The growing economy requires highly skilled and savvy professionals well-versed in the intricacies of business administration and leadership. To meet the need, graduate students pursue master of business administration (MBA) degrees more than any other master's program in the U.S. Almost 190,000 MBA students graduated in the 2013-2014 school year alone, a number that accounts for more than 25% of the master's degrees awarded that school year.

With a buoyant American economy, today's MBA graduates enter the business world with great employment prospects and perks. An MBA graduate earns an average salary of $84,000, according to PayScale. Students who specialize in human resources management can expect to earn upwards of $110,120 per year, while compensation and benefits managers can expect to earn $119,120 in median pay. Given that the BLS forecasts a 9% job growth rate for HR managers between 2016 and 2026, an MBA in human resources graduate enjoys good salary prospects and job potential. Learn more about MBA jobs or human resources careers in our helpful guides.

Should I Get an MBA in Human Resources?

A number of factors come into focus when considering whether to pursue an MBA in human resources. One of them concerns which format best suits the individual: an online or on-campus degree. Professionals benefit from an online degree's flexibility if they plan to juggle work and family responsibilities. Alternatively, recent undergraduates keen on furthering their education often favor a program on campus. In addition to business management coursework such as corporate finance, accounting, and marketing, a specialization in HR immerses students in best practices used in HR management. These include how to formulate a recruitment strategy, maximize productivity, develop compensation and benefits packages, and ensure the organization's compliance with employment law.

The experiential aspects of MBA in human resources programs complement the academic component. Students often engage in internships that provide hands-on experience coveted by employers. They also receive tangible benefits from networking opportunities with leaders of business and industry that occur on campus or through local events. Some schools also offer job fairs to enable students to meet potential employers.

Altogether, an MBA in human resources degree provides the holder with the knowledge, skills, and opportunities necessary to successfully attain employment at an annual mean wage above the $50,620 national average for all occupations. Furthermore, a 2016 report by the Graduate Management Admission Council finds that MBAs who participate in a two-year, full-time program recoup their investment (e.g., cost of attendance, salary the student forgoes while in school, and the time spent pursuing the MBA) less than four years after graduation.

What Can I Do With an MBA in Human Resources?

HR specialists with an MBA position themselves for managerial and leadership careers in medium- to large-sized organizations. Executives with an MBA in HR work at companies across industries as an integral part of management. They work in a range of positions, including as HR generalists who plan and oversee administrative functions such as the hiring and recruiting of staff, and specialists who plan and execute an organization's training and development initiatives. While a bachelor's degree and some years of experience suffice for many senior HR positions, strong competition necessitates a master's degree for other positions.

HR Manager

HR managers oversee the daily running of specific administrative functions in companies. Their duties include the recruitment, hiring, and training of staff. Many HR managers begin their careers with a bachelor's degree in a field such as HR or business management and work their way up to manager. For higher-level positions, employers hire HR managers with a master's degree and certification from organizations such as the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Median Annual Salary: $110,120*

Training and Development Manager

Training managers improve the knowledge and skills of a company's employees. Employers often require a master's degree with specialization in areas such as HR management, training and development, or business administration. These professionals may also hold general HR certification from organizations such as SHRM or more specific certification from an organization such as the Association for Talent Development.

Median Annual Salary: $108,250*

Compensation and Benefits Manager

These managers determine salary amounts, benefits packages, and company perks such as bonuses. Most positions require a bachelor's degree in HR, business management, or a related field, along with at least five years of experience. Some organizations want their compensation and benefits executives to hold master's degrees and certifications from an organization such as the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans.

Median Annual Salary: $119,120*

Management Analyst

Management analysts specialize in a number of areas, including accounting, finance, risk management, recruitment, and labor relations. They often work as consultants providing input on how companies can enhance processes, reduce costs, and maximize profits. They need at least a bachelor's degree and certified management consultant designation to improve their job prospects; many employers require an MBA.

