Best Online Project Management Certificate Programs

May 27, 2021

What is an Online Project Management Certificate Program?

Companies hire project managers to manage the scope, time, and budget of big and small projects including overseeing tasks, progress, and quality assurance to ensure that projects meet the strategic goals of the company and clientele.

Online certificate programs for project management vary; some programs consist of just one course while others may have four or five (we will discuss online certificate project management program lengths in greater detail in a later section). Students may also enroll in self-paced online project management certificate programs.

Although credentialing is voluntary, project management professionals may wish to broaden their career expertise and validate their experience with a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification through the Project Management Institute (PMI). Many colleges and universities offer online project management certificate programs that aim to satisfy the necessary continuing education component required for students to sit for the PMP certification exam.

To qualify for the PMP exam, project managers must meet the academic and professional criteria set by PMI. For example, individuals with a bachelor's degree must be able to demonstrate three years of project management work and at least 35 hours of project management education and training. The education component may be fulfilled with an online project management certificate or if the PMP candidate holds a Certified Associate Project Management (CAPM) credential.

What is the Difference Between an Online Certificate and an Online Degree in Project Management?

While both online certificate and online degree programs for project management usually require at least a high school diploma, there are several differences between the two programs (primarily regarding the time and cost of completion). Students in online certificate programs for project management can typically expect to finish their coursework within a couple of weeks to a year. Online degrees, however, may take anywhere from two years to four years, depending on the degree level of study.

Additionally, online certificate curriculums for project management typically consist of fewer project management courses than a comprehensive degree program. While it ultimately depends on the type of online certificate program a student enrolls in, some curriculums offer a series of five or six classes that cover a variety of project management topics while providing practical skills and training related to the field. Of course, a full degree program usually covers a greater depth of project management instruction.

Accreditation for Online Project Management Certificate Programs

The Global Accreditation Center for Project Management Education Programs (GAC) is an independent accrediting organization established by PMI that recognizes project management programs at higher education institutions. PMI accreditation is granted to colleges and universities when the project management curriculum and instruction meet the standards of academic excellence designated by the accrediting agency. Though this organization doesn't accredit certificate programs specifically, choosing a school with degree programs accredited by the GAC can help increase the chances that the curriculum is high quality.

Additionally, schools and project management programs that have received professional accreditation through PMI are typically permitted to issue Professional Development Units (PDUs) for individuals seeking to maintain their PMP certification, as well. This means that PMI-accredited online certificate curriculums for project management certification have integrated the essential project management topics and concepts defined by PMI.

Should I Get an Online Certificate in Project Management?

Students who are working in project management roles and seeking an online certificate in project management may want to pursue their education in preparation for taking the PMP exam. Others may be interested in an online program to more effectively plan, manage, budget, and carry out their company's projects. Either way, online certificate programs provide greater flexibility and scheduling for full-time professionals to gain the skills and expertise necessary to work in the field.

Project management certificates and certifications certainly add value to an individual's professional background and expertise. Aside from being a flexible learning option, online certificate programs for project management are often more affordable and time-saving in comparison to a degree program, particularly for those who have already obtained a degree in an unrelated discipline and do not want to take on an additional degree curriculum.

Furthermore, by completing an online certificate program for project management and/or obtaining a PMP credential, professionals may open themselves up for career advancement or other opportunities in project management roles.

Career Options After Completing an Online Project Management Certificate Program

Depending on the type of industry and position, an online certificate in project management, as well as a PMP credential, may be used to enhance a working professional's career in congruence with a higher degree. For example, an engineering major with at least a bachelor's degree and experience in the field may choose to enroll in an online project management certificate program to learn how to manage engineering projects, developments, and teams.

By completing an online project management certificate program, individuals are likely to have gained key leadership, organization, and communication skills that will allow them to successfully steer big and small projects for companies.

According to 2020 numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the following related project management careers had a median salary of:

  • Construction Managers: $97,180
  • Natural Sciences Managers: $137,940
  • Architectural and Engineering Managers: $149,530

Construction Project Managers

Construction project managers are responsible for scoping, budgeting, and overseeing construction projects (sometimes more than one at a time) so that design and building specifications are met by set deadlines. Utilizing communication and interpersonal skills, these types of project managers may collaborate with subcontractors throughout various project tasks, monitor progress, mitigate project risks, and implement safety measures for each phase of construction.

