Master’s in Organizational Leadership Program Guide

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Published on October 14, 2020 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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A master's in organizational leadership is an interdisciplinary degree that trains students to be strong leaders in organizations spanning multiple fields and industries. Unlike an MBA, which is focused specifically on business, this degree teaches individuals how to lead teams and organizations within the private or public sectors. These degrees are exciting because of the increased knowledge sharing between fields. Business leaders can no longer get by without understanding society or the psychology of leadership. Getting an organizational leadership degree prepares you to lead others in an ever-changing, increasingly complex world. Whether you want a promotion, to start your own organization, or enhance your current leadership position, this degree can help you take the next step in your career.

Getting an organizational leadership degree prepares you to lead others in an ever-changing, increasingly complex world.

Should I Get a Master's in Organizational Leadership?

If you're considering pursuing a master's in organizational leadership, it's important to keep a few things in mind. Curricula tend to cover similar subjects that are found in an MBA program. Like an MBA, a master's in organizational leadership can serve as a major career stepping stone. While neither of these degrees are required for most careers, they help job candidates stand out, imparting leadership skills that allow them to navigate an ever-changing social and economic landscape.

This degree is especially useful for people with a career path in mind. Those who desire to rise through the ranks of an organization or business, or who dream of launching a nonprofit, can benefit from an organizational leadership degree. The program also boasts less-obvious benefits, namely in the form of networking opportunities. Students will meet others in class, within their program, and at events.

If you have already started your career, you might consider online programs, which allow you to schedule courses around your existing obligations.

What Can I Do With a Master's in Organizational Leadership?

Organizational leadership is a skill set, not a profession, which means you can apply the degree in most fields. A master's in organizational leadership can help you get a variety of jobs, but many require experience, other training, or even another degree. It is helpful to seek work in fields where you have expertise or training. Explore below for examples of careers and master's in organizational leadership salary ranges.

Top Executive

Encompassing a variety of roles, most executives benefit from leadership training, as nearly all of them will be in charge of other people in some capacity. Your degree makes it much easier to either start and run your own company, or to get promoted to this level.

Median Annual Salary: $104,700*

Sales Manager

This role involves organizing, directing, and training sales teams within an organization. Leadership skills are an important part of management at any level and in any field, making your degree especially useful in getting a management position. The larger the company, the more useful the degree.

Median Annual Salary: $121,060*

Administrative Services Manager

These professionals handle the behind-the-scenes operations that allow companies to function from day to day, such as record-keeping, office upkeep, and mail distribution. Your degree helps you manage teams of people and maintain relationships with other departments.

Median Annual Salary: $94,020*

Human Resource Manager

In companies large enough to have multiple human resources employees, your degree helps you manage those employees and keep the department on task and functional. In smaller companies, your degree allows you to help people in other departments implement your plans.

Median Annual Salary: $110,120*

Public Relations and Fundraising Manager

These professionals manage public relations or raise funds for their organization. Your degree is especially helpful if you manage others within the same department, in which case you might spend more time managing than implementing plans.

Median Annual Salary: $111,280*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Choose a Master's in Organizational Leadership Program

You should keep many considerations in mind when deciding where to pursue your master's in organizational leadership. How long will a given program take? Will you attend full-time or part-time? Some schools offer accelerated programs that allow you to finish sooner.

Another factor to consider is the curriculum itself. What courses are offered, and by whom? Are they offered with different topics in different terms? Try to find a program that meshes with your own interests, and be sure to note practicums, capstone courses, and concentrations. Programs that require original work might be harder, but provide you with a deeper education and give you something to show for your time in addition to a degree. Rather than choose the nation's top program, find the best fit for you personally. You'll gain the most relevant and enriching education.

Online and on-campus programs differ in flexibility, completion time, and cost. Online programs are often cheaper than on-campus courses, partly because of lower tuition and fewer fees, but also because they allow learners to attend anywhere. This can significantly reduce the amount you must spend on housing or other costs that aren't factored into the direct cost of school.

Programmatic Accreditation for Master's in Organizational Leadership Programs

Various accreditation boards investigate schools and decide if they uphold the standards set within the country or a specific state or region. For-profit colleges are usually accredited by a national board, while regional boards commonly accredit public and private schools within their jurisdiction.

Every institution must be accredited and able to make this information available to students. You can usually find this information on a school's website, so beware any college that does not share accreditation information. Without accreditation, students cannot obtain federal financial aid.

Master's in Organizational Leadership Program Admissions

This is the first obstacle in completing a master's degree, and graduate admissions can be competitive. Make sure you complete and submit every part of the admissions process, as failure to do so will prevent you from getting in. You also won't appear as a strong candidate since it shows an inability to follow directions. Because admission is competitive, most students apply to several programs at once, but how many you choose is up to you. Having a safety school isn't the best way to look at it, so only apply to programs you want to enter, and make sure each application is specific to that school. Generic letters of intent or admissions essays are easy to spot and don't look good because they show an applicant who doesn't take the program seriously.


You need a bachelor's degree to get into any master's program. If there are prerequisite courses your degree did not include, you may have to take them first. Some programs require personal experience with leadership, while others just look for it, seeing it as a reliable indicator of a student's skill. Most programs require a minimum GPA, which is commonly a 3.0 in undergraduate studies. Some might allow for as low as 2.5, or require a higher GPA among major courses.

Admission Materials

Typically completed online, applications consist of basic information, so they don't take long to complete. These must be sent from the institutions you attended and usually require a nominal fee, especially for official transcripts. Most programs require a certain number of recommendation letters, which should come from people who know you professionally or academically. Bosses and professors are good options. You likely must provide test scores from either the GRE or GMAT standardized tests. Programs often list the minimum score needed if this is an important part of admissions. This fee proves that you're serious about applying. Some schools may allow options to waive the fee.

