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Online Master's Programs in Hospitality Management

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Updated on: 11/13/2018

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects several hospitality management careers — including food service manager and event planner — to grow at significant rates during the 2016-2026 decade. Earning a master’s in hospitality management online can position you to take advantage of that growth. If you hold a bachelor’s degree in a different field or an undergraduate degree in hospitality management, want to change careers, work full-time, or want to increase your earning potential, earning a master’s in hospitality management online allows you to continue to earn a salary while setting yourself up for future success.

What Can I Learn in an Online Master’s in Hospitality Management Program?

Hospitality management professionals often concern themselves with two central goals: customer service and profit. Students pursuing a master’s in hospitality management online learn skills that apply to both areas. In addition to studying business fields like marketing, sales, data analysis, and management, students in hospitality management programs also learn how restaurants and hotels operate. Additionally, students learn universal skills like management, customer service, and data-driven decision making that apply to fields far beyond hospitality management.

In general, a typical online master’s in hospitality program requires students to earn 30 to 36 credits and takes 18 to 24 months of full-time study to complete. Most online hospitality management programs do not differ greatly from their on-campus counterparts. In most cases, online students can arrange internships in their own communities.

What’s the difference between a master’s in hospitality management and an MBA in hospitality management?

Specificity and comprehensiveness differentiate a masters in hospitality management program from an MBA in hospitality management program. An MBA program in hospitality management often combines 12-15 credits of hospitality management coursework with core courses that cover foundational business areas such as finance, marketing, and management. On the other hand, a master’s in hospitality management program approaches all 30-36 credits from a hospitality management perspective.

For example, an introduction to marketing course in an MBA program might include an equivalent course called "foundations of hospitality management." The latter course would likely include only hospitality management case studies, while the former would offer more general business examples. That said, the two degrees do not differ much in terms of format or length.

What common courses are offered in a master’s in hospitality management program?

Though courses can differ from program to program — and though unique courses can help you differentiate between hospitality management degrees — most programs offer similar core courses. We explore five of the most common courses in the following section.

Data Analysis in Hospitality Management

This course introduces students to different quantitative methods that they can use to evaluate their hospitality businesses. The course also discusses how to use data to make informed big picture decisions that benefit the future of their business.

Strategic Marketing in Hospitality and Tourism

This survey course explores how to best market hospitality and tourism businesses to target demographics and customers. Possible course topics include product differentiation, marketing environments, segmentation, analyzing the competition, and marketing to target audiences. This course frequently uses case studies to offer a more hands-on approach to learning.

Financial Analysis of Hospitality Enterprises

Profit numbers often make a big difference for hospitality management professionals, as higher ups may evaluate you simply by looking at profit and loss statements. As such, this course prepares students to handle the day-to-day financial operations of a hospitality business and often covers topics such as accounting, budgeting, and pricing models.

International Tourism Management

This course covers both theory and methodology, preparing graduates to help oversee the operations of an international tourism business. The course often focuses on the environmental and economic impacts of international tourism at both macro and micro levels.

Internship

Many programs encourage students to explore the field of hospitality management that interests them — restaurants, lodging, or tourism — through a direct experience. In many cases, students can arrange internship placement sites in their own communities.

What exams or projects should I expect?

In many cases, a hospitality management master’s program does not conclude with a traditional thesis, capstone project, or comprehensive examination. Instead, many programs conclude with some sort of cumulative course, often one that covers the different strategic issues in hospitality management. This course prepares graduates to make tough day-to-day and big decisions while overseeing customer experience and profitability in a hospitality business. In most cases, this class covers specific strategies for getting the most out of operations within a hospitality organization in addition to general management theory.

What specializations are available in a master’s in hospitality management program?

Different master’s in hospitality management online programs can offer a variety of specializations that help students different between the two programs. Nevertheless, several specializations appear more frequently than others, as they lead directly to certain careers in the hospitality management field. Below, we discuss three of those common specializations.

Lodging Management

As the name suggests, the lodging management specialization prepares graduates for future careers as managers of hotels, bed and breakfasts, or other businesses where guests stay overnight. This concentration teaches students how to perform a lodging manager's essential duties.

Restaurant Management

Similar to the lodging management specialization, the restaurant management specialization takes a pre-professional approach to preparing students for careers as restaurant, club, or bar managers. Coursework in this specialization reflects coursework in the lodging management specialization, as the ultimate goals of the two professions do not differ: profit and customer service. However, this specialization offers more food service coursework.

