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:
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:
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.
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:
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.
Experienced supply chain professionals often enroll in graduate programs to advance to senior roles, while professionals in other fields may enroll to transition into SCM careers. (
You'll have the business chops to transition out of SCM if you decide this field isn't for you and the knowledge and skills to work in management roles in the various areas of supply chain management. ( )
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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.
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.”
Jobs that you can get with a master’s in supply chain management include:
Expected salaries for these positions range from $90,000 to nearly $170,000 per year.
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:
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.
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:
The average ages for each class are:
International students frequently travel to attend American graduate programs. Schools occasionally provide data about specific countries but only offer a percentage.
SCM is an overwhelmingly male (specifically white male) dominated field. Programs are attempting to correct the imbalance.
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.”
Within these tracks, they have an opportunity to study subjects like operations management, inventory management, and big data.
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:
SCM coursework is split between core and elective classes. Most programs also require a thesis or capstone project.
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.
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:
Foundational topics for MS programs include:
Your school may offer multiple track options, meaning different required courses for students at the same school. Core courses at MIT include:
From there, MASc-SCM students complete one of:
MEng-SCM students complete:
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:
Course titles include:
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.
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:
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:
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