Construction managers usually have at least a bachelor's degree in construction science or a related field, as well as extensive practical training. Individuals who have only obtained a high school diploma may find work with firms or be self-employed. An online certificate in project management and/or PMP could greatly benefit management professionals in the construction industry.

Generally, construction project managers split their time working at a main office and onsite where a project is underway. Project managers in construction who oversee multiple worksites typically travel from project to project to manage activities. Projects may include public, commercial space, residential, and structural construction.

Natural Sciences Managers

Natural sciences managers may pursue an online project management certificate program to most effectively supervise teams of scientists throughout research-related activities. Typically, natural sciences project managers, apply project management methodologies for goal setting and strategic planning, outline budgeting and staffing initiatives for scientific research, source laboratory equipment and supplies, provide technical assistance, develop policies and standards, and communicate project reports and findings.

Most natural sciences managers hold at least an undergraduate degree and work in the sciences for several years before taking on managerial responsibilities. The types of projects that natural sciences managers may oversee could be related to product development, advancing scientific studies, or manufacturing.

Although earning a PMP certification is voluntary, natural sciences managers may decide to obtain one after earning an online project management certificate to validate their communication, critical thinking, interpersonal, leadership, problem-solving, and time-management skills.

Architectural and Engineering Managers

Similar to other types of industry managers, architectural and engineering project managers organize and supervise jobs related to emerging products and designs. As project managers in the architectural and engineering sectors, responsibilities may include staffing, resourcing, making financial provisions, and scheduling work with teams. Additional duties could also consist of leading research, setting project standards and procedures, and monitoring the technical accuracy of the work being completed.

Usually, architectural and engineering project managers leverage their architectural and engineering expertise in relation to operational processes, quality control, risk assessment, and safeguarding worksites. Typically, these types of managers must have at least a bachelor's degree, while many other professionals, particularly in the architectural field, obtain a graduate degree for project management roles.

In addition to needing several years of experience working in the field, architectural and engineering project managers may wish to pursue an online project management certificate and subsequent PMP certification to further develop their leadership, problem-solving, and risk management skills.

Continued Education after an Online Certificate Program in Project Management

Professionals who have obtained their online certificate in project management, as well as their PMP certification, must renew their credentials every three years. To do this, PMP holders must fulfill a certain number of PDUs (anywhere between 30-60 hours depending on the type of PMP certification they have) by taking PMI-accredited courses or partaking in teaching and volunteering opportunities.

Project managers without a college education may also choose to continue schooling after receiving an online certificate in project management by enrolling in a comprehensive project management degree program. Although online associate degrees in project management are difficult to come by, students may find distance learning courses in project management at the bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree levels.

By continuing their education and maintaining their PMP certification, students can stay abreast of the most current skills and industry standards to propel their careers in project management.

Courses for an Online Project Management Certificate Program

Typically, online certificate programs in project management offer courses that are designed to prepare project management professionals to pursue their PMP certification. The number of courses students are required to take varies by school. However, most online certificate programs consist of about five or six courses that outline the PMI methodologies found in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) Guide.

These online certified project management courses cover a wide range of project management topics, such as scope, budget, risk management, leadership, scheduling, communication, and agile project management.

Professionals who hold a PMP may also take these courses to earn PDUs towards recertification.

Project Management Integration, Scope, and Activity Sequence

This course is often offered as an introduction to the project management triangle (scope, cost, time) while providing insight into the necessary skills and practical approaches to be an effective project manager. Students are likely to learn about project integration and life cycles, as well as gain an overview of risks, contract types, and best practices.

Managing Risks

Using real-world scenarios for students to apply their learning, this course is designed to teach students about project risk management, including the different approaches taken to assess, manage, and mitigate potential setbacks to project success. Other essential components of the course cover monitoring strategies and how to design probability and impact matrices to ensure projects stay on schedule.

How Long Does an Online Project Management Certificate Program Take to Complete?