Tourism Management

A bit broader than the previous two specializations, the tourism management concentration often prepares students to work more on the big-picture side of a business than on the day-to-day operations. Graduates can find initial work as middle managers in tourism organizations both large and small.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Interior Design Degree?

Earning a master's degree in interior design can help prepare learners for employment in speciality fields. Graduates can find employment in interior design positions, or pursue additional training or certifications. The list below outlines five occupations that master's in interior design graduates may choose to pursue, though earning a degree does not guarantee immediate eligibility for these roles.

Interior Designer

Interior designers have multiple roles, from decorating and furnishing spaces to ensuring a buildings safety. Designers focus on the aesthetics of buildings, like color schemes, lighting, art, decoration, and layout. Those who develop and design new buildings work with blueprints and building schematics to outline functional elements, like electrical layouts and accessibility.

Architect

Architect's design, develop, and supervise the creation of new structures. They must complete a bachelor's degree, an internship, and pass a registration exam. Many master's programs offer a combination of architecture and interior design studies. This advanced education prepares students for specialized employment and managerial positions where they can develop innovative and functional structures.

Industrial Designer

Industrial designers develop products for daily use, including cars, toys, furniture, and housewares. Designers who pursue a master's in interior design have a specialized education. They can focus on the development of furniture or home appliances.

Landscape Architect

Landscape architects specialize in the design of outdoor spaces, such as parks and private gardens. They work with clients to prepare and implement plans and a budget. Just as interior designers work to make indoor spaces accessible and functional, landscape architects make outdoor spaces attractive and practical. A master's degree in interior design teaches students foundational skills through classes like environmental psychology.

Art Director

As a managerial position, art directors oversee the design and production of visual content. They produce imagery for television, websites, magazines, or games. Art directors have an eye for space and function, and excel in a supervisory role. An art director who earned their master's degree in interior design can direct the design and documentation of movie sets, interior design photoshoots, or furniture and home furnishing sites.

Professional organizations provide opportunities for students and recent graduates to gain exposure to the field. Professional organizations grant members access to networking opportunities, continuing education resources, and industry recognition. Three major professional organizations for interior designers are listed below.

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Hospitality Management Degree?

As they operate in a distinctly pre-professional field, hospitality management programs prepare students for a specific set of careers. In most cases, program graduates go on to manage restaurants, hotels, or tourism organizations. However, the skills that students learn while earning their master’s in hospitality management online — customer service, business operations, organization, and management — apply to other fields. In particular, students can take the skills that they learn in hospitality management and apply them to the administration or operation of other businesses.

Below, we highlight five career paths for master’s in hospitality management online graduates. While a degree certainly helps students earn these jobs, some hospitality management positions require additional certification or licensure.

Lodging Manager

Lodging managers oversee all day-to-day operations at hotels, bed and breakfasts, or other businesses where guests stay overnight. They focus on both business and customer experience, ensuring that guests enjoy their stay and that the organization runs profitably. The position requires professionals willing to stay on call throughout the day, as many lodging operations stay open 24/7. While most of these positions do not require an advanced degree, a master’s in hospitality management online places you among the top candidates.

Food Service Manager

Food service managers oversee day-to-day operations at restaurants, bars, clubs, and other businesses that serve food and drink. Like lodging managers, they manage a staff of waiters and bartenders to ensure the best experience for patrons, making sure that the business runs profitably. However, although they work the irregular hours, they generally do not need to spend 24 hours a day on call like lodging managers. As with the lodging manager profession, most food service manager positions do not require an advanced degree, but earning a master’s in hospitality management online makes you more competitive.

Meeting, Convention, or Event Planner

These professionals take responsibility for the planning and execution of professional meetings and events. Like the previous two careers, these planners often oversee a staff of other professionals and help with both customer service and the meeting or event. Additionally, while a master’s degree can help you earn an event planning job, most positions require only a bachelor’s degree.

Information Clerk

Often an entry-level position in the hospitality management industry, information clerks maintain detailed records and data about clients and businesses. In the hospitality management field, these professionals most often work in hotels. In some cases, hotels only require a high school diploma from applicants for these positions. However, career-minded professionals hoping to get a foot in the door can earn a master’s in hospitality management online while working as an information clerk to get ahead.

Administrative Services Manager

Not necessarily limited to the hospitality management field, this profession requires individuals who can plan, organize, and coordinate support services for an entire organization. While these professionals can work for hotels, restaurants, and tourism organizations, they can also work for any type of business. As such, this profession provides an opportunity for professionals who want to use the skills they learned while earning a master’s in hospitality management online beyond the hospitality management field.

