Best Online Master’s in Organizational Leadership Programs of 2021

portrait of Doug Wintemute
by Doug Wintemute
Published on November 3, 2021
Edited by Darlene Earnest

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A master's in organizational leadership program can help students gain skills they'll need to lead teams and organizations in diverse and ever-changing environments. Compared to a traditional online business degree, an online master's in organizational leadership program focuses more on managerial styles rather than specific duties.

In 2018-19, the average cost of graduate tuition and required fees was more than $19,000. A strong employment outlook for those in management occupations may make an organizational leadership degree appealing. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 9% job growth for all management occupations from 2020-30. The median annual wage for those jobs is $109,760, as of May 2020.

Master's in organizational leadership programs help train these future leaders to handle contemporary management issues. These programs typically run for two years, though many top online schools offer accelerated online degree options.

Through this guide, learn more about organizational leadership and what students and graduates might expect from the field.

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Organizational Leadership Program?

Advanced organizational leadership programs draw aspiring managers with strong communication, analytical, and problem-solving skills. Each school has its own unique curriculum. However, the typical online master's in organizational leadership program requires 30-45 credits. Many students complete the program in less than two years.

Organizational leadership programs typically award master of arts (MA) or master of science (MS) degrees. These programs may have some subtle differences. MA degrees tend to focus on a theoretical understanding of management. MS degrees tend to take a more technical approach.

Organizational leadership learners also may get to choose a specialization, such as global leadership, change leadership, and organizational communication. Some degree-seekers might also study organizational leadership as a concentration through another degree, such as human resources or an MBA.

Most master's programs in this discipline feature collaborative assignments and leadership capstone projects. Some schools also may feature practicums, which learners can typically complete at a location near them. When preparing for graduate school, online learners should find out if their program has any residency requirements.

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What Courses Will I Take in an Online Master's in Organizational Leadership Program?

Human Behavior in Organizations

This course explores workplace relationships. It looks at people in organizations, their needs, and why they behave the way they do in various situations. Learners study how leaders can improve productivity and effectiveness by appealing to employee behaviors.

Communication and Leadership Ethics

In this course, students learn about workplace integrity, management ethics, and how leaders should respect the diversity and individuals in the workplace. Learners examine effective communication methods, teamwork strategies, and structures that can work best for contemporary organizations.

Human Resources Management

Students in this course learn about human resources policies and regulations. They learn the role of human resources managers, including staff recruitment, job design, employee training, and employee and management relations.

Leadership Theory and Practice

This course explores leadership theories. These may include communication methods, team-building practices, and training and development strategies. Learners may examine the historical development of leadership and the elements that influence contemporary leadership styles.

Organizational Culture

This course looks at how organizational culture develops and affects employees, management, and productivity. Students can learn ways to change culture through training, communication strategies, and goal setting.

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What Are the Admission Requirements for an Online Master's in Organizational Leadership Program?

The admission requirements for an online master's in organizational leadership program are similar to most online or on-campus programs at this level. In addition to the steps listed below and in our graduate admissions guide, prospective students may need to complete an interview.

Application

A college application contains the candidate's personal information. It also identifies the school and program to which they are applying. Most college application systems only connect applicants to undergraduate programs. So prospective students pursuing master's degrees typically need to apply directly to their desired schools.

Test Scores

GRE or GMAT test results are often required for applicant comparison. Though many schools have given temporary waivers for test scores because of the pandemic, prospective students may still want to consider GMAT and GRE prep guides. These can help students boost their scores and get above the 75th percentile, which represents a good score in most schools.

Letters of Recommendation

Schools often request three letters of recommendation from an applicant's former teachers or employers. These letters can provide an inside perspective about how the applicant works. They also may show how prepared the student is for the program and for the field after graduation. Prospective students should begin asking for letters of recommendation as soon as possible to meet deadlines and avoid late responses.

Resume and Work Experience

Many schools require resumes and cover letters to learn more about a candidate's professional experience. Some master's in organizational leadership programs may require a specific amount of work experience for admission. Prospective students should take the time to update and carefully go over their resumes and cover letters.

Essays

Colleges often require essays, but topics may differ. For example, undergraduate programs typically require a personal essay. Graduate essays usually require more insight into future goals and educational interests. Grad school essays may help admissions personnel determine if a prospective student is a good fit for the program.

