What Is a Construction Management Degree?

| Doug Wintemute

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Managing a construction project from start to finish requires leadership and analytical skills as well as honed business and decision-making acumen.

Construction managers oversee the various tasks and schedules that make up a construction project. This includes managing budgets, supply chains, and subcontractors, as well as understanding building codes.

Despite a COVID-19-driven downturn and changes to the way construction managers work on job sites, the career outlook is strong. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 8% job growth for construction managers between 2019 and 2029 — twice as fast as the average rate for all occupations.

Prospective construction managers need to choose the right program and degree for their professional goals. Continue reading for more information on construction management degrees and careers.

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What Kinds of Construction Management Degrees Are There?

Choosing the right construction management degree or credential requires students to think about their interests and career goals. Each program level and type offers a different scope and focus, and graduates have access to different career opportunities. With each subsequent level of training, construction managers acquire more specialized skills and can take on more responsibility.

In the following sections, we examine major credentials available to aspiring construction managers and where they might lead.

Certificate Program in Construction Management

A certificate program in construction management provides students with targeted and practical training in job-specific areas. These programs are available at the undergraduate and graduate level, and learners can usually complete them in less than one year. In some cases, the credits earned can be used as transfer credits for additional training.

While some employers may hire candidates with only a certificate, these programs work best in combination with professional experience. Among the many construction occupations, experienced certificate-holders can qualify for construction inspector and cost estimator positions.


Associate Degree in Construction Management

An associate degree in construction management provides learners with the foundational skills needed for a career in construction. The training introduces students to the responsibilities of building site managers, such as reading drawings, adhering to health and safety policies, and understanding materials and construction methods.

Graduates of these two-year programs can pursue entry-level careers in the industry, and with enough experience, they can even apply to higher level roles that offer on-the-job training, like cost estimator and building inspector. Experienced professionals with an associate degree may even qualify for construction management positions, though those positions typically require a bachelor's degree. Graduates can also continue their training through a bachelor's program.


Bachelor's Degree in Construction Management

In a bachelor's degree in construction management, students begin with construction foundations training and then move into more advanced management topics, such as finance, bid preparation, and project management. They also learn about project types, materials, and equipment used in the field.

Students typically complete construction management bachelor's degrees in about four years, and graduates qualify for construction occupations like construction management, architectural and engineering management, and cost estimator. Choosing a specialization can lead to expanded professional opportunities. Bachelor's graduates can also build on their training with a master's degree.


Master's Degree in Construction Management

A master's degree in construction management prepares students to make informed decisions while acting as leaders on a building site. They develop performance and quality assessment skills, explore issues in sustainability, and learn how to use financial and market data to perform risk analysis.

The best online construction management degrees at the master's level usually take two years to complete and qualify graduates for most management-level positions. In addition to construction management, graduates can also pursue engineering management and management analyst positions. Graduates may also choose a specialization to develop an expertise in a subdiscipline, like finance, green construction, or cost control.

What Is the Difference Between a Master's Degree in Construction Management and an MBA in Construction Management?

An MBA in construction management and a standard master's degree in construction management can lead to the same careers, like construction management and management analyst positions. However, the training does differ: A typical master's degree focuses on the technical aspects of the profession, while online MBA programs in construction management include more business topics with a focus on the intersection between business and construction.

The training in an MBA explores methods that construction managers can use to lead projects and improve business operations overall, covering areas like planning, strategic management, and legalities and policies, while a master's in construction management focuses more on the practical aspects of a construction site, like materials and equipment. Most master's or MBA programs take students two years to complete, but some construction management specializations may run longer.


Doctoral Degree in Construction Management

In a doctoral degree in construction management, students learn about construction methods, policies, and leadership strategies at a high level, often helping to improve them through research. Doctoral students specialize their research in areas like sustainability, lean construction, construction technology, and international construction management. The training can take 4-7 years to complete.

Doctoral graduates have the highest level of training available and can pursue essentially any position in the field. They can take on international construction management and large-scale architecture and engineering management positions, or they can pursue research and development roles or postsecondary teaching positions.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Construction Management?

Graduates with a college degree in construction management can take on a variety of leadership positions in the industry, depending on their level of training and specialization. While it is possible for professionals to advance into management positions with career experience, formal training is often a faster route, providing graduates with the skills needed to oversee behind-the-scenes activities and manage at a high level.