Many hospitality employers judge candidates based on their customer service skills and on how well they interact with other people. As such, networking plays a particularly large role in the industry, and membership in a professional organization can offer you additional opportunities to network. Below, we describe five of the hospitality management industry’s best professional organizations.

National Restaurant Association

The largest trade organization in the world for food service managers, the National Restaurant Association provides best practices, access to research, advocacy, and a jobs board to its members.

Hospitality Net

Hospitality Net provides continuing-education opportunities such as webinars, the latest news, and networking events to its members, which primarily consists of hoteliers and lodging managers.

American Hotel and Lodging Association

AHLA aims to unite the hospitality industry through advocacy and programming. The organization also provides a jobs board and continuing education through professional certification opportunities.

World Tourism Organization

A branch of the United Nations, the WTO promotes "responsible, sustainable, and universally accessible tourism." The organization accomplishes its mission through advocacy, UN-specific events, and campaigns.

Club Management Association of America

CMAA styles itself as the preeminent professional organization for all membership-based clubs, including country clubs, golf courses, athletic facilities, and military clubs. The organization provides job boards, access to research, and annual conferences.

How Much Can I Make with a Career in Hospitality Management?

The following chart provides data about the salary ranges you can expect from different careers within the hospitality management field. We provide the median annual salary in addition to data from the lowest 10% and the highest 10% of salaries. While earning a master’s in hospitality management online does not guarantee employment, the degree can potentially provide you with the following opportunities.

Job Title Lowest 10% Earned Annually Median Annual Salary Highest 10% Earned Annually Job Growth 2016-2026
Lodging Manager Less than $28,930 $51,800 More than $98,370 +4%
Food Service Manager Less than $29,850 $52,030 More than $90,290 +9%
Meeting, Convention, or Event Planner Less than $26,390 $48,290 More than $82,980 +11%
Information Clerk Less than $20,720 33,680 More than $55,480 +3%
Administrative Services Manager Less than $52,750 $94,020 More than $163,480 +10%

Source: BLS 2018

While the BLS projects hospitality management careers to grow steadily over the next decade, the organization also projects some individual careers within the field to grow at faster-than-average rates. In particular, administrative services managers and meetings, convention, and event planners should see an uptick in the number of available jobs in their specific areas by 2026. The BLS projects other professions in the hospitality management field to either remain steady or grow at slower rates.

The level of the hospitality management degree that you earn often affects the salary that you make. According to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, professionals with a bachelor’s in hospitality management earn a median annual salary of $52,000. Professionals with a master’s in hospitality management (online or otherwise) earn a median annual salary of $69,000.

Online Master’s in Hospitality Management Program Accreditation

When choosing an online school or program, you should look for two types of accreditation: regional and national. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversee the regional accreditation process through six geographic organizations. These organizations send evaluators to schools to vet the quality and ethics of the schools against objective criteria, awarding a pass or a fail. If students enroll in schools that do not provide evidence of accreditation, they enroll in schools that either failed their evaluations or never went through an evaluation in the first place. Employers typically do not recognize degrees from non-accredited schools.

Programmatic accreditation differs from regional accreditation in that each accrediting organization focuses on a specific field rather than a school as a whole. The Accreditation Commission for Programs in Hospitality Administration (ACPHA) evaluates programs in the hospitality management field, and students should look for the ACPHA seal of approval when applying to different schools.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Hospitality Management Degree

In most cases, students pay for their master’s in hospitality management online through some combination of federal aid, grants, and scholarships. Though the proportions differ from student to student, these three categories combine to make up most students’ funding. Below, we discuss five of the best funding opportunities.

  • Federal Financial Aid

    All prospective students should fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA). FAFSA serves as the gatekeeper and the hub for federal funding opportunities, and students should make sure to exhaust these opportunities to ensure they receive maximum funding for their education.

  • APIASF Darden Restaurants Scholarships

    Offered specifically to students of Asian/Pacific Islander descent, the Darden Restaurant Scholarship awards a two year grant — worth $2,500 each year — to first-year students seeking a hospitality management or culinary arts degree. Additionally, applicants must live in one of 25 specific metropolitan areas.

  • Buffalo Wild Wings Scholarships

    Partnering with the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation, Buffalo Wild Wings sets aside $100,000 for six scholarships for students pursuing careers in the hospitality industry. The amount awarded varies from year to year.

  • Tourism Cares Academic Scholarships

    Tourism Cares allocates $62,000 for up to 29 annual scholarships awarded to students — both undergraduate and graduate — pursuing degrees in travel, tourism, or hospitality. Students must maintain a 3.0 GPA and live in the U.S. or Canada to qualify.