How to Become a Project Manager Without a Degree

To become a successful project manager who earns six figures, you don't need a college diploma. Here's a guide to get you started.

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The bottom line
  • Worldwide, 57.41% of project manager positions do not require a college education, but there are significant variances among countries.
  • I strongly recommend making CAPM and PMP certification from the Project Management Institute (PMI) a long-term priority.
  • By leading freelance projects, volunteer projects, and getting the necessary certifications, you can build up a strong resume for a job in project management even without having a degree.
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Whatever industry you are currently working in, moving your career in the direction of project management is a great move. Not only are project managers already some of the best-paid employees in the United States, but the job growth is also expected to be very fast.

By 2027, it is expected that there will be 88 million jobs for project managers, and in just 10 years the project management sector is projected to grow by a whopping 33%. Combined with the project management talent shortage we are already experiencing, it’s fair to assume that project manager salaries are about to go through the roof.

In fact, they already are through the roof. According to a survey conducted by the Project Management Institute (PMI), project managers in the United States have a median salary of $115,000, while Australian project managers have a median salary of $113,664.

Now, certainly, is an excellent moment to become a project manager for all the reasons mentioned above. But, what if you don’t want to go through the trouble of getting a four-year degree to do so?

There are many ways to get started in project management without spending years getting a degree. In fact, many successful project managers have no college education whatsoever. I’ll show you how to do exactly the same.

Now, let’s look at some of the major job tasks and abilities of project managers before we examine how to become a project manager without a degree.

In this guide, you’ll learn:

What does a project manager do?

The specifics of the job of a project manager will largely depend on what field you work in. While IT project managers deal with the specifics of software development, construction project managers will have a very different focus. Similarly, the daily work of a marketing project manager will differ from that of a creative project manager.

However, there are certain core tasks and abilities that are essential for all project managers, regardless of what industry they work in.

In general, a project manager is responsible for:

  • Setting goals and deadlines.
  • Managing resources for the project.
  • Overlooking project quality control.
  • Creating a project plan.
  • Organizing and assigning tasks.
  • Monitoring progress and budget.
  • Communicating with stakeholders.
  • Coordinating with different teams and departments.
  • Solving various problems that come up during project execution.

You should also be aware that no matter what type of project you’re working on, you’ll always have a project manager. Even if no one has been assigned the title of “project manager,” there will still be team members who will naturally assume the position. This can be helpful during the early stages of your career, where you may not be officially working as a project manager, but can still gain valuable experience by acting in that role.

Do you need a degree to become a project manager?

No, you don’t need a degree to become a project manager. Neither the PMP nor CAPM certification exams require you to have a degree, and the data we gathered shows that the majority of open project manager jobs worldwide do not require a degree.

Here’s a chart that summarizes the differences between various countries:

Job outlook for project managers without a degree. Data: LinkedIn Job Search (2022).
Job outlook for project managers without a degree. Data: LinkedIn Job Search (2022).

And, here are the exact figures in written form:

  • Worldwide, there are 142,426 no-degree project manager jobs available out of a total of 248,070. Thus, 57.41% of project manager jobs worldwide do not require a degree.
  • In the United States, there are 73,095 no-degree project manager jobs available out of a total of 148,355. Thus, 49.27% of project manager jobs in the United States do not require a degree.
  • In the United Kingdom, there are 16,400 no-degree project manager jobs available out of a total of 20,819. Thus, 78.77% of project manager jobs in the United Kingdom do not require a degree.
  • In the European Union, there are 20,989 no-degree project manager jobs available out of a total of 30,036. Thus, 69.88% of project manager jobs in the European Union do not require a degree.
  • In Australia, there are 3,135 no-degree project manager jobs available out of a total of 4,243. Thus, 73.89% of project manager jobs in Australia do not require a degree.
  • In Canada, there are 5,552 no-degree project manager jobs available out of a total of 9,360. Thus, 59.32% of project manager jobs in Australia do not require a degree.
  • In India, there are 5,639 no-degree project manager jobs available out of a total of 8,230. Thus, 68.52% of project manager jobs in India do not require a degree.

As is evident from the data, the value of having a degree varies widely from country to country. In some countries, such as the United States and Canada, a degree is still preferred by many employers. However, in other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Australia, the majority of project manager jobs do not require a degree.

So, going by this data, one might want to consider moving to the United Kingdom or Australia. Salaries in these countries are nearly on par with the United States, and having a degree is largely irrelevant.

Even in the United States, though, nearly half of project manager jobs are also available for degreeless applicants, so it’s not all doom and gloom for no-degree project managers in the States. You’ll have slightly less open jobs to choose from, but it’s by no means impossible to find a job without having a college diploma.

In most cases, it will also depend on the specific industry whether you need a degree or not. For example, if you want to be a project manager in the construction industry, then you are more likely to need a degree in civil engineering as you will simply not be able to lead the project without an in-depth understanding of construction. At the same time, roles such as those of marketing project managers are far less likely to require one.

