The field of supply chain management, sometimes abbreviated as SCM, deals with the logistics of supply chains. This refers to the processes of acquiring and transporting materials and goods in business over the course of the life cycle of a product. Earning a degree in this field can lead to a high-paying job such as logistician or supply chain director.

The question many prospective students have is how long a supplier chain management course of study will take them. The answer is that it depends on what level of degree you are pursuing. While it is possible to quickly complete an associate’s degree in supply chain management and start working in an entry-level job in this career field, most supply chain management professionals go to school longer and graduate with a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree. This means that your education after high school may take as little as two years or as long as six or more years, based on how advanced the degree you’re seeking is.

Prospective supply chain management students should keep in mind that it’s not only how long it takes to earn your degree that matters. If you’re planning to devote a full career to your studies in SCM, the time you take to prepare for your profession is just a small portion of the time you will spend in this field. While it’s natural to want to quickly progress toward your goal of working in supply chain management, speeding through your education could mean that you miss out on valuable experiences like extracurricular activities and internship opportunities.

Supply Chain Management Courses That Lead to Two-Year Degrees

The quickest route into a career in supply chain management and logistics is an associate’s degree. In as little as two years – or less, if you choose a community college that offers an accelerated study option – you could complete your Associate of Science (A.S.) in Supply Chain Management degree. This degree typically includes 60 credits of college coursework.

In an associate’s degree program in supply chain management, you will most likely study subjects such as inventory, scheduling, the purchasing process, shop floor control, service delivery systems, negotiation and supply chain process modeling. Learning to use software such as QuickBooks and Microsoft Excel can be beneficial. Often, general business courses such as accounting, project management and human resources management are part of the curriculum, as are general education courses in subjects such as mathematics and communication.

Besides your major classes, a lot of the coursework you will take in an associate’s degree program is meant to satisfy general education requirements. These requirements are pulled from different disciplines of study to equip students in all major programs with a well-rounded foundation of college-level knowledge. Because bachelor’s degree programs also have general education requirements, students who graduate from an associate’s degree program and choose to go back to school can use their prior general education classes to fulfill general education requirements at their four-year school, too.

Associate’s degrees are common in the logistics analyst career path, with 23 percent of the occupation reporting this level of study. Even earning partial college credits toward an associate’s degree can be beneficial for your career in supply chain management. Five percent of logistics analysts reported having some college education but not finishing a degree, according to O*NET.

While an associate’s degree can be a great start for preparing for an entry-level role in supply chain management, you will need to study a little longer to attain a good and well-paying job such as logistician or supply chain manager.

Supply Chain Management Bachelor’s Degrees

In most cases, candidates who want to work in a business and financial role in supply chain management, like logistician, will need a bachelor’s degree, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. While there are some logistician roles available to candidates with only an associate’s degree, most employers expect new talent to have a bachelor’s degree. The main reason for this employer preference is because the additional coursework that students complete above the associate’s degree level equips them with the skills to manage complex supply chains. Students pursuing an associate’s degree may take as few as five SCM courses, while those working toward a bachelor’s degree may take twice as many classes that actually pertain directly to their major.

supply chain management courses

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Earning a bachelor’s degree usually takes a minimum of four years of full-time study, though students often take longer to graduate, especially if they change majors or pursue minors. A bachelor’s degree program in supply chain and logistics often includes studies in procurement, business logistics, strategic supply chain management, transportation principles, global supply chains and business processes improvement. An internship experience, in which you work in a supply chain management capacity under the guidance of experienced professionals in the field, is invaluable for learning about the career path and gaining real-world experience that will help you get your first job.

About 67 percent of supply chain managers – who hold various titles that range from Global Consumer Sector Vice President to Solution Design and Analysis Manager – have a bachelor’s degree, O*NET reported as of 2021.

SCM Courses of Graduate Study

One way you can boost your career prospects in supply chain management is to continue your education beyond the bachelor’s degree. Nearly 20 percent of supply chain managers have a master’s degree, which typically requires two years of study at a graduate school.

About 10 percent of supply chain managers chose an alternative path to further their education: a post-baccalaureate certificate. Post-baccalaureate certificates are advanced programs of study intended for bachelor’s degree holders that require less coursework than a traditional master’s degree. Generally, you can finish a post-baccalaureate certificate in less time than it would take to complete a master’s degree and spend less money on tuition. However, a certificate may not confer the same level of prestige that a master’s degree does.

Students of either a master’s degree or a post-baccalaureate certificate in supply chain management will take advanced and specialized coursework in the field. If you choose a traditional master’s degree program, you must then decide whether you want a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree with a concentration in supply chain management or a Master of Science (M.S.) in Supply Chain Management. Generally, the MBA is the broader of the two master’s degree programs in the field, while the M.S. is more specialized. Overall, master’s degree programs are more comprehensive and require more college credits than certificate programs.

