Human Resources Masters Programs
Master’s programs in human resources (HR) teach the soft skills, business fundamentals, and managerial studies necessary to succeed in an HR position. Through the curriculum, students can explore technology’s increasing role in the workplace and how to fuse emerging technology with traditional practices.
Demand for HR jobs grows as companies expand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for HR specialists to grow by 7% for 2019-2029. This amounts to an added 666,500 positions. These figures suggest a ripe job market for those who want to break into the industry over the next few years.
Below, find a general guide to human resources careers, including graduate programs and jobs you can expect in the industry. Our ranking of the top master’s degrees in HR for 2021 can help you navigate graduate programs and find the right school for you.
What Is Human Resources Management?
Whether it’s planning or coordinating the administrative functions of an organization, overseeing policy compliance, or making sure that recruitment strategies align with larger institutional goals, human resource managers are essential to healthy businesses.
The key to being a great HR professional is understanding talent and where to find it.
HR managers often tackle an array of responsibilities. These include developing and overseeing employee benefit programs, dealing with staff issues, including conflicts, and offering advice and insight to other managers. The key to being a great HR professional is understanding talent and where to find it. For this, HR managers need a solid grasp of the culture and strategic vision of their company.
Why Should You Be Getting a Master’s in Human Resources?
Most organizations require HR positions, so a master’s degree in HR can help students enter almost any industry. A master’s degree shows dedication to the field, which can attract the attention of employers, and graduate programs in HR often cover advanced topics, theories, and emerging trends in the field.
A master’s in HR also offers the following benefits.
- Competitive Edge: The BLS reports a bachelor’s education as a typical entry-level requirement for jobs in human resources. Those who earn a master’s degree in human resources can gain an advantage over other applicants with lower levels of education.
- Comprehensive Studies: General MBA programs might supply necessary business fundamentals, but a concentration or master’s in HR lets students focus on the field. A dedicated master’s program can explore nuanced topics and prepare students for lucrative HR positions down the line.
- An Accelerated Path to Certification: Holding a master’s HR can qualify students to take the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) exams while they currently hold an HR position. In comparison, bachelor’s degree-holders must earn an additional year of experience in an HR role before qualifying.
The Best Master’s Degrees in Human Resources
The flagship campus of the University of Illinois is located in Urbana-Champaign in the center of the state. UI has the second largest library in the US and contains 16 different schools and colleges, including the School of Labor and Employment Relations. The SLER offers a Master of Human Resources and Industrial Relations degree. The program can be completed in 18 months and includes 12 courses. Students can also opt to pursue the degree part-time as well. Students take required courses like Employment Relations Systems, and Quantitative Methods I Labor and Employment Relations. They also take courses like Union Management and Labor Relations Policy, International Human Resource Management, and Labor Markets and Employment. UI offers joint degrees as well so that interested students can pursue either a law degree or an MBA along with the MHRIR.
The MHRIR/Juris Doctor is managed in partnership with the College of Law and is especially useful for students who are interested in questions relating to labor or employment law. The joint MBA/MHRIR program takes three years to complete and brings together the various disciplines that shape an MBA and combines it with HR and LR theory and practice. Students in the MHRIR program become active on campus, serving as advisors to undergraduates through the Business Career Center and the Career Center on campus. They can also serve in assistantships in the Academic Human Resources and University Human Resources offices on campus. Students also join organizations like The Multicultural Student Association or the local chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management.
A public research university located in Madison, the University of Wisconsin is a land-grant research university with a large student body. UW offers over 140 master’s degrees, including an MBA in Strategic Human Resource Management through the School of Business. The program brings together core areas of study like finance, marketing, strategy, and accounting, and combines them with human resource studies. Students take classes like Personnel Staffing and Evaluation, Compensation: Theory and Administration, Labor Management Relations, Negotiations, and Ethics, Integrity, and Society. The program also features applied learning experiences where students function as consultants for real-world companies. These experiences pair students with working executives who also come to campus to speak to classes. Students have participated in projects for companies in the health care industry, the marketing industry, and many others. Speakers for the program have come from leading companies like Exxon Mobil, General Mills, GE Healthcare, American Family Insurance, and Cisco.