In short, though, the data clearly shows that there are plenty of open job opportunities for project managers without a degree.

What skills does a project manager need?

Above all, a project manager needs to be very competent in the specific field of the project they are managing. Let’s put aside these area-specific abilities for a moment and look at skills that are universally required for all project managers:

  • Leadership skills. A project manager needs to be able to lead a team of people and motivate them to achieve a common goal. This is not an easy task and often requires excellent interpersonal skills. You will need to effectively manage people with different personalities, backgrounds, and work styles.
  • Communication skills. A project manager needs to have excellent communication skills. This is essential in order to be able to relay information between different team members, stakeholders, and clients. The ability to communicate effectively will make sure that everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal.
  • Organizational skills. Managers need to be extremely organized in order to keep track of all the different tasks that need to be completed within a project. If you are not an orderly person by temperament, you need to work extra hard on becoming more organized in your professional life.
  • Time management skills. A project manager needs to be able to effectively manage their time as well as the time of the team members. This is essential in order to meet deadlines and avoid delays.
  • Problem-solving skills. Crisis management is a natural part of being responsible for resources and people. A good project manager needs to be able to effectively work in unforeseen situations and still come up with effective solutions.
  • Creativity. This is directly related to all the previous skills described. A good project manager is always ready to harness their creativity if the situation calls for it. Completing a large project is almost never a straightforward process – there are just too many variables at play. You must intuitively know when to follow the rules and when to “color outside the lines” in order to achieve the best results.

These are only some of the universal skills that a project manager needs. If you already know the industry in which you will want to manage projects, then I suggest you start researching the specific skills and abilities that will be required for that particular industry. Even if the job of a project manager seems far away at the moment.

Steps to becoming a project manager without a degree

1. Choose a project management career path.

The first step might seem obvious, but it is still worth pointing out. If you want to become a project manager without a degree, you will need to be ready to climb the career ladder. And, if the industry you are in does not motivate you enough, then you will have to consider switching careers altogether.

The blood, sweat, and tears that go into climbing the ladder from entry-level to a senior project manager are simply not worth it if you are not passionate about what you do. So, before you start taking steps towards becoming a project manager in your industry, make sure that you are in the right industry, to begin with.

To help you out, here is a list of the most common career paths for project managers:

  • Construction project manager.
  • IT project manager.
  • Healthcare project manager.
  • Marketing project manager.
  • Digital project manager.
  • Creative project manager.

Each of these career paths brings different job duties and responsibilities, and some are more reliant on degrees than others. For example, 46.35% of open construction project manager jobs in the United States do not require a degree, while the percentage of no-degree jobs for digital project managers is much higher at 59.78%. 

Choose a path with care, and use that as your starting point in your project manager career.

2. Identify your weak points and start improving on them.

Previously, I wrote about some of the most important project management skills that are required of the average project manager. Some of these skills are crucial regardless of the project management career path you choose, while others are specific to certain industries.

No matter what your chosen career path is, there are always areas in which you can improve. Identify those areas as soon as possible, and you’ll be a great project manager in no time.

For example, let’s say that you are highly competent in your industry, yet have no experience with leading people. If so, you should consider enrolling in online leadership courses, reading classic literature on effective leadership, or even viewing free YouTube videos on the subject.

In a similar manner, you should learn about all of the skills relevant to project managers – namely time management, organizing a team, communication, and more. Most projects you lead throughout your career will involve a wide set of both soft and hard skills, so make sure you are ready for anything.

You might not need any of these skills at the moment, but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t start learning about them. Your end goal is to become a project manager and you should never forget that. Even if this is only your first day at an entry-level job.

3. Take advantage of self-guided learning.

While I don’t advocate for formal education in the form of getting a degree, I still want to stress the importance of high-quality project management education. Any self-respecting project management professional has to be educated, and lifelong learning is something you’ll have to get used to in the project management field.

One reason why education is especially important in project management is the fact that the Project Management Institute requires you to earn Professional Development Units (PDUs) constantly. Whichever project management certification you are trying to aim for, a certain number of PDUs will be required, and you’ll have to submit them every so often to maintain your credential.

The best way to earn PDUs, in my opinion, is to use self-guided learning and online learning platforms. If you want to earn PDUs and improve your project management skills at the same time, there are many online courses available. These courses will teach you everything from the basics of project management to more advanced topics such as risk management and stakeholder communication.

Some of the best online project management courses that provide Professional Development Units (PDUs) include:

While most of these courses are not free, they are usually very affordable. And, if you can’t find a course that you can afford, there are many free resources available online as well. However, if you go down this route always make sure that the videos you use are of good quality and from a reliable source.