There are doctoral degrees in supply chain management, too. However, advancing your education to this level isn’t the best idea for most practitioners in the field. The focus of Ph.D. programs isn’t on professional practice but instead on preparing scholars, academics and researchers in the fields of supply chain management and transportation logistics. Considering the high cost and time commitment that goes along with earning a Ph.D., professionals in the field of supply chain management should think carefully about whether pursuing another degree beyond the master’s level is likely to help them achieve their career goals.

Just how much shorter are certificate programs compared to master’s degree programs? A typical master’s degree program will require at least 30 credits and potentially close to 60 graduate credits. Many supply chain management certificate programs, on the other hand, require just 12 to 15 credits. 

Accelerated and Part-Time Supply Chain and Logistics Courses

Not every aspiring logistician or supply chain manager earns an associate’s degree in two years, a bachelor’s degree in four years, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with learning at a different pace that fits your goals and lifestyle. To that end, it may make sense to consider an accelerated degree program if you want to get your degree faster or pick a part-time program option if you can’t study full-time.

Accelerated logistics degree programs allow you to graduate faster and get out in the workforce sooner. An accelerated associate’s degree in supply chain and logistics management may take 18 months or even 12 months to complete rather than two full years. Accelerated bachelor’s degrees can cut the four-year timeline to graduation down to as little as three years. An accelerated master’s degree in supply chain management may take 18 months to complete on its own or by combining it with a bachelor’s degree into a 4+1 dual degree program in supply chain analytics.

Studying part-time has the opposite effect, stretching out your education over a longer span of time. While this means that you won’t be able to put your degree to use for a while, part-time study may still be the best option if you’re already out in the working world and don’t want to leave a full-time job or if you have other obligations that prevent you from giving your education your full focus. Applicants accepted as part-time students can generally take the number of courses that fit their life each semester, although prospective students should know that some programs require part-time students to complete their degrees within a certain timeframe.

While part-time students pay less tuition per semester than full-time students, their education often ends up costing them somewhat more in the long run. Still, that’s a sacrifice worth making when full-time study isn’t feasible. 

Can You Get Your Degree Faster by Taking Supply Chain Management Courses Online?

Taking supply chain management courses online may help you finish your supply chain management degree faster, but there’s no guarantee. Some online courses are equivalent to in-person courses when it comes to the time it takes to finish a semester or your entire degree. However, accelerated degree programs often are offered in online formats. Some of these online SCM courses use condensed terms, in which students take a smaller number of classes per term and more terms per year, to allow for faster completion time. Accelerated courses that condense a whole semester’s worth of content into a shortened span of time may come with an intense workload, which is one of the reasons synchronous online study options that are meant to accommodate your schedule are popular for students of accelerated programs.

Contrary to popular belief, online classes aren’t easy. Succeeding in the online environment requires many of the same skills needed to work in logistics, such as organizational skills, time management skills, and self-motivation. 

Is Supply Chain Management a Hard Major?

The difficulty of any degree program depends on your own strengths and weaknesses as a student, but there are some majors that are widely respected as among the most difficult and others commonly classified as being easy. Generally, supply chain management is somewhere in between, but the program can lean toward the more difficult side. A curriculum in supply chain management typically doesn’t require the amount of intensive high-level math and science classes required for some of the most notoriously difficult college majors. Still, coursework in mathematics and statistics is an essential part of the program, and supply chain management courses also cover the concepts and techniques for using industry software, tools, and other types of technology.
Part of what determines the difficulty of your curriculum is which type of academic background you choose to pursue. A bachelor’s degree program in business administration with a concentration in supply chain management will typically include fewer specialized SCM courses and more courses in business core subjects like accounting, marketing, finance, human resources and management. This broader degree program is widely viewed as being easier than a major in supply chain management specifically.
Perhaps the most difficult of the logistics and supply chain management majors is systems engineering. Like other types of engineering, systems engineering involves using the principles of math and science to design solutions to real problems. When the problems to be solved involve logistics, this means applying mathematical models to the management of the supply chain.

The job of supply chain management, too, is challenging in many ways. Although it’s rewarding, work in supply chain management is often stressful, especially when logistical problems such as shipping delays, stock issues and workflow problems arise. 

Additional Resources

How Long Does It Take to Get a Degree in Business?

What Is the Difference Between a Business Administration Degree and a Supply Chain Management Degree?

What Is the Salary Potential for Someone With a Supply Chain Management Degree?