills Overlapped: Project management, analytical, communication, and organizational skills

Architectural and engineering managers plan and manage an organization's projects and activities. They ensure each project receives proper resources, materials, staffing, and allowances. Professionals must understand and adhere to laws and policies when planning.

Medical and Health Services Manager

Median Pay: $99,730

Job Growth: 20%

Skills Overlapped: Leadership, analytical, and communication skills

Medical services managers oversee health-related departments, offices, and clinics. They help optimize the efficiency and accuracy of healthcare delivery systems, keeping things organized and properly planned.

Computer and Information Systems Manager

Median Pay: $142,530

Job Growth: 12%

Skills Overlapped: Project management, analytical, and problem-solving skills

Information systems managers take charge of an organization's technology and computer needs. They assess areas in which technology could improve effectiveness and efficiency and develop the plans for implementation. Managers take on specific technology-related projects, like overseeing the security enhancement for an organization.

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Median Pay: $94,340

Job Growth: 10%

Skills Overlapped: Organizational, interpersonal, and problem-solving skills

Postsecondary education administrators manage various educational services, like admissions and student affairs. Some administrators progress into upper-level positions like deans and provosts. Depending on the position, these professionals can manage projects like improving nonacademic programs and on-campus housing issues.

Source: PayScale/BLS

Paying for a Doctorate in Project Management Online

Paying for a degree can be challenging, but online programs offer some changes to the traditional study outline, which may result in savings. Many schools charge out-of-state tuition rates, for example, while some online programs feature standard online tuition rates. Online programs also reduce travel and residency requirements and study timelines, all of which can reduce costs. In terms of financial support, online project management students gain access to the same subject-specific aid and scholarship opportunities as their on-campus counterparts.

Scholarships for Online Project Management Students

Project management doctoral students benefit from a variety of scholarships. In addition to the entrance and performance scholarships from schools and programs, students gain access to scholarships provided by independent organizations. In an effort to encourage more students to pursue doctoral degrees in the field, many organizations offer funding for students in business-related pursuits.

What to Expect from an Online Project Management Program

Every doctorate in project management online features unique elements and requirements, but understanding some common features can help students know what to expect. The typical project management doctorate takes three to five years to complete. Programs may require students to complete a dissertation or research projects, along with an internship or teaching assignments. Online programs allow students to complete most courses online, but doctoral students should expect some on-campus requirements, such as classes or seminars.

Major Milestones

  1. Dissertation Defense

    The dissertation defense requires doctoral students to discuss how their research and work fits in with other related studies and scholarship in the field. This process often represents the final stage of a doctorate.

  2. Research Projects

    While research projects can take place during any point in a program, they typically come during the latter half, allowing students to incorporate more of their training and skills. These projects often take the place of a dissertation.

  3. Teaching Assignments

    Teaching assignments may come at any point, but most programs require doctoral students to teach in the later stages of their program. This allows learners to integrate their training, build leadership skills, or prepare for careers in academia.

  4. Residencies

    Depending on the program, students may need to attend residencies at any time. These on-campus requirements serve a variety of purposes, allowing students to meet their peers and instructors, complete courses, and foster a scholarly environment.

  5. Certifications

    Industry certifications and licensure can provide project management graduates with a competitive advantage. Though optional, these additional qualifications may signal to an employer that the candidate possesses specialized learning that meets industry standards. For the most part, students can earn these certifications at any point.

  6. Intent to Graduate

    Shortly before graduation, doctoral students must indicate their intentions to the school. This gives the school time to validate that each student has met all requirements, and to process the necessary graduation materials.


Every program features a unique curriculum, but the following list comprises some of the most common courses in project management doctoral programs.

Management Theory

This course delves into theories and principles of management, teaching students to motivate, train, and evaluate employees. It also offers training in decision-making and effective leadership.

Organizational Leadership

In this course, students learn to lead at the organizational level. This training includes topics in redirecting organizational culture, training programs, managing diversity, and strategizing.

Consulting and Intervention

Students in this course learn how management can evaluate and assess performance and identify potential areas of improvement. The class also provides training in planning and implementation, plus communication and operations training.

Risk and Quality Management

This course provides training in risk evaluation, including the tools and techniques that allow managers to assess, quantify, and visualize performance and effectiveness. Some courses offer specialized training options, like finance or human resources.

