Supply Chain Management

Who Gets a Master’s in Supply Chain Management? [And Why?]

Who Gets a Master’s in Supply Chain Management? [And Why?]
As supply chain management grows more technically and procedurally demanding, employers grow more likely to require their SCM hires to hold a master's degree. Image from Unsplash
Lucien Formichella profile
Lucien Formichella March 31, 2021

If you're a supply chain professional who has squeezed every bit of professional growth from your current education, a master's in supply chain management is the degree for you.

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Supply chain management (SCM) is an exciting field with boundless career options and professional development opportunities. It’s also a field in which professionals have traditionally succeeded without advanced degrees: experience, certifications, and training seminars have historically sufficed to diversify SCM skillsets.

However, as supply chains grow more complex, SCM employers’ demands have intensified. Today, earning a master’s in supply chain management is the best way to qualify for top SCM jobs. SCM graduate programs equip supply chain management professionals with new tools, such as bleeding-edge project management techniques and data analytics-based decision-making strategies. Many also connect students with real businesses during the program, leading to post-graduation opportunities.

Beyond building your skill set, a master’s in SCM often leads to higher earnings. According to the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM) 2020 salary report, supply chain professionals with at least a graduate degree earn salaries above $95,000 on average. That’s nearly $20,000 more than those with just a bachelor’s degree.

Read on to learn who gets a master’s in supply chain management, what you’ll learn, and why it’s worth it. This article covers:

  • What is supply chain management?
  • What is a master’s in supply chain management?
  • Who gets a master’s in supply chain management?
  • Requirements to complete a supply chain management master’s degree program
  • Best master’s in supply chain management programs
  • Best online master’s in supply chain management programs

What is supply chain management?

Definition

The term supply chain management encompasses every aspect of making and selling a product, from harvesting raw material to delivering customer service. Because the field is so vast, it’s rare for one person to oversee every aspect of the supply chain—unless they’re the chief supply chain officer at a large corporation or a one-person small business. Specialization is common in this field. That said, different positions often require similar skill sets, and many professionals can change roles easily.

There are four core areas of supply chain management:

  • Logistics
  • Manufacturing
  • Procurement
  • Warehousing

Confusingly, supply chain and logistics are similar; many use the two terms interchangeably, and others use the term supply chain logistics. But, the two are distinct in that logistics does not encompass the sourcing of raw material.

Examples

Shipping—especially global shipping—exemplifies modern supply chain management. It requires coordination among multiple stakeholders to get a bunch of goods from one place to another. Beyond the process of ordering and delivering goods and making sure they arrive in a timely fashion, there’s the process of packing the ship, which demands a delicate balance between optimizing space and overloading.

The Ever Given container ship, which got stuck in the Suez Canal, shows what happens when something goes wrong. The ship ran aground, blocking traffic along this essential waterway for nearly a week.

SCM and logistics professionals needed to decide whether it was better to reroute their vessels or wait for the jam to clear. Companies slated to receive shipments scrambled to determine whether they could get replacement goods to maintain their schedule. The mishap set off a chain reaction disrupting a significant portion of the global shipping industry for days, at a staggering cost of billions of dollars.

Warehouse management poses similar challenges to supply chain managers, who must:

  • Comply with labor laws
  • Inspect the facility for issues
  • Optimize space (no, you can’t just drop goods in the middle of the floor)
  • Organize delivery and shipping times

Procurement professionals focus on things like ordering the correct amount of a product at the best price. Manufacturers need to keep factories running smoothly and fill orders without producing too many goods. Both constantly seek to improve consistency and efficiency without cutting corners.

What is a master’s in supply chain management?

There are several kinds of SCM degrees. The differences may be nominal—e.g., global business and international business programs likely have similar scopes—or significant.

Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Science (MS) are the two main degree categories. Though there’s overlap, SCM MBAs help students improve their business management techniques, while MS degrees usually focus more on technical skills. According to the ASCM, 63 percent of graduate degree-earning SCM professionals have MBAs.

Other degree titles include:

Depending on the institution, you may complete your degree full-time, part-time, in-person, online, or as a hybrid program.

Purpose

SCM master’s degrees can qualify you for better, higher-paying jobs. They work best to advance an already-established career. Ideally, you’ll emerge with a deeper breadth of knowledge than you can get with just a bachelor’s degree. You should have existing knowledge about SCM topics but not yet the best tools to solve them.

According to University of Colorado Boulder, the school’s supply chain management program helps students develop “the in-demand skill set of identifying innovative opportunities for supply chain improvements as well as proficiency in data visualization techniques.”

Master’s-level SCM jobs

Jobs that you can get with a master’s in supply chain management include:

  • Global supply chain manager
  • Logistics manager
  • Materials director
  • Procurement manager
  • Purchasing manager
  • Supply chain director
  • Supply chain manager
  • Transportation, storage, and distribution manager
  • Vice president of supply chain management

Expected salaries for these positions range from $90,000 to nearly $170,000 per year.

Who gets a master’s in supply chain management?

Most SCM programs look for multiple years of work experience. Here is a quick breakdown of master’s in SCM demographics based on the enrollment numbers of four programs:

Academic background

A vast majority of SCM students have an undergraduate business background:

Other common majors include economics, STEM (specifically engineering), and humanities.

