Why Earn a Master’s in Human Resources
A human resources master's degree will build on your existing knowledge of this field, further developing your skills as they relate to the following:
- Leadership and Management
- Organizational Change
- Employee Relations and Dispute Resolution
- Training and Professional Development
At the master's level, you'll learn to become a strategic asset to any company, learning to attract and retain the people that will make an organization profitable and efficient.
Earning a master's degree in human resources is a good bet for professionals who wish to advance in a growing profession that spans just about every industry on the planet. Human resource professionals typically need a bachelor's degree to get started in their career but may find their options limited if they don't pursue an advanced degree. Earning a master's can help you stand out in a competitive field and access higher-level positions in HR than you might otherwise. Still, earning a master's degree is a significant investment, and many jobs don't necessarily require a master's degree to qualify, though it may help you get on the fast track and spend less time working in an entry-level position.
Business Degrees & Career Paths
While there aren’t a huge number of higher-level jobs that require a master’s degree, the one that do exist are top tier positions that you cannot get into without either a master’s or many, many years spent working in the field. This degree will allow you to fine-tune your HR skills and further develop your leadership and strategic thinking abilities.
Earning a master's degree in human resources is similar to earning a master's degree in an area like marketing. Meaning, the knowledge you gather as you earn this degree will serve you well, but it doesn't necessarily open up a wealth of opportunities. It might, but gaining work experience, keeping up with certifications or simply demonstrating competency in a particular area may have the same impact.
Overview of a Master's in Human Resources
What Human Resources Master's Degrees are Available?
There are a few options for human resources professionals seeking an advanced degree in the field. While there's the standard question, "should I go for an MA or an MS," the real question should be whether it’s better to seek out an MBA with an HR specialization or non-MBA masters in HR.
- Master's in Human Resources
A Master of Human Resources program will help you further develop your knowledge of the HR field from recruiting to benefits management, collective bargaining, and settling sensitive workplace matters while remaining in compliance with state and federal laws.
- MBA with HR Concentration
Many MBA programs offer students the option to specialize in an area such as finance, economics, marketing, or even HR. It's important to understand that pursuing an MBA will help you develop general business skills, while at the same time helping you level up your knowledge of HR practices. A master's degree in HR is centered around HR activities, not necessarily organizational management. The advantage of earning an MBA in HR versus a master's degree in HR is the versatility and the likely potential for higher pay.
A graduate of any MBA program should be equipped with the skills needed to run a company, so you'll have some flexibility when it comes to future career moves.
As with any academic program, admission requirements vary based on the institution. However, all master's programs, human resources or not, require applicants to have a bachelor's degree. Also, you'll likely need to submit transcripts and GRE scores. Should you choose to enter an MBA program with an HR specialization, you may also need to have some work experience under your belt. Often, MBA programs prefer candidates who have worked in the real world, so they enter a program with some understanding of the field and can apply their experience to their studies.
How Long Does it Take to Earn a Master's Degree in Human Resources?
Most master's programs take two years to complete, though there is some variation. Some programs take about three years, while several online programs offer an accelerated path toward earning your degree; these options usually take about 18 months to complete. Then, of course, you'll need to consider whether you have the time to enroll full-time or it's more realistic to keep working while attending classes part-time.
Potential Careers in Human Resources with a Master’s
Human resources jobs are available in just about any organization across all industries, as any business with personnel needs an HR team to help them handle benefits programs, paid leave, and some of the tougher decisions regarding workplace policies such as how an organization handles harassment claims.
Here are a few of the jobs someone with a master's degree in HR might have after earning their degree:
Compensation and Benefits Managers
Compensation and benefits managers are HR professionals that specialize in the employee benefits packages. This person sets an organization's pay structure and compensation breakdown, selects and manages insurance brokers, benefits vendors, and makes recommendations to C suite executives regarding compensation, professional development programs, and budgeting for salaries and other benefits.
To be effective in this role, managers must evaluate market conditions and have a deep understanding of wage structure and putting together a competitive benefits package. Compensation and benefits managers may also be responsible for putting together incentive programs, commission structures, and guidelines for performance-based bonuses.
Average Pay: $63,800
- Training and Development Managers
According to BLS data, this job is growing 10% faster than average, based on rising demands on organizations to upskill workers to keep pace with advancing technologies. Training and development managers plan and coordinate skills training and professional development programs within an organization. This person might supervise a staff of training instructors and be responsible for creating and selecting course content based on an organization's needs.
Average salary: $75,200
- Organizational Development Consultants
Organizational development consultants operate on a slightly different wavelength than their HR manager or director counterparts. This person is a third-party consultant that gets called in to help a company make changes to remain profitable. Typically, this person has significant experience in a managerial role and helps companies through a process involving an organizational assessment, problem-solving, and change management. They might also help personnel design meetings and organize presentation materials, manage projects more effectively, etc.
Average Pay: $83,000
Human Resources Director
Human resources directors occupy a range of roles across all kinds of organizations. A director at a smaller company, for example, might have a more general role, whereas, in a large organization, you might have directors with specialist roles such as a director of benefits and compensation or recruitment.
HR directors plan and manage all HR initiatives within an organization, including benefits, compensation, salary negotiation, training, team building, and leadership. They also work to ensure that policies and procedures are implemented correctly and in compliance with the law and professional standards. And, they oversee staff operations, budgeting efforts, and company culture initiatives. To work as an HR director, you'll typically need a bachelor's degree at a minimum, though employers may prefer to hire those with a master's degree. Certification and demonstrable leadership, organization, and interpersonal skills also factor in finding success in this role.
Average Pay: $87,400
Recruiting managers often work on behalf of a large company filling available manager and supervisory positions and scouting new potential talent. Recruiting managers typically work in an office setting, spending their days communicating with potential candidates as well as administering proficiency assessments, conducting screening interviews, and following up with applicants.