Financial Management

Financial management courses offer training related to organizational financial decisions, including budgeting, investments, and compensation. Students learn to implement various applications and techniques used in the field and to run fiscally responsible businesses.

Degree Timelines

Online programs provide students with a variety of study options to choose from. The following list outlines the most common options available and what each one offers students.

Enrollment Status Time to Complete Description


6+ years

Part-time studies accommodate busy students and working professionals, allowing them to take courses at a slower pace than the traditional program. Part-time students typically take at least one course per semester, completing their degree in six or more years.


3-5 years

Full-time enrollment is the most common study option. Students typically take more than one course per semester and finish the degree in three to five years. Some schools and financial aid options require students to study full-time minimum for admission or award eligibility.


2-3 years

Accelerated studies vary by program, but typically allow students to complete their degrees more quickly than full-time students. Some accelerated study options allow students to take more courses per semester than full-time students, whereas others allow students to complete individual courses more quickly. In general, students can complete accelerated degrees in two to three years.

Licenses and Certifications

For doctoral students in project management, licensure and certification represent optional qualifications that can improve an application. Many of these certifications validate that an applicants training and skills meet industry standards. In some cases, certification can supplement a doctoral degree by highlighting specialized training, like an individual vendor or technology certification. The following list represents some of the best and most accessible certifications available to doctoral graduates.

  • Project Management Professional: Offered through PMI, this certification validates that the holder's experience and knowledge in the field meets industry standards. To earn PMP certification, candidates must pass a 200-question exam, possess sufficient experience, and earn the proper number of continuing education credits every three years. The exam costs between $405 and $555.
  • Program Management Professional: Earned through PMI, this certification tells employers that the holder can manage programs and teams in support of organizational needs. The certification requires significant experience, plus the completion of professional development units and a 170-question exam, which costs $800 to $1000.
  • Professional Certified Marketer in Sales Management: Offered by the American Marketing Association, this certification requires holders to possess seven years of experience, complete a 100-question exam, and maintain qualification through continued study. The exam costs between $249 and $349.
  • Certified Project Manager: Earned through the American Academy of Project Management, this certification validates the holder's knowledge and skills in the field. Certification requires three years of experience, plus an examination and continuing education credits. It typically costs between $150 and $300.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Professional organizations provide students and recent graduates with continued professional support. While earning an online Ph.D. in project management, members of professional organizations can access industry resources, scholarship opportunities, and licenses and certifications. After graduation, members may benefit from industry event access, career services assistance, and professional networks. The following list comprises some of the best professional organizations available to project managers.

  • Project Management Institute PMI connects project management professionals and supports the industry by establishing industry standards and offering benefits and resources. Members gain access to networking events, certifications, and educational opportunities.
  • American Marketing Association The AMA strives to act as the voice of professional marketers and help marketers develop their careers. Members benefit from local and national network access, plus industry publications and a variety of certifications.
  • American Academy of Project Management The AAPM unites project management professionals in a large network, offering support and professional development opportunities. Members gain access to industry publications, certifications, and networking events.
  • Global Association for Quality Management The GAQM seeks to improve the management profession and support professionals through industry certifications and training opportunities. Through these programs, the association boosts industry standards and professionalism.
  • American Management Association The AMA helps develop the management profession through certification opportunities and training programs and by establishing a set of industry standards and best practices. Members also gain access to a resource library and networking events.
  • American Production and Inventory Control Society APICS helps develop the supply chain management profession by supporting the professionals who fill its ranks. Members gain access to industry publications, educational opportunities, and career support.
  • American Association of Healthcare Administrative Management AAHAM strives to represent the industry through advocacy and professional support. Members benefit from access to resources, certifications, educational opportunities, and professional events.
  • The Professional Association of Health Care Office Management PAHCOM supports the medical office management profession by hosting a large network and career development opportunities. Members can earn certifications and access industry information and training programs.
  • The Society for Human Resource Management SHRM continues developing the human resources profession through advocacy and the promotion of industry standards. Members access resources and professional tools, along with certifications, educational programs, and industry events.
  • The Association of Business Process Management Professionals Dedicated to advancing the business process management profession, the ABPMP offers members access to certifications, networking opportunities, training programs, and career support.