Schools usually care more about applicants’ undergraduate GPA than major—top programs often look for a 3.5 or above.

Professional experience

According to MIT, students with three to seven years of experience get the most out of the program. Many programs require at least two years:

  • Carey: 1 year
  • Sloan: 4.8 years
  • Ross: No official number given—the program encourages students with between zero and ten years experience to apply
  • Portland State: 6.2 years (74 months)
  • Foster: 4 years

Age range

The average ages for each class are:

  • Carey: 24
  • Sloan: 27
  • Ross: N/A (though likely ranging from directly out of an undergraduate program to students in their early 30s)
  • Portland State: 33 (age range 23-51)
  • Foster: 29

Country of origin

International students frequently travel to attend American graduate programs. Schools occasionally provide data about specific countries but only offer a percentage.

  • Carey: 80 percent international
  • Sloan: 38 students (program total) from 15 countries
  • Ross: 58 percent international
  • Portland State: 3 percent international
  • Foster: 40 percent international

Gender demographics

SCM is an overwhelmingly male (specifically white male) dominated field. Programs are attempting to correct the imbalance.

  • Carey: 53 percent female
  • Sloan: 55 percent female
  • Ross: 35 percent female
  • Portland State: 29 percent female
  • Foster: 61 percent female

Planning to get a PhD?

SCM master’s programs are typically the last SCM education you’ll need. However, it’s possible to earn a PhD, which typically leads to either a teaching or research career. At the University of Arkansas, PhD students “acquire the conceptual skills and methodological tools necessary to design and conduct independent research and interact with others in academic and business environments.”

Students at Pennsylvania State University – Main Campus choose from three tracks:

  • Analytical modeling
  • Empirical study
  • Experimental research

Within these tracks, they have an opportunity to study subjects like operations management, inventory management, and big data.

Some master’s programs lead directly to PhDs, including MIT’s MEng-SCM.

A specific degree isn’t always necessary. The University of Arkansas prefers prior teaching or research experience, though it’s not a requirement.

Penn State focuses on the same admissions criteria as most master’s programs:

  • GMAT or GRE scores
  • Previous grades
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal essays

Requirements to complete a supply chain management master’s degree program

SCM coursework is split between core and elective classes. Most programs also require a thesis or capstone project.

Programs can also have different timelines. The Boston University program takes between one and two years to complete. The University of Tennessee – Knoxville full-time MBA takes 16 months.

As a prospective student, you should set personal requirements for each program on your list. Is there a class you can only take at one school? Are you a working professional who cannot attend full-time? The most important thing to look for is accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB), which sets the standard for business graduate programs.

Master’s in SCM curriculum

Remember, this is a general description of most SCM programs rather than exactly what you’ll learn. Additionally, MBAs also include business-focused topics like:

  • Business analytics
  • Competitive strategy
  • Decision-making for executives
  • Economics
  • Financial accounting
  • Financial management
  • Marketing
  • Project management

Typical MS SCM core curriculum

Foundational topics for MS programs include:

  • Customer relationship management
  • Electronic data interchange
  • Enterprise resource planning
  • Inventory control systems
  • Logistics management
  • Reverse logistics management
  • Supply chain security

Your school may offer multiple track options, meaning different required courses for students at the same school. Core courses at MIT include:

  • Analytical Methods for Supply Chain Management
  • Logistics Systems
  • Supply Chain Communications Workshop
  • Written Communications for Supply Chain Management

From there, MASc-SCM students complete one of:

  • Data Science and Machine Learning for Supply Chain Management
  • Modeling with Machine Learning: From Algorithms to Applications

MEng-SCM students complete:

  • Modeling with Machine Learning: From Algorithms to Applications

Examples of MS SCM electives

Electives provide an opportunity to further specialize in an area of the field and round out your skillset or simply pursue an interest.

At MIT, students must complete electives from three categories:

  • Analysis
  • General
  • Management

Course titles include:

  • Digital Supply Chain Transformation
  • Management of Services: Concepts, Design, and Delivery
  • Manufacturing Systems and Supply Chain Design
  • Operations Strategy
  • Supply Chain Planning
  • Sustainable Supply Chain Management
  • Urban Last-Mile Logistic

MS SCM final project/thesis

Most, though not all, programs require a thesis or capstone project to graduate. Michigan State University offers thesis and non-thesis options. These projects can last a semester or longer, providing an opportunity to apply supply chain knowledge to authentic business situations.

At The University of Texas at Dallas, students collaborate on capstone projects with faculty to provide supply chain solutions for a local business. At MIT, projects typically last around nine months. Students place bids and are paired with collaborators, advisors, and companies.

Best master’s in supply chain management programs

There are several kinds of master’s programs in the supply chain management field. The school with the top MBA program may not have the best MS, and vice versa. Account for your career goals and personal needs in your research, rather than following a top ten list.

Schools with excellent master’s supply chain programs include:

Best online master’s in supply chain management programs

The previous list includes schools that offer both in-person and online master’s degree programs. Here is a collection of the best online programs in supply chain management:

The top online MBA programs with supply chain concentrations, according to U.S. News & World Report, include:

(Last Updated on February 26, 2024)

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