Is it better to get an MBA degree or a PMP® credential?

PayScale (2019) reported that those with an MBA earn an average annual salary of $87K.

Neuvoo (2019) listed that experienced MBAs earn $84K.

Similarly, the National Association of Colleges and Employers predicted that the average starting salary for MBA Class of 2019 at $85K.

Obviously, there are several factors that can impact the average salary. MBAs working in HR are on the low end and those in strategy are on the high end.

Gender, industry, location and the school also play a factor. In general, for comparison purposes, let’s peg the average annual salary between $84K and $87K.

Interestingly enough, the Project Management Institute’s (PMI)® Salary Survey (2017) listed the median annual salary for project managers in the US at $112K. Those with 3-5 years of experience make $85K.

One Key Distinction

From that perspective, an MBA degree and a Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential are roughly equal, EXCEPT for one key distinction.

Consider the huge discrepancy for the time and financial commitment (tuition, board and lost income) of earning an MBA which can run almost a quarter of a million dollars (yes, you read that correctly) vs. $1K+ and couple of weeks to prepare and earn the PMP credential.

MBA = $40K tuition + $20K room, board and textbooks + $60K of lost income = $120K, multiply that by two years = $240K

PMP = $500 to $1,000 for a PMP exam prep course + $550 exam fee = $1K+

Which one has a better ROI?

Even for project managers without the PMP credential, the average income is $92K. With a PMP credential, it’s $115K.

The PMP credential requires three years of experience working in projects. Given that the average age for those starting an MBA is 28, they likely have at least three years of work experience.

So, what gives?


An MBA is a degree and a PMP is professional certification. So, it’s really hard to compare them. Also, an MBA can open doors for specialized areas such as investment banking where one can earn up to $1M or more. It can also break the invisible executive ceiling.

On the other hand, project managers get to manage key initiatives and strategic projects. Deliver them on time and within budget, and one can expect guaranteed visibility across the organization. Plus, they get the opportunity to work on the “entire” business because projects require integration with scope, schedule, cost, quality, resource, communications, risk, procurement and stakeholders.

For those who are thinking about getting an MBA, have they considered these factors?

If someone already has an MBA, why not add a PMP credential to it? Why can’t they have both?

Thoughts? Pros and cons? Agree or disagree?

Let’s have an honest, open and respectful conversation.

Oh, and check out our Complete PMP® Exam Prep Course. It’s unique, entertaining and highly effective … and you can do it anytime, anywhere.