Median Annual Salary: $82,450*

Financial Manager

Financial managers work in a variety of industries to ensure organizations' financial health. They develop financial reports, investment plans, and long-term strategies to accomplish organizational goals. They often begin their careers with a bachelor's degree and experience in areas such as accounting or auditing. The financial sector typically hires MBAs; an MBA in HR provides the financial manager with added specialization and career flexibility.

Median Annual Salary: $125,080*

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Choose an MBA in Human Resources Program

Aspirant MBAs consider several factors before choosing an MBA in human resources degree. They must decide whether they want to commit to a full- or part-time program. Their choice affects their work and family life. Students complete full-time MBA programs in two years, while part-timers do so in three years or longer. Prospective students must also determine how much they can afford, and whether they will receive scholarships to help fund their MBA in human resources. An on-campus program typically costs more than an online program, as online programs do not require students to budget for room and board, often require no transportation costs, and offer course flexibility.

On-campus programs' strengths include the opportunity for face-to-face networking with peers; easier access to lectures, libraries, and professors; face-to-face group work, and in-person discussions that mirror today's business environment. Some on-campus students enjoy access to a more extensive suite of MBA concentrations than do their online peers. Exam, thesis, capstone, and internship requirements remain the same for on-campus and online MBA in human resources programs, though specific programs list specific requirements.

Learners should also evaluate the locations in which their prospective programs reside to ensure that they offer a reasonable cost of living. They should also investigate schools' surrounding communities to ensure they offer a reasonably good quality of life (e.g., low crime, great outdoors for enthusiasts, access to amenities for those without cars). If learners do not plan to take the standardized test used to enter many business schools, they should search for MBA programs in human resources with no GMAT. Programmatic accreditation serves as one factor that some students do not prioritize as much as they should.

Programmatic Accreditation for MBA in Human Resources Programs

In addition to institutional accreditation by one of the six regional accreditation agencies in the U.S., students should ensure the MBA in human resources program they pursue holds programmatic accreditation from one of the agencies specializing in the business field.

Programmatic accreditation ensures that the education and training provided meets the standards established by the agency. The top accreditation agencies for MBA programs, including an MBA in human resources, remain the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. Employers often do not recognize MBA programs without accreditation. Problems also occur if a student from a non-accredited MBA program tries to transfer into an accredited program; their credits will likely not transfer.

MBA in Human Resources Program Admissions

Many prospective MBA students feel intimidated by the admissions process, which seems laborious and complicated. Taking a step-by-step approach to the process breaks down what seems complicated to the basic elements. Begin with the knowledge that schools generally require the same documents for online and on-campus programs.

Students should look at how much they can afford, where they want to go to school, and whether the school requires a test score such as the GMAT. The credentials of admitted students should also factor into students decisions, and business programs often list this information online. Learners should then draw up a list of about six business schools that include both top schools that an applicant may not get into and safety schools that an applicant stands a good chance of getting into. Consider the following list of prerequisites and admission materials.


  • Bachelor's Degree: In general, MBA programs require students to hold a bachelor's degree for admission. In very rare instances, a learner with exceptional skills may skirt this requirement. Those without a bachelor's degree in business administration, accounting, or a similar field may need to fulfill prerequisite coursework requirements.
  • Professional Experience: Work and leadership experience counts in the admissions process. Most business schools require at least one or two years of full-time work experience, while the top-tier schools typically require between three and five.
  • Minimum GPA: While a 4.0 GPA will not make up for an altogether weak application, GPA scores do matter. Expect admissions to require a GPA of at least a 3.0 for admission to an MBA in human resources. Prospective students bolster their application with strong GMAT scores, a good portfolio of work experience, strong references, and a qualitative personal statement.

