Master’s in Human Resources Program Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that human resources professionals will handle more complex benefits options and employment laws in the future. The BLS also projects job growth in many human resources-related positions, including a 9% increase in human resources manager jobs, a 7% increase in human resource specialist jobs, and a 5% increase in compensation and benefits managers jobs. A master’s in human resources degree is an ideal academic pathway for those interested in business, administration, labor relations, and employee benefits and compensation. A degree in human resource prepares you to become an effective human resources (HR) professional with expertise in employee relations, human capital strategy, organizational learning, and training and development.

In a master’s-level human resources program, students explore data-driven metrics, principles of management organizational behavior, business strategy, professional ethics, and managerial decision-making. They take courses in managing talent, change management, and labor relations. They might also opt to concentrate in organizational effectiveness, global talent management, or learning and development.

The BLS projects that human resources professionals will handle more complex benefits options and employment laws in the future. The BLS also projects job growth in many human resources-related positions, including a 9% increase in human resources manager jobs

Students who want more flexibility with their education may choose to enroll in distance-learning programs. These web-based programs are ideal for working professionals, parents, and students who to prefer to work independently. Online programs are often self-paced, allowing students to complete work on their own time, according to their own schedules.

Earning a human resources master’s degree opens the door to many job opportunities, including HR specialist, labor relations specialist, compensation and benefits analyst, and human resources manager. Most positions in human resources require at least a bachelor’s degree, but some jobs require a master’s, and many employers give preference to candidates with advanced degrees. Master’s programs also help graduate students prepare for the workforce through job-placement assistance programs, resume-writing and interviewing resources, and professional networking events.

What Can I Do With a Master’s in Human Resources?

Graduating from a human resources master’s program opens the door to a variety of job opportunities. As the BLS points out, many high-level jobs in human resources require a master’s in human resources, labor relations, or business administration. Your HR master’s degree will qualify you to pursue careers in HR leadership, such as chief learning officer, chief HR officer, director or vice president of HR, general HR management, and compensation and benefits manager. HR professionals must have a good understanding of federal, state, and local employment laws, as well as strong interpersonal, leadership, organizational, and communication skills.

Human Resources Managers

Working closely with top executives, HR managers develop strategic planning surrounding talent acquisition. They plan, direct, and coordinate recruiting, interviewing, hiring, and onboarding new employees. HR managers oversee employee benefits programs and policies regarding equal employment opportunity and sexual harassment. They typically hold a bachelor’s degree and several years of experience in the field. An advanced master’s degree in human resources can make you stand out against competition when searching for an HR manager job.

Median Annual Salary: $110,120

Projected Growth Rate: 9%

Compensation and Benefits Managers

Compensation and benefits managers oversee pay and incentive programs. Compensation and benefits managers develop benefits packages, including health insurance and retirements benefits. They conduct research on competitive wage rates and set compensation structures. Most compensation and benefits managers hold at least a bachelor’s degree in human resources or business administration.

Median Annual Salary: $119,120

Projected Growth Rate: 5%

Training and Development Managers

Training and development managers oversee professional development activities. Responsibilities include assessing employees’ training needs, coordinating new programs, teaching training methods to specialists, and evaluating the program effectiveness. Training and development managers must ensure programs are up-to-date and align with their company’s strategic goals. They typically hold at least a bachelor’s degree, but many employers require a master’s.

Median Annual Salary: $60,360

Projected Growth Rate: 11%

Labor Relations Specialists

Labor relations specialists are responsible for interpreting work contracts and resolving negotiation issues. Working closely with the department of human resources, labor relations specialists provide advice and guidance to upper management. They also conduct trainings and maintain employee data and documentation. Labor relationship specialists hold at least a bachelor’s degree in human resources or a related field, but many employers prefer candidates with a master’s in human resources degrees.

Median Annual Salary: $63,200

Projected Growth Rate: -8%

Human Resources Specialists

HR specialists are an important part of a human resources department, performing key tasks such as fielding employees’ questions, processing payroll, interviewing job applicants, and administering benefits and training programs. Some HR specialists focus on strategic planning and ensuring compliance with company, state, and federal rules and regulations. HR specialists typically hold a bachelor’s degree in human resources.

Median Annual Salary: $60,350

Projected Growth Rate: 7%

There are several important elements to consider before choosing a master’s in human resources program. For each prospective program, look into whether it offers concentration options. Common specializations includes global talent management, benefits and compensation, and learning and development. Also make sure the curriculum includes classes that interest you, and find out if the program requires an internship or practicum. Look into final capstone and thesis projects, as well.