What Else Can I Expect From a Master's in Organizational Leadership Program?

Once you've been accepted into an organizational behavior management master's program, you must decide what courses you're going to take. Some programs provide a narrow list of required courses, with each student taking the same classes, while others offer more freedom to choose specializations.

Concentrations Offered for a Master's Degree in Organizational Leadership
Concentration Description Careers
Human Resources While many people working in human resources have degrees specific to that field, additional leadership training is helpful. Students who choose this concentration generally have HR experience, and do so in order to improve their chances of advancing their career with a leadership position. Human resource manager
Diversity With an increasingly interconnected world, many organizations understand that hiring diverse employees is a great practice. Leaders in a diverse organization must work with people who have different experiences and must learn to be sensitive and adaptable. This concentration is beneficial in most fields
Organizational Law Although practicing law in any way requires specific degrees, organizations can always benefit from leaders who are aware of the laws that most directly relate to them. Avoiding legal trouble is as easy as knowing what laws pertain to a given business, and subsequently adhering to them. Lawyers and executives
Financial Management Although accounting is a profession with specific requirements, both accountants and others can benefit from a solid understanding of how organizations use money. Keeping track of budgets and income is important for team leaders and managers, as well as accountants. Accountants, executives, and managers
Nonprofit Though there are some fundamentals true of organizations overall, there are some major differences between nonprofit and for-profit groups. Nonprofits have different tax and legal requirements, and nonprofit leaders must appeal to different aspects of their employees' personalities in order to get the best work out of those they manage. Nonprofit organizations

Courses in a Master's in Organizational Leadership Program

The courses required for an organizational leadership master's degree vary by program, but there are some common threads that can be found throughout these programs. The five courses listed below are examples of what you might find in any given program.

Understanding Organizations

Foundational courses like this introduce students to the basics of how organizations function and how leaders can fit into that functionality. Such courses lay the groundwork for others, allowing students to further build their knowledge in other specific areas. Many programs require students to take courses like this in their first term.

Understanding Leadership

Throughout history, leaders' requirements have evolved. While courses like this are unlikely to dig deep into that history, they explore contemporary understandings of how to lead organizations.

Organizational Communication

Communication is a weak point for many people and organizations, which is why leaders must have a strong understanding of how to manage communication and ensure it doesn't break down. Students learn how to maintain clear communication within and between organizations and people.

Leading Teams

Directly leading a team is different from leading a company. More opportunities exist for leading teams than companies, so courses like this are both important and practical.

Leading Organizational Change

As societies, economies, and technologies evolve, so must organizations, with the refusal to do so being a leading cause of organizational failure. This coursework focuses on ways to weather changes that directly impact an organization, including how to adapt to such changes before they become obstacles to success.

How Long Does It Take to Get a Master's in Organizational Leadership?

Every master's in organizational leadership is unique, from the courses taken to the time it takes to complete. The average master's degree takes between two and three years to complete, but many factors can affect this timing. Some programs build a specific course plan that all students follow, while others allow students to organically build a course list. Programs with specific plans frequently offer accelerated courses as well, allowing you to finish faster. Online programs tend to be faster and typically feature accelerated courses.

How Much is a Master's in Organizational Leadership?

The cost of getting a master's in organizational leadership varies primarily by program, but many other factors come into play as well. Every school charges different rates for tuition, with some including books and other materials. Generally speaking, schools charge state residents less for tuition, and online programs are often the cheapest option at a given school.

Beyond tuition, costs to consider include books and materials, fees, and housing. While these fees add up, they are generally only a fraction of tuition costs. If you attend on campus, finding affordable housing is an important factor, and depends largely on where you live. Living on campus is generally more expensive, especially for graduate students. Check to see if your school offers cheaper alternatives. Food, utilities, and other costs are important to remember as well. Program length should also be considered. While you won't likely save on tuition by taking more classes in a given term, doing so can result in spending less overall time on your degree, and therefore less money on housing and other costs before you graduate.

Resources for Organizational Leadership Graduate Students

MIT Open Courseware

MIT offers a variety of free open courseware covering leadership and related topics. You won't get credit, but such courses can supplement your education.

International Journal of Leadership Studies

IJLS is one of several open journals that publish academic articles on leadership-related topics. It provides access to nonsubscribers, offering a wealth of new information.

Leadership Magazine

Like journals, online magazines provide a variety of articles, though they are often written with a more professional slant than academic publications. Some require a subscription.

Although not geared directly to leadership, sites such as offer several leadership-related articles.

Harvard Business Review

HBR brings aspects of both a journal and a magazine, with articles from several sources on varied subjects, many of which are relevant to the leadership field.

Professional Organizations in Organizational Leadership

Professional organizations provide valuable networking and professional development opportunities to members. They often host conferences, sponsor research, and promote communication and best practices. Many also offer resources and reduced-cost membership to students.

ALDA unites leaders from a variety of fields in 15 countries to help develop their skills and promote leadership in any field. ALP unites leaders to share best practices, build networks, provide educational opportunities for up-and-coming leaders, and offer professional development for established leaders. It hosts numerous regional conferences. ILA takes a more academic approach, focusing on bringing together scholars and promoting leadership research with the end goal of improving leadership and developing a better understanding of it. ASAE unites other associations and organizations to help one another improve the world through collaboration. More than 39,000 members represent over 7,400 organizations. ALE brings together leadership educators of all types and at all levels, including college faculty and camp counselors, with the goal of strengthening the expertise of current and future leadership educators.
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