Admission Materials

  • Application: Applicants should plan for a 12-month applications process. Some business schools offer rolling admissions and accept applications year-round; others offer a rounds process and typically accept more students in the fall. All applicants should follow the program's established guidelines and deadlines. Some students may choose to use GradCAS, the leader in graduate admissions services.
  • Transcripts: MBA programs review the applicant's college transcripts, paying particular attention to the last 60 credits of the bachelor's degree. Learners may order transcripts online, in person, or in writing. Some colleges provide them at no charge, while others charge a fee.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Applicants should request two to four letters of recommendation from employers, former professors, or advisers. Begin this process at least six weeks in advance, giving referees enough time to fulfill the request.
  • Test Scores: Business schools generally require the GMAT for admission, though an increasing number accept the GRE. The average score for all GMAT test-takers now stands at 556, according to GMA. Competitive MBA program applicants should aim for above 600 -- and much higher for elite business programs.
  • Application Fee: The fee for applications vary depending on the school, but on average fall in the $50 to $100 range. Research whether a school offers fee waivers and use this option whenever possible.

What Else Can I Expect From an MBA in Human Resources Program?

MBA in human resources programs vary in the concentrations they offer. Students should examine the curriculum of each program to determine whether it meets their educational and career goals. Below lists some available concentrations. Note that some of the concentrations listed apply more commonly to master's in human resources programs than to MBAs.

Concentrations Offered for an MBA in Human Resources
Concentration Description Careers
Training and Development Focuses on the optimization of human capital within an organization, including the design and evaluation of training programs to accomplish organizational goals. Training and development manager, corporate trainer, recruitment manager, HR leadership development manager
Compensation and Benefits Emphasizes remuneration that keeps up with market trends, classification of jobs, and establishment of qualification standards. Another focus includes ensuring that pay policies comply with state and federal regulations. Director of compensation, compensation and benefits manager, compensation specialist, benefits specialist, HR director
Employment Law Specializes in the legal and regulatory framework within which businesses operate, impacting areas such as the hiring and firing of staff, promotions, and facilities maintenance. Chief compliance officer, industrial relations specialist, HR director, ombudsman, labor advocate
Healthcare management Focuses on traditional HR topics -- including employee recruitment, labor relations, and workplace diversity -- to improve care and inform sound financial decision making. HR director, vice president of HR, CFO
Diversity and Inclusion Management Specializes in how to sharpen HR practices to ensure the fair and equal treatment of employees regardless of age, gender, race, sexuality, and other personal factors. HR director, recruitment manager, training and development manager

Courses in an MBA in Human Resources Program

MBA in human resources degrees require different courses depending on the school. Below lays out some popular sample courses covering a range of topics, including the hiring, training, and paying staff.

Employment Law

This course acquaints learners with the federal and state laws that impact HR's management of staff. It covers issues such as regulatory compliance, discrimination, workplace harassment, and liability. The course prepares future HR managers and directors for the legal and ethical implications of decision making.

Recruitment and Hiring

This course examines the process for recruiting staff, including the establishment of talent requirements, how to select quality staff, negotiate pay packages, establish assessment techniques, and set up parameters for promotions. It focuses on how to build brand awareness to attract and retain the best talent.

Compensation and Benefits

This course details how HR managers and other senior staff develop compensation and benefits packages. It examines how they conduct job and compensation analysis, use market surveys to inform decision making, and determines what pay and benefits should receive. This includes analyzing bonuses, retirement plans, profit sharing, and commissions systems.

Negotiation Strategies

This course introduces students to techniques used by successful HR leaders during negotiations in various contexts, including internally between departments and externally with organizations such as labor unions, in mergers, and for joint ventures.

Managing Workplace Risk

This course analyzes some of the challenges that contribute to unfavorable outcomes in the workplace setting with respect to the organization's finances, reputation, and competitiveness. Risk factors include data security, employment law, employee firings, interpersonal conflicts, and employee privacy.

How Long Does It Take to Get an MBA in Human Resources?

