As Course Director for the Masters in Project and Programme Management at the University of Limerick, I receive several enquiries each week about the programme and there is one question that I see cropping up time and time again –

Should I do the PMP or a Masters in Project Management?

It is important to note that the PMP is only one such example of a professional qualification too. There are others from the PMI like CAPM and PGMP as well as certification programmes from training bodies and organisations such as PRINCE2.

To help you determine the right path for your ambitions, I’ve broken down the specific reasons why people choose to pursue a professional PMP certification versus why they choose to secure a Masters in Project and Programme Management.

masters in project management class

Why do the PMP?

Complement your practical experience

The PMP presents an opportunity to build knowledge of best-practice methodologies, tools, theories, and frameworks in project management, which when coupled with your on-the-job learning to date, helps you better, plan, structure, execute, control and close projects.

Recognition as a “specialist”

PMP certifications enables you to position yourself and be recognised by peers, employers and clients as being a “specialist” in the field. The PMP certification offers an immediate indicator that you are a highly knowledgeable specialist in the area and have proven experience in the management of projects.

Become a more attractive candidate for roles in some sectors

In a bid to attract the highest quality candidates, certain (not all) sectors and organisations will seek a level of experience and a bachelor’s degree coupled with PMP certification as the minimum requirement for many mid-senior level project management roles.

online project management masters student

Choosing a Project Management Masters

Before explaining the reasons why people choose to do a Masters in Project Management, it’s important to outline that there can be significant differences between the various project management masters programmes offered worldwide.

Some project management masters are geared towards fresh graduates with little experience, some are completely theory based, some are driven by self-study while others may not be internationally recognised.

If you want to find a high calibre project management masters degree that can truly accelerate your career prospects and position in the field of project and programme management, there are some key criteria that your chosen programme should offer:

  • Global industry accreditation

A master’s degree backed by a recognised industry body such as the PMI will always be highly favoured by potential employers. Programmes which are accredited by global industry bodies meet the highest training and learning standards in the field and are therefore sure to produce deeply knowledgeable graduates.

  • Practical learning model, not just textbook based

There is a lot to learn about PM outside of frameworks, theories and text books. Your masters must provide the opportunity to learn from your peers through group projects and to immediately apply and report learnings on-the-job. This practical approach uncovers the various nuances of project and programme management and truly strengthens your skills and knowledge.

  • Wider business and strategic skills, not unlike that of an MBA

A project management masters should aim to enhance your overall strategic thinking and develop business acumen and understanding of key business concepts, focusing on management of projects from wider perspectives, rather than solely through the lens of project management practices.

  • An experienced group of peers from diverse backgrounds

A masters degree should offer the opportunity to learn as much from your classmates as the course content itself. Choose a professional PM masters which engages a cohort of experienced project and programme professionals from multiple industries not just a masters course for fresh graduates.

  • PMP certification included

A high calibre project and programme management master’s programme should enable you to emerge with enough credits to immediately apply for PMP certification, alongside the masters qualification. You should not have to dedicate more time and effort to secure such accreditation.

project management masters programme - group work

Why do a Masters in Project and Programme Management?

Become an expert leader in the field

While the PMP qualification focuses on methodologies and tools, a PMI-GAC accredited masters qualification offers so much more, essentially pushing you to an “expert” level project and programme management professional. By providing you with an incredible depth and breadth of project knowledge and skills, a masters programme enables you to become a recognised leader in project and programme management.

Expand your long-term career opportunities

The PMP certificate can help to advance your career in the short term. However, a Masters in Project Management supports your long-term career progression goals, providing you with the complete scope of technical, business and leadership skills required to enjoy a continuous career progression path, for example, moving from Project Manager to Programme Manager to Head of PMO to CIO/Global Head of Projects.

Not too dissimilar from an MBA, a masters in PM develops your overall strategic thinking and introduces learners to a range of wider business knowledge areas including governance, H.R., risk management, commercial impact, research and more, which are critical to progressing to more senior and strategic roles in the long term.

Peer-to-peer learning

This can be a crucial differentiating factor. The PMP certificate is focused primarily on self-study of online materials, with the option to partake in classroom based prep courses here and there.

On a master’s programme, you learn from the content, your tutors AND your peers. Masters students avail of a unique opportunity to work with and learn from their classmates, who are each in project and programme management roles or from project driven functions across several different industries, backgrounds and company sizes and structures.

Complement a technical skillset

Today’s work environments are becoming increasingly project-based, driving the demand for project management capability across all sectors and roles. For those from a technical or scientific background, a Master’s in Project Management can provide the ideal complement to your specialist skillset, experience and education.

Prior undergraduate or postgraduate study and experience in the various fields of business, engineering, construction, science, technology or similar coupled with the broad and comprehensive business acumen, skillset and competencies offered by a PM Master’s will help you to truly excel in your function and deliver greater business outcomes.

Any individual with specialist technical expertise, business acumen and deep project management capabilities is a highly valuable employee, as well as a highly attractive prospect for potential employers.

I completed the PMP earlier in my career but needed a senior qualification to progress to a leadership role. The UL masters brought together all of my previous learnings and experience, excelling my expertise and giving me a high calibre qualification with credible accreditation.

Martina Corbett, Senior Project Manager, ON Semiconductor


Here’s what your decision effectively comes down to:

If you answered yes to the below, consider pursuing PMP certification.

  • Do you want a specialist certificate to enhance employment opportunities and achieve your career goals in the short term?
  • Do you want to pursue a qualification that you can achieve in less than 12 months through self-study?
  • Do you want to focus solely on getting to grips with project management tools, theories and methodology?


If you answer yes to the below, a Masters in Project Management could be the right path for you.

  • Do you want to develop wider business skills and acumen alongside deep project and programme management expertise?
  • Do you want a qualification that accelerates short and long-term career goals?
  • Are you willing to commit to part-time/full study for approximately 2 years?
  • Do you want the opportunity to work and learn from a community of technical specialists, project and programme professionals from multiple sectors?

If you’re still at a loss at to which qualification path is best suited to your needs, schedule and ambitions, please feel free to contact me directly to discuss. I can be reached to by e-mail at or by phone on +35361 234 656.


About the author:

Dr. John Lannon is Course Director of the Online Masters in Project and Programme Management and teaches subjects relating to Knowledge and Information Management on the programme.

John has taught at a number of universities in Europe, Africa and Asia before joining the Centre for Project Management at University of Limerick, as well as working for over 15 years in project management and systems development roles in the I.T. sector. He also has extensive experience of managing projects and programmes in the international development sector.

John is a recognised expert in the field of project management, with published articles in the International Journal of Project Management and contributions to various books, journals, reports and conference publications.

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