An Expert’s Guide for students considering pursuing a degree in construction management, by Frank Wilson

What is a Construction Manager?

As a construction manager, you will be involved in various administrative, business and managerial aspects of building projects. This can include selecting a crew of workers and architects, choosing building materials and making sure that your project stays within its budget and schedule. There are several different educational pathways, including a certificate, a 2-year associates degree, a 4-year bachelors degree and even a 2-year masters degree. Although the specific curriculum for each type of program differs, common core courses cover topics like construction site safety and project management.

What to Look for in Construction Management Programs

If you are interested in pursuing a career in construction management, formal study at the best programs will entail demanding coursework in skills that are both specific to the profession as well as classes in general management. A program that will give you the framework to advance in the profession will include a curriculum that combines practical instruction from industry leaders alongside academic rigor. Accredited programs will offer basics in scheduling and estimating, internships and possibly a pathway to apprenticeships in the trade.

What to Expect in Construction Management College

Students enrolling in schools can look forward to a dynamic mix of coursework, including everything from primers in materials science and building codes to an introduction to the legal issues surrounding the construction industry as well as project management. Your courses should including classes in construction estimating, contract documents as well as basic written documents and computer applications relevant to the industry. Accredited classes will combine the deliberative nature of discussion found in academia with the hands-on experience offered at a construction job site.

The Best Construction Management Courses for Students

Students who are thinking about enrolling in programs should make their decisions based largely on what they personally want to get out of a program. If you are new to the field and are seeking an entry-level position after graduation, the best classes will teach you the basics, including how to estimate and how to read and interpret contract documents. Top courses will provide you with a solid foundation, whether you wish to work immediately as a tradesman or an apprentice or earn a masters degree in the field.

Certificate in Construction Management

A certification is a credential that will show a hiring manager that you have the minimum working knowledge to enter the profession. In addition to the 1 or 2-year associates degree or the 4-year bachelors, the certificate will enable you to compete for entry-level jobs in the field, including positions like assistant to project manager or field engineer. Certification is also a bridge for those already working in the field who have decided that they need to complete a program offered by accredited colleges before they can advance further in the profession.

Associates Degree in Construction Management

The associates degree provides basic education for the student interested in an entry-level position in construction management. However, an AAS will not open doors on its own unless you also have good work experience. It is also expected that you will eventually pursue a higher degree if you want to compete for top jobs. If the accredited colleges that you are considering offer a bachelors degree program, you should make the investment of your time and money to earn this degree instead, since so many employers prefer candidates with a 4-year degree.

Bachelors Degree in Construction Management

The bachelors degree is a 4-year program focusing on creating a career path for students interested in the profession. In recent years the construction management BS has become the minimum degree level expected by hiring managers, who also want to see that you have strong experience in the form of an internship or apprenticeship. The best accredited colleges will offer programs designed by both academic faculty and experienced professionals in the field, and will teach you several trades as well as top management skills.

Masters Degree in Construction Management

If you have been working in the field of construction management for 5 years or more, but feel that you have not reached your professional potential, you should consider a masters degree. A construction management MS will give you the opportunity to explore issues that are at the forefront of a growing industry. Masters programs at accredited colleges will enable you to study such complex issues as risk mitigation, construction materials, worker safety, energy efficiency and environmental protection, while also giving you the chance to develop solutions to real industry problems.

The Pros and Cons of Attending Construction Management Schools Online

Online schools offer programs at various degree levels that are strong as their offline counterparts. The 1 area that may be an issue for students with an online construction management masters degree is gaining experience through an internship. First-hand knowledge is absolutely crucial to a successful education. While online courses will give you a rudimentary education about project management, including skills in budgeting and scheduling, if your online program does not offer a proper internship, you must take the initiative and set 1 up for yourself.

How Employers View an Online Construction Management Degree

While an online degree is a helpful credential, it cannot take the place of on-the-job experience, especially for online construction management majors studying for associates or bachelors degrees. It is expected that your online training will be supplemented by an internship and even a few years of work as a tradesman. At the advanced level of study, a hybrid program is usually preferable to a purely online construction management MS. However, employers are much more open to online graduate degrees in the field and there are no major reasons not to pursue your masters degree online.

Advice for Students Studying in Online Construction Management Training Programs

While students who are taking online courses are able to incorporate their academic schedules into their work and personal life, they must compensate by finding an internship that will allow them to get out in the field and gain experience. Students in online universities should also find out if their programs offer job placement, which is usually offered at brick-and-mortar universities. Online financial aid may also be available at accredited schools, depending on the number of courses you take each term.

The Paths for Becoming a Construction Manager

If you are considering a construction management career, you should know that the best opportunities are available to those who already hold a degree, certification and in-the-field experience. Certificate programs give minimal formal training to workers who have already been involved in construction management. Job candidates who hold bachelors degrees will be even more competitive on the market, though an associates degree may help you find a job as well. While the average starting salary can range between $40,000 and $65,000, this can double in as little as 5 years if you are a strong worker and apply yourself.

Construction Management Certification

A certification is a credential that helps to maintain high standards in the profession. Though certification is not required for construction managers, certification is becoming more common and many of the best job candidates are earning certifications in order to add to their resumes. Whether you are a graduate and have a few years of experience in the field or are just starting out, the American Institute of Constructors, the Construction Management Association of America and the National Center for Construction Education and Research all offer certifications based on your area of interest and skill level.

Construction Management Job Options

A construction management career is intellectually challenging and sometimes physically demanding. Construction managers usually work on-site and manage teams of workers as well as the progress and execution of the overall project. Jobs are forecast to grow faster than the economy over the next 10 years, so this job sector holds the promise of opportunity for a great future. You can expect to be well-compensated in your salary, since the median salary stands at $83,860, though construction managers are often self-employed and must provide their own health insurance and retirement plans.

Construction Management Salary

A construction management career can be an exciting, varied and lucrative profession, but you must prepare for fluctuations in the job market. The best starting jobs go to candidates who have both a strong educational background and some measurable experience in the field, such as an internship undertaken while earning your bachelors degree. While the profession is demanding and you might often work in a freelance capacity, you will have the opportunity to earn competitive salaries, since the median salary was $83,860 in 2010. You can increase your earning potential by gaining more experience, education and earning certifications.

Advice for Construction Management Professionals

While advancement in a construction management career requires educational study, hands-on experience is truly essential if you expect to land an entry-level position in the field. Programs that prepare you with group assignments and internships are the best training for when you get out in the real world and are searching for jobs. Before you attend your interview, research the employer so you can show interest in their current and future projects and give suggestions on what you may be able to contribute. Once on the job, stay curious and pursue opportunities to learn new things.