A student who pursues a traditional, full-time MBA can expect to complete the degree in two years. MBAs typically require 36 to 48 credits and may include internships or study abroad activities conducted over the summer months. Many business schools offer accelerated options in which students complete the degree in 12 to 18 months; some accelerated programs may only enroll students with significant work experience and a high level of academic performance.

Other schools offer executive MBAs and part-time MBAs that could take longer because they provide working professionals with schedule flexibility. Students complete EMBAs in about 2.5 years, and part-time MBAs complete programs in about 3-6 years. Students hoping to complete an MBA in human resources degree faster should pursue an accelerated degree option. They may transfer credits from another master's in business, or a related field, into the MBA or apply work experience that may earn them advanced standing in an MBA program. More colleges offer accelerated MBAs than ever before, giving students greater options.

How Much Is an MBA in Human Resources?

Students planning to pursue an on-campus MBA program budget for tuition, room and board, books, transportation costs, and fees. They must consider whether to study in their state or in another state, the latter requiring additional fees. Tuition costs vary significantly. For instance, Purdue's full-time MBA with a concentration in human resources costs $11,209 per semester for in-state tuition and $21,092 for out-of-state tuition. Alternatively, the total tuition for the two-year MBA with a concentration in human resource management at the University of Nebraska Omaha stands at $14,896 for in-state students and $32,188 for out-of-state students. MBA in human resources programs typically cost more.

Students who plan to keep working while pursuing a part-time or "flex" MBA do not carry the burden of unemployment. Those who leave the workforce, or do not enter it, to pursue the degree should weigh the loss of earnings in that timeframe against potential future earnings. Other variables that factor into the cost of the degree include the cost of living and available funding.

Certifications and Licenses an MBA in Human Resources Prepares For

Professional in Human Resources-International

This credential validates the HR professional's knowledge of technical and operational HR principles in an international context. The certification requires a master's degree and at least one year of experience; the exam covers subjects such as talent acquisition and compensation and benefits.

Senior Professional in Human Resources

This credential demonstrates the HR leader's mastery of strategy and policy-making in HR management. Designed for "big-picture thinkers," the certification requires four years of HR experience and a master's degree; the exam covers subjects such as business management strategy and HRD development.

SHRM Senior Certified Professional

This credential certifies the holder's specialization in developing strategies and leadership in HR, with focus areas such as organizational goal development and performance metrics. The certification requires three years of HR experience and a master's degree.

Senior Professional in Human Resources-International

This credential validates HR leader's competency in HR strategy, service delivery, and policy development in a single international setting. The certification requires a master's degree and four years of experience; the exam covers subjects such as business leadership and talent development.

Professional in Human Resources-California

This credential specifically focuses on HR laws and regulations unique to California. It caters to those responsible for HRM in California, regardless of whether the professional lives there or not. The certification requires a master's degree and one year of experience; the exam covers subjects such as employment and employee relations and compensation.

Resources for MBA in Human Resources Students

Beta Gamma Sigma

An international business honor society, BGS recognizes top-performing business students from around the world. Members enjoy various programs, networking opportunities, and several internship and volunteer opportunities.

Association of MBAs

An organization consisting of 35,000 MBAs, member benefits include access to industry news, professional development, a network of employers, and face-to-face and virtual networking events.

Darden BusinessCasts

Run by Darden School of Business, this organization offers information for MBA and business school students. They can access free podcasts regularly posted on a variety of topics.

The MBA Exchange

Students planning to attend the top MBA schools use this site's team of consultants to help them with the application process. Fee services include admission consulting, test prep and tutoring, and career counseling.

With 3.7 million college scholarships and grants, provides a repository of funding opportunities for all students, including those in MBA programs.

Professional Organizations for MBA in Human Resources Students

Professional organizations provide a forum for MBA in human resources students to keep up-to-date about best practices and research, as well as to engage in continuing education when they graduate from college. The organizations also provide networking opportunities, such as annual conferences, career services, and job boards. Most also provide student membership rates to keep costs affordable.