If you’re interested in completing an online program, research whether your prospective school offers any. If you enroll in an online or hybrid program, consider any in-person elements that may be required, and find out if classes are offered synchronously or asynchronously.

Synchronous courses include live video conferences in which professors and students interact in real time, while asynchronous courses offer recorded lectures and videos for students to watch at their convenience. Also consider whether you want a full-time or part-time course load, and whether your program of interest requires students to take courses in a specific chronological order. Look into tuition costs, as well as additional expenses for materials, books, technology, and other fees. Find out each potential program’s accreditation status, which demonstrates its dedication to academic quality. See below for more information on program accreditation.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master’s in Human Resources Programs

While looking into different programs for a master’s in human resources, it’s important to consider each school’s accreditation status. Accreditation requires a comprehensive review of a higher education institution or an academic program, and shows that a school or program is credible and dedicated to high-quality education. Accreditation is vital to transferring credits, because most schools do not accept credits from programs or schools that are not accredited. Enrolling in a school that is not accredited may also prohibit you from receiving financial aid, since you must be enrolled in an accredited institution to be eligible for federal financial aid.

Before enrolling in any human resources program, make sure it is accredited by a reputable agency, such as one of six regional agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Other key accrediting agencies to look for include the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, Distance Education Accrediting Commission, and the Higher Learning Commission. Each of these accrediting agencies has been rigorously evaluated and meets high standards. Find out whether your prospective schools are accredited by checking the Council for Higher Education Accreditation’s database of accredited schools.

Admissions for master’s-level programs is often competitive. To increase your chances of acceptance, consider applying to a variety of different schools. You might start by researching 10 different HR master’s programs that match your academic goals and interests. Your top choices will naturally evolve, but consider applying to seven or eight of those programs to keep your options open. It might be a good idea to begin researching as early as possible — perhaps as early as a year in advance. Admissions for on-campus programs is similar to online admissions, but the online admissions process is often even more involved. Make sure you meet your prospective programs’ admissions requirements before applying, and also consider location, online learning options, and whether they offer the classes and specializations that interest you. Choose the programs that best match your academic endeavors.

Prerequisites

  • Bachelor’s Degree: Human resources graduate school applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university. The degree does not necessarily need to be in a human resources-related field.
  • Professional Experience: Some schools expect applicants to have at least five years of professional, full-time work experience, but some schools may accept a graduate degree with a 3.0 GPA in lieu of field experience.
  • Minimum GPA: Many schools hold their master’s in human resources applicants to high academic standards, often requiring a minimum GPA of 3.0.

Admission Materials

  • Application: Graduate school applications require you to create an online account, fill out information about your educational and professional background, and submit a personal statement and a resume. You can find online college applications on school websites.
  • Transcripts: To apply for a master’s program, you must submit official transcripts from all colleges and universities you attended. Applicants can send in paper transcripts in sealed envelopes or email digital PDF versions directly to their prospective school’s graduate admissions office.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Applicants must typically submit one, two, or three letters of recommendation. It is a good idea to ask for them from academic and professional references such as professors, managers, and supervisors. These letters should explain why you are a solid master’s candidate.
  • Test Scores: Many human resources programs do not require standardized test scores such as the GRE or GMAT to apply, but you can submit your scores to provide further evidence of your academic excellence.
  • Application Fee: Application fees vary from $60 to $150, which you can pay online when you submit your application. Some schools waive application fees for alumni, employees, service members, veterans, and military spouses.

Master’s in human resources programs prepare graduates to become HR professionals who ensure safe and fair employee treatment. Whether you opt for a master of arts or a master of science may affect your specific study plan. Some programs also offer unique areas of emphasis, wherein you can choose a specialization in an HR subcategory. The specific details of your degree may vary depending on the school and program you choose.