Students are also connected to the large alumni network of UW, and the MBA program hosts an annual HR Summit, which brings alumni into contact with current students. Approximately 90% of students who graduate from the program find placement after graduation and often are averaging a starting salary close to $100,000. Students can also take advantage of events and programs at one of the numerous centers connected to the SB, including the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship, the James A. Graaskamp Center for Real Estate, or the Erdman Center for Operations and Technology Management. The broad research profile of the university ensures that individuals enrolled in their programs will be exposed to the best thinking and practice in the field.
The largest school in Texas, Texas A&M University is a public research university located in College Station. The school has an extensive alumni network of over 450,000 individuals worldwide and is the second largest school by enrollment in the nation with over 69,000 students. The Mays Business School offers a Master of Science in Human Resource Management. The program is 37 credits and can be completed in 18 months. Students take an array of courses, including Financial Analyst Modeling in HR, Behavior in Organizations, and Employment Regulation. Students are required to participate in an internship. The internships are generally 12 weeks long and count for one credit.
The Center for Human Resource Management has created a formalized recruitment process for students so that partner companies can be matched with students in a streamlined process. Students can also find their internship as well, and there are other resources for helping with that process, including the Career Management Center and the MSHRM program team, which keeps track of potential interview opportunities. The CHRM also offers other opportunities to connect with industry leaders and corporate partners. Corporate partners include Lennox International, Lockheed Martin, PepsiCo/Frito Lay, Raytheon, and CenturyLink, among many others. Speakers from these and other companies are regularly invited to campus where events are held, giving students additional opportunities to expand their horizons and extend their networks. Admission to the program requires a bachelor’s degree, GRE or GMAT scores, a resume, letters of recommendation, and an interview, among other things.
Straddling the Mississippi River, the University of Minnesota is located in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The school has the sixth largest student body in the US with an annual enrollment of over 50,000. UM is an R1 classified research university and offers a wide array of graduate degrees. The Carlson School of Management offers a Master of Arts in Human Resources and Industrial Relations. The program can be completed in two academic years, though there is also a part-time option where students meet in the evenings. The program is organized around three core areas, and classes are rooted in three key concepts. The core areas included labor relations and collective bargaining, compensation and benefits; and staffing, training, and development. The concepts are data analysis, managerial economics, and labor market analysis, and organizational behavior and theory. Through the program, students take classes like Organizational Behavior Foundations of High-Impact HRIR, Using Data and Metrics in HRIR, and Business Principles for the HRIR Professional.
The program at CSM offers study-abroad options for students who are especially interested in questions and issues in international business. Students can either take a full semester abroad or travel up to six weeks. Programs are offered in China, England, France, and Sweden, among others with multiple options in each country. The CSM also provides a dual MAHRIR and MBA program for interested students. The degree brings together the managerial foundation of the MBA program with the attunement to HR and LR issues in the MA program giving an exceptionally well-rounded option.
Located in historic Nashville, Vanderbilt University is a private research university with an annual enrollment of over 12,000 students. VU is comprised of ten colleges and schools, including the Owen Graduate School of Management which has a large MBA program. Among their offerings is an MBA in Human and Organizational Performance. The program is two years and consists of core courses in management and then additional course work in the concentration. The courses are seven weeks in length and students complete 62 credits worth of courses over their two years.
Among the required core courses are Introduction to Financial Accounting, Leading Teams and Organizations, The Financial Services Industry—Wall Street Trek, Essentials of Project Management, and Training Systems Management. In the HOP concentration, students take classes like Strategic Alignment of Human Capital, Leading Globally Diverse Organizations, and Training Systems Management. Unique to the program at VU is the Leadership Development Program. The LDP is laced into the program, and students can decide how much focus on leadership development they want. The LDP requires students to take the Hogan Leadership Assessment before beginning their course of study, which is a personality-based tool for leadership development used across the business world. The assessment results then become the basis for whether the areas you want to work on as a leader, and for approach, you want to take. Students can choose either to have an individualized plan with an executive coach, a small-group cohort with other peers and a coach, or a mix of the two. The program is exceptional for its ability to equip participants for growth as industry leaders.
