Strictly speaking, you don't need a master's degree to work in supply chain management (SCM).
That said, if you're ambitious, going back to school is a good idea. Close to half of all supply chain managers have master's degrees. More than half of all supply chain management VPs and logistics directors have advanced degrees. A professional with a Master of Science or MBA in Supply Chain Management can earn anywhere from $109,000 to $116,000—quite a bit more than the average supply chain manager salary.
If you can't possibly commit to a full-time, on-campus supply chain management master's degree program, you can still get the bona fides you need to climb the SCM ladder. Numerous full-time and part-time online graduate degree programs focus on supply chain management, from professional master's programs to Master of Business Administration programs that offer SCM as a specialization option.
In this article about the best online master's programs for supply chain management, we cover:
Before diving into online SCM master's programs, we need to talk about what this degree is and isn't. All master's in supply chain management programs cover the complex array of approaches, technologies, and skills required to keep raw material levels in synch with production needs and to meet consumer demand. Because degree-naming conventions vary from school to school, graduates from these programs may earn any of the following degrees:
These online master's degree programs often differ in name only, which means there is no single "best" academic pathway for supply chain management professionals. The MSSCM is just one option among many.
In these programs, graduate students to take core courses and elective courses that cover topics like:
Students enroll in online master's supply chain management degree programs for various reasons, which generally fall into two camps. Some students have bachelor's degrees in disciplines related to supply chain operations and have work experience as supply chain managers, logisticians, or related positions. They are returning to school because they want to advance into management roles or higher-paying positions more quickly. Others graduated from business programs, data analytics programs, engineering programs, or statistics programs, and have worked in other industries. They enroll in SCM graduate programs as the first step in a career change.
An MBA in Supply Chain Management is primarily a business degree. While coursework in these programs usually devotes plenty of credit hours to some or all of the topics listed above, SCM MBA students also take many general business classes. These may be presented in the context of supply chain and logistics management (e.g., Financial Accounting for Supply Chain Managers), or they may not (e.g., Financial Accounting for Managers).
This degree is a good option for those who want to transition into administrative and executive roles in supply chain management, operations, and logistics. It's also the smarter choice for professionals who enjoy working in SCM but aren't sure if they want to stay in the discipline for their entire careers. That said, there are plenty of SCM MBA programs that look a lot like MSSCM programs (and vice versa).
SCM master's degree programs for distance learners can't replicate every facet of the on-campus experience. Still, the best ones do everything they can to make students' experiences in each format as equitable as possible. Academics are an essential consideration, but how much a students learn in a degree program is often up to them.
What's often more important in a master's program for supply chain management is that students can hone their existing and emerging skills through research and fieldwork partnerships and have multiple chances to network with industry leaders. Some online programs facilitate this by requiring students to attend one or more immersion sessions on campus or in a business hub. The program at the University of Tennessee - Knoxville's Haslam College of Business, for instance, has distance learners come to campus for a three-day residency.
Top online SCM master's programs also prepare students to earn certifications like the various SCM credentials offered by the Association for Supply Chain Management. SCM professionals with just a single certification earn 18 percent more than their uncertified colleagues. Every additional certification correlates with an additional salary boost. In short, certifications are valuable.
That said, circumstances will determine which is the best program for an individual student. The best online SCM master's program for you might be the least expensive one, the one that lets you graduate the fastest, the one your current employer will pay for, or the one with the courses you find most interesting.
Excellent online MSSCM programs and related programs can be found at the following schools:
Meanwhile, high-quality online supply chain management MBA programs can be found at these colleges and universities:
Graduate-level supply chain management degrees can charge tuition rates anywhere from $12,000 to $70,000 or more. Online MBA programs from business schools at the top of the school rankings can cost well over $100,000.
It's critical to consider the ROI of a degree from a top college or university. There's no question that SCM professionals with master's degrees out-earn their colleagues in similar roles who don't have graduate degrees, but programs at elite schools are expensive. Before you enroll in any degree program, think about your long-term plan. Where do you want to be in five years? How about ten? Will the positions you hope to transition into after earning your degree allow you to pay off your academic loans? Do you actually need a master's degree to work in those positions? Your answer to these questions can help you choose among programs.
There are a lot of good reasons to pursue an MSSCM or SCM MBA online. You can keep working. You won't have to relocate. You can study on a schedule that works for you.
There are also some cons you should consider. For instance, your experience will be fundamentally different from that of students studying on campus. That can make it more challenging to stay engaged with course material. When life gets hectic, staying on top of school work may be especially problematic because you don't see professors face-to-face.
Forging connections with faculty members and classmates can be more difficult. Online chat boards have many limitations, and some programs don't have live discussion sessions built into the curriculum. And finally, it will be up to you to stay motivated, because you won't have a cohort encouraging you.
Graduating from a top online program will only take you so far in the SCM world. You have to put in the work to get as much value as possible out of your master's degree.
Step one is simply being curious. If you're fascinated by the complicated web of materials, manufacturers, warehouses, transportation companies, distribution processes, and human resources required to produce and bring products to market, channel that fascination into your studies. Be that student who asks all the questions and gets excited about the material.
Next, look at the support services students on campus can access before and after graduation. Distance learners often have access to the same pre- and post-graduate support as students on campus but don't realize it because they don't ask. You may be able to tap a faculty advisor for help finding a great local internship. If traveling to campus is a possibility, you may be able to attend job fairs or recruiting events.
Start networking your butt off right away. Join professional associations for supply chain professionals. Make an effort to attend nearby conferences and mixers open to members. Some colleges and universities have clubs for supply chain and logistics management students; you can join some of these virtually. Reach out to industry leaders to request informational interviews.
And finally, keep your eyes on the prize. Chances are you're looking at supply chain management master's programs because you want to advance in your career. The good news is that SCM is a field where promotions can lead to bigger paychecks and higher levels of happiness. In the 2019 Association for Supply Chain Management Salary and Career Survey, 82 percent of respondents rated their job satisfaction as 8 or higher on a 1-to-10 scale. That plus the fact that there are five local supply chain and logistics jobs available for every one SCM student in the United States should be enough to motivate you to hit the books hard.
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