Study Strategic Planning: Master's Degree, PhD & Online Course info

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What kind of job can you get with a graduate degree in strategic planning? Find out program requirements, online options and info on courses and strategic planning master's degrees and Ph.D.s.
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Strategic Planning Master's and Ph.D.s: Degrees at a Glance

Strategic planners analyze trends, make choices and deploy resources to maximize return and minimize risks. If you're a visionary thinker and problem solver with analytical aptitude, you may benefit from studying strategic planning in a graduate degree program. Depending on your program's emphasis and your choice of electives, you can apply strategic planning principles and people management skills to a variety of careers at non-profit organizations, businesses and government agencies. With a Ph.D. covering strategic planning, you could be qualified to teach at a university, conduct research or become a consultant.

Some of the job titles you could pursue with a master's degree include project manager, management consultant and business development director. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that job growth for project managers would increase by 17% from 2010-2020. Doctoral candidates may be interested in advanced consulting opportunities, research or academia. The BLS reported that job opportunities for postsecondary teachers were expected to increase 17% between 2010 and 2020.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want mid-level strategic planning jobs Students interested in research or postsecondary teaching
Common Career Paths (with approximate median salary) The following careers may require advanced experience before the listed salary level can be attained:
- Project manager ($98,000)*
- Strategic planning manager ($116,000)*
- Business development director ($142,000)*
- Business process consultant ($98,000 - advanced experience may be required for this salary level)*
- Strategic management professor (salary unavailable)
- Production and operations management professor (salary unavailable)
Time to Completion About 2 years, full-time 4-6 years, full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Typically 10-13 graduate-level courses
- Capstone/seminar/internship (requirements vary between schools)
- Approximately 13-15 graduate-level courses
- Teaching experience
- Comprehensive exams
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree (master's degree may be required at some schools)
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: * (August 2012 figures).

Master's Programs Covering Strategic Planning

Master's programs with strategic planning studies are found under a number of different degree titles, such as strategic leadership, strategic foresight and strategic innovation. Programs might cover a variety of business concepts, such as finance, budgeting, enterprise-wide resource planning, strategic human resource development and marketing. Coursework may include theoretical and empirical studies focused on strategic management systems, competitive strategy and strategy research. Upon completion of a master's program, you should be able to make organizational decisions by taking ethics, risks, rewards and performance of employees into consideration.

Pros and Cons of a Master's Degree Covering Strategic Planning


  • Leaderships skills taught in the program can be used across many different industries
  • Most programs are designed to fit nearly any schedule, allowing you to pursue the degree even if you're working full-time
  • Could lead to a high-paying career


  • Specific focus on leadership and forecasting could limit your opportunities to learn about other important business concepts
  • Some of the careers you're qualified for don't require a master's degree
  • Most programs don't include work experience, so you'll probably have to find opportunities on your own

Courses and Requirements

Schools may allow you to choose from a variety of course plans, which could be anywhere from 18 months to 4 years. The majority of the program is based on coursework, but you're usually required to complete a seminar or capstone experience towards the end of your studies. Programs may also include simulations and scenarios that test proposed strategies against potential developments or alternative futures. Most of these programs don't require a thesis, but you still might end up completing a research and writing project. Some of your course options might include:

  • Foundations of leadership
  • Survey of futures studies
  • Social change
  • Visioning
  • Strategic planning and organizations
  • Strategic organizational partnerships
  • World futures

Online Courses

This type of program is available completely online. Since the program is focused heavily on coursework and doesn't require a thesis, you won't be missing out on important concepts if you opt for a distance learning master's program in strategic planning. The online courses can usually be completed at any time of the day, making the program available to people who can't afford to leave their full-time jobs to pursue a master's degree.

Stand Out with This Degree

Finding a way to get leadership experience before you graduate can give you an edge over other candidates who have a master's degree. Not only could you get this experience from a job, but you might also want to look into leading a school club. Many of the high-paying careers you're qualified for with a master's in strategic planning require a significant amount of experience, so finding ways to start getting experience while you're still in school can give you a huge advantage after graduation.

Some programs offer courses that can be counted toward requirements of the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification from the Project Management Institute. The Association for Strategic Planning offers the Strategic Planning Associate (SPA) certification to qualifying students or new workers and also has 2 additional certification options for working professionals.

Ph.D. Programs Covering Strategic Planning

Strategic planning studies at the Ph.D. level are sometimes found as part of a management, business or strategy program. This type of program is designed to show you how organizations create and sustain competitive advantage. Most programs include training in business management, microeconomic theory, quantitative research methods and econometrics. Some programs may require you to complete a minor on top of your strategic planning studies.

Doctoral candidates typically fulfill a teaching requirement and must pass periodic written and oral examinations. Students are often expected to produce publishable papers and make conference presentations as well.

Pros and Cons


  • What you learn from the program can easily be applied to many different types of industries
  • Unlike most Ph.D. programs, strategic planning ones are often flexible and offered in an online format
  • This degree is required for most tenure-track and research positions


  • This degree is rarely required for most jobs outside academia
  • You'll end up spending a total of 8-10 years in school
  • May face strong competition for admission to a program

Courses and Requirements

You'll typically start your Ph.D. program with some advanced foundational courses that cover research methods and strategic theories. Doctoral programs often permit considerable leeway in your course selection, which allows you to select subjects supporting your proposed dissertation research. Here are some courses you might have the opportunity to choose from:

  • Business and competitive strategy
  • Corporate strategy and diversification
  • Strategy process and implementation
  • Sociological perspectives on strategy
  • Strategic management systems
  • Researching competitive strategy

Most programs have a teaching requirement, which usually consists of a full semester of teaching an undergraduate class. The end of your program is spent working on a dissertation or doctoral project, which gives you a chance to research and write about a particular strategic planning topic of your choice.

Online Options

Fully online Ph.D. programs covering strategic planning are available, but full-time, on-campus ones are slightly more common. Online courses require the same effort as on-campus courses but are typically more flexible with scheduling. Keep in mind that you may miss out on teaching experiences if you opt for an online program, so you might be better off with an on-campus program if you plan on teaching. Online programs still include a research/dissertation project, so it may be a solid option for students looking for careers other than teaching.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

You may need to have a few papers published in academic journals or make some conference presentations to have the best shot for job opportunities in academia. You might want to take advantage of any workshop series featuring scholars from other universities. Affiliations with relevant research institutes or centers at your school may be viewed favorably by employers, so finding out what opportunities you have before enrolling in a program can give you an edge in the long run. If you're interested in teaching, you might also want to see if you can get more teaching experience besides the required semester.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Northcentral University

    Program Options

      • PhD in Business Admin - Management
      • Doctor of Business Admin - General Business
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Management
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      • Doctor of Business Admin - Project Management
      • PhD in Business Admin - Project Management
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Regent University

    Program Options

      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Individualized Studies
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Leadership Coaching
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Servant Leadership
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Strategic Foresight
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Strategic Leadership
  • Milwaukee, WI

    University of Wisconsin

  • Fargo, ND

    North Dakota State University

  • Blacksburg, VA

    Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

  • New Haven, CT

    Yale University

  • Worcester, MA

    Worcester Polytechnic Institute

  • New Castle, DE

    Wilmington University

  • Morgantown, WV

    West Virginia University

Featured Schools

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Business Admin - Management
  • Doctor of Business Admin - General Business
  • Doctor of Business Admin - Management

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Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership
  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Individualized Studies
  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Leadership Coaching

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Yale University

Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Wilmington University