The lengths of certificate programs in project management certification tend to vary by school. Students may enroll in programs that are deliverable in a week, two weeks, 8-12 weeks, six months, or even 1-2 years. Some programs consist of one or two courses, while many other PMI-accredited online certificate programs may require that students take about five or six courses. Students may be inclined to enroll in longer certificate programs with the option to take project management electives to fulfill the necessary credit hours to take the PMP multiple-choice exam.

Although online certificate programs for project management are designed to prepare students to take their certification exams, individuals must apply to take the exam with PMI separately, as well as undergo an audit to determine if they've met all eligibility criteria. Students have one year and three attempts to take their PMP certification exam from the date their application is approved.

How to Choose an Online Project Management Certificate Program

Distance learning allows students to choose an online certificate program in project management outside of their residential geographical location. This typically provides students with more options to decide on a program that best meets their academic and professional needs.

A few factors students should consider when choosing an online project management certificate program are:

  • How quickly they need to obtain their PMP credential, in which case students may want to look for a shorter program
  • How much time they are willing or able to devote to their online curriculum, particularly if they work full-time in the field
  • The number of credit hours they need to fulfill the education requirements for the PMP certification, and whether or not the online certificate program satisfies that criteria
  • If the courses taught in a particular online certificate program for project management certification covers the essential topics in the PMP exam
  • Whether an online program is fully remote or offered in a hybrid learning environment of both online and in-person coursework

Students may have diverse educational needs when it comes to choosing an online project management certificate program. It is best to weigh the pros and cons of each prospective curriculum to ensure programs meet individual circumstances and necessities.

How to Get Into an Online Project Management Certificate Program

As previously mentioned, whether you're seeking an online certificate or degree program in project management, applicants must have at least a high school diploma. Graduate certificates typically require a bachelor's degree, as well. Once a prospective student has chosen an online project management certificate program to enroll in, they may do so by filling out the digital application found on their college or university's website. Depending on the school, students may need to pay a nominal application fee.

Individuals applying to an online certificate program for project management should review the additional admissions requirements at their schools (e.g., transcripts, in-state residency forms, etc.). For some programs, students may need to fully pay for courses and technology fees upfront, as opposed to course-by-course.

Online project management certificate curriculums may also have specific start and end dates. To stay up-to-date on upcoming courses and registration, students can usually sign up for emails and additional resources on the program's website.

Cost of an Online Project Management Certificate Program

The cost to enroll in an online project management certificate program is different from school to school. In many colleges, students can expect to pay anywhere from $3,000 to $4,000, although some programs may cost up to about $10,000 or more. While programs may be deliverable remotely or in a hybrid setting, students may be responsible for other fees (technology, books, and materials), as well.

Upon completion of their online certificate program for project management, students seeking to obtain their PMP certification will need to pay between $400 and $600 to take their exam, depending on if they're a member or non-member with PMI.

Financial Aid & Scholarship Resources for Online Project Management Certificate Program

Individuals who need assistance paying for their online project management certificate program may apply for federal financial aid, grants, and scholarships. To determine how much federal assistance a student qualifies for, individuals should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Applicants should be able to demonstrate proof of citizenship and financial need, be currently enrolled in an accredited institution, have at least a high school diploma or General Education Development (GED) certificate, and uphold satisfactory academic progress.

Scholarships may also be available online or through a student's college or university. Some colleges offer scholarships to students enrolled in a certificate program for professional development. Additional financial aid may be available through employer tuition reimbursement programs or military/veteran benefits.

Students may contact their college's financial aid office to speak with a representative regarding their options to pay for an online project management certificate program.

UW Certificate Scholarship

The UW Certificate Scholarship is offered through the University of Washington to students pursuing any certificate program. To be eligible, applicants must be accepted into their chosen certificate program, be a permanent resident of Washington state, be ineligible for an employer tuition reimbursement program, and must not exceed UW's household income limits. Depending on the cost of the certificate program, students may receive a scholarship award of $2,500 to $5,000.

AfterCollege Associate's Degree & Certificate Scholarship

The AfterCollege Associate's Degree & Certificate Scholarship is offered to students pursuing an associate degree or certificate program at an accredited college or university. To apply, students must fill out an AfterCollege profile that includes their personal information, education, professional experience, honors and awards, and key skills. One winner will be selected to win a $500 award.

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