In the following section, we examine possible careers available to construction management graduates. Note that these are examples and not an exhaustive list.

Construction Superintendent

Construction superintendents oversee operations at a specific job site. They supervise activities and staff, enforce health and safety protocols, and help solve problems. These professionals require planning, communication, and leadership skills to manage the project and provide progress reports.

Candidates may qualify for construction superintendent positions with a bachelor's degree. Those with substantial experience may qualify with a certificate or an associate degree.

Project Engineer

Project engineers specialize in planning and preparing construction jobs. They may contribute to the design process, conduct surveys, perform development research, and complete building inspections. Construction management students usually take engineering, design, and structural analysis courses to branch into this field.

Depending on their career interests, project engineers can specialize in areas like foundation or soil analysis, civil project design, and sustainability. They also need strong time management, organizational, and communication skills. Most project engineers have a bachelor's degree at minimum.

Construction Project Manager

Construction project managers oversee many or even all of the components of a building project. They often handle the bidding process and the budgeting, while also fulfilling staffing, material, and equipment needs. Once the project begins, these professionals monitor progress, perform quality and performance assessments, and make revisions or adjustments to plans as necessary.

Construction project managers typically have at least a bachelor's degree, though some very experienced professionals may qualify with only an associate degree. They should also have skills in health and safety, building codes, construction finance, and executing building contracts.

What Kind of Salary Can I Earn With a Construction Management Degree?

Employment options and earning potential in the construction field vary by location and employer. According to BLS data, construction occupations earned median annual salaries of $48,610 in 2020 — nearly $7,000 higher than the median annual salary for all occupations.

As the following table highlights, construction managers typically make significantly more, but their earnings may vary depending on their duties and responsibilities.

Construction Management Career Outlook

Median Annual Salary (2020)

$97,180

Projected Job Growth (2019-2029)

8%


Common Fields

  • Biofuels
  • Commercial
  • Environmental Remediation
  • Geothermal Energy
  • Green Construction
  • Public Works
  • Residential
  • Solar Power

Professional Organizations

Established in 1982, CMAA seeks to standardize construction management processes on job sites across the country. The association's members benefit from access to a professional network, advocacy efforts to promote the field, and educational and professional development programs. CMAA also assists in the accreditation process for construction management academic programs. Founded in 1950, ABC aims to improve the contracting field by promoting better and more ethical practices and a merit-based process for job hiring. For its over 21,000 members, the association acts as a voice to the government, the public, and industry leaders. Members gain access to industry information, education and professional training resources, and career support services. AIC strives to improve the professional standards in construction by promoting better education, ethics, and oversight in the industry. The organization provides members with educational opportunities, access to industry resources, and certification programs for professionals who meet the highest standards.

Accreditation for Construction Management Programs

No matter their discipline, students should always ensure their school has the necessary accreditation. Regional accreditation can impact whether a student qualifies for financial aid, transfer credits, and even employment opportunities after graduation.

Though not mandatory, prospective construction management students can also look for programmatic accreditation. The American Council for Construction Education and the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology provide accreditation for engineering and engineering technology programs. For additional information, check out our accreditation guide.

Frequently Asked Questions

true Is It Worth Getting a Construction Management Degree?

A construction management degree can help students advance their careers in the construction industry more quickly. For example, a degree in this field enables experienced professionals to take on a leadership roles.

What Kind of Jobs Can You Get With a Construction Management Degree?

A degree in construction management can lead to careers as construction managers, project engineers, or administrators in a construction company.

Is Construction Management a Good Major?

A construction management major prepares students to handle many of the administrative tasks involved in running a construction job site. Graduates have more access to career opportunities than construction professionals who do not have degrees.

What Type of Degree Does a Construction Manager Need?

Construction managers typically need a bachelor's degree at minimum for employment. Experienced professionals may be able to earn similar positions with only an associate degree or certificate, though that often takes more time.

Doug Wintemute is a Toronto-based freelance writer with professional writing interests in higher learning and entertainment. He completed his BA and MA in English at York University, graduating summa cum laude and earning academic merit, research, and writing awards at both levels. Since 2014, he has contributed content and editorial work for award-winning digital trade publications, global SEO copywriting projects, and hugely popular online brands. He can be contacted through LinkedIn.

Header Image Credit: Resolution Productions | Getty Images

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