Official Transcripts

Official transcripts highlight an applicant's postsecondary experience, including what classes have been taken and what grades were earned. Schools can use these records to learn if the prospective student completed the appropriate prerequisites and if they qualify for transfer credits.

What Can I Do With an Online Master's in Organizational Leadership Degree?

Career Outlook

A positive career outlook could be ahead for graduates with a master's in organizational leadership. The BLS projects the addition of 906,800 new management occupations between 2020 and 2030. These include nearly 15,000 human resources managers, over 4,000 training and development managers, and nearly 210,000 top executive positions.

Professionals entering these fields typically have at least a bachelor's degree. However, a master's degree may be needed for advancement and higher-level positions.

Management occupations may provide substantial financial rewards, with some paying median annual wages that nearly triple the median annual wages for all U.S. occupations.

These professionals may be able to get some of the most lucrative positions in business, including chief executive roles that pay median annual wages of $185,950, as of May 2020.

Aside from entering the business and financial industry, graduates can pursue careers in government, healthcare, and manufacturing.

Career Paths

Training and Development Managers

These managers create and run training and development programs for individuals and organizations. They provide assessments to determine who needs training and what type of skills would be most beneficial in order to develop the most appropriate programs. They also create the materials for these programs and prepare other trainers to run them internally.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $115,640

Human Resources Managers

Human resources managers oversee various administrative duties in an organization, including staffing and training. They also manage employee relations, mediating conflicts and discussions with employees and management. These managers handle payroll, wages, and health and safety as well, depending on the organization.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $121,220

Top Executives

Top executives set goals for organizations and establish the processes and policies to help meet them. They also may handle the finances, staffing, and contracts for organizations. Executives can oversee single departments or entire organizations and have a hand in daily activities.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $107,680

Postsecondary Education Administrator

Postsecondary administrators work in various departments and capacities in colleges and universities, such as handling admission, academics, or student services. They also may be deans or provosts, who manage policies, finances, and faculty research. They can work as registrars and manage student schedules and events or in student affairs, where they provide guidance and support.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $97,500

Management Analyst

Management analysts help organizations improve in different ways by analyzing performances, reviewing organizational data, and recommending changes. They develop strategies and identify technological changes that may help. These analysts often implement changes and perform audits and follow-ups.

Median Annual Salary (as of May 2020): $87,660

Organizational Leadership Not For You? Check Out These Related Careers.

Continuing Education

While most students in a master's in organizational leadership program enter the workforce after graduation, some choose to continue their education. They may take the most direct route into a doctorate in organizational leadership program. Others may pursue a related degree, like a doctorate in business administration.

They also may decide to pursue certificates in complementary fields and add to their leadership expertise.

How Do I Choose an Online Master's in Organizational Leadership Program?

Cost

Prospective students need to evaluate the true cost of an online program. In addition to tuition, this cost includes transportation, books and materials, and how it affects your quality of life. It also includes any loss of income you could have while pursuing your degree. Learners also should consider online programs vs. on-campus programs, in-state vs. out-of-state tuition, and private vs. public schools.

Program Format

Program format can have a major impact on how and when learners study. Choose the best option for yourself. Consider part-time or full-time programs, accelerated pathways, or synchronous vs. asynchronous delivery. Some online master's in organizational leadership programs also may offer hybrid options for learners who want some in-class courses.

Location

Before choosing the school location, prospective students should choose between online or on-campus studies. On-campus students need to think about where they want to live and study, while online students need to understand what residency requirements the program has and if they can complete them. Location also may affect tuition rates.

Accreditation

Prospective students should ensure every school and program they are considering has accreditation. Online college accreditation ensures that employers and financial aid organizations recognize the training. Though not mandatory for an online master's in organizational leadership, programmatic accreditation may come from the International Accreditation Council for Business Education or Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.

Student Support

Student services give learners support throughout their studies. All prospective learners should consider these programs when choosing a school. They may look for student mentorship programs, online student services, or practicums and internships. Academic and mental health support programs also can make a difference for degree-seekers.

2021 Best Accredited Online Master's in Organizational Leadership Programs

Rankings compiled by the the BestColleges Ranking Team

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Northeastern University true View School Profile Boston, MA

Northeastern offers more than 40 online certificates and degrees through its College of Professional Studies, including an online master's in leadership with a concentration in organizational communication. The 34-credit curriculum uses an action-learning approach to course design that prepares graduates to apply classroom knowledge to address industry-specific challenges.

