Supply chain management is a field that moves fast.
If you want to pin the pedal to the floor and get your career up to speed, then an accelerated or advanced standing master’s program may be what you’re after.
These unique programs cram a lot of learning into a very short period. In some cases, you’ll have your master’s in hand and be out the door in only nine months!
But it’s a path that requires a lot of diligence. What you learn, how you learn it, and what value that degree has in the job market all depend quite a lot on the school and the way they define these reduced-time options. As you’ll soon see, the definitions for these types of programs are not universal. The structure, pacing, graduation requirements, and total number of total credits can be different, even among programs that all refer to themselves as accelerated.
But in all instances, there’s no faster way to the top of one of the fastest-moving fields in the world. And we’ve got the information you need right here to make sense of it all.
Deciphering the Differences in Accelerated, Executive, and Advanced-Standing Master’s Degrees in Supply Chain Management
A Master’s Degree in Supply Chain Management delivers advanced strategic training, skills, and insights. It’s the perfect preparation for top managers in supply chain organizations, or even for senior executives running every aspect of big organizations.
But that kind of expertise isn’t something you develop overnight. A typical MS in SCM, or the closely related MBA (Master of Business Administration) in SCM, can take anywhere from one to three years to earn.
So to any would-be grad student, something that can accelerate the process sounds pretty good. That’s often what is implied by programs described as accelerated, executive, advanced standing, or one-year SCM degrees.
But what’s in the box isn’t always exactly what the sticker says.
Accelerated Master’s in Supply Chain Management
A Faster Completion Time Is the Goal of Accelerated Supply Chain Master’s Programs
The term accelerated may be the one most open for schools to interpret and use as their marketing teams see fit. In a lot of cases, what makes them accelerated is simply the number of credits.
Many schools deliver an MSCM with a total course load of 30 credits. An MBA is more likely to range from 36 to 60 credits. But there are also MSCM programs that run from as few as 18 to as many as 40 credits depending on specializations.
There’s obviously going to be some big differences between studying advanced logistics processes for one year or three years.
If you’re looking at 30-credit MSCM programs anyway, then it doesn’t mean much to say you can finish them in a year—that’s not out of reach of a full-time student. A standard load for one semester is 15 credits; two semesters is the typical school year.
Of course, plenty of people at the stage of earning a master’s degree can’t afford to drop their personal and professional obligations and attend for a year full-time. And master’s coursework is harder than undergraduate coursework. A typical graduate credit full-time load may instead be defined as low as nine or even six credits per semester.
So some schools assume a part-time attendance rate when they talk about their program typically taking two years to complete. Doing it in a year is not necessarily accelerated in an ideal world, but it could be in practical terms.
Some schools also use the term accelerated to describe block-format classes lasting less than a full semester, even if the entire degree is not completed any faster than normal.
But that isn’t the whole story, either! Because some schools expect part-time attendance in these programs, they may not always offer all the required courses within a one-year sequence. And in those cases, a program that is offered as accelerated just means that it’s possible to complete all 30 credits within one calendar year.
Scheduling flexibility can have real value if you’re looking to minimize the total time between deciding to earn your master’s and having that degree in hand.
Frequently, they offer multiple start dates through the year rather than requiring you to only begin in fall or spring semester. That has a big practical effect on timing, since you can get started whenever you are ready.
Take all this into account with any accelerated SCM master’s you’re considering. Sure, they legitimately offer a shorter time to completion, it’s just important to understand exactly what factors play into that.
Executive Master’s or MBA in Supply Chain Management
Executive Programs Are Aimed at Convenience as Much as Speed
Executive degrees (sometimes called professional degrees) are designed for exactly the group they’re marketed to – executives.
These are far more common in the MBA world than in dedicated supply chain master’s programs, but you can find both.
The goal of executive programs is to give options that accommodate up-and-coming managers and leaders. This group has industry experience valuable enough to count toward graduate requirements and can’t just put their careers on pause for full-time schooling, even if they need a graduate degree to go further.
In some cases, these are offered in a very compressed, fast-paced format, but not always. More often, they are designed as part-time programs that allow remote study, occasional intensive on-site gatherings, and a great deal of integration with your current job and responsibilities. It’s very common, for instance, for a professional MBA to allow current work experience to fill in for otherwise required fieldwork placements.
Advanced-Standing Master’s or MBA in Supply Chain Management
Getting Started on Graduate Studies Earlier is the Point of Advanced Standing Master’s Degrees in Supply Chain Management
Advanced standing programs (sometimes also called fast-track or progressive supply chain management master’s degrees—other schools call them accelerated programs, although they aren’t the same as the accelerated degrees discussed above), are another option for speeding up your supply chain education.
These combine a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in supply chain management into a single, consolidated program. By stacking the coursework exactly right, they can cut the traditional timeline of earning a master’s down to just twelve months or less.
That gets you from zero to out the door with one of the most advanced degrees in the field stacked on top of your undergraduate degree in only five years total time.
The way this works is straightforward: you commit to earning both bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the same university, as part of a single five-year course of study. During your standard four-year bachelor’s program, you’re allowed to swap in a certain number of classes from the graduate side of the program. Alternatively, some schools accept certain undergraduate coursework as fulfilling master’s requirements.