With a historical campus near Greenwich Village in NYC, New York University is a private research university with over 50,000 students enrolled annually, including some 25,000 postgraduates. NYU has an impressive list of alumni and faculty, including heads of state, inventors, royalty, Nobel laureates, Fields Medalists, and Pulitzer Prize winners. The School of Professional Studies, in collaboration with the Department of Human Capital Management, offers a Master of Science in Human Resource Management and Development. The program includes core classes as well as concentrations like Organizational Effectiveness, Global Talent Management, Learning, Development, and Executive Coaching, and Human Resource Management. Core classes include Business Writing and Presentations, Business Strategy and Ethics, and Organizational Behavior.
The Wasserman Center for Career Development offers numerous opportunities for networking and internships. The SPS is especially concerned to make networking opportunities available to students and events bring in industry executives so that students can learn about new practices and theories and how they are playing out on the ground. Most full-time students also pursue an internship in NYC, taking advantage of the business context. Companies from a variety of industries have recruited students from the program, which means that there are several potential contacts for students to make.
The oldest Catholic institution in Pennsylvania, Villanova is located in Radnor Township near Philadelphia. U.S. News & World Report ranked VU as the No. 2 Best Value School and the business programs have received several awards over the years. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the Graduate Programs in Human Resource Development offers a Master of Science in Human Resource Development. Classes are held in the evenings and run for eight weeks at a time. The program is 36 credits and includes required courses like Strategic Workforce Planning, Training and Development, and Employment Law. Students also take three electives. Students have several options to choose from, including Strategic and Global Human Resources Leadership, Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods, Diversity in a Global Economy, Organizational Behavior, and HR Technology.
Admission requires a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution with a 3.0 GPA, a resume, writing a sample, and statement of purpose and goals. Students are encouraged to join the local chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management, where they can gain access to networking and volunteer opportunities. SHRM is the industry-leading professional association which provides connections, certifications, and other opportunities for members. SHRM members are also involved with a variety of other local groups including the Great Valley Forge Human Resource Association, and the Philadelphia Chapter of the SHRM. The GPHRD hosts an annual networking reception where participants can connect with HR and business professionals, VU students, faculty, and other alumni. The program at VU is also aligned with SHRM for certification as well as the HRI.
Located in Ithaca, NY, Cornell University is a private Ivy League research university. The school annually enrolls over 8,000 postgraduate students. In 2018, CU was ranked No. 7 in the QS World University Rankings for US institutions. CU’s Industrial and Labor Relations School offers a Masters in Human Resource Studies. The program is designed especially for working professionals who are already working in HR-related positions. Core courses include Labor and Employment Law, Labor Economics, and Labor Relations. There are five concentrations that students can choose from, including Dispute Resolution, Labor Market Policy, and Collective Representations. Students who focus on HRO will look at people in organizations, particularly seeking to understand the way that HR professionals contribute to organizational processes and success.
Annually ILR trains more than 20,000 professionals in areas like conflict resolution, HR, diversity, labor relations, management development, and union leadership. And the program boasts over 11,000 ILR alumni who are working at Fortune 500 companies, offering a vast network of people who can provide wisdom and guidance, as well as contacts in a variety of industries. ILR sponsors numerous events where undergraduate and graduate students meet many of these alumni as well as other outside speakers and experts in business and management in the US and across the world.
A private research university located in Milwaukee, WI, Marquette University has an annual enrollment of over 11,000 students. The College of Business Administration and the Graduate School of Management offer a Master in Management. The program draws on several disciplines, including analytics, leadership, change management, organizational behavior and development, and human resource management. The program is structured so that each class meets both face-to-face and online. The MiM degree requires 30 credits, which include core courses as well as electives. Core classes include Concepts for Ethical Business Practices, Leading People and Change, Leadership Coaching and Development, and Managing Human Capital. Students learn how to align business and human resource strategies, and how to develop strategies using data, best-practices, and a carefully crafted vision.
Potential applications are required to have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution with a 3.0 GPA. Students with a lower GPA can still apply, potentially using other qualifications. The CBA hosts several centers devoted to education and research in business, management, and economics, including the Center for Applied Economics, the Applied Investment Management Program, and the Blockchain Lab. Each center offers potential opportunities where students can gain additional co-curricular experience. Graduate students are also encouraged to use the Business Career Center, which provides a variety of services including resume writing, practice interviews, search strategies for employment, networking, and numerous career fair events as well. Graduate students can also participate in the mentoring program, which would allow them to come alongside promising undergraduates, investing in their future even as they pursue their dreams.
Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business offers a Master of Human Resource Management. Courses for the program are offered in the evenings, and a central emphasis is to link theory and practice. Students travel through the degree in a cohort so that they learn with others and receive individualized treatment. Courses are offered in two different formats, either a 14-week or a seven-week session. Students take 43.5 total credits, which includes core required courses like Foundations of Labor and Human Resources, Markets; Organizations and Human Resource Management; and International Human Resource Management
Each year the program hosts a case competition where students compete in teams to think through and strategize solutions to HR problems. The competition is sponsored by a corporate sponsor, and winners are often invited to an external competition where they can compete against other master’s levels students in HR at other institutions. The Human Resources Association of Central Ohio works with the MHRM program to provide mentors to interested students. The program is primarily one-to-one and allows working professionals to work with current students, providing guidance and advice, and allowing students to extend their network. The MHRM program also boasts a great ROI as 87 percent of graduates have a job offer within three months of graduation.
HR Masters Students Questions
To start a career in human resources, students should major in HR or seek degrees with a concentration in HR. Concentrations in HR can spend less time on specific HR topics in exchange for other degree-related fundamentals, such as business for an MBA. Those with preexisting foundations can major in HR for a focused study of the field.
Yes. The degree prepares students for entry-level jobs and can accelerate their paths to earning the SHRM-CP certification. HR master’s degree-holders can bypass some qualifications to sit in the exam compared to bachelor’s degree-holders.
An online master’s in HR can last 1-2 years and often involves some business fundamentals. Course topics and materials look similar to that of on-campus programs, but online education might not suit all learning styles. Distance learning can require high levels of organization and self-discipline.
With a master’s in HR, students can sit for the SHRM-CP certification (while currently holding an HR position) and apply for various jobs in the field. A master’s degree can also lead to lucrative promotions and managerial positions in the long run.
Yes. A career in human resources offers versatility and opportunities in nearly any industry. However, HR’s status as a good career depends on the person. Someone with developed interpersonal skills who enjoys working with others would be well suited for HR positions.
HR Online Masters Programs
What To Expect From Master’s in HR Programs
Master’s programs in HR emphasize strong interpersonal skills and business fundamentals. HR programs also develop essential soft skills such as communication and leadership. Curriculums might prioritize behavioral studies over business courses or vice versa, though often there is a mix of both.
In general, earning a master’s degree can take 1-2 years, but the time frame varies according to course load and curriculum. Many programs require a minimum of 30-40 credit hours. Some schools award degrees with a concentration in human resources rather than a master’s in HR.
Requirements for a Master’s in Human Resources
Each school sets different admission standards for its programs, but the process often requires similar materials. While applying, a student might need to supply a resume, letters of recommendation, personal statements, and undergraduate transcripts from accredited schools. In some cases, students must submit essays or complete an interview.
Due to the competitive nature of graduate school, many programs necessitate minimum GPAs or test scores to enroll. Brandman University offers multiple options for admission to its MS in human resources including one that requires a GPA of 2.5 or above paired with minimum scores on tests such as the GRE or the Miller Analogies Test. However, institutions like the University of St. Francis forgo scores for requirements like professional experience.
Students might need to apply separately to a specific program after they successfully enroll in graduate school. Interested applicants should check each school’s website for step-by-step instructions.
Degree and Concentration Options
Students can earn several types of HR related master’s when they graduate, such as an MA, MS, MBA, or master’s in human resource management (MHRM). Some schools list degrees that feature a concentration in HR. For increased specialization, a joint master’s program at schools like the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign allows students to pursue HR alongside other studies, such as law.
MBAs can offer several concentrations within the degree, including human resources. These programs often provide a stronger foundation in business topics and operations. However, the strong focus on business courses might leave less room for dedicated HR studies in the curriculum.
By comparison, an MA, MS, or MHRM usually entails a more intense focus on HR topics and theories. While the curriculum can still include business courses, the HR classes form the core. Some dedicated HR programs can directly prepare students to take the SHRM-Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) exam.
How Much Will a Human Resources Master’s Cost?
The price varies depending on several factors including public versus private status, in-state or out-of-state tuition, and delivery methods (online, hybrid, or on campus). Master’s programs can include additional costs for textbooks, software subscriptions, and required technology.