Required courses include ethical leadership and leading teams. Concentration coursework covers topics like crisis communication and ethical issues in organizational communication. Students also complete a capstone project.

Northeastern maintains four entry dates each year. Applicants to this leadership program must submit a resume, two recommendation letters, and a 500-word personal statement. The program does not require standardized test scores for admission.

George Washington University true View School Profile Washington, DC

GW is a private research institution that delivers comprehensive programs across its 14 schools and colleges. Distance learners can pursue the university's fully online master's in organizational leadership and learning. Throughout a 30-credit curriculum, students strengthen the critical thinking and reflection skills necessary to act as ethical leaders.

Students take five required courses in areas like human behavior and learning, developing work groups and teams, and organizational change. Learners use three electives to personalize their curriculum, choosing from courses like consulting skills and meaningful workplaces. Students can also pursue independent research or complete an internship.

Applicants need a regionally accredited bachelor's degree and adequate GMAT or GRE scores. They must submit a current resume, a personal statement, and two recommendation letters.

Lincoln Christian University true View School Profile Lincoln, IL

Established in 1944 as a Bible institute, LCU now offers a variety of certificates and degrees to over 700 students annually. The university's graduate catalog includes an online master's degree in organizational leadership that emphasizes the strategic decision-making skills needed to oversee nonprofit and for-profit organizations. Students in the program take one course at a time and graduate in about 21 months.

The program's curriculum includes courses like cultural expressions of leadership, legal and ethical issues in the field, and interpersonal communication. Students also learn to transform conflict into productive change. The program culminates in an integrative capstone project.

Prospective students should have a 2.5 minimum GPA. Additional requirements include a personal statement, two character references, and a phone interview.

Colorado State University Global Campus true View School Profile Greenwood Village, CO

As a longtime leader in distance education, CSU provides over 45 online certificates and degrees through its Global Campus. CSU-Global's programs include an online master's in organizational leadership, which prepares graduates for management positions in operations and human resources.

The program's curriculum covers core topics like leading diverse teams and business ethics/corporate social responsibility. All students take advanced coursework in a chosen specialization. Specialization options include global management, healthcare administration, and finance. The program offers monthly start dates and accelerated courses.

CSU-Global prefers applicants with a 3.0 GPA or higher. Prospective students who do not meet this threshold may apply for provisional admission, which requires them to submit GMAT or GRE scores, a detailed resume, and a 500-word statement of purpose.

University of Denver true View School Profile Denver, CO

DU delivers career-focused online degrees through its College of Continuing and Professional Studies. Distance learners can choose from 20 programs, including a master's in organizational leadership. Students in this program can complete all required coursework online or take some evening classes on campus.

The program requires students to choose one of five concentrations, including supply chain management and human capital in organizations. Learners can also pursue a project management concentration, which develops skills that meet professional standards established by the Project Management Institute.

Applicants need a minimum 2.5 GPA. They must submit a 500-word personal statement, a resume, and two recommendations. This program does not require standardized test scores for admission.

Lewis University View School Profile Romeoville, IL

Lewis serves about 6,400 learners through more than 110 programs, including a fully online master's in organizational leadership that learners can earn in under two years. Through a 36-credit curriculum, students learn to apply theories of organizational behavior and change to solve practical problems.

Required courses include conflict management and psychology of motivation. Learners also choose from five concentration options, such as higher education student services and professional/executive coaching. Students may also pursue a concentration in training and development, which covers corporate consulting and adult learning strategies.

To qualify for full admission, applicants need at least three years of work experience and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Prospective students who do not meet these criteria can enroll on a provisional basis subject to their performance in the first semester.

Regis University View School Profile Denver, CO

Located in Denver, Colorado, Regis powers distance education with the Desire2Learn platform. Graduate students can enroll in the university's online master's in organizational leadership program. In addition to offering accelerated, eight-week courses, the program allows students to complete all courses online or take some evening courses on campus.

Required courses include business intelligence and analytics, leading change and innovation, and communicating with stakeholders. This 30-credit program culminates in a capstone course centered on strategic corporate social responsibility and stewardship. Graduates are prepared to work as nonprofit executives, management consultants, and consumer relations specialists.

Regis offers six start dates each year, and the university uses a holistic student evaluation process that eliminates GPA and standardized testing requirements. Applicants to this organizational leadership program need a regionally accredited bachelor's degree.