Concentrations Offered for a Master’s Degree in Human Resources
Concentration Description Careers
Human Resource Management A concentration in human resources management covers a wide variety of human capital management concepts. Students in this concentration take courses in talent acquisition, performance management, pay and benefits administration, HR technology, and employee promotion and retention. Students gain the skills and knowledge needed to lead a human resources department. Chief human resources officer, director of HR, HR manager, compensation and benefits manager, HR generalist, HR specialist, labor relations specialist, HR consultant
Organizational Effectiveness In the organizational effectiveness concentration, students explore the impact of individual behavior and social sciences upon organizational life, at both the individual and group levels. Topics include culture and context of organizations, organizational theory, organization processes, case studies, individual and group motivation, and leadership stress. Chief human resources officer, director of HR, HR manager, compensation and benefits manager, HR generalist, HR specialist, labor relations specialist, HR consultant
Learning, Development, and Executive Coaching This concentration focuses on how to train and develop effective employees. Students explore the principles of adult learning, the difference between training and mentoring, and workplace learning. Some programs may focus on executive coaching, wherein students gain an understanding of various coaching models, the structure of coaching conversations, and the theory behind coaching. Training and development manager, skills coach, HR consultant
Talent Management A talent management concentration focuses on the processes of attracting, selecting, and retaining employees. Topics include how to optimize workforce performance, employee retention, flexible work environments, and incentive programs. In this concentration, students gain a strong understanding of different
talent management strategies and how to align them with strategic business goals.
Chief human resources officer, director of HR, HR manager, compensation and benefits manager, HR generalist, HR specialist; labor relations specialist, HR consultant, training and development manager
Global HR Management A concentration in global HR management focuses on the transnational perspective of human resources. In this concentration, students learn how to develop worldwide learning capabilities. Topics include the international implications of total compensation and benefits, the connection between human capital strategies and a global marketplace, outsourcing and offshoring, the gig economy, global learning organizations, and cultural workplace diversity. Chief human resources officer, director of HR, HR manager, compensation and benefits manager, HR generalist, HR specialist, labor relations specialist, HR consultant

Courses in a Master’s in Human Resources Program

The details of your master’s in human resources program largely depends on the school, program, and concentration you pursue. Specific curricula vary by school, but some of the following courses appear in most human resources master’s programs.

Managing in a Global Economy

Courses in global economy management focus on the role that globalization plays in business, and more specifically on human capital management. Topics cover advanced technology, change management, scaling operational efficiencies, and creating organizational flexibility. Students in this course explore how organizational factors and economic threats impact global business strategies.

International HR Management

International HR management courses explore a transnational perspective on human resources. Students analyze the link between human capital strategies and the global marketplace, including international outsourcing and challenges for expatriate employees. Topics include workplace cultural diversity, talent training in a global learning organization, and international implications of compensation and benefits.

Business Strategy & Ethics

Successful HR professionals have a solid understanding of business strategies and ethics. Topics in this course include brand creation, business differentiation, technology and innovation, and globalization. The focus of business strategy courses for HR students is learning how to make human capital-related decisions that align with a business’ unique strategy.

Talent Management

Courses in talent management focus on strategies for employee recruitment, onboarding, retention, promotion, and engagement. Students learn how to design and implement organizationally effective strategies for acquiring talent in a global and highly competitive business environment. Topics cover data analytics, determining staffing needs, assessing and filling jobs, employee development, and state and federal regulations.

Human Resource Analytics

Courses in human resources analytics focus on the collection and interpretation of data to help HR professionals improve decision-making regarding organizational effectiveness. Students in this course learn how to make sure decisions align with overall strategic business goals. Topics include designing metrics, improving candidate pools, quantifying employee productivity, compensation, and employee performance.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master’s in Human Resources?

The average master’s degree is 36 credits, including core coursework, electives, and a final capstone or thesis project. Master’s programs can range from 30 to 60 credits, depending on the specific degree requirements. Full-time students typically take two years to earn their master’s degrees, which typically requires four to five semesters of coursework. Some programs are offered on an accelerated basis and can completed in just one year, or just two or three semesters.

Part-time students may take up to three or four years to complete their programs. You can speed up your degree by transferring some previously earned credits. Some programs feature cohort-based elements, which require students to take courses in a predetermined structure. These programs usually have less flexibility in how long it takes to earn your degree. The school you attend also affects the length of your master’s degree.

How Much Is a Master’s in Human Resources?

Cost is important to consider when pursuing a master’s degree, especially since higher education expenses go beyond the cost of tuition. You must also take into account the cost of books, learning materials, fees, housing, and any commuting or parking expenses.