Master's degree holders or managers with a bachelor's degree and significant experience may be qualified to become recruiting directors, a more strategic leadership role that involves coming up with recruiting strategies and working with HR staff and upper management to develop a more effective approach to attracting and retaining talent.
Average Pay: $71,600
Options to Advance
After earning a master's degree in human resources, you may be able to increase your salary or go after a promotion that requires more experience or an advanced degree. According to the BLS, typical careers for master's degree holders in this field often include management roles or specialization in a specific area like benefits or recruitment.
While a degree is a significant advantage for HR professionals climbing up the career ladder, it's important to note that work experience and certifications are enormous in this field. HR professionals should expect to continue their education by earning certifications through the SHRM and other professional organizations to keep pace with changing regulations and best practices.
Best Master of Science in Human Resources Programs
There are quite a few schools that offer master's degrees in human resources, though you'll need to make a decision based on your career goals. Some programs are focused more on the human element of human resources; MA degrees aimed at helping students further develop recruiting skills, organizational management, and expertise in areas like conflict resolution and workplace harassment. MS programs may focus more on the logistical and operational parts of the business such as benefits and compensation, budgeting, and more. And then there's the MBA track, where students specializing in HR will study things like professional development and hiring best practices alongside strategic management, finance, and accounting.
Pepperdine University offers both full and part-time graduate degrees in human resources and states on their website that their Master of Science in Human Resources aligns with the curriculum laid out in the SHRM guidebook. The program centers around behavioral management, recruiting, and talent management, as well as economic concepts and human resource law. In addition to the MS program, the university also offers several MBA concentrations, including one entitled, Leadership and Managing Organizational Change.
This program may be a suitable option for HR pros who wish to advance into a director or C-suite role. Here, the curriculum covers talent management, leadership, business communications, negotiations, change management, and workplace dynamics. Either program will help you level up your career, but again, the best decision all boils down to finding a master's degree that aligns with your career goals.
- MS in Human Resources
- MBA – Leadership and Managing Organizational Change
Baldwin Wallace University
Baldwin Wallace University offers students a Master of Business Administration in Human Resources, built to develop the leadership and management skills that will help them successfully manage human capital in any organization. This program is approved by both the SHRM and the Human Resources Certification Institute (HCRI), making this an excellent choice for aspiring HR leaders who want an in-person learning experience.
- MBA in Human Resources
Seattle Pacific University
Seattle Pacific University provides a slightly different degree offering than some of the other options we've seen. The Master of Arts in Management with an emphasis in Human Resources (MAM-HR) aims to provide students with a background in business management, as well as the full spectrum of HR specializations. Keep in mind, the program has a strong ethical component, as it's a Christian university. Students are required to take a couple of courses that emphasize moral leadership and faith-based values, so it may not be right for everyone.
- MA in Management – focus in Human Resources
Claremont Graduate University
CGU offers an MS degree in Human Resource Management, which aligns with SHRM curriculum guidelines and meets the needs of working professionals who may not have time to attend school full-time while holding down a job. The program covers compensation and benefits, performance management, workplace ethics, employment law, and talent management.
- MS in Human Resource Management
Traditional Schools Offering an MS in Human Resources
There are several online programs for those interested in pursuing a master's degree in HR. However, one key thing you'll need to keep in mind here is that many online schools are for-profit institutions that don't have the same accreditation status as a state university or a top-tier private school. Still, there are tons of reputable schools that offer online programs, typically geared toward working professionals who might not have time to attend in-person classes.
Villanova's Master of Science in Human Resource Development is designed to teach students how to develop financial and budgeting skills, structure benefits packages, and use the latest technologies within an HR setting. According to the website, the program is best suited for working HR professionals who wish to advance in their career. The curriculum features real-time faculty-led discussions and focuses on developing HR competencies and leadership skills you can apply to real-world situations.
- MS in Human Resource Development
New York University
New York City, New York
NYU offers an MS in Human Resource Development as part of its online degree programs. The program is in alignment with SHRM standards and consists of a set of core courses, an internship, and a capstone project on applied human resources strategies. Students can choose from a handful of concentrations within this program, including Global Talent Management, Human Capital Management, Learning, Development, and Executive Coaching, and Organizational Effectiveness. Each concentration aligns with slightly different career goals, be it leveling up HR generalist skills or pursuing a career as a productivity analyst, global recruiting professional, or in coaching and professional development.
- MS in Human Resource Development
Eastern Michigan University
Eastern Michigan University's Master of Business Administration program offers the option to specialize in Human Resource Management, where online learners will study HR-centric courses instead of the electives they would choose in the standard MBA program. Courses include Employment Law, Strategic HR Management, Benefits Administration, and others aimed at giving students a background in business strategy as it relates to the HR profession.
- MBA – Human Resources Management
North Greenville University
Tigerville, South Carolina
North Greenville University, based in North Carolina, offers students a flexible learning experience, allowing them to choose to earn their MBA in person, online, or in a hybrid format. Like Seattle Pacific, NGU teaches business management and human resources strategy through a Christian lens. The official website states that programs are SHRM recognized and that the curriculum prepares students for SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP credentials while earning their MBA, so it's entirely possible that you'll receive a high return on investment, whether you choose to take courses online or in-person.
- MBA – Human Resources
Webster's MA in human resources is designed to prepare HR professionals for a changing, complex workplace. Content covers strategic decision-making, and practical and theoretical coursework that looks closely at HR's role in non-profit, government, enterprise, and small business settings. Students may also enroll in a dual MA/MBA degree in Human Resources Management to open themselves up to more attractive job prospects upon graduation.
- MA in Human Resources
- Dual MA/MBA in Human Resources Management