The average cost of tuition and fees for in-state graduates at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, an affordable entry among the top 10 master’s programs, comes to $12,197 annually for the 2020-2021 academic year; out-of-state students pay $25,523. By comparison, New York University’s average cost sits at $36,892.
Students can apply financial aid such as scholarships, grants, and loans. If the school holds an accreditation recognized by the Department of Education, learners can apply for FAFSA. While students must pay back loans (and often with interest), they do not have to pay back gift aid such as scholarships and grants.
FAFSA, individual schools, and state programs can offer forms of financial aid. HR students can apply for industry-specific scholarships and grants along with other aid. Professional organizations for human resources like SHRM also offer financial aid opportunities for those pursuing an education in HR.
Jobs for Master’s in HR Graduates
Earning a master’s in human resources can open a career path not bound by industry lines.
Even small organizations need an HR position to handle conflicts, regulate compensation, and hire new employees.
Many HR jobs revolve around handling, directing, and teaching other employees. As a result, the soft skills developed in a master’s program can lead to lucrative promotions and managerial roles. The positions below embody some of the main career paths available to those who hold a master’s degree in HR.
Human Resources Specialist
Sizable organizations from any field often include one or more of this popular HR position. As a more general title, this job includes recruiting and screening applicants along with handling employee relations, benefits, and training. HR specialists can break down to further specialized roles, such as recruitment specialists dedicated to talent acquisition.
Training and Development Managers
These managers create, update, and distribute training materials and courses to other HR employees. Those in the role can spend 40 hours or more each week surrounded by people. This position requires HR employees to accrue several years of experience (often as a training and development specialist) before earning a promotion to the managerial level.
Administrative Services and Facilities
These managers view an organization holistically and develop plans to keep it running smoothly. The role includes maintaining a safe workplace and keeping up with regulations and environmental standards across day-to-day operations. This lucrative HR position can also spearhead changes in procedures or policies to improve efficiency. Employees in this role should exhibit strong organizational skills to keep track of multiple moving parts.
Compensation and Benefits Manager
Positions in compensation and benefits account for one of several rising specializations within the field. These managers take an active role in company finances by researching competitive pay rates and updating salaries and benefits according to market values. This position manages contracted vendors related to finance and ensures that all laws and regulations are followed.
Choosing the Right HR Graduate Program
While a rankings list jump-starts your search for the right graduate program, other factors should be taken into consideration. For example, a school’s reputation can weigh in on an employer’s decision when choosing to hire an applicant. Two applicants might hold similar degrees, but an employer might value the degree that comes from a prestigious program compared to a lesser-known program.
All quality master’s programs should carry some form of accreditation, a credential that schools receive for meeting a minimum educational standard. Most schools earn regional accreditation, which can carry more weight than national accreditations.
Applicants should also consider these factors before selecting a school:
Individual programs or schools under a university can earn industry-specific accreditations for providing educational excellence in that field. Earning a degree from an accredited program can add value to resumes. Keep an eye out for accreditations from these organizations:
- Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB)
- Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP)
- Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI)
The top two accreditations listed here only apply to business programs, but some HR degrees fall under business schools as a type of MBA.
While SHRM does not bestow accreditations, this globally recognized organization awards programs that prepare students for its CP exams. As a powerful and longstanding organization in the profession, SHRM’s credentials and awards carry weight in the industry.
Should You Get Your Degree Online?
With the recent wave in distance education, many schools offer online degrees and provide distance learning options. Accredited online programs achieve the same level of academic excellence as on-campus counterparts.
Earning a degree online can provide several benefits. With online learning, students can save money by eliminating expenses on housing, meal plans, and various fees. The format’s flexibility can open the path for busy learners who need to balance education with other obligations.
With online learning, students can save money by eliminating expenses on housing, meal plans, and various fees.
With the increase in remote and hybrid jobs, an online program can introduce students to remote work practices. Online education can mirror the digital communications, online presentations, and workflow strategies that remote workers encounter. Even if a student fills a non-remote position, they may end up handling cases involving remote workers within the company.
Even with such benefits, online learning requires self-motivation and organization. Students with certain learning styles can struggle with distance learning, such as kinesthetic learners, people who retain information through direct experience more easily compared to reading, writing, or listening to lectures.