Concordia University Irvine View School Profile Irvine, CA

CUI serves over 4,200 students, many of whom earn their degrees online through the Blackboard platform. The university's academic catalog includes an online master's in organizational leadership. By completing this 33-credit program, learners gain the skills needed to create high-performing teams and collaborative workplace cultures.

The program's curriculum includes experientially focused assignments that help students engage with instructors and each other. Courses include decision-making and problem-solving, leading change and motivation, and conflict management. Learners personalize their experience with two elective classes. The program culminates in a capstone seminar.

CUI requires applicants to have a regionally accredited bachelor's degree and a minimum 3.0 GPA. Application materials include a professional resume, at least one reference, and a 500-word personal essay.

Gonzaga University View School Profile Spokane, WA

Based in Spokane, Washington, Gonzaga delivers dozens of career-focused academic programs. Graduate students can pursue the university's online master's in organizational leadership, which prepares them for high-ranking positions in fields like healthcare management, labor relations, and corporate training. This 30-credit program requires distance learners to attend one on-campus residency.

The curriculum includes core coursework in organizational behavior theory and leadership ethics. The program offers four concentrations: change leadership, global leadership, servant leadership, and strategic and organizational communication.

Applicants should have a minimum 3.0 GPA. They must also submit a 1,000-word statement of purpose, a resume, and at least one recommendation letter. Gonzaga uses five entry dates each year.

Trevecca Nazarene University View School Profile Nashville, TN

Although Trevecca is based in Nashville, Tennessee, the school reaches learners around the world by hosting more than 20 online programs. Among these offerings is a master's in organizational leadership, which prepares students to bring Christ-centered leadership to their place of employment.

Students move through the program with a cohort of their peers, taking one six-week course at a time. Participants complete their 33-credit degree in 18 months. Core classes include conflict management and resolution, leading in diverse communities, and organizational culture and change. Faculty deliver online classes with the Blackboard learning management system.

Admission requirements include a bachelor's degree earned at an accredited institution and a minimum 2.5 GPA. GMAT/GRE scores are not required and there is no application fee.

Frequently Asked Questions About Master's in Organizational Leadership Programs

Is a master's in organizational leadership worth it? true

Yes. A master's in organizational leadership can provide great value for people looking to advance their careers and pursue management positions. The training may lead to promising careers and significant earnings for graduates. Graduates can go on to use the training to make improvements to organizational culture and practices.

Deciding on graduate school can be challenging. Prospective students should lay out their personal and professional goals and then identify a degree and program that can help them get there. Those pursuing this discipline typically value leadership strategy over specific business expertise.

What can I do with a master's in organizational leadership? true

With a master's in organizational leadership, graduates pursue many business and management occupations. According to the BLS, many business and financial careers and management occupations require a bachelor's degree at minimum. Some employers require a master's degree.

Master's degree graduates also can continue to a doctoral program. They may explore organizational leadership programs and research and teaching careers in this discipline. They also can pivot into other business- or management-related disciplines. The versatility of the organizational leadership discipline provides many postgraduate options.

Are organizational leadership majors in demand? true

Yes. Many employers want leaders who can help improve their organizations through productive and effective management strategies and methods. The BLS projects the addition of more than 900,000 management professionals from 2020-30. Many of them likely will be required to have a master's degree.

Many employers want managers who can effectively lead diverse organizations, improve organizational culture, and grow productivity without hurting employee morale. Organizational leadership graduates work in traditional management, human resources, training and development, and many other facets of a business.

How much money can I make with a master's in organizational leadership?

Salaries can vary by position, location, and employer. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for management occupations is $109,760 as of May 2020. This is more than $65,000 higher than the median annual wage for all occupations.

With access to various leadership and management positions, these graduates can enjoy some of the highest wages in the industry. Some specific careers include management analysts who made median annual wages of $87,660 in 2020 and operations research analysts who made median annual wages of $86,200.

What are the highest-paying jobs with a master's in organizational leadership?

The highest-paying jobs for graduates with a master's in organizational leadership depend on the field. Human resources managers, for example, earn some of the highest median annual wages at $121,220, as of May 2020.

With experience and additional credentials, organizational leadership graduates may qualify for even higher wages. According to the BLS, the top 10% of human resources managers make more than $208,000 a year.

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