In effect, you start in on your master’s program while still going through your bachelor’s studies. By getting that coursework out of the way early, the additional required classes for the master’s program can be completed in only a year.
This works because bachelor’s degrees are stacked with plenty of elective options. While you might normally fill those up with enrichment courses or other classes of personal interest, a 4+1 will simply let you swap in graduate classes in supply chain studies instead. It’s good use of your time if you’re committed to a career in the field.
Many schools offer fast-track SCM master’s and MBA options of this sort combined with undergraduate majors in business administration and other related fields.
Choosing an Undergraduate Major to Build on with SCM Graduate Studies
That leaves you with some important choices to make with respect to how to manage your overall degree plan.
Supply chain management is both a broad field, with many specializations and applications, and one that ties into an even broader field at many points: business.
You’ll find advanced standing programs that offer bachelor’s degrees in business administration, accounting, economics, or other business-related subjects, all offered in the 4+1 format with an MS or MBA in Supply Chain Management.
You can use the option to combine your studies to shape exactly the kind of training you want and make it all happen in only five years.
Why an Accelerated MBA May Deliver the Best of Both Worlds in Business and Supply Chain Training
The upshot is that leaders and executives across the board may be heavily involved in supply chain and operations, even if that isn’t their specialization. Instead, many opt for the traditional king of all advanced business degrees: the Master of Business Administration.
An MBA with a specialization in Supply Chain Management delivers much of the logistics and supply chain knowledge that comes with an SCM master’s but puts it together with all the traditional business leadership and general management studies top executives need. That adds up to more coursework overall — 60 credits, in most cases.
And since top executives, or anyone climbing the ladder toward those jobs, aren’t known for having a lot of spare time, there are plenty of MBA programs that come with executive or accelerated options… including in SCM specializations.
Of course, squeezing 60 credits into one year is a much bigger challenge than 30 credits. So accelerated or one-year MBAs with a Concentration in Supply Chain Management are definitely on a fast-track!
Determining Your Eligibility for Advanced Standing or Executive Supply Chain Master’s Programs
Although you come out the other side with the same graduate education as you would get through a similar program with a conventional time-to-completion, these are all different degrees aimed at different groups. That means the eligibility requirements for enrollment will also be different.
All executive programs and many that are marketed as accelerated will want to see some supply chain management experience or expertise in your background. That can mean some time on the job, an undergraduate degree in SCM or a related field, like business, or both.
That’s because there’s no slack built in to get people up to speed. With classes that are run on rails, you can’t always hit pause or take a refresher. And since these programs are typically cohort based, the expectation is that you come in well-versed in the basics and speak the same industry language as your fellow students.
For advanced standing programs, on the other hand, you will typically (but not always!) need to be starting your bachelor’s degree or at least be early enough in your studies that you can fit in graduate coursework. That usually means you need to get your master’s at the same school where you are studying for your undergrad… although some schools have recently partnered up to offer crossover credentials, or otherwise allow you to use a certificate in SCM rather than a full bachelor’s in the field to qualify.
All these degree paths exist for a good reason. They offer options to students with different resources, objectives, and timelines.
Different colleges offer different timelines for reduced-time master’s—be sure to check actual estimated completion times.
Some schools offer all three format options – executive, advanced-standing, and accelerated – leading to the exact same degree.
Fast-Track Master’s Programs Vs. Conventional Timelines – Which One’s Right for You?
What makes these degree programs different from a standard graduate degree in supply chain management?
Really, there’s only one answer to that question that is consistent across every school that offers them: accelerated, executive, or advanced-standing master’s degrees in supply chain management are going to be tougher than the alternatives.
Whether that’s just because of the speed at which the same material is thrown at you, or the fact that you are branching into advanced work before the rest of your education catches up, these aren’t options for the faint of heart.
On the flip side, even though it’s the same content and material as anyone with the same major would take, graduating from an executive or advanced-standing program says something about your initiative and grit.
Fast-Track SCM Master’s Programs May Come with Tighter Graduation Requirements
Most of the other differences you’ll find in these programs will be on a case-by-case basis. Every college has their own formula, and you’ll want to drill down into specifics before you make your choices.
By far the most common difference from school to school is the curriculum focus.
In many cases, the trade-off for completing your degree at a faster pace is narrower course options. Many of these programs get you through the door quickly by running on rails. Instead of working with an advisor to carefully tailor your schedule to take care of prerequisites one-by-one, you might have a very narrow set of choices that comply with requirements.
Accelerated or executive supply chain master’s degrees may require a capstone completion option rather than offering a choice of either thesis or capstone.
That means hard choices when it comes to electives, if any. You may only get two semesters to work with; not all classes may be offered in both. If one conflicts with your core courses, there’s no time to fit it in later.
It’s also less common for these degrees to be offered with concentration options that allow you to specialize in procurement, or operations, or any of the other various logistics focus areas.
You’ll also find that admissions requirements will vary between these different degree options and more traditional degrees. In most cases this is to raise the bar for ensuring only qualified applicants take on such challenging programs.
With the kind of drive and initiative you need to get into and through a fast-track master’s in supply chain management, though, you’re showing that you are exactly that kind of person. If you can get in, and get through them, that’s the signal you’re sending to future employers.