The only drawback to gaining project management knowledge through free resources such as YouTube videos is that they do not qualify for PDUs. Thus, if you’re looking to earn PDUs, it’s usually better to invest in a reliable course.

4. Start gaining first-hand experience with managing projects.

If you’re currently working in a role outside of project management, consider taking on extra responsibility within your team. This could involve anything from leading a small project to acting as a mentor for new employees.

Volunteer for tasks that are outside of your usual job description. If you work in an office, ask your boss if you can help out with the organization of company events. If you are a programmer, offer to help out a team of junior developers with a particularly difficult project.

Whatever industry you are in, there are bound to be opportunities to step outside of your comfort zone and show initiative at work. By doing so, you will earn the respect and gratitude of your superiors. You will also demonstrate that you are capable of handling more responsibility than your current job entails.

Furthermore, by taking on extra responsibility, you will also start building up the actual skills needed to become a project manager. Additional responsibility will feel like a heavy burden at first, especially considering that you will probably not get paid extra, but it is more than worth it in the long run.

In addition to taking on extra responsibility at work, you should also look for opportunities to lead projects outside of work. This could be anything from organizing a charity event to leading a team of volunteers in your local community. Work on freelance projects, volunteer projects, and any other types of small projects. For some tips on gaining practical project management experience through volunteering, here’s a great article by GVI.

The key here is to gain actual experience with leading and managing a project. And, while your work responsibilities might give you some limited exposure to this, they will probably not be enough on their own.

So, look for ways to get involved with projects in your personal life. Not only will this give you valuable experience, but it will also show potential employers that you are capable of leading a team – even if you don’t have a degree.

5. Obtain CAPM and PMP certification.

There are many different certification programs available for project managers. While these are not strictly necessary, they can be very helpful in demonstrating your commitment to the role. That is why I strongly advise you to make project management certification one of your long-term goals.

To make finding the right certifications easier, we narrowed the choices down to two particular choices that will be beneficial to anyone regardless of industry. These two certifications DO NOT require a degree. As long as you have your high school diploma, you are eligible for taking the exams. As mentioned before, though, you are required to take part in project management education and earn PDUs in order to qualify for these exams.

  • CAPM Certification – This is offered by the Project Management Institute (PMI) and is one of the most popular project management certifications in the world. It is a globally recognized certificate that demonstrates your understanding of the basics of project management.
  • PMP Certification – Once you have successfully obtained a CAPM certification, I would advise you to also get a PMP certification. The PMP is also offered by the PMI and is universally recognized as the gold standard of project management certifications. Having the PMP certification in your resume gives a massive boost to your salary potential and career prospects.

It is also worth noting that these two certificates are universal. You might be able to find project management certificates that apply specifically to the industry you work in. If so, I highly suggest investing in such certifications as well. But, the CAPM and PMP certifications should always be on the top of your priority list no matter what.

6. Become familiar with project management software and apps.

In today’s world, technology plays a huge role in project management. If you want to work as a project manager, it is a good idea to become familiar with some of the relevant software.

Assuming that you have no official projects to work on (yet!), we advise you to create personal projects to get a feel of how these software and apps work. For example, you can try to plan and execute a small event such as a birthday party or a family reunion.

Some of the most popular project management software include:

  • Microsoft Project – Microsoft Project is a widely used program that helps you plan, track, and execute projects. It is very user-friendly and has a wide range of features that can be very beneficial to project managers.
  • ProjectLibre – ProjectLibre is a free and open-source alternative to Microsoft Project. It has all of the same features as Microsoft Project, but it is available for free.
  • GanttPRO – GanttPRO is a cloud-based project management software that helps you create and manage Gantt charts. This software is developed for small to medium-sized businesses and teams.

There are many, many more project management software available, but these 3 are some of the most popular ones. Thus, they are great for giving you a general idea of how these programs work.

7. Apply for no-degree project manager jobs in your industry.

Eventually, you are going to have to put your resume to the test and apply for some project management jobs. Ideally, you already work at a company where you want to become a project manager. However, if this is not the case and you see no relevant positions opening up in the future, it is time to look elsewhere.

There are many job search engines that you can use for looking for a project management job. Some of the most popular ones include IndeedGlassdoor, and Monster. But, the one job search portal I recommend the most often is LinkedIn, as it allows you to filter no-degree project manager jobs with relative ease. For example, here’s a search for no-degree project manager jobs in the United States.

When looking for a job, always make sure that you tailor your resume to the specific position you are applying for. Include all of your experiences with handling any type of project, as well as all of your relevant skills. In the project management world, attention to detail and good organizational skills are highly valued, and your resume is the perfect place to showcase these qualities right off the bat.

Sander Tamm

Sander Tamm

Founder @ Degreeless. I write about online education, self-teaching, and the job market. Last year, my articles were read by over 1 million people and my writing has been featured by Neil Patel, AOL, HackerNoon, The Baltimore Sun, Independent Australia among others.