Most colleges and universities charge tuition per credit. Typically, out-of-state tuition is more expensive than in-state tuition. Schools sometimes make exceptions for online students, but distance learners often accrue extra technology fees. A master’s in human resources can cost anywhere between $350 and $1,400 per credit. Still, some schools charge per course instead of per credit. Per-course schools may charge between $1,000 and $4,500 for each course. Total tuition can end up costing between $20,000 and $80,000, depending on the school. Keep in mind that private schools tend to charge higher tuition than public schools.

Financial aid, such as loans, grants, and scholarships are helpful when considering how to pay for your degree. Still, some schools cut off financial aid eligibility for students who enroll in fewer than six credits per semester. Keep in mind that federal financial aid is only available to students who enroll in regionally accredited schools.

Certifications and Licenses a Master’s in Human Resources Prepares For

Professional in Human Resources Certification

The PHR certification from the HR Certification Institute is a credential designed for HR professionals who have at least one year of experience. Earning this certification demonstrates your mastery of U.S. laws and regulations, workforce planning, and labor relations, which is a great way to advance your career.

SHRM Certified Professional

SHRM-CP is a behavioral competency-based certification for early- and mid-career HR professionals. To earn this certification, you must currently serve as a point of contact for staff and stakeholders in your company. You are expected to understand how to implement policies and strategies and perform operational HR functions.

SHRM Senior Certified Professional

SHRM-SCP is a behavioral competency-based certification for senior-level practitioners in the HR field who are currently in leadership roles at their companies. This experienced HR practitioner certification requires you to know how to develop HR strategies that align with overall business goals. You must also know how to collect data and analyze performance metrics.

Associate Professional in Talent Development

Earning your APTD certification is a great way to stand out from the competition when searching for a job. This certification is for early-career talent development professionals with three to five years of experience in the field. It focuses on instructional design, training delivery, and learning technologies.

Certified Professional in Learning and Performance

The CPLP certification covers a wide range of topics, including training delivery, instructional design, learning technologies, evaluation, management, coaching, and performance improvement. This credential is for HR professionals with five years of professional experience in the field who can apply the learning principles to a global practice.

U.S. Department of Education Graduate School Resources

The U.S. Department of Education offers many helpful resources for students pursuing a master’s in HR, including a list of accredited schools and programs and useful information on student loans, scholarships, and grants.

HR Certification Institute

HRCI is a credentialing organization that offers certifications for HR professionals, including the associate professional in human resources, professional in human resources, and senior professional in human resources. HRCI also offers helpful information to HR professionals, such as the Guide to the Human Resource Body of Knowledge.

International Human Resource Certification Institute

Originally founded in Hong Kong, IHRCI is a global alliance of HR Certification Institute. The mission of IHRCI is to promote the human resources field through science, technology, and HR certifications.

The Labor and Employment Relations Association

LERA is a professional organization for labor and employment relations professionals. This network enables HR professionals to share ideas, learn about new developments, and discuss challenges and issues within their field.

HR People + Strategy

HR People + Strategy is a network affiliate of Society for Human Resource Management. Designed for professionals with more than 10 years of HR experience, this membership organization offers reports, conferences, and other useful resources about HR strategy, planning, and leadership development.

Professional Organizations in Human Resources

Professional organizations foster a sense of collegiality across the field of human resources. By collaborating within a professional organization, HR professionals develop a collective voice, allowing them to advocate for working environments and general support for their profession. Members of professional organizations in human resources benefit from networking opportunities, professional development activities, continuing education programs, access to member-only events, annual conferences, and employment resources.

Society for Human Resource Management

Representing more than 165 countries, SHRM is the world’s largest professional membership organization for HR practitioners. The organization offers an abundance of resources, tools, educational opportunities, certifications, and advocacy programs.

Association for Talent Development

ATD is a membership-based professional organization for talent development managers, instructional designers, and workplace learning professionals. Representing more than 120 countries, ADT offers local chapters, research, articles, webcasts, conferences, certifications, and other educational opportunities.

International Public Management Association for Human Resources

IPMA-HR is a professional association that has been supporting human resources workers since 1906. The organization offers helpful information for HR professionals, such as news, job openings, and professional development opportunities.

Professionals In Human Resources Association

An affiliate of SHRM, PIHRA offers networking and learning opportunities to more than 4,000 members across 17 local chapters. Members benefit from a supportive community of HR professionals, including HR advisors, conferences, and online job-searching tools.

National Human Resources Association

NHRA is a supportive association of HR professionals that offers professional networking programs and career development tools. Members benefits from live meetings, conferences, seminars, trainings, webcasts, and audiocast events.